Stuart Pratt Sherman (1881–1926) was an American literary critic, educator and journalist known for his philosophical "feud" with H. L. Mencken. The two men were very close in age, and their career paths have sometimes been compared, but Mencken outlived Sherman by three decades.
Background, education, and academic career
Sherman, who was distantly related to William Tecumseh Sherman, was born to New Englanders John and Ada Martha (Pratt) Sherman on October 1, 1881, in Anita, Iowa. The family later relocated to Rolfe, Iowa, and finally, in 1887, to Los Angeles, California. His father, a druggist and lover of music and poetry, had moved to California in search of a more healthful climate, but he died when Sherman was just 11. The family subsequently returned to New England.
Sherman entered Williams College in 1900, and he won prizes there in Latin, French and German, as well as becoming editor of the “Williams Literary Monthly.” He graduated with a Ph.D. in 1906 after writing his thesis on the 17th-century dramatist John Ford.
Upon graduation, Sherman became an instructor at Northwestern University for one year before moving to the University of Illinois (UIUC). In 1908 he was offered a position of the staff of The Nation, to which he was a frequent contributor, but declined when UIUC made him an associate professor. He became a full professor in 1911 and permanent chairman of the UIUC English Department in 1914 where he built the department into one of the strongest in the Midwest. He was a natural teacher, noted for his sound scholarship, especially on the works of Matthew Arnold, and for his passion for the living values of literature.
In April 1924, Sherman became editor of “Books,” the literary supplement to the New York Herald Tribune, which became under his editorship the leading American critical journal of the day.
With the entry of the United States into the Great War, Sherman expressed what some deemed a chauvinistic patriotism in an address before the National Council of Teachers of English on 1 December 1917, denouncing both the philosophy of Nietzsche and his American apologist, Henry Louis Mencken. This began a decade long, erudite, and witty feud between these literary titans. The next salvo from Sherman was an article in the October 1920 issue of Bookman, “Is There Anything to be Said for Literary Traditions?” where he attacked literary modernism broadside. Interpreting the challenge to conventional morals by younger literary figures as moral relativism, Sherman defended traditional values, nationalism, and even Puritanism, a popular scapegoat of the time. As the decade of the 1920s unfolded, however, many argue that Sherman moved perceptibly to the left, eventually embracing modernism and confessing that he had erred in trying to make men good instead of happy.
In 1906, Sherman married Ruth Bartlet Mears, daughter of a chemistry professor at Williams, and the couple had a son. Sherman was on vacation with his wife on Lake Michigan when he suffered a fatal heart attack after an accident overturned his canoe. He died on August 21, 1926, at age 44. He is buried in Manchester, Vermont.
- Introduction to an edition of John Ford (dramatist)’s “'Tis Pity She's a Whore” / “The Broken Heart.” Boston, London, D.C. Heath & Co., 1915
- "Matthew Arnold: How to Know Him,” 1917.
- "On Contemporary Literature," New York, Holt, 1917.
- "Americans,” New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1922.
- "The Genius of America,” New York, London, C. Scribner’s sons, 1923.
- "Points of View,” New York, Scribner’s, 1924.
- "Joyous things: or, Forty and upwards: an essay," New York: Hampden Hills Press, 1925.
- "Critical Woodcuts," illustrated with portraits engraved on wood by Bertrand Zadig, New York, London, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1926.
- "The Emotional Discovery of America and Other Essays," New York, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1932.
- "Stuart P. Sherman Funeral Today". New York Times. August 25, 1926.
- George E. DeMille, "Stuart P. Sherman: The Illinois Arnold," The Sewanee Review, Vol. 35, No., 1 (January 1927), 78–93.
- Jacob Zeitlin and Homer Woodbridge, Life and Letters of Stuart P. Sherman. 2 Volumes. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1929.
- “Stuart Pratt Sherman” in Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, N.Y.C., 1936, article by Earnest Southerland Bates.
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