Jacques Barzun

Jacques Barzun

Infobox Person
name= Jacques Martin Barzun

caption= Profile painting of Jacques Barzun around 1959.
birth_date= birth date and age|1907|11|30
birth_place= Créteil, France
occupation= Historian

Jacques Martin Barzun (born November 30, 1907) is a French-born American historian of ideas and culture. His areas of expertise are far-ranging including "French and German literature, music, education, ghost stories, detective fiction, language, and etymology." ["Age of Reason" by Arthur Krystal in "The New Yorker", October 22, 2007, p. 94]


Born in Créteil, France to Henri-Martin and Anna-Rose Barzun, he spent his childhood in Paris and Grenoble. His father was a member of the Abbaye de Créteil group of artists and writers and also worked in the French ministry of labor. [http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=78886] The Paris house of his parents was frequented by many "modernist" artists of belle epoque France, e.g., the poet Apollinaire, the Cubist painters Albert Gleizes and Marcel Duchamp, the composer Edgard Varèse, and the writers Richard Aldington and Stefan Zweig. [http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=78886]

While on a diplomatic mission to the U.S. during the First World War, Barzun's father so liked what he saw there that he decided that his son should have an American university education, a conclusion startlingly out of character for a French artist and intellectual of that time. Thus Jacques was sent to the USA at the tender age of 12, first to attend a preparatory school, then Columbia University where he obtained a broad liberal education. His artistic family background naturally inclined him to the study of cultural history, then a new branch of history.

Barzun was valedictorian of the class of 1927 of Columbia College and was a prize-winning president of the Philolexian Society, a Columbia literary and debate club. He obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1932, and taught history there from 1928 to 1955, becoming the Seth Low Professor of History and a founder of the discipline of cultural history. For years, he and literary critic Lionel Trilling ran Columbia's famous Great Books course. From 1955 to 1968, he served as Dean of the Graduate School, Dean of Faculties, and Provost, while also being an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge. From 1968 until his 1975 retirement, he was University Professor at Columbia. From 1975 to 1993 he was Literary Adviser to Charles Scribner's Sons. The American Philosophical Society honors Barzun with its Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, awarded annually since 1993 to the author of a recent distinguished work of cultural history. He has also received the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he was twice president. In 2003, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On October 18, 2007, he received the 59th Great Teacher Award of the Society of Columbia Graduates "in absentia".

In 1936, Barzun married Mariana Lowell, a violinist from a prominent Boston family, who died in 1979. They had three children: James, Roger, and Isabel. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,862171-8,00.html] In 1980 Barzun married Marguerite Lee Davenport. Since 1996 the Barzuns have lived in her home town of San Antonio, Texas.


Over seven decades, Barzun has written and edited over 40 books touching on an unusually broad range of subjects, including science and medicine, psychiatry from Robert Burton through William James to modern methods, and art, and classical music; he is one of the all-time authorities on Berlioz. Some of his books - particularly "Teacher in America" and "The House of Intellect" - enjoyed a substantial lay readership and influenced debate about culture and education far beyond the realm of academic history.

Barzun has a strong interest in the tools and mechanics of writing and research. He undertook the task of completing, from a manuscript almost two-thirds of which was in first draft at the author's death, and editing (with the help of six other people), the first edition (published 1966) of "Follett's Modern American Usage". Barzun is also the author of books on style ("Simple and Direct", 1975), on the craft of editing and publishing ("On Writing, Editing, and Publishing", 1971), and on research methods in history and humanities ("The Modern Researcher", now in its 6th edition).

Barzun does not disdain popular culture; his varied interests include detective fiction and baseball. He edited, and wrote the introduction to, the 1961 anthology "The Delights of Detection", which included stories by G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, and others. In 1971, he co-authored, with Wendell Hertig Taylor, "A Catalogue of Crime": "Being a Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, & Related Genres", for which he and Taylor received a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1972. [cite web|url=http://www.mysterywriters.org/pages/awards/index.htm | title=The Edgars and Other MWA Awards|publisher=Mystery Writers of America|accessdate=2007-07-02 ]

Barzun is a proponent of the theatre critic and diarist James Agate, who he compared in stature to Pepys. ["From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present", Jacques Barzun, Harper Perennial, 2001.] Barzun edited Agate's last two diaries into a new edition in 1951, with an informative introduction "Agate and His Nine Egos". ["The Later Ego. Consisting of Ego 8 and Ego 9. Introduction and notes by Jacques Barzun", Jacques Barzun, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1951.]

He has continued to write on education and cultural history since retiring from Columbia. At 84 years of age, he began writing his swan song, to which he devoted the better part of the 1990s. The resulting book of more than 800 pages, "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present", reveals a vast erudition and brilliance, undiminished by advanced age. Historians, literary critics, and popular reviewers all lauded "From Dawn to Decadence" as a sweeping and powerful survey of modern Western history, and it became a "New York Times" bestseller. The book introduces several novel typographic devices that enable an unusually rich system of cross-referencing, as well as help keep its many strands of thought under organized control. Almost every page features a sidebar containing a pithy quotation from some author or historical figure; most are surprising, little known, and humorous.

