A Torch Kept Lit
By David Henderson
A long-time friend gave a copy of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s A Torch Kept Well Lit to his daughter, who is in her late 20s. My friend has a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA and is a successful businessman. His wife used to be a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Ideas and books are discussed a lot in their household.
His daughter, who got good grades at a pricey private high school, read the whole thing and, afterwards, said, “Dad, I learned nothing in school.”
Her point was that there was so much about U.S. culture, politics, literature, etc., that she didn’t know and she realized that fact after reading the book.
So I ordered the book and read half of it on a flight from L.A. to Denver last month.
It didn’t have the same effect on me because, of course, I have learned a lot over the years. Nevertheless, the book is excellent. I don’t recommend reading it in one sitting. It’s composed entirely of obituaries that Buckley wrote for politicians, novelists, thinkers, friends, etc. and reading one obit after another can get old. I would recommend a minimum of three sittings punctuated by days.
One of my favorites is the obit of Ronald Reagan. Buckley tells about an event in the spring of 1961. He and his sister-in-law were eating at one end of a restaurant while Ronald and Nancy Reagan were eating at the other end. They hadn’t yet met, but Reagan was to introduce Buckley, who was the speaker. Here’s my favorite paragraph:
He distinguished himself that night—and dismayed Mrs. Reagan—by what he proceeded to do after discovering that the microphone hadn’t been turned on. He had tried, raising his voice, to tell a few stories. But the audience was progressively impatient. Waiting in vain for the superintendent to unlock the door to the tight little office at the other end of the hall, in which the control box lay, he sized up the problem and, having surveyed all possible avenues of approach, climbed out the window at stage level and, one story above the busy traffic below, cat-walked, Cary Grant style, twenty or thirty yards to the window of the control room. This he penetrated by breaking the window with a thrust of his elbow; he climbed in, turned on the light, flipped on the microphone, unlocked the office door, and emerged with that competent relaxed smile of his, which we came to know after Grenada, Libya, Reykjavik, and Moscow; proceeding with the introduction of the speaker. And all that was thirty years before bringing peace in our time!
It probably goes without saying, given my views on foreign policy, that my quoting this does not mean that I agree with what Reagan did with respect to Grenada and Libya.