March 2023

PAUL JOHNSON OFTEN WROTE FOR COMMENTARY in fact I believe the first time I heard of him my father shared his copy of COMMENTARY and recommended Paul Johnson to me circa late 1960s early 1970s


Dear Sir/Madam:

Andrew Robert’s valedictory for his late friend Paul Johnson captured the essence of the soul and great humanity of the man.

We all know Johnson as world-class author who wrote many times for COMMENTARY and who published highly readable and important books such as THE HISTORY OF THE JEWS, THE INTELLECTUALS, A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN and a personal favorite I have read many times THE QUEST FOR GOD.     His books sold millions and were translated into over 20 languages.

Some years ago, I was working with Andrew Roberts doing research and helping him with the galleys of his book CHURCHILL: Walking with Destiny.    Paul Johnson happened to come up and I mentioned to Andrew that years prior I had written a letter to Paul Johnson concerning A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.  

I had noted some mistakes in chronology and made some suggestions on how Johnson could make a good book even better.   To my surprise  Paul Johnson had honored me with a signed personal letter.    He thanked me for my suggestions and references to sources he had not known.   Johnson said he would try to incorporate them in a future edition of his work and that he really appreciated my loyal readership and my attention to detail.

Andrew Roberts said to me “that is just like Paul.  Always kind and generous with others.”    

I am nobody, a retired rural schoolmaster. I am not a scholar of high degree.  

But I will never forget how PAUL JOHNSON treated me with respect as a serious person.  I will cherish his letter to me.

PAUL JOHNSON was a great man who was willing to learn not only from books but also from the man in the street, from old and young, from fellow parishioners, from Jewish scholars and rabbis and from citizens all over the world of many faith traditions and languages in the Republic of Letters.   

Paul Johnson is gone from us.  But his pleasant voice, deep learning and joie de vivre endure in his books and taped interviews for instruction and as an example for us today and for future generations.   He shall not wholly die.


William (Johnson) Cory. 1823–1892
759. Heraclitus
THEY told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead, 
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed. 
I wept as I remember’d how often you and I 
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky. 
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,         5
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest, 
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake; 
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter, four-part poem by Federico García Lorca, written in Spanish as “Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías” (“Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías”) and published in 1935. Each part of the poem is written in a different poetic meter, and each addresses a different aspect of the goring and death of a bullfighter who had been Lorca’s friend. A haunting and powerful elegy, it is Lorca’s greatest poem. It contains the famous insistent refrain “A las cinco de la tarde” (“At five in the afternoon”). THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MODERN ELEGIES


Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías – Federico García Lorca

4. Alma ausente

No te conoce el toro ni la higuera,

ni caballos ni hormigas de tu casa.

No te conoce el niño ni la tarde

porque te has muerto para siempre.

No te conoce el lomo de la piedra,

ni el raso negro donde te destrozas.

No te conoce tu recuerdo mudo

porque te has muerto para siempre.

El otoño vendrá con caracolas,

uva de niebla y montes agrupados,

pero nadie querrá mirar tus ojos

porque te has muerto para siempre.

Porque te has muerto para siempre,

como todos los muertos de la Tierra,

como todos los muertos que se olvidan

en un montón de perros apagados.

No te conoce nadie. No. Pero yo te canto.

Yo canto para luego tu perfil y tu gracia.

La madurez insigne de tu conocimiento.

Tu apetencia de muerte y el gusto de su boca.

La tristeza que tuvo tu valiente alegría.

Tardará mucho tiempo en nacer, si es que nace,

un andaluz tan claro, tan rico de aventura.

Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen

y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos.



(please note this version has only a fraction of the lyricism and emotion of the original).

Absent Soul

The bull knows you not, nor the fig tree,
nor the horses, nor even the ants in thine own house.
The child and the afternoon know thee not
because thou hath died now and forever.

The back of the stone knows thee not
nor the black silk,

where thou wert smashed into pieces

Thy mute memory does not know thee
because thou hath died now and forever

The autumn will come again with snails,
juicy grapes and clustered hills,
but no one would want to look into thine eyes
because thou hath died now and forever.

Because thou hath died now and forever,
like all the dead of the earth,
like all the dead who are now neglected

Just like a pile of dogs! snuffed out dead dogs!.

Nobody knows thee. No. But I shall sing of thee!

I will sing of thy style and grace
Of the great maturity of thy intelligence
Of thine appetite for death despite its taste in thy mouth.
The sadness within thy happy courage!

Many years will pass – if ever-before there might be born
an Andalusian so distinctly individual, so rich in adventure!
I sing of his elegance with words that groan,
and I remember a breeze so sad across the olive groves.