I wrote to Sir Roger Scruton last September (2018) in order to thank him for Gentle Regrets, his collection of familiar essays. I present that letter here as a way of telling others to read those essays, and to note his graciousness in the reply he sent. Since I have not yet made this into a review of the book for others, the specific content of the essays is assumed -- after all, he wrote them! Still, I think there is enough to suggest, for those who know me at least, why they are worth the reading. The world is a less rich place today for his loss, and I look forward to reading his work that I have not yet encountered.
Dear Mr. Scruton,
I first encountered your work at The New Atlantis, in the essay "Hiding Behind the Screen," which I regularly assigned to my freshman students for the past several years when I had them write on technology and its ramifications in their lives -- both for its content and as a model for excellence in the craft of writing. The ones who were capable of reading anything longer than a paragraph were usually moved at least to thoughtfulness, and some, I think, took it to heart.
I have now retired from classroom teaching, in part because I have lost the patience to deal with so many who are indeed hiding behind their screens, from knowledge and wisdom as well as from human contact. I hope, however, to continue to speak about the value of these out-of-fashion concepts as I have opportunity in new ways.
I have not read as much of your work as I would like, but I wish to especially thank you for Gentle Regrets. I love the form of the familiar essay, and these moved me in so many ways. "Roger" vs "Vernon": I have gone by a shortened name all of my professional life, but only because I love my full name and weary of having it continually murdered in spelling and even pronunciation -- your essay made me wonder about deeper motives for this choice and what it says about me and my relationship to both my parents and my writing. And Sam -- I have had my own Sams, and your wonderfully poignant essay reminded me to appreciate them more fully. I laughed and cried all through your journey.
The essays on Africa and on your experiences in Europe opened new vistas for this parochial U.S. citizen; I was in Spain for a few weeks in college and otherwise consider it somewhat "broad" of me to have lived in both the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri) and the South (Mississippi and now Tennessee). And my personal experiences have been, well, family and the academy (graduate degrees and college teaching, the latter mostly in small Christian colleges).
But I am a lover and teacher of literature, and it is through the honest reflections of writers such as you that I have been able to know more than I happen to live and thus find my horizons widened and my soul, too.
I would never have believed I could love an essay on architecture, but I loved yours and learned so much from it. Obviously there is a lot of ugliness in the world, and I find it helpful to be able to understand why it is so and what makes up the beauty I love.
And as a conservative and a Christian, your essays on these remind me of the value of these beliefs in the world as well as in my own life, and show me other angles and perspectives within them to consider; I believe in absolute truths, but must think carefully about the areas of legitimate differences and not take myself as the judge of all, as if I could possibly have all truth about anything in a mere 66 years on this earth.
In short, this book of essays has challenged me and encouraged me and taught me, and all in a beauty of language I can never hope to achieve (but I can hold it, along with a few other favorites, as a star to reach for). I thank you for it, and for all the work you have done in writing and in other actions; I thank you for making the world a better place and making at least this reader want to do so as well, however I can.
God bless and keep you.
I am so grateful to you for writing in such an appreciative and encouraging way about my work, and especially about Gentle Regrets, which contains things that mean a lot to me. And I very much appreciate your comments concerning ‘Hiding behind the Screen’. A vast and troubling change has occurred, which has cut us off from young people, and cut them off from the past. Just where it will lead I do not know. But it is so good that there are people like you with whom my books communicate. I hope you won't think me impertinent if I draw your attention to a book of stories - Souls in the Twilight - that will be published next month by Beaufort Books in New York. They also publish my novel Notes from Underground, about the old communist Czechoslovakia.