Roman Calendar

Random Greco-Roman Image

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Some Memories of Gilbert Highet

Gilbert Highet


A WORD OF THANKS and praise for the elegant remembrance of Gilbert Highet, my old Latin teacher. Of the many memories I have of Columbia, his remains one of the brightest. Robert Ball did an excellent job of capturing the sweep and breadth of his learning and achievement, as well as the warmth of his personality and the dynamic style of his teaching.
“Your mothers will grow mustaches before I leave this building by a window,” was, I believe, the exact quote Highet gave the occupying students barricading Philosophy Hall in 1968. He overawed them by sheer presence. They opened the door and let him walk out, while other teachers had to let themselves out via the windows.

He could be exceptionally kind to students. When I was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1972, when it was already clear we were losing the Vietnam War, Highet wrote me a friendly letter urging me to make the best of it and maximize the experience. Later he sent me a first edition of his book of essays, Explorations, as “a slight alleviation of military boredom,”and I still have it. Beneath his dignified Scots exterior, he was an exceedingly kind man. He maintained a correspondence with me over the next two years, letters I treasured. I showed one of them, in which he described his visit to Hitler’s Fuehrerbunker beneath Berlin after the war, to a fellow soldier who had never been to college, and who read it raptly. “God, this guy just sees everything, doesn’t he?” he exclaimed in a Kentucky accent.

Moses Hadas passed away the summer before I came to Columbia, but Highet mentioned him affectionately in a tribute delivered during our freshman orientation week. Highet’s noontime lecture on the poet Robert Burns, given that winter, still lingers in memory. It was electrifying. He was more than a learned man. He was practically a hypnotist, and he cast a genial spell over every student he taught.

Thanks for recalling many fond memories!

—Michael C. Browning ’70C ’73GSAS

Note: Robert Ball ’71GSAS, author of “Gilbert Highet and Classics at Columbia,”

No comments: