IN THE next issue of NATIONAL REVIEW we will pay appropriate tribute
figure whose death on April 29 left the conservative community desolate. He
was omnipresent, coming at us from every direction. He wrote a seminal book
and, for many years, a syndicated column. He lectured, gave speeches, wrote
ghost stories and histories, and edited anthologies. Through it all he
maintained a special presence as ever so faintly bohemian, the orthodox
husband of a beautiful wife, father of four daughters, obdurately
professorial in demeanor, yet those who noticed never needed to wait too
long before catching the wink, in what he said, and did.
Much of all this in the issue to come, so that here, we pause merely
remark his loss, reach out our hands to one another, expressing our shared
Our own association with him -- and I clutch in here to the personal
is older than the life of NATIONAL REVIEW. I had of course read his
important book, but I had not met Russell Kirk. The publication of NATIONAL
REVIEW was now anticipated, to begin about a year later, and the time had
come to meet him.
It was in the fall of 1954; I made the date, and flew to Michigan.
I had a
single objective, and I greatly feared that I would fail in it. I desired
that Professor Kirk would consent, beginning with the opening issue, to
contribute a regular column to NATIONAL REVIEW on doings in the academic
I confess I was very nervous. Although Russell was only a few years
at 28 I felt that an entire world lay between us, the wide gulf between his
learning, and my own. He was then a bachelor, and shortly after I arrived to
stay as a guest at his house, Piety Hill, he took me to dinner at a
neighborhood restaurant, where he promptly ordered two Tom Collinses.
Emboldened by that warm aloofness which was his trademark, I put it to him
directly, and his reply was instantaneous: Yes, he would write a regular
column for my prospective magazine.
I was so elated by his spontaneous and generous willingness to associate
august name with that of a wizened ex-schoolboy known mostly for an
iconoclastic screed directed at his alma mater, that I took to ordering more
Tom Collinses, but in every case, one for each of us. The evening proceeded
toward a pitch of such hilarity that, at midnight, I was barely able to
drive the car back to Russell's house. On arriving, he led me to my bedroom,
bade me goodnight only one second before I collapsed into my bed, to rise
seven hours later and bump into Russell Kirk -- only then emerging from his
study. He had, in the interval since dinner, written a chapter of his
history of St. Andrews University, and would catch a little sleep after he
served me breakfast.
In the ensuing 25 years he never missed a deadline. At his wedding
woman his readers resigned themselves finally to acknowledging as ``the
beauteous Annette,'' I thought that possibly the most useful gift I might
give him would be a honeymoon's-length moratorium from his column, since he
was off to Scotland. I stammered out the proposal to him moments before he
ascended to the altar. He acknowledged it by reaching into the pocket of his
morning coat and presenting me with -- four columns. Perfectly typed.
Perfectly edited. Perfectly executed. Not many had more direct, week- by-week
knowledge of the extraordinary professionalism of Russell Kirk, which
matched that of Samuel Johnson and G. K. Chesterton.
He served us notice, a few months before our 25th anniversary in 1980,
he would discontinue his column at that point. He gave no reason for doing
so, and questions weren't asked. A. J. Nock had recalled that Thoreau
abandoned his pencil factory after he had achieved the exemplary pencil.
What was there left to do?
In the ensuing 14 years Russell Kirk wrote many books and a hundred
gave a thousand speeches, and influenced the lives of another
half-generation. His last day, he rose, breakfasted, sat down in his
armchair, exchanged words with his wife and two of his daughters, closed his
eyes, and died. Few have repaid their debt to their family, their country,
and their faith so extravagantly.
As we were going to press, we learned, sadly, of the death of John
His obituary will appear next issue.
By WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY
Copyright 1994 by National Review Inc. Text may not be copied without the express written permission of National Review Inc.
Rubenstein, Ed, Russell Kirk, RIP.., Vol. 46, National Review, 05-30-1994, pp 19.