The Sword of Imagination: Memoirs of a Half-Century of Literary Conflict, by Russell Kirk. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1995. 514 pp. $34.99.
“Yet because there was in the beginning the word, he would not abuse words” —The Sword of Imagination, p. 434.
The memoirs of Russell Kirk (1918- 1995), perhaps the most distinguished architect of the postwar conservative intellectual revival, are a fitting coda to a life committed to standing firmly athwart the forces of social and cultural disorder. Although Kirk began actively working on his autobiography about a decade ago, the idea for this book, I believe, came to him while he was still a young man. Much of his life seems to have been spent anticipating it. Nearly every scrap of paper written by him, to him or about him, he saved. While in high school, he began a personal journal which he kept for a decade or more. He wrote scores of autobiographical essays. Endowed with a remarkably retentive memory, Kirk was able to recall in minute detail nearly everything he had ever read and nearly every conversation he had. He “descried in his kaleidoscopic imagination every scene of every year, almost, in his life” (475). From these vast depositories he was able to glean the detailed memories, observations, and insights that fill these memoirs. The history of his own life fascinated him almost as much as the history of civilization. The history of mankind was for him the vast repository of the “wisdom of our ancestors” that a civilized person could draw upon for moral guidance and insight into the human condition. Likewise, he was intrigued by his own history as a means by which he could come to understand not only the human condition but who and what he was. These memoirs are not only a summary of his life and achievements but a depiction of how he saw himself and how he wanted to be remembered by posterity.
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