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Clarence H. Miller, Ph.D.: 1930-2019

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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Clarence H. Miller, Ph.D., a Saint Louis University alumnus and professor emeritus in the English department, died Friday, June 21, 2019. He was 88.

Miller studied Renaissance literature and was known for his translations of the works of St. Thomas More and Erasmus. He held the Dorothy McBride Orthwein Endowed Professorship for 34 years, until his retirement from SLU in 2000. 

Clarence Miller
Clarence H. Miller, Ph.D. 

“Clarence Miller will be greatly missed not just by those of us who knew him and worked with him at SLU, but by the much larger community of international Renaissance scholars, of which he was such a distinguished member,” said Jonathan Sawday, Ph.D., professor of English and Walter J. Ong Chair in the Humanities.

“A delightfully generous and encouraging scholar, and possessed of an engaging wit, Clarence was prodigiously learned, and, at the same time, always curious about the work of others.”

His work on More was a passion throughout his life, his son Bart Miller said.

“My father passed away on the 21st, the feast day of St. Thomas More is June 22, and St. John Fisher died on June 22,” his son noted, saying his father would have appreciated the timing of his death falling between important dates in the lives of the two men who opposed Henry VIII’s encroachments on the Catholic Church.

More was martyred on July 6, 1535; Miller’s funeral Mass will be held July 5.

Miller was born Aug. 4, 1930, in Kansas City. His father died three months before he was born and he and his mother lived with her sister’s family; his mother’s sister was married to his father’s brother. Miller was raised with his three cousins as siblings.

Miller attended Rockhurst High School. He graduated from Saint Louis University in 1951 and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1955. 

Miller returned to SLU as an instructor of English in 1957 after two years of service in the U.S. Army. 

“He will be most widely remembered for his translations and editions of St. Thomas More and Erasmus, but, over his long and distinguished career, he published important work on a wide range of poets and writers, including Chaucer, Donne, Herbert, Jonson, Marvell, Dryden, Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins,” Sawday said. “His scholarly essays and articles, particularly on Donne and Marvell, have stood the test of time, and some are now acknowledged to be classics.”

Twice Miller twice taught in Germany; first as a Fulbright professor at the University of Würzburg from 1960-61, and again as a visiting professor at Ruhr University in West Germany from 1976-77. 

Clarence Miller was a towering figure in the field of Renaissance literature and in the department of English.” 

Toby Benis, Ph.D., professor and chair of the English department

Miller was a visiting professor at Yale University from 1979-84, where he served as the executive editor of the Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More. He remained an editor on the project until 1998. 

“Clarence Miller was a towering figure in the field of Renaissance literature and in the department of English,” said Toby Benis, Ph.D., professor and chair of the English department. “He was a devoted teacher and colleague, always curious and unfailingly generous with his time and expertise.”

Bart Miller, who audited one of his father’s courses while he was a SLU student, called his father generous with his knowledge and someone who enjoyed mentoring his students.

“He really was a Renaissance man who believed in the scholarly pursuit to get it right,” Bart Miller said. “He believed in getting to the source. Both More and Erasmus were famous for their revisions – he wanted to get to the heart of the matter. He was very diligent and committed to his work. I think his scholarship bore that out.” 

“His translations were exacting and precise – he wanted his translations to be in readable prose,” Bart Miller said. “He wanted it to be true to the English and the Latin and the Greek.”

Read a 1974 Saint Louis University Magazine profile on Clarence H. Miller

Miller continued his work well after his retirement from SLU. His final book was published in 2016.

Sawday said outside the classroom Miller was an accomplished potter.

“Numerous colleagues at SLU were surprised and delighted to be presented with one of his elegant ceramic bowls, which was usually accompanied by a self-effacing comment, deploring its maker’s lack of skill – which was the very opposite of the case,” Sawday said. “His passing, as one colleague remarked, marks the end of an era.”

He is survived by children Lucy Miller, Paula (John) Taylor, and Bart (Marlene) Miller; grandchildren Katherine and Sarah Taylor and Rachel, Luke and Olivia Miller; and cousins George and Georgina.

Miller was preceded in death by his parents and cousin Roger Miller.

His son, Christopher Stephen Miller, 57, passed away on June 25, 2019. A concelebrated funeral Mass for Clarence and Christopher Miller will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, July 5, at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church