At the beginning of my studies at Brooklyn College I took a course in European literature taught by a brilliant scholar who had translated major German poets and written expertly about the great Russian novelists. Professor Carl Edgar Brown was a man in his early forties, with thinning hair and somewhat pudgy. I enjoyed his class and came to know him personally through sharing lunch in the Cafeteria or meetings in his office, the kind of thing I also did with Vera Lachmann. In Lachmann’s case I occasionally gone to the house she shared with her partner for a poetry reading or just to listen to her partner play one of her compositions on the recorder. It was all casual, informal, reminiscent in some ways of the democratic college life of the Weimar Republic Vera had known in Germany, which had been replaced by Hitler. So it came as no particular surprise when Professor Brown asked me if I’d be interested in spending the summer with him at his house in Upstate New York I was tremendously flattered that such a brilliant man should find me bright enough and interesting enough to want me to spend a summer with him. The plan involved reading, talk, listening to music, and do all the interesting things that really smart people reputedly did.
I bought my bus ticket and showed up in Plankville, New York, where Professor Brown met me, and drove us to his home. For the next few weeks I had the dream educational experience. Each morning was spent reading works that Brown picked for me. They were novels (my first reading of George Eliot’s Middlemarch), French history (Recits des Temps Merovingiens, by Augustin Thierry), and several others I no longer remember. All the readings centered on the Romantic Movement in England, France, Germany and Russia, and I began to see the common thread in these varied works. In the afternoon we listened to operas in various languages, he following the scores, I the librettos. Again the emphasis was the Romantic Movement as expressed in music. In the evenings we talked about what we’d read or listened to or what he’d written that day. We also tramped around Genesee State Park, and attended an outdoor concert of Verdi’s Requiem, to which we arrived slightly late. The sound of singing rising out of the dark woods as we hurried toward it, is a sound I will never forget.
What really ended this blissful educational experience was the night he told me that he was in love with me, and how did I feel about that? Well, he understood and took it rather well when I told him that I was not inclined that way, that I was a naïve, garden variety heterosexual who should have seen it coming, but that under the circumstances, I’d better pack my stuff and leave in the morning, and that is what I did.
What I learned from Brown that summer about literature, history, myth and music provided a framework for much of what I learned afterwards and many of my interests throughout life. Brown, however, was not his real name. In those days, being “gay” (the word in its present sense was unknown) was a strict no-no professionally. I have no idea whether “Brown” is still alive and if he would want me to “out” him. I rather doubt it. However, I also felt these little postings about my life would be incomplete without a grateful acknowledgement of the effect “Brown” had on me and on my life that summer in Upstate New York.