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Morris Bishop

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Name  Morris Bishop
Role  Biographer
Education  Cornell University

Died  November 20, 1973, Tompkins County, New York, United States
Books  Middle Ages, Petrarch and his world, The widening stain, A medieval storybook, A Survey of French Literature

How to treat elves by morris bishop

Morris Gilbert Bishop (April 15, 1893 – November 20, 1973) was an American scholar, historian, biographer, essayist, translator, anthologist and versifier.


Early life and career

Bishop was born while his father, Edwin R. Bishop, a Canadian physician, was working at Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in the state of New York; Morris was actually born in the hospital. His mother died two years later and Morris and his elder brother Edwin were sent to live with their Canadian grandparents in Brantford, Ontario. Bishop père remarried; and while he was working in Geneva, New York, the boys were sent to live with father and stepmother. Morris was then aged eight. However, both father and stepmother died (from tuberculosis) by the time he was 11; and the brothers were sent to live with relatives in Yonkers, New York.

Bishop attended Cornell from 1910 to 1913, earning a Bachelor's and a Morrison Poetry Prize in 1913 and then a Master of Arts degree in 1914. He then sold textbooks for Ginn & Co, joined the U.S. Cavalry (during which time he unhappily served under Pershing in the "punitive expedition" in Mexico), was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Infantry in World War I, worked in a New York advertising agency, and returned to Cornell afterward to begin teaching in 1921 and to earn a Ph.D. in 1926; his thesis being on the plays of Jules Lemaître. He was associated for the whole of his adult life with Cornell University, as alumnus, Kappa Alpha Professor of Romance Literature and University Historian. Bishop wrote the preeminent history of the university, A History of Cornell.

In 1962, Bishop was presented with a festschrift, Studies in Seventeenth-Century French Literature.

Bishop was Cornell's marshal, regularly officiating at graduations. During the 1970 ceremony (when Bishop was 77), he used the university mace to fend off a graduate student who was trying to seize the microphone. "The jab was given in typical Bishop style: with spontaneity, grace and effectiveness," commented the president, Dale R. Corson.

During World War II Bishop "worked with the psychological warfare division in France".

Bishop was a visiting professor at the University of Athens in 1951 and at Wells College in 1962–63. In 1964, he was named president of the Modern Language Association.


Bishop wrote biographies of Pascal, Champlain, La Rochefoucauld, Petrarch, and St. Francis, as well as his 1928 book, A Gallery of Eccentrics, which profiled 12 unusual individuals. His 1955 Survey of French Literature was for many years a standard textbook (revised editions were published in 1965 and, posthumously, in 2005). During the late 1950s and early 1960s his reviews of books on historical topics often appeared in The New York Times. His 1968 history of the Middle Ages is still (2017) in print under the title The Middle Ages. He was a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (in France), taught as a visiting professor at the University of Athens and Rice University and was president of the Modern Language Association. He was the author of many books including the pseudonymous comic mystery The Widening Stain. Bishop was a frequent contributor of historical articles to American Heritage Magazine.

Bishop's autobiography was edited by his daughter Alison Jolly as I Think I Have Been Here Before; it "includes poems and the text of many letters written by Bishop, as well as a few illustrations and photographs of Bishop and family". As of 2017, it remains unpublished.

Bishop's papers are held at Cornell University Library's Special Collections.

Comic poetry

Bishop had a high regard for light verse:

The aim of poetry, or Heavy Verse, is to seek understanding in forms of beauty. The aim of light verse is to promote misunderstanding in beauty's cast-off clothes. But even misunderstanding is a kind of understanding; it is an analysis, an observation of truth, which sneaks around truth from the rear, which uncovers the lath and plaster of beauty's hinder parts.

Bishop's obituary in The New York Times describes him as "an extraordinarily gifted writer" of light verse, publishing "about fifteen poems and casuals a year in the New Yorker over a period of over thirty years. Bishop also published verse in Saturday Evening Post, Poetry, The Colonnade, The Measure, The Smart Set, Judge, Saturday Review of Literature and the earlier Life.

The New York Times obituary goes on to mention that Bishop was an "authority" on limericks, and a very facile composer of them.

