Sense and Nonsense: Scott Walter — An Appreciation

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Generally, before publication these columns are faxed to me by Scott Walter to see if there are any corrections to be made to the text before final publication. This exchange has been going on for six years now. In late July, I received the galleys for the September issue. In the course of the instructions, Scott added, “By the way, it’s official: I leave CRISIS October 1 for the AEI magazine.” I had not known that Scott Walter, the managing editor of CRISIS, had any such idea. To be sure, many of his friends and admirers had long thought that Scott’s very obvious talents could well be exercised in a more well-known, larger environment. So I suppose it was just a question of time until something else came along for Scott, something he would be foolish to pass up. Still, I know that CRISIS has been something that Scott has thought worthy of his careful attention. Every page of the journal over these years shows the marks of his devotion to it.

Scott grew up in the printing business. His father had a printing company in Knoxville, Tennessee. I first ran into Scott when he was an undergraduate here at Georgetown. He was always one of those fine inquisitive students who make teaching eminently worthwhile. Scott was, moreover, that pleasantly annoying student in the presence of whom you would mention a book not to be missed, only to find out that by the next class he had gone out and read it, plus a couple of other tomes in the same area which you yourself had not yet read. He was in the first course in Saint Thomas that I taught here at Georgetown, aeons ago, not that Scott is that old. He can still cite some of the things I said in that class. No teacher can relax his guard before such a retentive student! Years later, some outlandish thing you said will be recalled word-for-word at a party before all your bemused, but not overly surprised, friends.

In fact, to return to his age, as an undergraduate, Scott looked like he was about 14. Scott always dresses well and has a penchant for bow ties. I am sure when he is 70, he will still look about 40. This youngish quality is no doubt a genetic characteristic we would all like to possess. Scott’s parents now live in Fort Myers, in Florida. One of his parents, his mother, I think, actually made four holes-in-one on one of the golf courses there. Scott, I believe, has successfully eschewed athletics since youth, though he is known to have appeared at the nearby Charlottesville steeplechase in a natty Madras jacket.

CRISIS magazine has two founders, but at the level of actual production and organization, of putting the thing together and getting it out, Scott Walter has been CRISIS. I know of no one more devoted to his job, better at it, and more generous with his time. And he is good. I recall several years ago that B. F. Smith, that most careful and exact of writers, told me that Scott is amazing in his editorship. He knows the language and just what an author is about. His corrections or ad vice to authors is always right to the point and somehow always according to the spirit of the writer’s intention. Anne Burleigh, an equally concise and elegant writer, has noted the same quality in Scott. Very few things, in my experience, slip by Scott. If something looks dubious, badly stated, or inaccurate, he will want to have the matter clarified. Nothing helps a writer more than such a good editor.

 

Every so often, Scott will invite me to supper, usually at Clyde’s here in Georgetown, a favorite haunt of his. Scott is an expert in bartenders, not so much in their pourings, but in their lives. He will often bring along one or other of his friends. His conversation is always lively, informed, and witty. So, he has been a good friend. I also call him one of my very greatest benefactors. Ever since he was an undergraduate, he has saved articles or clippings that he thought I would like to see. He knows somehow what I need to see that I might otherwise miss. At Christmas or my birthday, he often sends me a book that I would not otherwise have known about. He is a follower of the used-book sales here in Washington and regularly reminds me when big sales are taking place.

Once Scott gave me a copy of Thomas a Kempis’s Sermons to the Novices Regular. This was a book coming from the middle of the 1400s, translated by Dom Vincent Scully at Saint Ives in Cornwall, and printed in London by Kegan Paul, Trench, Truener and Company, in 1907. The dedication in Scott’s script reads, quoting Thomas a Kempis’s advice to his novices, but with obvious overtones for older clerics: “For Father Schall, in the hopes that he may ‘have patience amid the slothful and perverse.” Needless to say, this is good Augustinian advice for anyone in this vale of tears, to have “patience amid the slothful and perverse.”

In Sermon XX to the Novices at Mount Saint Agnes, entitled, “On Daily Taking Up the Cross Embraced in Religion,” I read this admonition:

Wo, also to wandering and dissipated monks, religious only in name and habit; who carry their cross with murmuring and obey unwillingly; keep their cell ill, easily break silence; shun toil, love idleness. . . .

Scott did not underline these lines, but I got the point.

Scott also gave me the wonderful London Folio Society editions of George and Weedon Grossmiths’ The Diary of a Nobody and P. G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith. And I have the Peter Pauper Press’s elegant edition of the Discourses of Epictetus, which I think Scott gave me, although he doesn’t now recall. Anyone who would even know about these three books, let alone the Folio Society and the Peter Pauper Press, cannot be all bad. Scott has always had a cordial and stimulating interest in anything connected with CRISIS, its writers, and its operation. Indeed, one of the very best things ever in CRISIS was Scott’s interview with the late Walker Percy (July-August 1989).

