I took Dr. Barzun’s seminar for a year, 1968-69. Just five people. I’ve read so much about his reserve that I have to say, Dr. Barzun was only dignified – not cold or arrogant. He was always smiling. Didn’t make jokes, but laughed at ours. I sent him a mss and asked him to read it 20 years after our seminar and he said, “Sure.” He always let his students disagree with him. I felt so safe with him I actually criticized him for some slang idiom he used (can you imagine?) and he only said, mildly, “Well, I didn’t really speak English till I was 12.” I’m still embarrassed but he didn’t get mad at Angry Young Men. One revealing moment: I remember exclaiming about some idea of his, “I’ve read the critics, and you’re the only one who believes that!” He took that in, and exclaimed in return, as if I’d given him the final evidence he’d needed, “Then I’m sure I’m right!” Happy Birthday, Dr. Barzun.
George J. Leonard is Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities, San Francisco State University