More Enduring Than Brass

Everything about Jacques Barzun is impressive, even his resistance to being edited on the very rare occasions when an editor presumes to change something in a Barzun text.

To be that sure of oneself, and hold that obdurately to one’s convictions, is a rare thing in today’s wishy-washy world. At a time when neither editors nor copy editers at the most respected commercial and academic publishing houses will or can do much of anything, a man who stands by what he stands for is a precious rarity.

It was my privilege to be an associate editor at the Mid-Century Book Society, whose three illustrious editors were W. H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling. Auden, aware of his cavalier ways, was always content to be edited; Trilling was always ready to discuss discrepancies with his editor; Barzun was adamantly untouchable.

Perhaps it is best to be oneself both in one’s perfections and humanizing imperfections, especially when the former greatly outnumber the latter. That Barzun has reached age one hundred is further proof of his ability to pack some of his immortality even into his mortality.

After many years of dramatic criticism and several books, John Simon is now New York theater critic for Bloomberg News, and “Etcetera” columnist for

The Jacques Barzun Centennial