Joseph Reed
Saturday 25 March 1995 00:02 GMT

Paul Horgan was a man of letters: history and biography (awarded a Pulitzer Prize in each), fiction (more than 20 works of fiction published), and verse (Songs after Lincoln). Every bookstore in the American West has a Paul Horgan shelf because he has so many fond readers and avid collectors.

Horgan ran a distinguished Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, bringing to a small New England college in only five years the authors of more than 500 books. He sat on the Book of the Month Club board of judges, and was a member of National Council for the Humanities. Horgan accomplished all this because he was an organised workaholic: nothing was more important than the work and (for him) nothing was worse than serious work that he had worked on too long at a stretch. And so in the afternoons he changed his task - reading, drawing, writing letters, correcting proofs. His discipline was legendary.

Horgan's book Tracings (1993), a volume of short memoirs of encounters published in his 91st year, tells of meetings with Boris Chaliapin, Mary Garden, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Wilson, D.H. and Frieda Lawrence. Another volume, Encounters with Stravinsky (1972), is the story of a long friendship. Horgan's life was a series of such "encounters", groupings of powerful personalities. By means of them Horgan gave himself a thorough education. He never went to formal university, but rather found his education where he was: it was apparently everywhere he went. He was intensely private about how he learnt, but public in his generous dispersal of what he learnt.

Most of all, he found out things as he wrote, and he wrote all the time. He cited his friendships - with Rouben Mamoulian, with the N.C. Wyeth and Taos circles, with Stravinsky - as "encounters" in part out of modesty, as if he was leery of intruding even by suggesting that they had been his friends: the Herbert Reads, Fr Martin D'Arcy, Frank Capra, Doctor Seuss, Kay Boyle, Jean Stafford, Anne Fremantle, Pat and Liz Moynihan, Dick and Charles Wilbur, Ellsworth Bunker, David McCullough, the Liebersons, the Hurds, the Warburgs, the Roger Strauses. He revered his friends and these "encounters" with a loyalty that never wavered, even after the friend had later proved less than charitable to him.

His books were a part of a building career - his first novel, The Fault of Angels (1933) won the Harper Prize, his Great River (1954) the Pulitzer Prize for History and his Lamy of Santa Fe (1975) the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. His friends were blocks in another kind of building - first of an education, second of a charmed circle. In his telling, every one of them was always in the next room. He could have last seen them in Taos or Beverly Hills or Rochester or London decades ago: in his talk they would return.

An exhibition of his field drawings toured four American institutions and were published. He pooh-poohed the festivities surrounding the drawing exhibitions, but not too much. His drawings, like his books, were serious. Like Josiah Gregg's writings, they "sought the truth".

Horgan's Padraic Colum Lecture, given at the Wesleyan Writers Workshop in 1981, ranged over the notes of literary travellers of many times and places.

In the coda he said:

It is always edifying for mortals to look at a god . . . and if it so happens that we now and then measure ourselves by living, however briefly, with our betters, we are consoled for our shortcomings by awareness of the grand variety of the visions expressed through the art of writing, and by the saving fact that if, in the end, we manage to express the truth, it will be ours, and ours alone.

Because he has been here, we have seen our betters. He has taught us at least to seek to manage to express the truth. And if we do, as he says, it will be ours, and ours alone. His death is a shock because we thought him immortal; in a way he is.

Joseph Reed

Paul Horgan, writer: born Buffalo, New York 1903; Librarian, New Mexico Military Institute 1926-42; President, Roswell Museum, New Mexico 1946- 52; chairman of the board, Santa Fe Opera 1958-62; Director for Advanced Studies, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut 1962-67; died 8 March 1995.

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