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IRVING BABBITT* PAUL ELMER MORE I T is not an easy thing, with the cold page of print in mind, to write of a friend, a very close friend, and it is only with reluctance that I have acceded to the request to undertake such a task. And there was a special reason for hesitating in this case. Babbitt was an author and a teacher, and in these capacities is known to a larger and a smaller circle; others may estimate-indeed Professor Mercier has already estimated-the value of his books as well as I could do, or better, and of his astonishing manner and power in the lecture room, his pupils, many of them now holding prominent places in the academic world, can speak from a knowledge which I do not possess. But he was a talker too, greater in that vein, I believe, than as a teacher, greater, I know, than as an author. And it is just of his genius in the give and take of conversation that I am qualified, by long association and by a fundamental sympathy of mind not incompatible with clashing differences, to write as probably no one else can do. .Yet a record of the spoken word without its intonation and the accompanying gesture leaves it but a dead thing, and a reported argument is likely to lose its point unless the second party to the discussion brings himself into the scene to a degree that may seem egotistic. My acquaintance with Babbitt began in the autumn of r892, when I came to ·Cambridge from the West to "Irvjn~ Babbitt, Professor of French Literature at Harvard, was, with the author of this article, the founder of the modern humanist movement in America, and until his death last year, its chief leader. His works include The Maslers oj Modern French CriJici.fm, ROluuau and Romanlici.Jm, and Democracy and LeadeTJhip . In 1930 he gave the Alexander lectures in the University of Toronto, 011 "Wordsworth and Modern Poetry" (printed in his last work, On Being Crealive) [EDITOR-S' NOTE1. 129 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY prosecute my study of Sanskrit and pali. Babbitt was then twenty-six or seven years old. He had graduated from Harvard, had taught for a time in Montana, and had then spent a year in Paris working in the same languages with Sylvain Levi. We two formed the whole of the advanced class under Professor Lanman, and naturally were thrown much together. I can well remember our first meeting in Lanmari's marvellously equipped library. Babbitt was rather above the average height, powerfully built, with the complexion of radiant health. But it was his eyes that caught and held one's attention. They were of a dark, not pure blue, and even then, though of a lustre that dimmed somewhat in later years, had in repose the withdrawn look of one much given to meditation. He had a way of gazing downwards or forwards or anywhere rather than into the face of his interlocutor, in a manner which could never be described as timid or shifty, but which gave often the impression of remoteness, as if the individual before him were lost in some general view of life or some question of fundamen tal principles which might be occupying his mind. But if the ,unlucky individual though t to escape into that remoteness from the consequences of a rash statement or logical fallacy, he was likely to be caught up by a swift direct glance that seemed to shoot out tentacles, as it were, into his very soul. At such moments that restless energy of Babbitt's, which was wont to work itself off in walking or by pacing back and forth as he talked, would appear to be gathered together, holding his body in an attitude of tense rigidity. The effect-I am speaking of his early years of combatwas startling, sometimes almost terrific, as if in an evening ramble under the shadow of familiar trees one were brought up sharply by the gleam of watching eyes from a form crouching ready to spring. One such instance I 130 IRVING BABBITT may recall. We were strolling up...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 129-145
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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