Book Review: A Torch Kept Lit by William F Buckley Jr.
Returning from Christmas break, I set myself the task of reading one eulogy per night until I had completed James Rosen’s most recent creation, A Torch Kept Lit. The task seemed straightforward enough, one of William F. Buckley Jr.’s fifty-two most notable eulogies each night before bed, for fifty-two nights… It didn’t take that long. What may have seemed like a grim task to anyone asking me my plans for the evening, quickly became a delight. As I consumed eulogy after eulogy—robbing an already sleep deprived college student of valuable rest—I felt as though I was getting to know Mr. Buckley himself.
Rosen prefaces each chapter with a description of both the political and, perhaps more importantly, the personal relationship Mr. Buckley had with the subject of his remembrance, be it a friend, an enemy, a musician, a princess, or even a president. These introductions allow the reader to connect with Buckley and read each eulogy from the same perspective as it was written.
If Rosen’s introductions are meant to place you in the mind of Buckley, then Buckley’s eulogies are meant to convey his truest opinions of the deceased. When remembering a politician, he spared no criticism and when remembering a friend, no grief. His eulogy for Winston Churchill, a man most believe to be the greatest figure of the 20th century, was careful to remind its readers both of the man’s accomplishments in the Second World War, and of his failings in the peace that followed. Buckley admonished Churchill for not doing enough to prevent the spread of communism, an evil as great as Hitler.
In stark contrast to the scathing criticisms unleashed on those public figures he deemed so deserving, are the tender tributes to those with whom he shared his life. The eulogy written for his wife, Patricia Taylor Buckley, published in National Review, is a touching remembrance of the woman that made everything Buckley did, possible. It shows his profound appreciation for her, putting on display the emotions of a man made famous by his devotion to rational thought. Bill summarizes their life, from first encounter to her unexpected death. He closes with the hopes of a “confirmed nonbeliever” who prays that, for the Buckleys, Pat’s death was “not goodbye, but hasta luego.” Bill responded saying, “No alternative thought would make continuing in life, for me, tolerable. —WFB.” He died within a year.
As I closed this book for the final time, I felt as if I was closing the last half century of American history. The politicians, writers, and artists who shaped the world in which we now live, gone forever, but immortalized in the words of WFB.
When you next sit down in front of your fireplace, with your beverage of choice on the end-table and music playing softly in the background; be sure A Torch Kept Lit is in your hand, and the music playing is Bach. —FJC
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