Taylor Corse, Professor Emeritus

Photo of Taylor Corse

Since 1989, Taylor Corse has shared his expertise in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature with students under topics such as “The Novel to Jane Austen,” “Restoration Drama” and “Introduction to Literature,” which the students have described as “thorough, fun, interesting, and delightful.” His courses involved an always-engaging and ever-changing mix of poetry, plays, novels and essays. A dedicated linguist and accomplished translator, Corse is a knowledgeable and approachable teacher, scholar, and friend whom students and colleagues recognize as a truly voracious reader, be it in contemporary fiction or in his specializations.

Corse arrived in Tempe from the University of Tennessee, the ink not quite dry on his University of Florida PhD. Arizona State University then had an interim president. Some 43,000 students were enrolled at the two campuses. In those halcyon days, funding from the state legislature was based on number of students taught and in-state tuition clocked in at $1,276 per semester. ASU had just completed its largest capital campaign to date, raising $100 million that paid for several new buildings and a much-expanded library, the very same one that we’ve once again closed, renovated, and reopened.

Corse and this writer were hired in a cohort of five assistant professors: Dhira Mahoney in medieval literature and rhetoric/composition; myself—Elizabeth Horan—in comparative literature; Dawn Bates in linguistics, and Michael vanden Heuvel in modern drama and humanities. We soon found many interests in common, including not just language, literature and drama, but also tenure procedures, which changed several times over the next quinquennial. We five were greatly relieved to organize and self-fund a joint tenure party, celebrated in the backyard of the English department’s then-interim chair, Nancy Gutierrez. Partners, children and folks from across the university happily assembled for serious toasts and family-appropriate limericks. A tradition that could be restored!

Corse has been active and will surely to continue to be so: he has been a stalwart of the Latin Reading Group, which has continued to meet weekly throughout the pandemic, led by Almira (Mira) Poudrier (Classics) and welcomes new members or interested guests. As an avid guitarist and a tennis-player, Corse also bicycles and climbs mountains in the Southwest and in Italy during summers spent with his wife, Professor Juliann Vitullo, a beloved teacher, fine scholar and director of ASU’s very popular Italian program in the School of International Letters and Cultures. The two are passionate cooks, experts with (among other things) every kind of pasta meal imaginable.

With unflagging energy, Corse has served as faculty advisor to the English Majors’ Club (whose name has changed over the years). He has convincingly advocated for the English MA program, as director, which continues to this day. During his term as director of the literature area, he was careful, equitable, respectful and appreciative of his colleagues.

Corse’s pithy and skillful scholarship testifies to his playful, far-ranging mind, as he has published on Milton and Pope, on Latin poetry (including Virgil, Ovid, Lucretius and Horace), on Addison, John Dryden, Lawrence Sterne and Aphra Behn, on satire and science. In the past year alone, our colleague’s publications have been cited by writers on Latin verse, on John Locke, Alexander Pope, Montague’s Turkish Letters, George Herbert, and Restoration Travel Narrative (Google Scholar). His best-known work is a critical translation (from Latin into English) that he and Professor Allison Coudert, of UC Davis, published with Cambridge University Press, of The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, the work of the English philosopher Anne Conway (née Finch). Conway was a seventeenth-century vitalist, admired by Leibnitz and influenced by Cambridge Platonism, Kabbalism and Neo-Platonism; she was critical of Descartes, Hobbes, More and Spinoza. According to Kenneth Winkler in The Philosophical Review, Corse’s and Coudert’s “beautifully prepared and accessible modern translation .... is essential reading for scholars and teachers of early modern philosophy”; it has been used in women’s studies and the history of science. This successful and accessible edition of a previously “lost” text was recently retranslated from English into Portuguese, then published in Lisbon. In addition to his work with Latin, Corse has published translations from Italian, such as the novel Quo Vadis, Baby (with Juliann Vitullo, 2019) and The Poetry of Ferruccio Benzoni (with Enrico Minardi, 2015).

Corse’s articles are invariably fascinating. His early work on Dryden, Pope and Swift attest to his interest in stoicism and his permanent fondness for satires. “Artful,” “vitality,” and “variety”: Corse’s work exemplifies these recurring terms. His earlier publications championed the vitality of translation in producing living poems, successfully employing close analysis and paying impressive attention to metrical effects.

The late seventeenth century harbored a vegetarian renaissance with Pythagoras as the intellectual spokesman for this bloodless revolution.

—Taylor Corse

Two of Corse’s most recent articles make strong contributions to the emerging field of animal studies and the history of vegetarianism. One, on Smollett’s Humphrey Clinker (2017), unpacks the term “husbandry,” linking it, as a form of household economy, to the careful management of resources, which brings order and restraint to a chaotic society. This matters as pleasant company compensates for many of the egregious abuses that abound in the world of Humphrey Clinker, offsetting the cruel practical jokes, misers and officious people who claim to be hosts but are utterly deficient in kindness, warmth or courtesy. The best solution could be to cultivate your garden, as Voltaire suggests and (as Corse reminds us): Smollett devoted five years’ full-time labor to translating and overseeing the publication of the Voltaire’s complete works.

In another recent article, on Dryden’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Corse shows that the poet-translator’s expansion of the lines in Book 15 on the “Vegetarian” Philosopher Pythagoras reflect a larger concern, shared by many at the time, for animal rights in the context of ethical issues. Animals are not material for fables, but rather, “have their own lives and ends; they are both alter et idem.” “’Take not away the life you cannot give/for all things have an equal right to live.’ This is a revolutionary mandate,” writes Corse, who ties Dryden’s vitalist translation to seventeenth-century Europeans’ growing awareness of the doctrine of transmigration of souls and of the millions of vegetarians in Asia; linking these in turn to representations of India as Edenic and to the condemnation of hunting, in England. “The late seventeenth century harbored a vegetarian renaissance with Pythagoras as the intellectual spokesman for this bloodless revolution,” writes Corse.

In an expansively researched and amenable essay, just published in an edited collection this past spring, Corse contributes fifteen brilliant pages on “Curvilinear Thinking in the Long 18th Century.” Deft with detail, the essay studies the aesthetics of William Hogarth, who proposed the S-shaped curve as “the line of beauty.” Corse links this to the eye’s enjoyment in “the opposite of regularity and uniformity” as he demonstrates close correlations between Hogarth and the curvilinear thinking and imaginings of Pope, Burke and Austen. This aesthetic of “wild civility” delights in disorder, wantonness and variety. The essay escorts us through the country estate of Squire Allworthy, in Tom Jones, with its pleasing forms of abundant variety: “the art of composing well is the art of varying well,” notes Corse, quoting Hogarth, counseling us to avoid those ruthless regimes of improvement that lead to dusty, arid sterility. Continual social variety and intricate shifts in thinking appear in Austen’s depictions of English country dancing and throughout Pemberley, as opposed to the rectilinear estate, stultifying routine, and narrow-mindedness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her minions. Corse points to continual variety as producing the success of English seventeenth-century drama, which provides “a wanton kind of chase” as opposed to its more formulaic counterpart across the Channel. “Digression,” writes Corse, “is a vital strategy for enhancing that variety found in curvilinear plots” that are “crowded with character.”

Taylor Corse: you have always been a dedicated father to your son, Reed; your students and colleagues are grateful for your curvilinear mind, your warm sociability and insights into the human condition. All these have been evident in the pleasing variety of classes and creative scholarship that you’ve developed and shared over the course of more than three decades.

Elizabeth Horan

Image: ASU directory photo of Taylor Corse.