Thomas Yoseloff: In Memoriam

December 27, 2007

Despite the richness and fullness of his life, and the peacefulness with which he gave up life, I know that you, family members and friends, gathered here to memorialize him, are grieving deeply, as I am, that Thomas Yoseloff is no more. Yet so very much of him lives on in the books he wrote and published, in the generous philanthropy he extended to many many institutions, including the university of whose faculty I’ve been a member.

Tom was the most remarkable man I’ve ever known. Not only was he astonishingly intelligent and widely informed; he was also wise. Piercingly perceptive, he did not suffer fools lightly. Still, he was patient, generous and loyal to those who were less than he was. I am but one of the many whose debt to him is great, too great to be repaid save in our acknowledgement of its dimensions and our unqualified respect for and gratitude to him, along with our sadness over his separation from us.

To many of us he was our literary father. In a time when publishing had become only business for most publishers, Tom cared deeply about what he published. He cared about the writer as well. Serving as a scrupulous and meticulous editor and judge, he responded with unflinching honesty, even when his judgment was severe.

Beyond this extraordinary combination of qualities, Tom himself was a fluent writer. Witness The Time of My Life, an autobiography that renders in moving and beautiful prose the transplanting of the Yoseloffs, his heroic struggle as a boy, his devotion to his family, his securing of an education, his move to New York City, and his remarkable success in the world of publishing. He was also a sound scholar and an insightful critic. Witness his book A Fellow of Infinite Jest, a literary biography of Laurence Sterne, an eighteenth-century English writer, that forcefully makes the case that he and his novel, Tristam Shandy, both of which had been shamefully neglected, have a claim on greatness. Tom both made and promoted literature.

This morning we acknowledge that Thomas Yoseloff, who like the rest of us, had a birth certificate and a social security number, is no longer among us. Yet to a far greater extent than most of us ultimately will, he’s become something more than, something larger than the legal individual. Let me close these remarks by applying to Tom some lines written by Thomas Wolfe about dying and its aftermath:

Something has spoken to me in the night,
burning the tapers of the waning year,
something has spoken in the night and told me
I shall die, I know not where, Saying:
“To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing;
to lose the life you have for greater life;
to leave the friends you loved for greater loving;
to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth—
“—Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded,
toward which the conscience of the world is tending—
a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.”

--Jack Wheatcroft