In words and deeds, Jim Newcomer lives the ideals of a liberal-arts education
M y last book will be a book of poetry, A Measure of Grace, about old age," says James W. Newcomer '33. "If it comes out within the next six or seven months, I shall have published three books in my eighty-sixth year. That will about wind things up, I suppose," he jokes.
Lili, a memoir of concert pianist Lili Kraus that was published in May 1997, and The Nationhood of Luxembourg, a collection of essays on that country that was published in February 1998, are the other two publications out in the months since Newcomer turned eighty-five in March 1997. The author of books, essays, poems, and short stories, he has had more than half his work published since he retired in 1982.
His interest in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was kindled in 1944 when, as a member of General George Patton's Third Army, Newcomer participated in the two liberations of that tiny principality. His book The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg: The Evolution of Nationhood 963 A.D. to 1983, published in two editions, 1984 and 1995, examines the economy, language, religion, and personality that have enabled this small country to endure for a thousand years.
Newcomer, who is vice chancellor emeritus of Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas, compiled an extensive collection of books on Luxembourg, now housed at the Mary Couts Burnett Library at TCU. Assisted financially by TCU trustee James L. Pate, he hopes to build the three-thousand-volume library to five thousand volumes. The Pate-Newcomer Collection on the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is the largest of its kind in the United States.
Luxembourg experts have called Newcomer's chronicle the best one-volume history of the nation in any language. It is certainly the one up-to-date and accessible history of the country available to English-language readers. In recognition of his contribution, Pierre Gramegna, counsel general of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in San Francisco, California, traveled to Fort Worth when the 1995 edition was published to confer upon Newcomer the rank of Commander in the Order of Merit. "I've appointed myself a kind of missionary for Luxembourg," says Newcomer, who clearly enjoys the honor.
Newcomer has held administrative posts throughout his long academic career, and he has also been a teacher of eighteenth-century English literature and creative writing. While dean of the college and professor of English at Olivet College in Michigan in the 1950s, he happened upon a collection of books by a nineteenth-century Irish author named Maria Edgeworth that were being thrown out at the end of the year because, the librarians explained, "they were never checked out." Reluctant to see any literary work thrown away, Newcomer took the boos home and began a casual reading of them. "She was a good writer, but forgotten," he says. "Her books reveal a great deal about Ireland, and she was good at developing character and plot." Before that fall's classes had begun, Newcomer had read all her fiction.
Published opinions of Edgeworth's work criticized her for lack of verisimilitude, an overemphasis on morality, and an inability to fashion a plot. After re-reading all the works, Newcomer undertook a systematic study to disprove what he believed were inadequate and incorrect reviews of her writings. The results of his study, with supporting evidence and excerpts from comments by literary authorities, are contained in Maria Edgeworth the Novelist. Newcomer wrote a second volume on Edgeworth, called simply Maria Edgeworth, as well as a book, Lady Morgan the Novelist, on another forgotten Irish writer.
The Kenyon libraries have been the recipient of the several hundred volumes Newcomer calls his "working collection." The collection includes early printings of novels by Maria Edgeworth, fictional materials by other authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and related works of nonfiction about the struggles of the Irish people. "The library staff is very grateful for such a generous gift of primary-source materials," says Fine Arts Librarian Carmen King. "In a time when budgets are shrinking, the gift of these materials means that we can enhance our small collection of Irish history, literature, and religion books with primary sources and early imprints purchased by Dr. Newcomer in Ireland during his travels."
If Luxembourg history and English literature are Newcomer's vocation, music is his avocation. TCU, home since 1965 to the renowned Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, provided many opportunities to indulge in musical pleasures, both as listener and performer. In 1966, pianist Lili Kraus was invited to be among the judges of the Van Cliburn competition and, soon thereafter, became artist-in-residence at the university. Through more than twenty years of friendship, Newcomer kept a journal from which he has fashioned the memoir, published last May, of Kraus and her years at TCU.
"I've been very fortunate to have been able to use retirement to pursue academic interests I didn't have time for when I was earning my living," he says. "It's been a great joy."
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