Page 2


money to relieve Roy Bedichek for a year from his duties as director of the Interscholastic League of Texas. He had a book to write. Webb invited him to take over a big upstairs room with a fireplace in the old Friday Mountain rock house, originally built for a boys’ academy. Here, eager in his liberation, Bedichek made shelves of apple boxes to hold his books, carried water by bucket from a dug well, brought up wood, cooked over the fire. Through the year 1956 he worked at a table in front of the fireplace. Chickens mechanically grown in rooms downstairs did not bother him. In fact, he based one of his richest chapters on “Denatured Chickens.” Associating with himself, letting his richly-stored mind play, adding meanings to long-accumulating observations on people, birds, wild flowers, trees, and other forms of life, he achieved Adventures with a Texas Naturalist. Published in 1947, it was fourteen years later taken over by the University of Texas Press, an institution that Webb, more than any other man in the faculty, had furthered. “The Bedichek Room” remains, through Webb and Rodney Kidd, a feature at Friday Mountain. WEBB’S THE GREAT FRON-TIER, officially published December 8, 1952, won the Carr P. Collins Award of a thousand dollars given annually by the Texas Institute of Letters. His response to the presentation was the after-dinner address to the instituteand mighty fidgety he was before dinner. He asked me, also others, to notice how people received what he had to say, something so intimate to him that he shrank from making it public. He read his say. It was ,the most moving I have heard any man utter. It moved deeply all who heard it. He waited a long time to publish it, with some added details, under title of “The Search for William E. Hinds,” in Harper’s Magazine, July, 1961. Reader’s Digest published a condensation of it the following month. The subject of autobiography came up several times among us while Bedichek was still on hand, iterating that he lacked the genius of. Jean Jacques Rousseau for confession. As Webb was leaving my room one day in 1960, I again spoke about autobiography. He volunteered that he had written one while at Oxford University, 1942-43. He did not go into detail. The whole cannot, I believe, have anything else so intensely, so poignantly personal as the chapter in which he tells of a response received in 1904 to a letter he had written to the letter column of the Sunny South. It was from William E. Hinds of New York, an utter stranger, not only commending his ambition to be a writer but offering to send him books and magazines. Later this William E. Hinds urged him to get a college education and loaned him money while he was attending the University of Texas. Hinds died 45 years before Webb’s obligation to him became a chapter in published literature. It resulted in many letters from unknowns, some sending money to help stu 4 The Texas Observer dents as Hinds had helped Webb. For years he had been concerned over some way to requite Hinds and had given financial aid to able but needy students. He now set up the William E. Hinds scholarship fund at the University of Texas. After his death a check donating money to it was found in his pocketbook ; it is an ultimate beneficiary in his will. The Hinds-Webb scholarship fund is now the official name. IHAVE no recollection of having heard Webb speak at any time of his soul, his religion, or God. He belonged to no church, ignored churches, liked some free-thinkers, some churchmen, especially Dr. Edmund Heinsohn, long pastor of the University Methodist church in Austin. After Heinsohn became a member of Town and Gown years ago, he often sat with Bedichek, Webb, and Dobie. He conducted Bedichek’s funeral services, reading into them an interpretation of the man’s character. At Webb’s funeral he read an interpretive sketch of Webb’s life. “I remain an agnostic,” Somerset Maugham wrote in The Summing Up, “and the practical outcome of agnosticism is that you act as though God did not exist.” As far as I can see, Walter Webb’s positive goodness bore no relation to what is called God. His conduct was not determined by Biblical injunctions or by expectation of reward in some sort of post mortem existence. His mother is said to have been a fundamentalist, his father a skeptic who read the Bible in order to refute more specifically some of her credulities. I cannot imagine Webb’s “praying for guidance,” but at one time he believed in something beyond. After he married in 1916 he was teaching in San Antonio and became so low-spirited over the future that he, as I recall his story, was about to take a job in a jewelry store. He consulted a noted fortuneteller known as Madam Skirls. She said : “The child will be a girl. I see nothing but books.” With books he continued. If the radical right appeared unjust and undemocratic to him, the radical left increasingly annoyed him. He was not a crusader and was not contentious. He sometimes wished, he once told me, that he did not have to think. He hungered after brightness and cheerful talk. His sense of humor tended to progress from anecdotes of rusticity to sharp wit. He loved stories, especially of people, and told them well. He heldat one time, at leastthat a certain strengthening of the mind comes through playing poker. He liked to play poker and played with skill. One time while we were walking along the railroad about Third street in Austin, we stopped beside an old-time locomotive, stationary, throbbing with power. Webb said, “That is the greatest manifestation of power in the world.” I told him that out of respect for its symbolism of power, Doctor Sanders, professor of Latin and Greek at Southwestern University about the beginning of the century, would remove his hat in salute to a steam engine pulling a train past him. Whether Webb actually ever hated anybody I cannot say. I never heard him express hatred of any kind. He could be caustic, as when he wished that birth control had been in practice before a certain individual was born. He was more inclined to set forth the facts about a man than to praise or condemn. He inclined to the policy of Governor Jim Ferguson, who said, “I never use up energy hating.” He was tolerant of human vagaries. He had developed as professor and historian under the late Dr. Eugene C. Barker, for years head of the history department of the University of Texas. Barker’s directness and his integrity were admirable. I myself owe considerable to him. The older he grew, the more conservative, even reactionary, he grew. He seemed in his later years to think that the masses of mankind need a kind of dictatorial direction in religion, politics, and other regions of life. While Dr. Barker became hostile, in his acrid way, to the New Deal and a strong bolster to the byno-means-intellectual regents who deposed Rainey, mainly for being a New Dealer, Webb was strong for Franklin D. Roosevelt, as he was later for Truman. But he was never against Barker. “I did not understand him,”, I heard him say, “but he was my friend and supporter. He was open, generous, fearless. I remember him with respect.” WEBB MAINTAINED a dim view of certain English teachers under whom he had studied in the University of Texas. He acknowledged no debt to them in mastering the craft of writing. Some time in the 1920’s he was avidly reading 0. Henry and trying out his own hand on short stories. I remember one based on an electric sign above Joske’s store in San Antonio that every night flashed on the picture of a cowboy roping a steer. I wish he had written more on the craft of writing. I quote from his essay “On the Writing of Books,” published in The Alcalde, June, 1952, \(and repeated with changes and additions in his presidential address to the American historical association, reproduced in the. Texas Ob”It takes a good deal of ego to write a book. All authors have ego; most of them try to conceal it under a cloak of assumed modesty which they put on with unbecoming immodesty. This ego makes itself manihe can say it better than anyone else. If he ever stops to doubt any one of these three beliefs, he immediately loses that confidence and self-deceptionthat ego, if you pleaseso essential to authorship. In effect, the author, to write a book, spins out of his own mind a cocoon, goes mentally in to it, seals it up, and never comes out until the job is done. That explains why authors hide out, hole up in hotel rooms, neglect their friends, their family, and their creditors . . . they may even neglect their students. They neglect everything that may tend to destroy their grand illusion.” The longer Webb jousted with words and thoughts, the finer-tempered his blade became. His use of the specific to bring