University of Rochester

University of Rochester English Scholar, Orator Dies

February 16, 2001

When friends of Bernard N. Schilling talk about his life's devotion to literature, learning and a civil society, they say he pursued perfection in all that he did.

Schilling, who was a University of Rochester professor for 38 years, author and specialist in 18th-century English literature and Charles Dickens, used his intellect, wit and impressive writing and speaking abilities to the utmost. At age 94, he had completed a manuscript on Dickens just a short time before his death on Feb. 9 of heart failure. He is survived by his wife, Susan Eisenhart Schilling, a former staff member at the University's Memorial Art Gallery.

"He was a dedicated scholar with the very highest standards," said Louis Martz, a friend for 60 years and Sterling Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University. "He had a great influence on people-many young scholars, in particular-because of the very high quality that he required people to measure up to. He inspired all of us to do better."

Schilling joined the Rochester faculty as an associate professor of English in 1947. From 1952 to 1962, he was director of graduate studies in English and in 1961 was named the John B. Trevor Professor of English and Comparative Literature, a title he held until his death. Schilling, considered a significant figure in the field of 18th-century studies, was chairman of the Department of Foreign and Comparative Literature, from 1967 to 1971.

It was Schilling who worked to establish the graduate program in English at the University in the early 1960s. Beyond his command of literary scholarship, the professor guided his graduate students with what came to be known as Schilling principles: first, never leave the program without your degree; once you had your academic training, you were capable to teaching any course in your discipline; do the best work you can do in the time allotted; and many more.

"The influence on my life and career was enormous," said Hugh B. Andrews, one of Schilling's students and now a professor of English at Northern Michigan University. "I was one of those students Professor Schilling took under his wing, and I try to repay that debt to the students I have."

Hugh Andrews' wife, Maureen, who also earned her doctorate at Rochester, teaches Schilling's specialty of the Restoration and 18th-century English literature at Northern Michigan. "He lived his work, and he and his wife Susan were always reading and thinking. Intellectually and personally, he was a great influence on us."

In the 1950s and 60s, Schilling was the University orator and played an important part in annual commencement ceremonies for which he would prepare original writing and research on those awarded honorary degrees and special citations.

Beyond his University life, Schilling had an extraordinary number of avocations, friends said. He was a great fan of opera, for instance, and had an annual party at his home to celebrate the birthday of Enrico Caruso, the Italian tenor. He shared with his wife a love of painting and sculpture. He was a skillful golfer in his younger days, and an avid baseball fan through his life.

Vincent Nowlis, a retired psychology professor who served with Schilling on many committees, said Schilling was thorough in every job he undertook. "Bernard's religion was when you're doing something, do it right: always on time, always right the first time."

That commitment could be seen in the civic projects that Bernard and Susan Schilling supported or denounced. In the 1980s, they and others were unsuccessful in stopping development of a shopping mall across from their 19th-century home, called the Timothy Wallace House, on South Clinton Avenue in Brighton. But just to the south at Clinton and Westfall Road, they were leaders in the 1990s in promoting the development of homes for low-to-moderate income families. In fact, a street in the Deerfield Woods community is named Schilling Lane to honor their efforts.

"Bernard Schilling was an exemplary citizen of the town and also a good friend," said Sandra Frankel, Brighton town supervisor. "His ability to help people learn and grow didn't stop at the classroom door. It continued and expanded throughout the community."

A native of New Hampton, Iowa, Schilling was educated at Loras College, the University of Chicago and Yale University, where he received his doctoral degree in 1936. Friends say that his love of literature began at home when his father, Nicholas, who was a physician, gave him a complete set of the works of Charles Dickens. Schilling wrote literary reviews, essays and articles as well as several books, including Human Dignity and the Great Victorians, Conservative England and the Case Against Voltaire, Dryden and the Conservative Myth, The Comic Spirit, and The Hero as Failure: Balzac and the Rubenpre Cycle. Schilling's manuscript for The Rain of Years: Great Expectations and the World of Dickens will be published later this year by the University of Rochester Press.

Before coming to Rochester, Schilling held teaching posts at Mississippi A and M College, Marquette University, Northwestern University, Grinnell College, and California Institute of Technology. During his teaching career, he received several fellowships for study at the Huntington Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Professor Schilling and his wife Susan, who were married in 1949, were longtime advocates for the University of Rochester Libraries. Bernard Schilling was an avid supporter and his wife served as a past president of the Friends of the Libraries. Mr. and Mrs. Schilling received the Robert F. Metzdorf Prize for contributions and meritorious service to the libraries of the University of Rochester in 1997.

"Bernard took a great deal of pride in his relationship with the University," said Ronald F. Dow, the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries. "He was a wonderful Friend and longtime supporter of the libraries. We will all miss him greatly."

One of Schilling's special interests was The Pundit Club, a local literary organization. "He produced many wonderful papers by bringing several subjects together in an original framework, and always with dry humor," said Rochester lawyer Pete Brown, who was club secretary. "He could deliver sobriquets and there was no comeback to him."

He also was very skilled as a speechmaker and was the University's official orator in the 1950s, 60s and into the 70s. To mark occasions such as Independence Day, Schilling would be invited to the Genesee Country Museum to deliver an address in the style and language of what might be heard in 1776. Often present at the same event was Barber Conable, who would read the Declaration of Independence. "Bernard had an inquiring mind and he knew a lot about people and the world around us," said Conable, a former U.S. congressman and former president of the World Bank. "I think of Bernard with affection."

Schilling retained a strong attachment to Yale throughout his life, and in 1981 was awarded the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from the Yale Graduate School Association for his scholarly endeavors and his work for Yale's educational causes.

In addition to his wife, Schilling is survived by a niece, Patricia Caulfield, of New York City. A memorial service will be held later in the year at Rush Rhees Library to coincide with the publication of Schilling's final work, The Rain of Years. Gifts in his memory can be directed to the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries' Bernard Schilling Memorial Fund, 236 Rush Rhees Library, Box 270055, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0055.

Note to editors: A black-and-white photograph of Bernard Schilling can be e-mailed to you. Please call (585) 275-4128 or send your request to