Bishop's comic poems were collected in three volumes during his lifetime: Paramount Poems (whose title page reads " 'If it isn't a PARAMOUNT, it isn't a poem.' — Morris Bishop"), Spilt Milk and A Bowl of Bishop.

"How to Treat Elves", probably his best-known poem, describes a conversation with "The wee-est little elf." When asked what he does, the elf tells the narrator "'I dance 'n fwolic about . . . 'n scuttle about and play.'" A few stanzas describe his activities surprising butterflies, "fwightening" Mr. Mole by jumping out and saying "Boo," and swinging on cobwebs. He asks the narrator "what do you think of that?" The narrator replies:

Taking up R. C. Trevelyan's challenge (in Thamyris, or Is There a Future for Poetry?) to write on a modern subject "and dispute Virgil's supremacy in this field", Bishop produced "Gas and Hot Air". It describes the operation of a car engine; "Vacuum pulls me; and I come! I come!" cries the gasoline, which reaches

"Ozymandias Revisited" reproduces the first two stanzas of Shelley's poem verbatim, then closes:

Bennett Cerf's Houseful of Laughter (1963) included Bishop's 1950 poem "Song of the Pop-Bottlers", which starts:

Bishop also wrote a poem about special relativity, "E = mc2", which ends:

A History of Cornell

Cornell's President, Deane Malott, named Bishop the university's historian and relieved him of teaching duties for a year in order that he could produce a history in time for the university's hundredth anniversary. Bishop completed the research and writing of the highly regarded two-volume work within three or four months.

Personal life

Bishop was married to the artist Alison Mason Kingsbury, who illustrated a number of his books. Their daughter, Alison Jolly, was a notable primatologist.

Bishop "[spoke] fluent German, French, Spanish, Swedish and Greek (he could also sight-read Latin)."

During the 1940s, Vladimir Nabokov's minor renown in the US was largely based on his short stories in Atlantic Monthly. Bishop was a great admirer of these, and on learning in 1947 that Nabokov was teaching at Wellesley College, invited him to apply for the recently vacated Cornell professorship of Russian literature, for which post Bishop chaired the personnel committee. Nabokov, who knew and enjoyed Bishop's verse, charmed the committee, and the Bishops and the Nabokovs "took an immediate instinctive liking to each other". While Nabokov and his wife Véra were at Cornell, "their only close companions" were the Bishops, at whose house in Cayuga Heights they frequently dined. Bishop and Nabokov would exchange limericks by mail.

