'What I Owe You—Measured Praise'
D.G. Myers and I met in the bookish precincts of the blogosphere in the fall of 2008. He was the new guy, and had just launched A Commonplace Blog. I was the veteran of two and a half years. David lived in Houston, the city we had left that spring when we moved to Bellevue, Washington. I would return to Houston three years later, but by then David and his family had moved to Columbus, Ohio. We met in person only once, in March 2012, in Houston. David was back in town to consult with a doctor about the cancer that would kill him seven years ago, on September 26, 2014. We had lunch in a Mexican restaurant and never stopped yacking. I have never known anyone who cared so much about literature, and wasn’t afraid to say so.
We shared a love of Henry James, among many other writers. David had a goat’s appetite when it came to fiction. He happily read stuff I could never choke down. On that visit to Houston, David gave me his duplicate copy of James’ Literary Criticism (1984), the Library of America volume of essays and reviews devoted to American and English writers. David was a literary critic by training and temperament. I am not. Most of my reading is intuitive and pleasure-driven, though David insisted I was a sort of critic manqué. He liked to argue. I don’t. His analytic skills were sharp. Mine are, in comparison, almost nonexistent. In James’ well-known 1884 essay “The Art of Fiction,” I find a rough articulation of my stance:
“Nothing, of course, will ever take the place of the good old fashion of ‘liking’ a work of art or not liking it; the more improved criticism will not abolish that primitive, that ultimate, test.”
David and I exchanged emails almost daily for those six years, except on Shabbat, as he was an orthodox Jew. He was a rare correspondent with whom I was comfortable saying anything. He never misunderstood or was offended. In 1985, R.L. Barth published a pamphlet of David’s epigrams. This one is addressed to his former teacher, the great poet J. V. Cunningham:
“Take these, the work of quiet days,
In place of what I owe you—measured praise.
As you have made my mind your own device
To honor you I epigrammatize.”
This post is written in place of what I owe David Myers – measured praise.