Kirk’s name doesn’t have the recognition that William F. Buckley Jr.’s does but they are closely connected. In 1953 Kirk wrote The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, a book which had a great influence on Buckley’s thinking. Like Buckley, Kirk was a cheerful conservative. Like Buckley, Kirk was an excellent writer. Unlike Buckley, Kirk came from modest means.
Kirk warns the reader in the preface:
Dr. Kirk had an antiquated vocation: man of letters, an intellectual devoted to literary activities. (An aside: To be a woman of letters is my ideal occupation: to read and write all day, all week, all year!) Writing his memoirs in the third person,
In this highly detailed autobiography Kirk outlines how he moved from a boy living next to the railroad yards to a nationally regarded intellectual. His peregrinations took him to Michigan State College, the Salt Lake desert, Duke University, St. Andrews, throughout the United States and Europe.
The book reads like a popular history of the second half of the twentieth century. Kirk writes engagingly of his encounters with many leaders: Richard Weaver, Donald Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Eliot, Barry Goldwater, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hoover, McCarthy, Nixon, Reagan, and Pope John Paul II. Never bland in his opinions, he writes generously of both of his convivial and and his adversarial relationships.
Kirk’s writing is both erudite and highly personal. The winning of his young wife, Annette, is the kind of romance I enjoy reading. Together they build a family (four daughters) and a community of scholarship and fellowship. Kirk writes of his wife, “Openhanded, glowing with life, and discerningly compassionate, Annette Courtemanche Kirk turned the shadowy old house, without altering its character, into a center of charitable and intellectual undertakings, so that it was crowded with people of all sorts and conditions.” A young visitor paid the Kirks a supreme compliment calling their place the Last Homely House, a reference to Elrond’s Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings.
One thing I found uncomfortable was Kirk’s love of ghost stories, haunted houses and his dabbling in things uncanny.
I know a book was worth reading when the reading of Book A makes me want to read Book B,C,D,E and F. I finished Sword Of Imagination with a renewed desire to read several books already on my shelves: Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered, Ideas Have Consequences, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (really, all things Flannery), T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (I need to become acquainted with Eliot), and a book on economics that Dr. Kirk wrote Economics: Work and Prosperity.