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Amherst College > News & Events > Amherst Magazine > Archives > Spring 2002 > Letters

Letters

Color without slickness
A double congratulation, first for the new look of your magazine, second for your [Winter 2002 story about the] enchanted evening with Robert Frost. The former is great, color graphics without the slickness of some of its sister publications, and the disappearance of the yellow classnotes/necrology, which, the shade of decayed newspapers, only served to emphasize their grim mortality. The latter is subtle, with its Frost-Humphries subtexts and its complex cross-cutting between Wilson jeune and Wilson mur (for want of a better word). It reminded me of my own Frosted evening, in Howie Junker's room in Valentine, very late; my emboldened question was "what do you think of Eliot?" which he properly ignored and plunged ahead on justice outside the law and other matters. Humphries was profoundly wrong: it is good for (young) people to sit around the feet of greatness. And what translation leaves out, the sounds of things and their meanings, is in my ears and mind because Frost taught me to listen for them.

Gordon G. Brittan, Jr. '62
Bozeman, Mont.

Books before travel
I enjoyed your article ["Reacquainted with the Night," Winter 2002 Amherst]. I studied under Rolfe Humphries, too, but found him too filled with bons mots and precious puns requiring an exhaustive prior education for me to really follow. About all I picked up in a semester of creative writing was not to fear to be a free spirit.

I invited Frost to do a reading at Alpha Theta Xi in Spring '56. I was a sophomore and not yet able to drive, and so I recruited Carl Something-or-other, a junior at Theta Xi, to help me pick Frost up at the Lord Jeff. Carl had a Hudson Pacemaker car. Frost got in, saw "Pacemaker" written on the dashboard, and snorted, "Pacemaker, is that it? Guess they haven't made a Peacemaker yet!"

A student at the reading, after hearing Frost read "Birches," asked if it meant something he had divined.

"Hmm!" Frost retorted. "Never thought of that! I guess it does!"

I was about to go to Europe for the summer. "What do you think of travel?" I asked.

"Give me a choice between traveling around the world and living in a room with four walls, one of which has a window, and the others are filled with books, I'd take the room."

Alfred Krass '58
Levittown, Pa.

Divide us not
Thanks for your wonderful essay (Doug Wilson's "Reacquainted with the Night," Winter 2002 Amherst) recalling the Commagers and the evenings when that harmless lion Frost ruled the campus. It's not only memory beautifully rendered, but memory understood through the lens of time. I'm especially grateful
for the telling glimpse it provides of the charmingly subversive presence of Rolfe Humphries. He was a prouder, wittier, more civilized man than I really knew at the time (though I admired him greatly). His misfortune, I guess, was self-awareness: not compatible with becoming a legend. In any case, it's a lovely piece, and a reminder that, under the editorship of its author, this magazine has been highly distinguished. But now I must raise a different subject: the new policy of separate editions, dividing the alumni notes by age cohort. Here, in a world that continually asks for nuanced judgments, is something quite refreshing: a Truly Bad Idea.

Man and boy I've been reading this magazine, longer than any other periodical except The New Yorker. The earliest pleasure I remember from it, even as a student, was looking back to the first classes. Then as now the reporting classes of course spanned some 70 years, and I recall my wonder at reading about the doings of the survivors from '92–1892. It is strange—but all too plausible—to think that today's students experience the same awe at the sheer existence of the Class of '32. And speaking of '32 . . . who can forget the late Douglas McGeorge, longtime secretary of that class? I never knew the man, but read him for years, his hearty cocktail-shaker prose putting a convivial face on his generation. A faithful reader of the Notes learns to savor such figures wherever they turn up—in truth other people's classes often prove far more interesting than one's own. And at a certain moment, as we slide closer to the beginning of the notes, we turn to the young with the same sense of awe we once brought to the old geezers we are replacing. I am proud to say that some of my most cherished Amherst friendships are with members of my daughter's class, 27 years after mine. But friendships and family aside, I for one am now more interested in hearing about the marriages and nascent careers of recent graduates than about the retirement plans of my contemporaries.

You would deprive all of us of this innocent communal pleasure? You would sever the ties across the generations? And why? To save paper and postage? Oh boy. It ill becomes me, a notorious low-roller, to point it out, but this seems a less than graceful gesture from a college that has recently hit up its alumni for some $200 million! Please reconsider.

Richard Todd '62
Ashfield, Mass.

Another solution
I appreciate your problem with the volume of Class Notes, but I am not exactly happy with your "segregation" policy. Many of us have relatives (children, parents, etc.), in classes that are 20 to 30 years different from us. I, for one, always glance at the Notes for my daughter's class to see what is new with her friends. Your new policy makes this impossible.

A better solution would be to hold the class agents to a maximum length each month. Exceptions could be made for reunion classes, and perhaps once a year if the agent has collected a large number of submissions. As an alternative, the editors of the magazine could use a little editorial judgment (and a blue pencil) on the more verbose submissions.

Thank you for listening.

Robert R. Holmes '59
Highland Springs, Va

A plea to reinstate
Until now, the only College action I've decried is the terrible decision to demolish Walker Hall. Oh well, I'll deal. But I hope mine will be one of many voices that joins a plea to reinstate a complete Amherst magazine.

