From left, Pete Beidler, J. Burk Severs, and Al Hartung, 1978.
Pete Beidler never wanted to be a teacher and he didn't want to live in the Lehigh Valley. But he's spent the past 40 years teaching at Lehigh, largely due to the influence of two men -- Al Hartung and J. Burke Severs -- who set the lofty standard for Middle English scholarship at Lehigh.
"I became so interested in Chaucer because I had a great teacher, Burke Severs, who retired the year I got my Ph.D.," Beidler says. Hartung had previously studied under Severs, and all three men contributed to the most significant research tool for the writings of England from the 11th to the 15th centuries -- the 12-volume A Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500
, which includes commentary and extensive bibliographic listings on almost anything ever written in Middle English.
"Burke Severs was the head of the English department here when he edited the first two volumes in the 1960s, and I was a graduate student and actually did some proofreading and wrote a little article in there," Beidler says. "Burke Severs retired after the second volume and passed it on to the new department head -- Al Hartung."
Hartung worked on the manual until he died on New Year's Eve of 2003. (George Keiser '62, Ph.D. '71, who worked with all three men, also significantly contributed to volume 10.)
"Al and I remained friends after his retirement, and at his funeral, his family asked me to finish the remaining two volumes," Beidler recalls. "At first, I said no, but then I changed my mind. I guess you could say I was a reluctant bride."
Beidler's initial reluctance to take over the manual quickly faded because Hartung was such an influential person in his life. Plus, they shared a debt to Severs.
"Although Al came to Lehigh many years before me, we both did our dissertations with Burke Severs, and we both adored him," Beidler says. "We both learned a lot from Severs and from each other, actually, on how to do careful scholarship on medieval subjects and why it's important."
And it was Severs who hired Beidler when he decided to retire in 1965. Beidler has repaid Severs by dedicating the 11th volume of the manual to him.
So here Beidler remains, 40 years later, keeping the study of Middle English and Chaucer alive at Lehigh and passing on his knowledge and passion to the next generation of scholars.
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin