Tuesday, October 12, 2004 +

On Phyllis McGinley

From Jacques Barzun, "The Scholar in Distant Perspective," in The American Scholar, Autumn 2004:

In New York [at the Century Club], editorial matters [for The American Scholar were discussed at the dinner itself, to the detriment of savoring the excellent cuisine. One little detail related to it sticks in my memory. For a good while, Phyllis McGinley, the delightful person and maker of light verse, was one of us. Sitting next to her once or twice, I noticed that she did not touch the main course. She explained: we met on Friday, and the Catholic ban on meat had not yet been relaxed. She was too shy to ask for fish, and indeed refused to be the only one differently served. So thereafter reverting, as it were, to my roots, I had fish too. Her shyness was extreme--not in discussion but in behavior. Unable to face New York alone, she came to every meeting from Larchmont with her husband. He was a pleasant man, and someone proposed rather feebly that he should sit with us, a silent witness. But he forestalled any action, saying that he had a wonderful time in the library on the second floor.