University of Rochester Library Bulletin: In Memoriam, Robert F. Metzdorf

Volume XXIX  ·  Number 1  ·  Autumn 1975
In Memoriam: Robert F. Metzdorf 

Early this Spring, Robert F. Metzdorf, a devoted alumnus and trustee of this University as well as a knowing and generous friend of its Libraries, died at his home in North Colebrook, Connecticut. At the University's memorial service for him on 22 March, tributes were paid to his place in the University, in the world of books, and among those who use and respect books. These are printed here, with gratitude and affection.

On behalf of the trustees and of the University, and as a friend, I speak with deep feeling on this occasion. The death on March 16 of Robert Frederic Metzdorf is a grievous loss to his many friends and colleagues and to the University of Rochester.

Bob Metzdorf was graduated here in 1933 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and with a Phi Beta Kappa key. He continued with an M.A. degree in 1935 and received the University's first Ph.D. in English in 1939. He remained at the University until 1949, serving as curator of rare books; as a member of the faculty in English; as chief dormitory advisor for a time, and as University bellman from 1940 to 1949, where he played the Hopeman chimes with spirit and enjoyment.

Bob's professional interests took him then to the libraries at Harvard and at Yale, and then to Parke-Bernet Galleries, where he was vice-president and director. From 1964 until his death he was an independent appraiser of manuscripts and books, an expert widely sought for his professional judgment.

In 1967 Bob joined the University's board of trustees as an alumni-elected trustee. He was most enthusiastic about returning to the campus and renewing friendships. With the establishment of the Trustees' Library Visiting Committee, Bob was appointed chairman, a post which he held until his death. Although his major service as a trustee was in connection with the library, he had a constructive interest in everything that went on at the University: academic development, financial matters, relations with the faculty, the accomplishments of students. His background at Rochester, his fund of current information about other universities, and his humanistic outlook made him especially valuable as a member of our board of trustees.

A generous donor of rare books and manuscripts, he was of the greatest help in persuading other collectors to give to our library. He was the key figure in the founding of the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries.

All of us at the University who were associated with Bob Metzdorf will miss him. We will remember him for his friendliness, constant enthusiasm, delightful sense of humor, and professional competence.

--Mercer Brugler, '25, Chairman Emeritus, Board of Trustees, University of Rochester.

In the libraries of this University, among those who work in and use them, Bob Metzdorf was a recognized, respected, and warm friend. There was a freshness and pleasure in his visits and always something more to learn about books and manuscripts, for his bibliographical and technical knowledge of them was uncommonly extensive. His sense of their many and sustaining values was sure, as were his taste and regard for quality. And his faith in libraries and the purposes they serve was unassailable.

For the libraries of this University, therefore, and for those, I am sure, of a great many others, the record of Bob Metzdorf's good works is clear and impressive. With thoughtful generosity he gave books and manuscripts to us, and often the means to acquire others.

More than generous also with his time and counsel, Bob was a constant advocate of libraries -- a partisan, if you will, insistent and not always easy to respond to. Quality in them, he believed, is central to learning and research in the University.

I am not the only librarian to believe, and I suspect most bookmen would agree, that with his bibliographical skill, taste, and sense of values; with his generosity, good counsel, and staunch advocacy, Bob Metzdorf elevated the work of enriching library collections from an art to a grace. This, I think, is what will be most missed in the libraries of this University.

--Ben C. Bowman, Director of Libraries, University of Rochester.

When Samuel Johnson died in 1784, one of his friends mourned the gap created by his passing with the words, "No man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson." Equally, there is no one quite like Bob Metzdorf, my dear friend for thirty years.

Introducing him to the Fellows of Davenport College at Yale in 1953, I said of him that there was nothing of the monk about him except the tonsure. In one sense, that was true: he was the most gregarious of men, fond of good food and drink, and more especially of the social happiness that accompanied them. He had a host of friends, and gave himself unreservedly to his friendships with them. A cornpany that included him was bound to be one of convivial hilarity, enlightened by his warmth and wit. The gaiety of many will be eclipsed by his absence.

And yet, in a deeper sense, he was something of a monk, not as ascetic, but as one who recognized a kind of divinity in books and manuscripts, and dedicated his life, with almost ferocious intensity, to their study, description, and greater understanding. His publications -- on the autograph collections here, for example, and on the library of Chauncey Tinker -- are models of the most painstaking and indefatigable labor. To the editions of Boswell and Johnson, to the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America which he edited, and to his appraisals, he devoted precision and learning far beyond the usual. It was a kind of holy passion with him, and the fruits of his work, somewhat like that of a scribe in a medieval monastery, will always be valuable.

I am sure that his German ancestry was one source of his diligence. He was stubborn, laudably so in pursuit of facts, but sometimes exasperating in the firmness with which he clung to his convictions. Never was there any doubt of the faith with which he adhered to his principles as he saw them. In a time when principles seem out of fashion, he was a paradigm.

For one usually so jovial, he was in many ways also a resolute Victorian, evidenced by his interest in that queen and her age. He was house-proud, and justifiably, for he always surrounded himself with possessions of all sorts that manifested his unerring taste. The many and distinctly different collections he assembled are another enduring achievement.

I knew him best, of course, in his career at Yale and in the book world generally. At Yale, as earlier at Harvard, he was a very effective contributor to the educational task: he won the affections of many students, and used that relationship to widen their intellects and fortify their characters. These, indeed, were his children, and he is blessed in his progeny.

Among librarians, collectors, and the book trade he was held in the highest regard. If we were sometimes uncomfortable in the face of his exacting standards, we always respected his impatience with hypocrisy or compromise. Another great man, Chauncey Tinker, did not welcome dissent, and did not suffer gladly fools or even some men of wisdom: he instantly recognized both Bob's probity and his warmth, and the tender attentions Bob gave Tink in his last days are a Christian example.

Bob bore his own long and difficult illness with unfaltering courage and dignity. I can say, from outside this community, that the many ways in which this University and others in Rochester cared for Bob have earned the lasting gratitude of all his friends.

That care and Bob's brave struggle have not prevailed, illustrating again the vanity of human wishes. From Johnson's poem of that name, we may recall the closing lines:

Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to heav'n the measure and the choice,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For love, which scarce collective man can fill;
For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill;
For faith, that, panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind nature's signal of retreat;
These goods for man the laws of heav'n ordain;
These goods He grants, who grants the pow'r  to gain;
With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.

Let us, even in our sorrow, be confident that Bob has been granted the full measure of that happiness which he deserves. God bless and keep him and give him peace.

--Herman W. Liebert, Librarian Emeritus, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


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