Michaelmas day

I did not agree, incidentally, with the late Richard J. Needham, in his attitude towards Toronto readers — although I loved to quote it, seemingly with approval. I used to meet Mr Needham (at a Harvey’s franchise that dispensed cheeseburgers), after his (compulsory) retirement from the Globe & Mail. (Also known as the Mope & Wail, the Soap & Pail, the Grope & Fail, &c.)

Verily, Mr Needham could be looked on as a pioneer of the art of getting cancelled, from media outlets, up here in the tight-assed north. When you ask his old colleagues about him (should you find one still living), he will sneer at the memory of the gentleman who was the Globe’s most interesting and valuable correspondent, in just the way one sneers at any writer of interest and value today.

He, Needham, enjoyed perhaps a larger readership than the rest of that newspaper, combined (they didn’t count eyeballs as carefully in those days), but had no following among the fashionable and sophisticated. His views on women, animals, comportment, and several hundred other topics could have been subtly chosen to affront “respectable society,” but he maintained them in the dangerous, Socratic spirit. He belonged to no “team,” no “ingroup,” but rather he appealed to the young, including intelligent high school students: people who hadn’t been taught to shut their eyes and ears yet when unfamiliar ideas were discussed.

He told me, when I begged him to write for my Idler magazine (flourishing at the time), that he had retired from authorial labours. He put this politely, but as I became insistent, he countered by becoming rude:

“I have NOTHING to say to the inhabitants of this town.”

The word “nothing” is capitalized to indicate vehemence. His cheeks also changed colour, in a disconcerting way. But otherwise, he continued to be charming.

Mr Needham had observed the growth of Toronto into what its politicians called “a world-class city.” He had watched it become crowded with vehicles and construction materials, but most signally, the draining of every legitimate, unregulated cultural enterprise — a kind of rehearsal for the Batflu. He was what I would call a “bitter nostalgic,” in moments when he softened into nostalgia.

“Blow it up, and all you will lose is the cost of the explosives.” I contributed this miserly thought, from out of my own Presbyterian genetic constitution. (Scramble when we get merry.)

But in my view, so long as one is capable (which may not be for long), one has an obligation to one’s readers — including those, to reverse the usual advice, as shrewd as pigeons and as poisonous as snakes. As long as the world staggers, there is a chance for at least parts of it to be redeemed, and one’s sneering should be habitually contained. You will be laughed at, and generally insulted, but how does that differ from what you have deserved?

Today is indeed Michaelmas — the Feast of the Angels. It is the traditional “getting back to work” day in universities and places like them. It is the ninth anniversary of the day these “Essays in Idleness” were inaugurated — just after the last “mainstream” media outlet in Canada “let me go.”

The world is not to our taste, entirely, and in defiance of the public faith in “progress” I would add that it is unlikely to improve. But bless Mr Needham, in memory; take a moment to bless me; and put your hope in futurity into the hands and heart of Christ Jesus. What comes of that will be self-explanatory.