John Erskine: An Appreciation*
I AM deeply mindful of the honor of being invited to speak on
this occasion. It will, however, be an impossible task, within
the imposed time limit, to do even scant justice to the rich and
manifold personality we knew and remember as John Erskine. At
best 1 can only sketch out and suggest the range of his interests and
his durable impact on the life of our time.
John was, with one exception, my oldest friend. Our relationship
covered 58 years. It was close from the start and never suffered the
slightest lapse in warmth or depth. We first met in the fall of 1893,
when we both entered Columbia Grammar School to gain the
groundwork of a classical education. We continued as classmates
and with common interests at Columbia College in the class of
1900, and from there with ever deepening intimacy we moved on
together into maturity and the larger world, down the years, until
his death in June, 1951.
John was one of the taller boys in our class at prep school,
probably 5 feet 7 or 8, at the age of 14, and giving every promise of
the towering, generous figure of his adult years. He was definitely
serious, in essence the student type, but at the same time outgoing
and popular. He laughed easily and heartily not only at other
people's jokes but also at his own. His laugh grew, in the process
of time, to the thunderous proportions we all remember as char¬
acteristic of him.
From the early days of our acquaintance 1 still recall an episode
which may throw light, in different ways, on each of us. One day
* Addres.s given on the occasion of the presentation by Mrs. Helen Wotden
Erskine of her late husband's papers, Low Memorial Library, Columbia Univer¬
sity, January 16, 1957.