My “Just Jacques” Moment

In his excellent profile in The New Yorker (October 22, 2007), Arthur Krystal revealed that “sooner or later, all of Barzun’s acquaintances experience their own ‘just Jacques’ moment.” Krystal’s involved Jacques’s knowledge of Lord Edward Grey’s biography and Shirley Hazzard’s his vast knowledge of books at large. This is my “just Jacques” moment, the place in my biography when Jacques was most himself. When I edited a John Jay Chapman anthology, Unbought Spirit, I asked Jacques to write the book’s preface. I expected some back and forth negotiation and I expected time to elapse before things came to fruition. A week after my request, Jacques’s preface appeared in my mailbox. I did not think that anyone could add to what Jacques had said about the subject in 1957 in The Selected Writings of John Jay Chapman. No one other than Barzun, that is. The preface to Unbought Spirit is full of insight and composed in Jacques’s singularly lovely and limpid style. All of it — the preparation and the writing and the fulfillment — done in a week, without fuss or preliminaries. Done, no doubt, when there were many other irons in the fire. On this the eve of a glorious centennial, I salute Jacques Barzun for magnamity and genius.

Unbought Spirit: A John Jay Chapman Reader, edited by Richard Stone, was published by the University of Illinois Press in 1998.

The Jacques Barzun Centennial