Wednesday, January 26, 2022

'Specializing in Omniscience'

After Terry Teachout’s death I remembered Richard Brookhiser had written about him briefly in Right Time, Right Place (2009), his memoir of life with William F. Buckley at the National Review. During the first Reagan administration, young conservative writers flocked to the magazine, including Terry. Buckley was an energetic cultivator of young writing talent. Brookhiser had published his first article in NR (a cover story) in 1970 when he was fifteen. He went fulltime in 1977 and by age twenty-three was a senior editor. He writes: 

“[Terry] came to us from the real world of work, writing music criticism for the Kansas City Star while he clerked in a bank and played jazz bass on the side. He began reviewing books for us, specializing in omniscience.”


That’s a great line, right on the money. Brookhiser continues: “In one letter to Bill [Buckley], Terry fretted over some liberal tripe that had run in his paper. Bill quoted the line in a column, which caused the Star to rebuke Terry; Bill, characteristically, rebuked the Star (I handled the correspondence).” Terry moved to New York City in 1985 and began writing for National Review and other publications. Brookhiser continues:


“Terry was a little reserved, a little anxious, bursting with attention, eager to show how much he knew. None of us ever needed persuading of that; the proof was always on the page.”


Not a bad epitaph. Brookhiser is a smart, conversational writer of prose. On the book’s final page, he includes the toast he made to Buckley at a dinner shortly before his mentor’s death in 2008. He quotes a poem I’m always a sucker for, Yeats’ “Beautiful Lofty Things,” and prefaces the toast with this:


“The limitation of writers is to experience the world through words; the vanity of writers is to be always playing with words to capture the world, and their own experience.”


I can no longer find the email but I remember writing to Terry, probably in 2009, about what I was reading at the time, including Ronald Knox and Josef Pieper. He approved in his reply and said something like the following: “I can’t tell you how many times I have failed to understand something until I had written about it.” I was stunned that someone understood an experience I thought was mine alone.

 [On Jan. 13, the day of Terry’s death, Brookhiser posted a brief tribute to his friend in National Review.]

[In 2007, when Anecdotal Evidence was barely seventeen months old, I was floored to read Terry praising me as a “regional critic” in the Wall Street Journal.]


Edward Bauer said...

It was my habit to hit About Last Night right after reading the daily EvidenceAnecdotal. They are 1 and 2 on the dropdown menu I've labeled 'words.' Although his entries grew more sporadic over the past couple of months, it is strange and leaves me sad that he is gone. I will leave his blog there, just as I have left David Myers' in its common place.

MMc said...

I learned of your blog from TT, so I guess I have been reading it since 2007. You have been a good teacher. Thanks.