Monday, September 28, 2009

Good-bye, Mr. Safire

Having blogged on ghosts just yesterday, it feels a little strange to write a memorial to William Safire, so recently departed, and I will pass on doing a longer piece such as I wrote for George MacDonald Fraser, John Mortimer and George Carlin here the past year or so, though not because Safire isn't worth it. I am sorry to see him go as I have been sorry in the past to see him give up his New Times column and later his language column.

He was the kind of political "pundit" I like, rarely making a personal attack, almost always debating the point rather than stating the party line or baiting his followers with "red meat," and almost always softening whatever he wrote with his particular sense of humor (I almost wrote "impish" or "puckish," to modify "humor," but he would scold me for the cliche and then snicker while he used it himself). If I had to pick, he and the late Jack Anderson have been my favorite columnists. I never read one of Safire's novels (that I can remember, anyway) and his re-interpretation of the Book of Job was just a mistake in more than one way. But, those are minor criticisms of a great writer and can have the same damage to his reputation as my blowing into the wind would have on a hurricane.

I very highly recommend his Lend Me Your Ears, a collection of inspirational speeches (he was, after all, first known to us as a speech writer for Nixon) that I have revisited enough to destroy the spine, as well as his column on columns, How to Read a Column. If I am allowed a slight fantasy, I picture him greeting his old boss, Richard Nixon, today, but then moving on with delight to the spirits of Pericles, Judge Learned Hand, Malcolm X, William Jennings Bryant, and so many others who have inspired him with their words and which he has helped pass on to us.

I leave this topic by quoting from a speech by Charles I of England, just before he lost his head, which I read first in Lend Me Your Ears. I imagine Safire might have liked to quote this himself, if he could: "I troth, sirs, I shall not hold you much longer; for I will only say this to you, that in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because that I would have put this I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested, than I have done; and therefore I hope you will excuse me."

1 comment:

  1. Shesh, I didn't even know he croaked. Loved his NY Times column. Never read any of his books, not crazy about his politics. Like you, thought he could really write... nice tribute.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

My photo
I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .