WFB's Awesome Archives

Maureen Miller, another TAS favorite, wrote the following on William F. Buckley Jr. I think you’ll like it.

In spring 2006 the Elevator Repair Service, a New York performance art group, staged No Great Society: Dances With Jack, a performance piece about Jack Kerouac’s appearance on a surreal September 3, 1969 taping of Firing Line. According to director John Collins, William F. Buckley attended the February 22 performance with a friend and remarked, “What did I say?” while struggling to follow one of his own labyrinthine trains of thought. But he complimented the “terrific” work of the actor playing him, Ben Williams, because he always had a kind word for anyone who could get in a good dig.

WFB was like that about everything. Not that I knew him. I know him only from his papers, as Buckley granted me access to them for my senior thesis research, no questions asked. My essay concerned Kerouac’s fascination with National Review. Kerouac, too, barely knew Buckley, but Buckley never failed to be kind to him besides. Kerouac probably first met Buckley in the mid-1940s, and Buckley has a brief cameo in Kerouac’s thinly veiled and thinly composed 1968 bildungsroman Vanity of Duluoz. The two men established a friendly repartee around the time of Duluoz‘s publication, if only because Kerouac took the opening to send Buckley rambling pitches for NR. Buckley, well aware of Kerouac’s deteriorating mental state, nonetheless replied to Kerouac’s confused thoughts with characteristic gentleness. He took time to address their (incoherent) ideological substance, and to ask after Kerouac’s family. His tone is indicative of the rest of the lot, and of the considerable good karma that came to Buckley just for being, essentially and consistently, an unusually stand-up guy.

Readers of all political stripes—I myself come from a considerably different scene than the Americans producing this blog—take note. Take heart, even! In a word, these archives are awesome. In Ferris Bueller’s words, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking them up. I’m not the most diligent student of history, so I don’t know the legal ins and outs of re-publishing excerpts. I hesitate, though, to think of another man of his intellectual generation with the generosity of spirit to save even his death threats. After Buckley dismissed the Beatles as “anti-music” in a 1964 syndicated column (“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… They Stink!”) he replied to a number of the angry Beatlemaniac letters, exchanges Buckley’s personal secretary has helpfully categorized by “nice,” “from mothers,” and “vile.” If I recall correctly they sit are on top of a school recital program and his society page clippings (with marginialia!) on the Black and White Ball.

In old age Irishmen forget everything but their grudges. William F. Buckley has left the better outcomes of his for posterity to enjoy in Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. We’d do well to take a cue from it.