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IN MEMORIAM

RUTH PRESTON MILLER LEHMANN

 

Ruth Preston Miller Lehmann, professor emeritus of English, died April 3, 2000. Ruth came to The University of Texas at Austin in 1960, was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 1967, and to professor in 1972, before retiring in 1980.

Ruth was born on February 18, 1912, in Ithaca, New York, and received BA (1932) and MA (1934) degrees from Cornell University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1942 she was awarded a PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She served as an editor of language texts for the United States Armed Forces Institute in Washington, D.C., during the Second World War, and thereafter joined the English department at George Washington University. She later moved to Washington University in St. Louis before coming to Austin.

The field of Ruth's teaching and scholarship was medieval literature and linguistics, with a particular focus on Old Irish. Her first book appeared in 1964, an edition with introduction and glossary of the Old Irish Fled Dúin na nGéd. In 1975 she published, with her husband, Winfred Lehmann, An Introduction to Old Irish (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1975). A major contribution to the understanding of a very difficult language, this book helps to make Old Irish literature accessible to students outside of Ireland. As she explained in an interview: "Students had been asking me for years to provide something for the student with no basis in Old Irish. The problem is that books on Old Irish that come out in Ireland assume students get Irish training in grade school. The things that they don't explain, we manage to get in here." The book, which immediately set the standard for the field and is used at universities across the country, includes literary excerpts as well as an exceptionally clear presentation of the grammar and syntax. Professor Lehmann was especially proud of the last section of the book, which is devoted to Irish lyric poetry and its complicated metrical structure. Her own edition and translation of Early Irish Verse was subsequently published by The University of Texas Press in 1988.

Professor Lehmann excelled as a teacher, not only of Old Irish but also of Modern Irish and Old English. She regularly taught Beowulf, and in her retirement published a splendid version of the poem: Beowulf: An Imitative Translation (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1988). Selections from her translation have been chosen for inclusion in the Columbia Anthology of British Literature. Here is how she introduces the encounter between Beowulf and Grendel's mother.

Grendel's mother,     a ghastly creature,
she who must remain     remembering troubles
in the dire waters     of dreaded torrents,
after Cain became     the cruel slayer
of his own brother,     offspring of his father.

················

She who had defended the flood     for fifty years,
greedy for battle,     grim and angry,
sensed already     that a certain one
hunted downward     toward haunted realm.
She groped toward him,     grasped the warrior
with her cruel claws     but might not cleave open
such a sound body,     circled and protected
by buckled breastmail.

As these lines suggest, Professor Lehmann was an accomplished poet. In 1977 several of her former students edited a collection of her poetry. The introduction to this volume includes fond remembrances of Ruth as a teacher and a person. Solveig M. V. Pflueger, for example, writes of Ruth in this way:

Anyone who succeeds in mastering Old Irish must of necessity possess either an unusually keen mind or infinite patience. Certainly Ruth Lehmann has both. But while I take her scholarship quite seriously, I always smile when I think of her as a person. I remember little things such as the delight she takes in a hummingbird, an amusing word, a fine piece of craftsmanship, or an enigmatic line of poetry. This attention to small details that often go unnoticed by others is what makes her a true scholar, and her willingness to share these gems with those around her makes her a most interesting person. I only wish I had more time to visit with her as I, like everyone who has had a chance to know her, am always captivated by her inquisitive spirit and refreshing interest in life.

The collection prefaced by such deeply-felt comments contains, in addition to original poems, translations from Old Irish and Old English, including a selection from Beowulf that anticipates the later complete translation.

Shortly before she died, Ruth ventured into fiction with a novel about Sir Galahad titled Blessed Bastard. Based on a range of medieval sources, the novel rescues Galahad from Tennyson and offers us a sympathetic hero caught between his faith and his fate. As Professor Lehmann expresses this in her Forward: "The problem of Galahad is to present a man of whom Lancelot would genuinely be proud. . . . To that end this story introduces the most appealing of devotional literatures, the Irish. Here not only is there appreciation of the wonder of the world, but often humor." The hero of the narrative shares with its author these qualities of wonder and humor, so often noted by students in Professor Lehmann's Old Irish and Old English courses, which are described as "unforgettable" (Douglas MacLean), "splendid" (Tom Cable), "delightful" (GayMarie Logsdon), and "exemplifying the highest standards of the academic profession" (Marianne Cooley). For her legacy in Old Irish, for her many contributions as a teacher and scholar, the English department will always be grateful, counting Ruth Lehmann as one of its most distinguished members.


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Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin

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John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty


This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors James D. Garrison (chair), Mary E. Blockley, and Thomas M. Cable.

A Copy of the list of publications is available on request from the Office of the General Faculty, FAC 22, F9500.