Remembering Irving Babbitt ~ The Imaginative Conservative

While in print, Babbitt might appear stuffy to those who did not know him, even a few moments in his company would dismiss the pervasive criticisms as ludicrous. A huge bear of a man, Babbitt, the son of an infamous New-Age shyster (he sold crystals to be used as determinants of a baby’s sex while in utero), had lived with a somewhat tame gang in New York as well as in Wyoming as a ranch hand and cowboy. At the same time that Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister were falling in love with the American West, Babbitt found himself smitten with rattlesnake hunting. As a friend remembered, Babbitt would amuse “himself by pulling a retiring rattlesnake out of its hole by the tail and whirling it around his head.”[4] A health fanatic, Babbitt once found himself tackled by the Paris police late at night. He had gone for a run, but the Paris police assumed him a criminal. Who else would dash through the streets of that fair city at midnight? Further, he often held office hours with his Harvard students while taking his daily walks and runs. “One who wished to talk with him extensively had to walk with him extensively; thus he economized his time, killing two birds with one stone. Often I felt like one bird killed with two stones: physically and mentally exhausted I would totter home after parting from him, wondering whether I should be able three or four days later to keep our appointment for what he termed, euphemistically, ‘another little walk together.’ “[5] Babbitt usually walked or ran—at any time of day or night—two to three hours daily.[6]
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