In 2007, as Barzun approached his centenary, he remained intellectually and physically active but reliant upon "a cane or walker to get around," according to Arthur Krystal, who visited him in San Antonio and wrote a piece about him for The New Yorker magazine. Barzun was fully "alert to the irony of aging," commenting from experience that: "Old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing." ["Age of Reason" by Arthur Krystal in "The New Yorker", October 22, 2007, p. 103]

Books by Barzun

*1927 "Samplings and Chronicles: Being the Continuation of the Philolexian Society History, with Literary Selections From 1912 to 1927 " (editor)
*1932 "The French Race: Theories of Its Origins and Their Social and Political Implications"
*1937 "Race: a Study in Modern Superstition" (Revised, 1965 "Race: A Study in Superstition")
*1939 "Of Human Freedom"
*1941 "Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage"
*1943 "Romanticism and the Modern Ego"
*1945 "Teacher in America"
*1951 "Pleasures of Music"
*1954 "God's Country and Mine: A Declaration of Love, Spiced with a Few Harsh Words"
*1956 "Music in American Life"
*1956 "The Energies of Art"
*1959 "The House of Intellect"
*1960 "Lincoln the Literary Genius" (first published in "The Saturday Evening Post", 14 February 1959)
*1961 "The Delights of Detection"
*1961 "Classic, Romantic, and Modern"
*1964 "Science: The Glorious Entertainment"
*1967 "What Man Has Built" (introductory booklet to the Great Ages of Man book series)
*1968 "The American University: How It Runs, Where It Is Going"
*1969 "Berlioz and the Romantic Century" (3d ed.)
*1971 "On Writing, Editing, and Publishing"
*1971 "A Catalogue of Crime" (with Wendell Hertig Taylor)
*1974 "Clio and the Doctors"
*1974 "The Use and Abuse of Art"
*1975 "Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers"
*1976 "The Bibliophile of the Future: His Complaints about the Twentieth Century"
*1980 "Three Talks at Northern Kentucky University"
*1982 "Lincoln's Philosophic Vision"
*1982 "Critical Questions"
*1983 "A Stroll with William James"
*1986 "A Word or Two Before You Go: Brief Essays on Language"
*1989 "The Culture We Deserve: A Critique of Disenlightenment"
*1991 "An Essay on French Verse for Readers of English Poetry"
*1991 "Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning"
*2000 "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present"
*2001 "Sidelights on Opera at Glimmerglass"
*2002 "A Jacques Barzun Reader"
*2002 "What is a School? and Trim the College!"
*2003 "The Modern Researcher" (6th ed.) (with Henry F. Graff)
*2004 "Four More Sidelights on Opera at Glimmerglass: 2001-2004"

Barzun has also translated a number of works of French literature into English, and edited writings by others, including the selected letters of Lord Byron and John Jay Chapman.

Works about or to Jacques Barzun:

*1977 "From Parnassus: Essays in honour of Jacques Barzun"- Edited by Dora B. Weiner & William R. Keylor


External links

* [http://www.barzun100.blogspot.com/ Barzun 100] blog celebrating Barzun's centennial
* [http://barzuncentennial.murphywong.net/ Barzun Centennial] website, including tributes
* [http://www.the-rathouse.com/JacquesBarzun.html Site] devoted to writings about Barzun, including interviews.
* [http://www.booktv.org/ram/feature/0501/arc_btv050601_4.ram In Depth with Jacques Barzun] from C-SPAN's BookTV, 6 May 2001 (RealPlayer file)
* [http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=78886 Interview with Barzun in The Austin Chronicle, 2000]
* Thomas Vinciguerra, [http://www.college.columbia.edu/cct/jan06/cover.php "Living Legacies. Jacques Barzun ’27"] , "Columbia College Today", January 2006
* Jacques Barzun, [http://www.geminiink.org/JacquesBarzun.mp4 Gemini Ink] , Accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award, September 7, 2006 (MP4)
* Arthur Krystal, [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/22/071022fa_fact_krystal?currentPage=all Age of Reason] , "New Yorker", October 22, 2007
* Jeffrey Hart, [http://newcriterion.com:81/archives/26/11/jacques-barzun-at-100/ Jacques Barzun at 100] , "The New Criterion", November 2007
* M. D. Aeschliman, [http://www.mywire.com/pubs/NationalReview/2007/11/19/5318899?&pbl=82 The Power of Barzun] , "National Review", November 19, 2007
* William R. Keylor, [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/alumni/Magazine/Fall2007/SimpleAndDirect.html Simple and Direct] , "Columbia", Fall 2007
* Gordon Rumson, [http://www.mvdaily.com/articles/2007/11/jacques-barzun1.htm Jacques Barzun at 100: Music and beyond] , "Music & Vision", November 30, 2007
* Robert McHenry, [http://blogs.britannica.com/blog/main/2007/11/happy-birthday-jacques-barzun/ Happy Birthday, Jacques Barzun] , "Britannica Blog", November 30, 2007

On "From Dawn to Decadence":
*A [http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/Jacques_Barzun.html synopsis] along with a short bio of the author.
*Kimball, Roger, " [http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/18/jun00/barzun.htm Closing time? Jacques Barzun on Western culture] ," "New Criterion", 18 June 2000. A positive take.
* [http://www.theconnection.org/shows/2000/07/20000705_b_main.asp Interview with Christopher Lydon] WBUR, 5 July 2000.
*Kenan Malik, " [http://www.kenanmalik.com/reviews/barzun_decadence.html Review.] " "Independent on Sunday", 25 February 2001.
*Reilly, John J., 2000, " [http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2683 Review] ", "First Things 107": 43-44.

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