Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Waggoner, Hyatt H.

Hyatt Howe Waggoner (1913-1988), professor of English, was born in Pleasant Valley, New York, on November 19, 1913. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1935, and received his master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1936 and his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1942. After teaching at the University of Omaha from 1939 to 1942, he was professor of English at the University of Kansas City from 1942 to 1956 and head of the English Department from 1952 to 1956. He came to Brown as professor of English in 1956. He was director of the American Civilization program from 1960 to 1970. He was an authority on Nathaniel Hawthorne, well-known for his edition of Hawthorne’s Selected Tales and Sketches published in 1950, Hawthorne: A Critical Study, in 1956, and The Presence of Hawthorne in 1979. He was instrumental in authenticating Hawthorne’s “lost notebook” in 1978. In 1988 he received the House of Seven Gables Hawthorne Award. He did not, however, devote himself to Hawthorne. As he said, “I’ve moved around the field at the risk of being superficial.” His first book, in 1950, The Heel of Elohim, was subtitled Science and Values in Modern American Poetry. His other books included William Faulkner: From Jefferson to the World in 1959, Emerson as Poet in 1974, and American Visionary Poetry in 1982. His American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present, published in 1968, was a 740-page volume which grew out of one of his courses. Waggoner, who attended a one-room school in upstate New York, was always a nature-lover, fond of camping and hiking. When he was a freshman at Middlebury, his perception of the conflict of science and theology led him to write to his Presbyterian pastor that he could not continue to be a “nominal Christian.” He attended a Unitarian Church in the 1940s, was an Episcopalian through the 1950s, until his religious meanderings led him to a small federated church near his farmhouse in Rochester, Vermont. In the woodshed of his farm he wrote his books during summer vacations and sabbatical leaves. He never wrote during the school year, when his attention belonged to his courses and his students. John Shroeder, who became a professor of English at Brown, was one of Waggoner’s students in Kansas City, where, Shroeder recalled, “Hyatt had small classes. He taught in his office, sitting behind his desk. There were no pyrotechnics, but he was inspiring. He had new and startling ideas about literary matters.... He set people up well enough to continue for themselves. And he was what students are always hoping for in a professor. I always felt free to drop in on him and talk about literary matters for two hours. He was always available. He gave exams on the porch of his house and served beer. I make him sound sugary and sweet. He is really a cranky Yankee.” Waggoner retired from teaching in 1979. He died on October 13, 1988 in Hanover, New Hampshire.