Besides Vera Lachman I had several other teachers at Brooklyn who became very dear to me, not only because of what they taught, but by what they seemed to find in me. Without wanting to sound too modest, some thought more of me than I thought of myself. It was very flattering.
Brooklyn College at the time had a writing requirement. You had to take a year of writing classes. These were not creative writing classes, but they emphasized correctness of expression and all the little niceties which made writing a creative process, in and of itself. In S.T. Coleridge’s phrase we were taught to put, “words in the right order.” The first of the teachers to try to teach me that was a Professor Barker who had just published a biography of Proust. Very impressed by this, I bought the book and read it, and when I was done with it I asked Professor Barker to autograph it for me. He did so, after writing on the fly page, ”Not that you’ll ever read it, but thank you for buying it. It is very flattering.” So, not all teachers thought I was all that hot.
Professor Roberts was another story. He was an older man, who wore tweed jackets, bow ties, and never went anywhere without his Harvard “green bag.” I don’t know whether current students still carry that old bag, but at the time it was “de rigueur,” for all Harvard students and graduates. I felt a little sorry for him as he seemed to be a bit too old and too stooped to be teaching or to still be carrying that green bag. As mentioned, he taught a writing course, but the only assigned readings were Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Dostoyevsky’s, “The Brothers Karamazov.” Having a somewhat questioning nature, I asked him privately why two Russian novels if this was an English course? His answer was the simple, “Because they’re the best.” Later in the semester, after we had gotten to know each other better, he flattered me by asking me why I wasn’t at Harvard. Had he seen my high school grade point average or my bank balance he would have understood. He surprised me at the end of the semester by giving me the only “A” he gave out that semester, and one of the few I earned in my college career. No grade inflation in those days.
The Classical Lounge, supposedly a place for study, in reality the hangout for the chess players, was once again the place I spent more time than I should have. However, I also met several other students there who were uninterested in chess, who became good friends, and were absolutely charming and brilliant. One of them is still writing brilliant books today. Another had his Ph.D. in math when he was 21, and then declined into madness and death. Actually, both Brooklyn College and City College were remarkable places in those days, distinguished by their faculties and by their students, who went on to make valuable contributions to American life. I read somewhere that the college that graduated the largest number of CEO’s in the country in those days was City College. Brooklyn College, opened in 1930, at the depth of the Great Depression, was 8th in the country in the number of its graduates who went on for doctorates. And of course, it was all absolutely free. Eat that Republicans!