Issue 106, Spring 1988
Rose’s and my wedding at the Campidoglio in 1953. The dour man to my left is the Mayor of Rome. Like the captain of a ship, he has the power invested in him to marry. This is after the ceremony. From left in the picture are Rose’s brother and sister-in-law, Anne Wigglesworth (in back), Marian Shaw, Irwin Shaw, John Marquand, Tom Guinzburg, Peter Matthiessen, Bobby and Claire White, and Frank Wigglesworth. Frank Wigglesworth was a musician at the Academy, one of the old Boston Wigglesworth family. this thirty-some years later.
Peter and Tom flew down from Paris for the ceremony. Irwin Shaw telegramed an invitation and they’d called back saying, “Can’t do.” So he sent another: “Please reconsider. After all a man only gets married two or three times in his life.”
* * *
William Blackburn was a professor of English at Duke, an Elizabethan expert, but he also taught creative writing at a time when it was really just beginning as a discipline in the colleges. I was attracted to him; he was a wonderfully lugubrious sort of saturnine man who always gave an air of defeat and despair but had a great reservoir of wit. It was he who encouraged me to become a writer . . . saw some spark .. . I guess this is why I have never been the opponent of creative writing, so called, that some cynics are. I’ve always felt that anything that involves encouragement of writing, if it’s genuine, is good for writing.
Among his students was a tall, rather goofy-looking fellow with a big smile, black hair, in a V-12 program sailor’s suit. His name was Henry Hyde; he later became the Republican Congressman from Illinois who at the Irancontra hearings kept saying that Ollie North was a hero. Reynolds Price was probably Blackburn’s best-known other student along with Mac Hyman, who wrote No Time for Sergeants, and who died, unfortunately, very young.
This picture was taken at Ravello in 1953, not far from the place that later became Gore Vidal’s villa. Rose and I had just gotten married and Blackburn came over. He was a wonderful teacher. A tremendous sense of the dramatic. He was a kind of frustrated actor, and he loved to read Ben Jonson’s plays and masques, and Spenser. He loved Epithalamion and he would read it to the class and as he read, you would see a tear fall, a genuine tear. His lips would tremble .. . he was deeply moved, which is what poetry is supposed to do. That he had that sense of transmission of emotional and aesthetic energy was really quite wild.