80 Years Apart — With My Thanks

For what we have received may the Lord make us truly thankful. I am not a religious man — but I am very thankful for the presence of Jacques Barzun, for his work, for his influence and for his just being there for the world.

As a lowly undergraduate (born in 1987), one feels unable to write anything of substance, certainly when one compares oneself to a renowned intellectual historian such as Dr Barzun. However, there are times when one has to do the impossible — substance and originality may be absent at present, but a cry of “thank you” may just be manageable.

I have never met Jacques Barzun; I have wandered near to him through his works, and unlike any author I have read other than G. Bernard Shaw — he writes calmly, collectively, but full of emotion, full of meaning — which resonates in a unique way. As an enthusiast of Shaw, it is a delight to see someone of Shaw’s caliber today.

My words fail, so I will resort to using two quotations from Barzun’s work. They have both made a bigger impact upon my understanding of Shaw than any other: not only this, but they are probably amongst the greatest tributes ever written to a man. Jacques Barzun would probably not thank me for saying, but both quotations are a perfect description of him, too.

Bernard Shaw remains the only model we have of what the citizen of a democracy should be: an informed participant in all things we deem important to the society and the individual.

Shaw knows at any moment, on any subject, what he thinks, what you will think, what others have thought, what all this thinking entails. . . . Shaw is perhaps the most consciously conscious mind that has ever thought.

Perhaps the last point to be made is — I have found myself in an incredibly contradictory state of emotion when having read a piece by Jacques Barzun — on the one hand, one is pleased to read works by someone with such sensible views, views 99% of the time one agrees with, but one also feels a lowness, as it is obvious we are heading, as a world society — the wrong way. This is of course not Jacques Barzun’s fault, and his highlighting of the situation merely enrichens the world.

Dr Barzun: You will live on for many centuries yet, as a renaissance man of the highest order, as a guide to all who have a thirst for learning, and as an example of “what a citizen of a democracy should be” in our age of decadence. You are and will continue to be a beacon of what we have to look forward to in the next enlightenment.

Thank you, Dr Barzun.

Nathan P. Bridle is a 20-year-old 3rd Year Undergraduate, currently studying History at the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom.

The Jacques Barzun Centennial