Barzun was born in Paris, in 1907. His father, a diplomat and writer, was — according to the obit — an avant-garde salon, frequented by Jean Cocteau.
Mr. Barzun studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly, only to find himself, he said, teaching there at the age of 9. After World War I broke out in 1914, many teachers were drafted into the military, and older students were inducted to teach the younger ones.He contemplated suicide at the age of 11, and, at 13, in a classic alternative to despair, he traveled to the United States. How many individuals still live whose young lives were shaped by World War I? They have been leaving us in smaller and smaller droves over the years, and it's hard to say goodbye to the last few names that we recognize in the newspaper.
My son John has a tribute to Barzun's book about writing, "Simple and Direct," which he read when he was in high school and rereads "now and then."
I still try to follow his guidelines on how to use the words "the" and "a," which turns out to be a surprisingly difficult matter.Should I have written the classic alternative to despair?
John's post has some quotes he's pulled from his copy of "A Jacques Barzun Reader." Here's one:
In a high civilization the things that satisfy our innumerable desires look as if they were supplied automatically, mechanically, so that nothing is owed to particular persons; goods belong by congenital right to anybody who takes the trouble to be born. This is the infant's normal greed prolonged into adult life and headed for retribution. When sufficiently general, the habit of grabbing, cheating, and evading reciprocity is the best way to degrade a civilization, and perhaps bring about its collapse.Something is owed to particular persons.