PHELPS LEADS STRENOUS 'RETIRED' LIFE
THREE HABITS KEY TO NOTED PROFESSOR'S MANY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
From the Huron Daily Tribune, Bad Axe, Michigan, 1933
Huron City, Sept. 18 - At the age of 68, Prof. William Lyon Phelps retired from active teaching in Yale University to become professor emeritus of English Literature.
Instead of taking advantage of his "retirement" to begin sleeping late mornings, spending an hour a day in the library and feeding the pigeons from a sunny bench in the park, as many persons would expect a retired college professor to do. Dr. Phelps has adopted a way of life which makes the occupations of many unretired and busy citizens seem as leisurely as the work of a one-armed railroad crossing watch man.
No list of his activities can pretend to be complete but any list must include numerous public lectures, radio talks, a daily newspaper column about books and authors, his series of Sunday sermons during the summer, a 20-week lecture course in Literature during the winter, several college commencement addresses each year, membership in committees such as the Pulitzer literary prize judges and book club selection committees, reading an average of more than five books a week, informal talks to organizations, handling a voluminous and varied correspondence work upon books of his own including an autobiography, attend some 50 plays each year, and including in a furious sports program.
Three Major Habits
Three Major Habits Dr. Phelps attributes his capacity to accomplish so formidable a program to three major habits. He rises early, makes specific use every hour of the day, and has made carefully considered choices of the activities from which he can gain the most satisfaction and accomplishment.
"When I was a boy of 10" Professor Phelps said. "My Aunt Libby Lyon Linsley said to me. You are a combination of a child and a man of 40. I believe that I have kept that attitude through life. My interests have been as varied and fresh as those of a child. I have retained a child's furious capacity for play and yet have always had the serious attitude toward my work and the desire for the most useful accomplishment of which I was capable of a man of 40."
"When I was an undergraduate a woman once asked me how I would choose to spend my life if I were free to design it closest to my own desires. I told her that I would spend my mornings working furiously for five or six hours at some professional work in which I was competent, my afternoons in violent exercises, my evenings socially. That is exactly what I have done although I had no idea at that time what sort of life I should live."
Rises at 6 A.M.
On an ordinary weekday at "Seven Gables" the Phelps summer home in Huron City. Dr. Phelps rises at 6 a.m. eats a hearty breakfast and immediately goes to a work at his typewriter. At 11 a.m. he turns to his morning newspapers, reads and answers his mail, and if any time is left reads until lunch is served at 1 p.m.
Usually there are guests at luncheon in the Phelps home. About 2:15 p.m. Dr. Phelps crosses the road to his private 18-hole golf course and plays a full round usually in the low seventies on par 64 lay-out.
After golf he returns to the house to read a book and the evening paper until dinner. During the evening Dr. Phelps either reads until 11 p.m. or entertains guests. Occasionally he accepts an invitation to dinner and an evening in the home of an old friend.
"We always get up early, summer and winter." Dr. Phelps said. "Our regular hour for rising is 6 a.m. except in the heart of winter when the mornings are darkest. Then we get up at 6:30. I eat a hearty breakfast and start work immediately."
9:30 "Middle of Morning"
"That means that I have a good deal of work done before many people are up or have had breakfast. By 9:30 it is the middle of the morning for me."
"I read two or three daily papers but very rapidly. In that way I am able to keep up on the events of greatest interest to me." "Practically never, do I read magazines. Not that I took down on them nor do I fail to appreciate their value to many people. I had to make a personal choice as to whether I should read books or magazines and I chose books. I couldn't do both."
"In choosing I decided that magazine articles which are opportune will soon cease to be so. Life and conditions are changing so rapidly that the most up-to-date articles soon cease to be important. The articles of lasting importance will sooner or later appear in book form."
"When I am riding on a train I always take books along and for much of the year I travel on trains often. Between Oct, 1 and June 15, I see about 50 plays, most of them in New York. Thus I always read during the trip to New York and the return the trip to New Haven."
"Incidentally the train is one of the best possible places to read. There are no interruptions to answer the telephone, the light is good, and modern trains are quite steady. I discovered for myself something which I later found to be a fact recognized by oculists that is best to read while riding backwards."
How To Read On Train
"If you are reading with your back toward the front of the train the scenery is going away from you. If you read facing the front the scenery is toward you and causes a flicker which is a considerable strain on the eyes."
"On long journeys, such as during a European trip. Mrs. Phelps and myself reduce our luggage as far as books are concerned to a minimum. If there are several in the party we all read not only the same book but the same copy of it."
"We purchase a cheap edition and I begin reading. As soon as I finish the first two pages I tear them out and hand them to the next member of the party. The last person to read the leaf then drops it out the train window and that at the end of a day's travel we are not encumbered with the book we have all read and are ready to discuss it at dinner."
Reads Thoroughly, Rapidly
"Many persons probably believe that I do not actually read through all the books which I view but this is not the case. I never express an opinion upon a book which I have not read thoroughly. I read very rapidly and I have a good memory."
"For 10 years I have kept track of the number of books I have read and I find that I read almost exactly 145 books a year. It may go as low as 150 or as high as 380 but the average remains constant."
"This seems strange to me since books vary so greatly in length. It took me practically two weeks for instance to read "Gone With the Wind. However, there are a lot of ways enough short books to balance the score."
"On an average I receive five new books a day from publishers. I probably get more new books than most public libraries. As a rule I can choose or eliminate many books quickly. Some, I immediately know I want to read because of the author or the subject. This reverse is true of others."
"Often I have been asked why I do not review or comment upon books which deal with economic, social, or political problems. Through lectures, specialized economic and political writers, and other sources, the public gets such information very capably handled."
Lectures On Pure Literature
"I am far more interested in books which are written merely in the interests of beauty and pleasure. All my lectures and critical writings are on pure literature. Someone must do it and I make no apologies for my choice. I believe that someone should choose to remind people of the values of beauty."
"For more relaxation I read murder stories. They are the only books I read which I can seldom remember."
"Commenting upon his self imposed busy schedule. Dr. Phelps said, "Physicians have told me that I should have one day a week when I have nothing to do. I have never done this at least in the last 30 years."
"I have been able produce quantities of work because I refresh my mind by frequent changes in occupation. No doubt I would have produced work of better quality if I had been more leisurely and taken a certain number of time for more "loafing." However that was another choice I had to make."
"People are happier. I believe when they are continually overworked at some type of work they can do and which interests them than they are merely taking care of their health. Humans can drive at tremendous pace, even over a long period of years, if they choose to drive. I run, work, and play largely by the watch and between them I have done little plain relaxing. "
Transcribed by Mark Kubacki