Reviews:On The Age of Recovery

From William A. Percy
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Memoirs of The Age of Recovery

This Jugendarbeit is the only book that I have worked on that an Ivy League press published and the only one that I now repudiate. I do so because when we wrote it we could not give homosexuals the credit that they deserved for the Italian Renaissance. Nevertheless, although it is wrong and now long out of print along with the rest of the series, it played a great role in my life and sold several thousand copies.

Of the several universities that admitted me to their Ph.D. programs, I chose Cornell because my best friend was studying there. Emile Karafiol was first in our freshman class at Princeton and also the first to get an A.B. there in only three years since the World War II vets. He and Ralph Nader and I – each of us outsiders in different ways – used to stay up all night studying together while most of the others partied, played sports, or chased girls. Emile persuaded me that Theodore Mommsen, whom I had studied under at Princeton before he moved to Cornell, was the best teacher for medievalists and that Cornell had an excellent history faculty. He also advised me to befriend Ed Fox, a top-flight intellectual (Carl Becker’s successor), who was criticized by many of his colleagues for not publishing enough. When I came back from a year at the University of Naples (after Mommsen’s suicide), I became Fox’s assistant and protege before returning to Princeton to finish my doctorate.

Fox had me help edit a new edition of Orlinsky’s Ancient Israel and Sullivan’s Heirs of the Roman Empire, and he got me to begin translating Marc Bloch’s Feudal Society for the Cornell Press. Carl Morrison, a fellow graduate student, returned from England with the shocking news that the translation (after twenty years) was in the press in England, so I aborted my project, having learned a lot in the process, firmly convinced of Fox’s genius as an editor. In 1962 I got my first full-time job at what became the University of New Orleans and there asked Jerah Johnson to help me write Age of Recovery for Fox’s series on Western Civilization. I also contacted my friend from Princeton graduate school Bob Lerner to write the volume preceding ours, Age of Adversity. Finally after failing to get Fox to accept John Baldwin’s fine text on intellectual history of the High Middle Ages, which appeared under another title in due course from another press, I got for John Davis of Tulane a contract from Ed to write that – the last volume needed to complete the series. Unfortunately John never finished, leaving a hole in The Development of Western Civilization.

Then Ed recruited me to write the first volume of a two-volume western civilization text. He was to write the other volume, as he originally had intended to do as the second half of the series which he had designed for the first half. We got a contract with McGraw-Hill, and then Ed moved it to Prentice Hall.

I completed my volume, and Prentice Hall, after getting readers reports, accepted it, but Ed, who originally was to have written his while I was writing my half, had spent so much time working on other projects and improving my chapters, that he decided to wait until I finished before writing his own. Well, he finally did send me drafts of the first three or four chapters of his volume, which I tried to improve. He insisted on leaving out Voltaire and otherwise so reducing intellectual history that I became alarmed. When I tried to draft some of the remaining chapters of his volume for him, he objected. Finally in 1985, when I decided to start publishing gay history and despairing of his ever finishing his part, I broke off the partnership. He did eventually publish an essay with Blackwell’s, but it didn’t even get to the end of the nineteenth century and could hardly have been considered a text. By that time I could hardly have put my name to what would have been Volume I, because it like Age of Recovery hardly mentioned homosexuality, except all too briefly in Ancient Greece, the Inquisition and Renaissance Italy.

I still appreciate all that I learned from Ed Fox and all that he did for me, including helping me get hired and tenured at U.M.B. I add only that while at L.S.U., the editor of that press asked to publish my dissertation on Sicilian taxation and the Sicilian Vespers. I turned him down, because the editor at Princeton, a Miriam somebody or other, had indicated that she wanted it. When I finally presented it revised to her a few years later, she rejected it, quipping that her interests and that of the press had changed. I only later learned that astutely she regularly strung three authors along for each that she intended to publish. It’s true that by then interests had shifted away from medieval taxation to more trendy topics and the other presses that I submitted it to also would not publish it, partly because they too had become trendy and partly because it could have used more revision than I was willing to do. - Posted 10-26-05

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