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Summer 2018 Wofford Today
Vince Miller

Remembering Dr. Vince Miller

Letter to the editor from Wesley Hammond '73.

Wesley Hammond ’73 was one of Dr. Vince Miller’s students. After Miller’s death, on March 29, 2017, Hammond wrote a letter to the editor of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. That letter is below along with an anecdote that he also shares with the Wofford community.

In late March, Dr. Vincent E. Miller, professor of English emeritus at Wofford College, passed away at the age of 95. Dr. Miller taught at Wofford from 1957 until his retirement in 1989.

He was an extraordinary scholar who was praised by Ezra Pound for his collaboration on Pound’s poetry anthology, “Confucius to Cummings.” The consensus among the many students who were captivated by his teaching method as well as the subject matter he taught was “He taught me to read,” and “He taught me to think.”

I remember Dr. Miller saying that if you wanted to be a scholar, say of Shakespeare, it wasn’t enough to read everything that Shakespeare had written. You had to read everything that Shakespeare had read. Few could live up to his standards, but how exciting it was to try!

Dr. Miller made the attempt to understand great writing seem like the most challenging and worthwhile endeavor in life. If we could only grasp what Pound or T.S. Eliot meant, we would own the keys to being more authentic human beings. Some of life’s mysteries would become clear.

With the patience of a serious fisherman, Dr. Miller would throw out “What you got?” and “Is that what you think?” and let his students thrash around to come up with a reasonable answer. I may sound like the naïve youth that I was then, but after graduating in 1973, I am still reading and rereading material from his courses. 

In 2002, two of his top students, Donald Greiner ’62 and John Lane ’77, edited “A Packet for Vincent Miller,” with articles by and about this unique teacher. There may be a few copies around at the Hub City Bookshop.

A Vince Miller anecdote.

My first class assignment from Dr. Miller was to read Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and write a paper about it. I had not actually read the book, but I had seen part of the movie once on television. I thought that might be close enough.

With the confidence of youth, I wrote a strange essay about people drifting through life until they are faced with a “moment of truth” challenge and are forced to act. Or something like that. I believe bullfighting may have been involved.

I remember word for word Dr. Miller’s comments when he returned my paper. “Wes, you have a theory! I even think it’s right, but it ain’t what’s going on in this book. Honestly now, did you read it?” 

I waited until class was over and went up to Dr. Miller’s desk.

“You got me,” I said. “I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again.” 

And it didn’t. At least not in any of Dr. Miller’s classes