I manage to go over to the office on 15th and K Streets once in a while. It is a clutter of magazines and things connected with magazines. Scott has overseen the installation of the CRISIS computer system. He has been on top of every issue as it has come out. Perhaps some can imagine that CRISIS would have existed and grown without him. I cannot imagine it. How often have I called late at night or on the weekends, to find him still there finishing or starting a new month’s edition. I am sure he could not have been paid by the hour else the magazine would have been broke long ago.

CRISIS, I think, occupies a unique place in Catholic and general literary journalism. It has occupied a “permanent-things” center mostly abandoned by Commonweal, America, and other journals. But it has carved out its own unique style and slant and philosophy. It is clearly a journal of high intelligence written by and for men and women who love and know the Church, who have a sense of the romance of “orthodoxy” and a hardheaded appreciation of things that can go wrong both in profane and sacred things. And the CRISIS editors and writers bear marks of that infallible sign — they love and know the Holy Father, surely the greatest and most learned Pope of modern times, perhaps of any time, the most remarkable man in public life today.

Needless to say, as a Jesuit I have been particularly touched by this sense of the centrality of the Holy Father. Under Ralph Mclnerny and Michael Novak, that sanity so characteristic of classical Catholicism has been manifest. I think CRISIS’ many devoted non-Catholic readers and writers have appreciated the fact that they could look to this journal to find an intelligent, careful, and reasonable position on things sacred and secular.

Scott Walter, in addition, has known so many younger writers and encouraged them. I have gotten in the habit of asking him who is new on the scene or what are the people we mutually know thinking about. He has always had, for a young man, a sense of style and the instinct for what Chesterton called “orthodoxy.” Scott came into the Catholic Church on a Holy Saturday some time back. It seemed his natural home, and he was the first to realize it. He found a good priest who instructed him at Saint Joseph’s on Capitol Hill using the Athanasian creed in Latin, among other things. But he also knew so many lay Catholics and, let me add, sane and wonderful Jews, Protestants, and whatever, who crossed his path at CRISIS. So CRISIS has been his natural home.

Scott knew the audience that needed to hear what CRISIS had to say, and he knew the literature. He knew about Chesterton and Belloc, about Kempis and Saint Thomas, about Saint Augustine and Saint Teresa. He knows about Mother Teresa, about Fathers Robert Sokolowski, Bill Smith, Marvin O’Connell, Paul Mankowski, Ernest Fortin, Richard John Neuhaus, and Kenneth Baker. He also knew a whole remarkable host of younger (and getting older) scholars, editors, and writers — Terry Hall, Michael Jackson, George Weigel, Anne Carson Daly, Daniel Mahoney, David Bovenizer, the Hitchcocks, Gerry Russello, Russell Hittinger, Kimberly Gustin Bright, Hadley Arkes, Leon Podles, Dinesh D’Souza, George Marlin, Michael Pakaluk, Robert Royal, Tracy Simmons, Mark Henrie, and scores of others who grace the pages of CRISIS.

As Scott is staying right here in the nation’s capital, I am not saying farewell. Yet it would be unseemly if he were to leave CRISIS without knowing the esteem and appreciation that many of us have had for his devoted and exceptional work. Scott has enormous energy and will not be far away in distance and, we hope, not away at all in advice and interest. Scott was the one who established “The Idler” column. He has guided and encouraged the “Common Wisdom” column in CRISIS with the late Ann O’Donnell, with B.F. Smith, Anne Burleigh, and Ellen Wilson Fielding, perhaps the best thing about CRISIS. Indeed, I know there are many hundreds of small and large things that have gone to make CRISIS the fine journal that it is that are the results of Scott’s quiet and persistent efforts.

Let me, to revert to my academic mode as his former teacher, leave Scott with two thoughts, the first from the handsome book of Epictetus:

Not with the stones of Euboea and Sparta let the structure of your city walls be variegated; but let the discipline and teaching that comes from Greece penetrate with order the minds of citizens and statesmen. For with the thoughts of men are cities well established, and not with wood and stone [III, 6].

The second is from P. G. Wodehouse, an equally handsome book:

Time and neglect had done their work with the flooring of the room in which Psmith had bestowed the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, and, creeping cautiously about in the dark, he had the misfortune to go through. But, as so often happens in this life, the misfortune of one is the good fortune of another. Badly as the accident had shake [sic!] Freddie, from the point of view of Psmith it was almost ideal.

Needless to say, at the AEI magazine, Scott will be concerned with those “thoughts of men” that establish our cities. The misfortune of Gills’s, let us admit it, is surely the good fortune of AEI.

And may I make one final observation that, unless there be some form of English English grammar of which I know not, the Folio Society in London did not catch, as Scott surely would have caught, that “shake” which should have been “shaken.” Good editors catch these things, and Scott Walter is a very good editor. He also will need, even at such a nice place as the American Enterprise Institute, “patience amid the slothful and perverse” of this world. In losing Scott Walter from CRISIS, we can do no more than to repeat the words of Scott’s great hero, P. G. Wodehouse, “But as so often happens in this life, the misfortune of one is the good fortune of another.”

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

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Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books including The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His later books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His last books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017); The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018); Run That By Me Again (Tan, 2018) and The Reason for the Season (Sophia Institute Press, 2018).

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