Sunday, July 09, 2017

`The Joy of Having a Liberated Mind'

I’m in Dallas this weekend on family business and will not have time to write, but I’ve discovered a “regional writer” of some interest who lived most of his life in the city. I’ve written about him in advance for Sunday and Monday. The unfortunately named Lon Tinkle was born in Oak Cliff, now a part of Dallas, in 1906. He graduated from and taught at Southern Methodist University, served as book editor for the Dallas Morning News, and published eight Texas-themed books. His first, Thirteen Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo, was published in 1958, and resulted in Tinkle serving as the historical adviser to John Wayne’s film The Alamo (1960).

I placed “regional writer” in quotation marks because critics and academics often patronize writers like Tinkle. Read Marshall Terry’s profile of him, and learn that Tinkle attended the Sorbonne, taught French literature at SMU, and met Theodore Dreiser and Gertrude Stein (now there’s a charming couple) in Paris. You’ll also learn that Tinkle arranged for T.S. Eliot’s first visit to Texas, in 1958. He gave a reading at the SMU Coliseum to a capacity audience of 9,000, and was presented with a Stetson hat and an honorary sheriff’s badge. Go here to see the poet wearing his star.
Tinkle wrote two books about another Texas writer: J. Frank Dobie: The Makings of an Ample Mind (1968) and An American Original: The Life of J. Frank Dobie (1978). Dobie was a homegrown polymath who spent too much time with folklore, a dreary field. In the first book, Tinkle tells us Dobie (1888-1964) believed Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi “reached the supreme point of perfection in using the English language to create an `American’ style.” Tinkle quotes a letter written by Dobie in 1962: “If I were teaching any course now I’d never let my auditors forget the joy of having a liberated mind.” Regional writers like Tinkle and Dobie serve as welcome correctives to the consensus that Texas is a backward, unlettered, marginally civilized place. In his introduction to I’ll Tell You a Tale, Dobie refutes the snobbish charge of regionalism. He’s no “county-minded provincial,” he says:

“Reading Hazlitt, Herodotus, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Boswell, Montaigne, and certain other emitters of luminosity never palls. . . . I am so grounded in respect for the English language as used by noble writers for more than five hundred years that I have never been contemporaneous with more than four or five writers whom I admire. My contemporaries have lacked amplitude, wit, Johnsonian horse sense, play of mind, and other virtues common to predecessors still waiting to be enjoyed. Most modern American writing in the `best seller’ lists is so loosely—often sloppily, ignorantly, hideously—composed that it has no appeal for a craftsman disciplined to lucidity, and the logic of grammar, bred to a style `familiar but by no means vulgar,’ and harmonized from infancy with the rhythms of nature.”

The words quoted by Dobie are spoken to Laertes by Polonius, a character always more misunderstood than Hamlet:

“Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”

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