The Winter 2002 edition included a brief explanation of the decision to split Amherst around the Class of 1973, blaming the move on the financial burden of printing an increasingly thick magazine. Why has it gotten so thick? The explanation itself cited the fact that Amherst has "the most extensive Class Notes published anywhere." And if you deign to read U.S. News, you'd know that Amherst has about the highest participation rate of alumni giving. We're a committed and sentient community. What makes us so? Many things form our sense of community, of course, but for me one constant reminder of the Amherst I know is the quarterly appearance of Class Notes. Not just the Class of '92. When Notes come in from the class of '23 or '58 or 1999, I'm always comforted to know that the Amherst community is deep and old and very much alive. I read that Amherst will continue to print the death notices of members of all classes. I'd much rather read about these folks while they're still kicking. And even if I don't read all the Notes, it means something that they are there. The thickness itself is a warm, regular reminder that the Fairest College has touched the lives of many more than the relative handful I studied with during my time on campus.

How ironic and sad it would be if an institution with nearly a billion dollars at its disposal—amassed, by the way, through the dedication its alumni and friends feel out of kinship to the College—would persist in cleaving the record of its community in an effort to save a little endowment pocket change.

If, like the destruction of ol' Walker Hall, this change can't be reversed, then I dread the day when I slip over the edge into the "old guard," separated from the stories of recent graduates as they start careers and families and do great things. At least those young'uns will know when I kick the bucket.

Kevin Walker '92
Marblehead, Mass.

Editor's reminder:
The entire Class Notes are available to alumni online when one enters a password at www.amherst.edu/alumni/alumserv

Division is okay
I agree with your dividing Class Notes into two divisions. What members of classes earlier than the '60s could give a hoot about those who graduated in the '70s and beyond?

Also, I want to praise you for your well-written articles which cover a host of subjects. In the Winter edition, just received, I found the story of the women's soccer team more exhilarating than watching games on TV; I will share the photo of "Three Presidents plus Coolidge" with my friend, the granddaughter of [President Alexander] Meiklejohn; and I shall order and read Soul by Soul [by Walter Johnson '88] which I would not otherwise have known about. Thank you for your outstanding work!

Michael Reynolds '52
Denver, Colo.

Business as usual?
The readers of Amherst don't have to be professional journalists or even magazine editors to ask themselves this question:

After the terrorist attack of September 11, if you were editor of this publication, would you have asked how this horrendous event affected your readership, and would there be any way you might respond editorially to the occasion?

Or would you have decided, as the editor of this publication did, to continue right on with business as usual? Business as usual meant continuing with a plan to publish separate print editions of the Class News, effectively cutting off communication from pre-1970 classes with post-1975 classes, except on the Internet. Postpone the plan for at least one special issue? Publish what all the class secretaries might write about September 11 and its impact? Of course not.

Business as usual meant no special acknowledgement of the Amherst graduates murdered by the terrorists. A careful reader had to scan both the obituary pages and the Internet Class Notes postings.
Business as usual meant no mention at all as to how the College community itself reacted to September 11. We are left with but a brief quote from a column President Gerety wrote for the Washington Post on post-September 11 immigration security measures.

At least Werner Gundersheimer, outgoing Folger president, had the good sense and emotional honesty to tell us what September 11 was really like for his institution, in an editorial space only granted in recent years by the editor for Folger news.

The editor of Amherst has successfully survived in the job for several decades. I have to believe he is incredibly sensitive to political and institutional cultural pressures which are probably of greater concern and interest to Amherst graduates than anything printed in the magazine. How else to explain that Amherst looks and reads like a carefully crafted corporate annual report.

What a pity.

Dick Hubert '60
Rye Brook, N.Y.

"Amherst Victims of September 11," a report on the victims, and on campus reaction to the September attacks, was the lead article in the Fall 2001 issue. –Ed.

Sordid episode
I'm sure that most Amherst alumni, like myself, have been completely unaware of the distressing facts in the career of Jeffery Amherst revealed in the following citation, which could almost make one wish that some other more truly heroic figure had been chosen as namesake of our beloved college. Nowadays we are perhaps accustomed to learning of sordid episodes in the lives of prominent public figures, but at the very least it seems high time that this be made known to the community of Amherst
graduates. I do hope that you will have the courage to publish it in the alumni magazine, as intellectual honesty surely dictates that it be included in our assessment of Jeffery Amherst's reputation.

"Beginning in the spring of 1763 the Ottawa Chief Pontiac led the tribes of the Great Lakes into war against the British. Though the tribes were successful in taking many of the British forts, the siege ultimately ground to an indecisive halt. In the course of the siege on Fort Pitt, General Amherst ordered the distribution of smallpox-infested blankets among the Indians. The insidious strategy started an epidemic among the Indian attackers." (Betty & Ian Ballantine, eds., The Native Americans, North Dighton, Mass.: World Publications Group, Inc., 2001, p. 284.)

Paterson Brown '60
Athens, Greece

Lord Amherst's support for germ warfare was mentioned in "The Halo and the Cloud," published in the Fall 1997 issue; and it was discussed at length in "Deadly Stratagem: The Smallpox Story," in the Winter 1989 issue. –Ed.

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