Was there a better teacher? Most of Jeff Hart’s colleagues had not matriculated at Dartmouth, where he taught 18th-century English and his beloved moderns, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But we all learned from him, about these subjects and so much else, via his articles, reviews, and the flow of his casual talk. Learned, witty, spiced at times with an eyewitness touch (his story of W. H. Auden dropping his 3-by-5 cards before a lecture at Dartmouth and being too many sheets to the wind to reorder them, was priceless: Auden made some interesting points, Jeff’s colleagues said, but wasn’t he a bit — disjointed?). Jeff also knew everything about tennis — he had played Don Budge — and college sports.
Like all great teachers, he was a great encourager of others. The conservative movement is filled with his protégés — Paul Gigot, Peter Robinson, James Panero, Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza. But he took an interest in all who came through NR’s doors, however fleetingly. We were always welcome speaking guests at Dartmouth, and houseguests of his.
At NR he was WFB’s indispensable right hand, ready to put together a magazine or run an editorial conference on the not-infrequent occasions when No. 1 had some other unbreakable engagement. Sparks could fly — Jeff was a bonny fighter, and his editorial prose showed it — but he guaranteed that the wheels would spin.
Ideologically, Jeff was a fan of Richard Nixon and his attempts to broaden the Republican and conservative coalitions along what Nixon called “new majority lines.” Watergate derailed that strategy, but Jeff was always alert for opportunities to resurrect it. Checking the boxes on intellectual litmus tests was never his thing.
It is only fair to him to say that he became disaffected from many of his former commitments during the tenure of George W. Bush. Part of it was cultural: Old Ivy League loyalties die hard, and though W went to Yale, his Texas/Evangelical manners turned Jeff off. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars also struck him as costly debacles.
Jeff would no doubt have recalled a witticism of one of his favorite Tories, Dr. Johnson: When a butcher tells you that his heart bleeds for his country, he has in fact no uneasy feeling. Cynical? Perhaps — but also realistic, about men, politics, and the vanity of presuming that one can figure everything out.
What Jeff’s friends may remember most is his laugh. He laughed at your jokes, and he laughed at his own — in such a way, always, that you were welcomed to join in. Our thoughts go to his family, and his many many former students. Dead at 88, R.I.P.
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