Books with major contributions by Bishop

  • Luigi Lucatelli. Teodoro the Sage. New York, Boni and Liveright, 1923. Translated by Morris Bishop. OCLC 1631739.
  • Corrado Ricci. Beatrice Cenci. Two volumes. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925. OCLC 1909752. London: Heinemann, 1926. OCLC 213529335. Translated by Morris Bishop and Henry Longan Stuart. About Beatrice Cenci.
  • London: Peter Owen, 1956. OCLC 30171665.
  • Morris Bishop. A Gallery of Eccentrics; or, A set of twelve originals & extravagants from Elagabalus, the waggish emperor to Mr. Professor Porson, the tippling philologer, designed to serve, by example, for the correction of manners & for the edification of the ingenious. New York: Minton, Balch, 1928. OCLC 927345. Profiles of 12 unusual individuals.
  • Morris Bishop. Paramount Poems. New York: Minton, Balch, 1929. Drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury. OCLC 497477270. Reproduced within Spilt Milk (1942).
  • Voltaire. Candide and Other Philosophical Tales. Edited by Morris Bishop. The Modern Student's Library. New York: Scribner's, 1929. OCLC 874327226.
  • New York: Scribner's, 1957. OCLC 830143163.
  • Francesco Petrarca. Love Rimes of Petrarch. Ithaca, NY: Dragon Press, 1932. OCLC 1471803. Translated by Morris Bishop, illustrated by Alison Mason Kingsbury.
  • Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. ISBN 0313220026.
  • Giacomo Casanova. L'Évasion des plombs. New York: Holt, 1933. OCLC 896236. Edited by Morris Bishop.
  • Morris Bishop. The Odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca. New York: Century, 1933. OCLC 978223162. About Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.
  • Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971. ISBN 0837157390.
  • Morris Bishop. Pascal: The Life of Genius. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1936. London: Bell, 1937. OCLC 3595622. About Blaise Pascal.
  • Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1968. OCLC 317508251.
  • Pascal. Berlin: Die Runde, 1938. OCLC 11799202. German translation by Erika Pfuhl and Richard Blunck.
  • Pascal: la vida del genio. México: Hermes. OCLC 865303398. Spanish translation by Mariano de Alarcón.
  • Morris Bishop. Ronsard, Prince of Poets. New York: Oxford University Press, 1940. OCLC 230143477.
  • Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 26. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959. OCLC 252022391.
  • W. Bolingbroke Johnson. The Widening Stain. New York: Knopf, 1942. A mystery novel, largely set in the library of Cornell University. Johnson was a pseudonym of Bishop's. OCLC 961366.
  • New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1942 ("Popular Copyright" edition). OCLC 43367428.
  • London: John Lane, 1943. OCLC 752871434.
  • Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library Associates, 1976. A facsimile of the 1942 Knopf edition, published for the Friends of Cornell University. OCLC 49794607.
  • Boulder, CO: Rue Morgue Press, 2007. ISBN 9781601870087. Identifies Bishop as the author.
  • La Tache qui s'étend. Collection police judiciare. S.l.: Éditions de la Paix, 1948. Translation into French by G. de Tonnac-Villeneuve. OCLC 41004175.
  • Morris Bishop. Spilt Milk. New York: Putnam's, 1942. With illustrations by Alison Mason Kingsbury and Richard Taylor. OCLC 1720854. Reproduces the whole of Paramount Poems (1929).
  • Morris Bishop, ed. A Treasury of British Humor. New York: Coward-McCann, 1942. OCLC 811583710.
  • Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970. ISBN 0836961943.
  • Morris Bishop. Champlain: The Life of Fortitude. New York: Knopf, 1948. OCLC 1310945. About Samuel de Champlain.
  • London: McDonald, 1949. OCLC 752964324.
  • Carleton library, no. 4. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1963. OCLC 4179498.
  • New York: Octagon, 1979. OCLC 0374906424.
  • Molière. The Would-Be Invalid. Crofts Classics. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950. Translated and edited by Morris Bishop. OCLC 723498991.
  • New York: Appleton-Century, 1964. OCLC 30883137.
  • Morris Bishop. The Life and Adventures of La Rochefoucauld. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1951. OCLC 752621492. About François de La Rochefoucauld.
  • Morris Bishop. A Bowl of Bishop: Museum Thoughts and Other Verses. New York: The Dial Press, 1954. OCLC 492645911.
  • Morris Bishop. A Survey of French Literature. 2 vols. Vol 1. The Middle Ages to 1800. Vol 2. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1955. OCLC 881290834.
  • Revised edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965. OCLC 861987098.
  • 3rd edition. 5 vols, by Morris Bishop and Kenneth Troy Rivers. Newburyport, MA: Focus, 2005–2006. Vol 1. The Middle Ages and the Sixteenth Century. ISBN 9781585101061. Vol 2. The Seventeenth Century. ISBN 9781585101078. Vol 3. The Eighteenth Century. ISBN 9781585101801. Vol 4. The Nineteenth Century. ISBN 9781585101818. Vol 5. The Twentieth Century. ISBN 9781585101825.
