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As I was finishing up my first MA degree in 2001, I began looking at possible destinations where I might continue working towards my PhD. I wanted a good school, obviously, but I wanted a particular kind of good school. One that was relaxed, for certain: some schools are anxiety-driven, and I didn’t want that at all. I wanted, too, a school where I could continue working to become an experienced editor of medieval texts: someone who takes a nearly illegible medieval manuscript and produces a printed text of it, making it available to more than just a few specialists. Beyond that, I wanted to go somewhere to work with a specific someone, an authority in my area that I could work closely with for the many years it would take to finish the degree. Add all that up, and I came up with one man, one school: I wanted to go to the University of Rochester to study with Russell Peck.

So I applied to Rochester. In fact, I only applied to Rochester — something that just about made my then-current advisors faint. But I figured that anything else wouldn’t fit as well, so it was Rochester or nothing.

They admitted me (whew!), and I visited the school during a quick weekend road trip from Kalamazoo to Ottawa (well, it’s sorta on the way) in order to attend a Chris de Burgh concert (don’t laugh). I met Russell, who was everything I had heard and hoped, and he sat me down after a meal. Things had been very relaxed, very fantastic.

“So,” he said, “what do you want to do for your dissertation?”

I recall smiling — I usually do this when my mind has been unexpectedly forced to go into high gear — before I admitted that since, well, I was just finishing my MA thesis, I hadn’t really had time to think about it.

Russell nodded sagely — he is by definition a sage, so I suppose he just nodded — and then said, “You should think about editing The Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament.”

I said I’d have to think about it — mental note, “Look up what the hell he just said” — and we moved on to other things. That afternoon I was alone for a short time in my now beloved Robbins Library, and I looked up this Paraphrase thing Russell had talked about.

Huh. 18,372 lines of Middle English. For my MA thesis I was just completing an edition of James I of Scotland’s poem Kingis Quair, which runs to just under 1400 lines. I was young. I was cocky. So I figured I had me a dissertation.

About five years later, as the dissertation rolled around, I had only managed to complete the Octateuch portion of the Paraphrase. The finish line seemed a distant mirage, determined to outpace my attempts to reach it.

Until Friday night.

Yes, this past Friday night I punctuated and glossed line number 18,372. I finished the first draft.

Here that, world?

I finished.

Now it’s on to revisions, which will be a far more finite process. I’ve been formatting the edition for publication as I’ve gone along, so I can say with authority that if I turned it in right now it would be a 700-page book. I’m hoping to cut that down to, say, 675 over the next week or so.

Then this one’s off to other hands and I can turn, in earnest, to Caesarion and the other matters plaguing my mind.


  1. Congratulations Mike! That is quite the accomplishment!

  2. Congratulations! That’s wonderful.

  3. Thanks, you two! I’m still staggered that I got through the darn thing.

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