|11 June 1966|
I had no memory whatsoever of that speech--or who had delivered it. And this is humbling news since I have spoken a couple of times at WRA's baccalaureate service. And it was just last year that I discovered--also quite by accident--that the speaker at my own high school baccalaureate had been Mr. Brunelle, my former teacher (he'd retired just the year before), an event I also had absolutely no memory of. Mr. Brunelle's son Norman later gave me a copy of his father's sermon that day. I read it, didn't remember a single word.
All of this is rather alarming. I suppose it should not be surprising, this evanescence of the spoken word. We don't know what Henry V actually said at Agincourt, but I bet his words didn't much resemble the speech Shakespeare later crafted for him. And we know what Lincoln said at Gettysburg only because he wrote it down.
Or Mary Shelley read from Frankenstein? Or appear on a talk show to react to Young Frankenstein? Or that classic film Frankenhooker?
Wouldn't you like to hear Custer expatiate on judgment? Or Billy the Kid on what it feels like to get shot in the back? Or Lincoln on what he thought of Our American Cousin before, well, you know ... ?
I recently ordered some recordings of John O'Hara from Penn State Special Collections. He had a reputation--a reputation he almost cheerily embraced--of being a very bad speaker. I just listened to O'Hara speaking at the Library of Congress on 14 January 1957 on the topic "The Novel as a Social Document." Lewis Mumford introduced him and made only a couple of small factual errors.
But still ... before I listened to that recording, I had read all of O'Hara's work--had "listened" to his voice in a much different, silent, way. And so I was unaccountably moved to hear him in an actual rather than a metaphorical way.
But as for Dr. Harold Enarson, president (at the time) of Cleveland State, I cannot hear his voice. I cannot remember what he said at my commencement. And as for shunning reality (his topic for the day), maybe it's not that we shun reality. Maybe it's that we just plain can't remember it.