I never met William F. Buckley, Jr., whose passing we mourn today, and whose life and legacy are being celebrated on The Corner these last few hours. But I can remember when I first encountered him. It was in my college days in the 1970s, when, on a bookcase in a dormitory lounge, I ran across a discarded copy of his anthology of modern American conservative thought, titled Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? (later revised with the aid of Charles Kesler and republished under the title Keeping the Tablets). The reason the book had been tossed aside by its previous owner was probably that, in a binding error, part of the book’s contents had been sewn in upside down. (I think that you had to turn the book over to read Harry Jaffa’s essay–which ought to make this copy a collector’s item somewhere! I still have it.)
What struck me right away was the richness of the anthology, what a diverse and fertile garden was conservative thought. And what struck me next was, what manner of man could put together such an anthology, and inhabit such a comfortable familiarity with such a range of humane and thoughtful contributions to political and moral thinking? Buckley’s introduction to the book evidenced a man of deep learning, who wore that learning lightly–someone who could engage all the interlocutors in the anthology as an equal, yet who entertained a stray reader (such as myself at 20) with his wit, never condescending.
I carried the book around with me for a few years before first subscribing to NR while in grad school during the Reagan years. Then I came to know WFB’s work still better. But Dream Walking was a heck of an introduction to conservatism, and to William F. Buckley, Jr. I will miss that mind and that voice.
UPDATE: Trust not to memory. I was at work and the book was at home when I posted this earlier. Its title is Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?–corrected now above–not Have You Ever Seen, as I originally wrote.