  • Molière. Eight plays by Molière: The Precious Damsels; The School for Wives; The Critique of The School for Wives; The Versailles Impromptu; Tartuffe; The Misanthrope; The Physician in Spite of Himself; The Would-Be Gentleman. New York: The Modern Library, 1957. OCLC 500665387. Translated and introduced by Bishop.
  • Mattituck, NY: Aeonian Press, c.1986. ISBN 0884114481.
  • Morris Bishop. Samuel de Champlain : fondateur du Canada, héros national ; l'homme, le cher compagnon de nos cœurs. Québec: Festival National Champlain, 1958. OCLC 49065501. About Samuel de Champlain.
  • Arthur S. Bates, ed. Le Roman de vrai amour, and Le Pleur de sainte Âme. University of Michigan Contributions in Modern Philology, 24. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1958. An edition of a manuscript in Cornell University rediscovered by Bishop, who contributes pages 24–39. The book is based on Bates's PhD thesis.
  • Morris Bishop. White Men Came to the Saint Lawrence: The French and the Land They Found. Sir Edward Beatty memorial lectures. London: Allen & Unwin, 1961. OCLC 932916784. Montreal: McGill University, 1961. OCLC 299945193.
  • Morris Bishop. A History of Cornell. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962. OCLC 560430806. 1992. ISBN 978-0-8014-0036-0. 2014. ISBN 978-0-8014-5538-4. About Cornell University.
  • Early Cornell, 1865–1900: The First Part of "A History of Cornell". Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962. OCLC 220773188.
  • Morris Bishop. Petrarch and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963. OCLC 422137205. London: Chatto & Windus, 1964. OCLC 5687293.
  • Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1973. ISBN 0804617309.
  • Morris Bishop. Blaise Pascal. Laurel Great Lives and Thought. New York: Dell, 1966. OCLC 577301. About Blaise Pascal.
  • Morris Bishop. The Horizon Book of the Middle Ages. New York, American Heritage Press; distributed Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968. Edited by Horizon (editor in charge Norman Kotker). OCLC 272326.
  • The Middle Ages. American Heritage Library. New York: American Heritage Press, 1970. ISBN 0070054665.
  • The Penguin Book of the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1971. ISBN 0-14-003174-X. Abridged edition.
  • The Pelican Book of the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1978. ISBN 0-14-022519-6.
  • The Middle Ages. American Heritage Library. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. ISBN 0-8281-0487-5.
  • The Middle Ages. Mariner Books. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. ISBN 0-618-05703-X.
  • Morris Bishop. The Exotics: Being a Collection of Unique Personalities and Remarkable Characters. New York: American Heritage Press, 1969. ISBN 0-8281-0008-X.
  • Morris Bishop. A Medieval Storybook. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-8014-0562-9. Drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury.
  • Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-8014-7882-6.
  • Morris Bishop. A Classical Storybook. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-8014-0577-7. Drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury.
  • Morris Bishop. A Renaissance Storybook. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971. ISBN 0-8014-0592-0. Drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury.
  • Morris Bishop. A Romantic Storybook. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971. ISBN 0-8014-0658-7. Drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury.
  • Morris Bishop. Saint Francis of Assisi. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974. ISBN 0316096652. About Francis of Assisi.
  • Franciscus: een biografie. Baarn: Amboeken, 1974. ISBN 9026303467. Dutch translation by Henri van der Burght.
  • Morris Bishop. The Best of Bishop: Light Verse from "The New Yorker" and Elsewhere. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-8014-1310-9. Edited by Charlotte Putnam Reppert, foreword by David McCord; with drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury and Richard Taylor.
  • Morris Bishop. Light Verse in America. Aquila Essays, no. 8. Portree: Aquila, 1982. ISBN 0727502247.
  • Adaptations

    In 1928, John Barnes Wells published "The silly little fool", a composition for voice and piano accompaniment, using Bishop's "How to Treat Elves".

    Emanuel Rosenberg adapted Bishop's "I love to think of things I hate", publishing it in 1944.

    Warren Benson wrote A Song of Joy, for Mixed Voices with words by Bishop, publishing it in 1965. He adapted Bishop's "Song of the Pop-Bottlers" for three-part chorus, "I lately lost a preposition" for mixed chorus, and "An Englishman with an atlas; or, America the unpronounceable" for mixed chorus.

    Ludwig Audrieth and G. L. Coleman adapted Bishop's "Tales of Old Cornell" for the unaccompanied choral work Tales of Old Cornell (published together with Lingering, with words by Albert W. Smith).

    Edgar Newton Kierulff wrote a play, Moving day in Shakspere's England, "[a]dapted from an original piece by Morris Bishop", and published in 1964 in a small edition for friends.


    Morris Bishop Wikipedia