‘That is, in short, I fain would learn The highest sum that I could earn.’

By Dr. Jack C. Lane

When a Rollins poet sought more dough, did his boss say yes or no?

Right: Starr's original rhyming request for a raise, followed by Holt's pithy but equally creative response.

Nathan Starr wanted a raise. He deserved a raise. The popular Rollins College professor, an expert in Arthurian literature, decided that the best way to broach the ticklish subject with Hamilton Holt, the writerly college president, was (for better or worse) to ask in verse. On Dec. 5, 1946, Starr sat down at his manual typewriter and composed the most creative (and literary) financial plea imaginable. Holt was handed the completed poem, entitled An Earnest Petition in Troublous Times, just as he was leaving his office to catch a flight to New York. From the airport, Holt dictated a reply to his assistant, which was relayed to Starr. Did the poetic ploy work? Holt’s response was noncommittal, but proved he could match Starr rhyme for rhyme. A quirky intellectual of the sort Holt loved to recruit for his faculty, Starr held bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard and a master’s degree from Oxford. (His 1954 book, King Arthur Today: The Arthurian Legend in English and American Literature, remains a classic of its genre.) It’s safe to speculate that Starr eventually got his raise, because he would remain at Rollins for seven more years. When he resigned in 1952 to join the faculty at the University of Florida, President Hugh McKean expressed keen regret, writing that Starr “carried with him that aura of a great teacher.” And, clearly, a clever negotiator.


Share This Post