restricted access Paul Elmer More
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418 ] Paul Elmer More1 Princeton Alumni Weekly, 37 (5 Feb 1937) [373]-74 The place of Paul More’s writings in my own life has been of such a kind that I find easiest, and perhaps most effective, to treat it in a kind of autobiographical way. What is significant to me – and it is of objective significance as well – is not simply the conclusion at which he arrived, but the fact that he arrived there from somewhere else; and not simply that he came from somewhere else, but that he took a particular route. And conversely , the point at which he has arrived gives an importance to the stages of the journey which was not apparent before. If I find an analogy with my own journey, that is perhaps of interest to no one but myself, except in so far as it explains my retrospective appreciation of the Shelburne Essays; for my appreciation of the whole work cannot be disengaged from the way in which I arrived at it. When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, More was editor of the Nation, and to occupy that position in those days was to be a public figure.2 I sometimes read the Nation and I sometimes read a Shelburne Essay, but I cannot remember that I liked or disliked More’s writings: I was interested in other things, if I had any interests at all. I think it was partly that, in a period of notable sterility for creative literature, I wanted a kind of food that the current tradition of writing in England and America did not provide . And as my reading took the form of saturating my mind in the work of a few poets, rather than a systematic study of literature, I certainly did not have the background for appreciating the kind of critical intelligence at work in the Shelburne Essays – to say nothing of Ste.-Beuve. It was not until my senior year, as a pupil of Babbitt’s, that More’s work was forced on my attention: for one of the obligations of any pupil of Babbitt was to learn a proper respect for “my friend More.”3 But while one was directly exposed to so powerful an influence as Babbitt’s, everything that one read was merely a supplement to Babbitt. It was not until one or two of the volumes of The Greek Tradition had appeared that More began to have any importance for me.4 It was possibly Irving Babbitt himself in 1927 or 1928, in a conversation in London during which I had occasion to indicate the steps I had recently taken, who first [ 419 Paul Elmer More made me clearly cognizant of the situation.5 In the later volumes of The Greek Tradition, and in the acquaintance and friendship subsequently formed, I came to find an auxiliary to my own progress of thought, which no English theologian at the time could have given me. The English theologians , born and brought up in the surroundings of private belief and public form, and often themselves descended from ecclesiastics, at any rate living mostly in an environment of religious practice, did not seem to me to know enough of the new world of barbarism and infidelity that was forming all about them. The English Church was familiar with the backslider, but it knew nothing of the convert – certainly not of the convert who had comesuchalongjourney.ImightalmostsaythatInevermetanyChristians until after I had made up my mind to become one. It was of the greatest importance, then, to have at hand the work of a man who had come by somewhat the same route, to almost the same conclusions, at almost the same time: with a maturity, a weight of scholarship, a discipline of thinking , which I did not, and never shall, possess.6 I had met More only once in earlier years – at a reception given by the Babbitts to which some of Babbitt’s pupils had the honor of invitation – and that remained only a visual memory. My first meeting with him in London, however, seemed more like the renewal of an old acquaintance than the formation of a new one: More was a St. Louisan, and had known my family; and if he had remained there a few years longer, he would have taught me Greek as he had taught my brother. Our subsequent meetings have all been at considerable intervals. I shall always remember with particular pleasure several days in Oxford in...


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