The way he and I got in touch was really funny; depending, as always, on how you define 'funny'. Not exactly what Billy Wilder used to call a 'cute meet', but still. At the time, I used to keep bees and had a subscription to Bee Culture magazine, in which he wrote a column on producing comb honey. He was one of the great USA experts in the field. (I used to call him 'sticky Dick', no offense:What do you call a professor of philosophy who's just been extracting honey?
Then, one fateful month, the column described how he had got into heavy personal problems and that he needed friendship. So, knowing where bee-keepers are at and having my suspicions about the sides this character carefully kept in the shade, I wrote him a letter applying for the job.
This is 'funny' because neither he nor I were the types that, normally, you'd expect to go for that sort of thing. I figured he was pretty desperate, and he was. The reason I was interested in his plea (you read a lot of that sort of thing, and what's the use, mostly?) was that I had long suspected this was the same guy who had written Freedom, Anarchy and the Law; a book that had done a lot for me. Many people consider me an anarchist - can't imagine where they got that idea - but this book took good care of the notion. Anyway, he wrote me back telling me what had been going on. Keeping the ugly details out, his marriage to a much younger woman had busted up and at the age of 75 he was left with the care of two young boys. One reason why he picked me out of a bunch to write more than a thank-you letter was, all those approached him with texts like 'it's the will of god'; to quote Richard,that sort of thing.The other reason was, I had exposed his double role of playing a professor and a farmer simultaneously. He said 'he was astounded' as nobody knew about this.
But you know, bee keepers often are funny chaps. Another one wrote how most of the breed he'd met would surely make much more money had they chosen another profession. Well, Richard excelled in both of his chosen professions. His book Having Love Affairs had been serialized by Cosmopolitan magazine and you bet that paid better than being an emeritus.
You will not learn much here about all that or about our correspondence. Namedropping is okay maybe, but it can get awfully boring. The man was too interesting to waste time on that sort of thing. So yes, after a couple of years Willy and I drove over from New York via Woodstock to where he lived on one of the Finger Lakes. His reply to how it looked over there in winter was a short and snappy, if drawn-out,Grey.By then, our correspondence still was going but the main reason for it had gone, as he had found another companion, who carried the name of one of my favorite aircraft. His sons listened (more or less) to the names Aristotle (not after Onassis) and Xeno; weird, maybe, but a lot less so than what Frank Zappa thought it a good idea to load on his offspring. We got a royal reception, even though we turned up much later than planned, unaccustomed to the sheer size of the USA compared with Curaçao - or Western Europe, for that matter. Staid in his week-end house (well, that's an under-description) on the board of the lake, sporting a landing stage replete with marlin nest houses. Very nice.
The next time I was around there was in September 2001, and for some reason (I don't remember all the details) we did not succeed in meeting then. Our correspondence more or less petered out, mainly because Richard was struggling in a terminal fight with lung cancer, to which he finally succumbed in 2003.
photo © Richard Taylor
He kept raving about mybeautiful wife, so I finally had to tell him he'd know he'd been in a fight. Small wonder we got along well. In one of his last (I'm 78 now. Gaah!) Bee Culture columns he admitted he just hated Christmas. It says a lot about our culture that it took him so long to build up the necessary courage. He also finally came out of the closet and admitted to his fellow beekeepers the guilty and shameful secret that he was a professor. They took it in their stride. Don't know if his colleagues on the other end of the line were ever informed, but I'm more curious for their reaction; could be quite different.
He had a, to me healthy, disrespect for rites and all that sort of nonsense. In Freedom, Anarchy and the Law he has a very funny scene about a block of wood, carefully cut in a certain form, that people have to behave in a generally respectful manner towards, as if it were a Swiss landlord's hat. But he always had an American flag flying at his house, because he thought it a beautiful thing. Then, when it got old and wasted, this Sinner threw it in the trash can and hung out a new one.
As a philosopher, he just modestly thought he had the knack to explain difficult concepts so anybody could understand them. (These guys are what we need most.) His first book, Metaphysics is all about that. He said it was full of 'he' and 'his' instead of 'persons', and you just couldn't get away with that anymore. Very unpractical, I feel. Who cares? Better care about really important things. So it got reprinted anyway, just to show them where it's at.
His big hit Having Love Affairs reminded Willy, then fresh from Delft university, about the scene there with professors having a jolly good time educating the co-eds. Teaching 'em the ropes of life, so to speak. She was right. Richard told us:It was like I was dreaming, with this sweet young woman caring for me.But it didn't last, as you've been told already. In my experience the oldest partner very rarely outlasts a large-age-difference marriage.
One of his last books, Restoring Pride strongly brings back memories of one of my favorites, The How-to-Do-It book of Beekeeping. In that one, he takes an obvious, not at all unconscious, pride in things he tinkers with his hands. Also, it's full of practical tips.
Like I told you, Richard Taylor has died and I lost one of my three best friends.
I also got allergic to bee stings (Death, where is thy sting?) and had to give it up.
I now always schlepp around a hypodermic syringe filled to the gills with adrenaline.
You'd think that pretty suspicious, traveling around these days, wouldn't you?
But none of those security guys ever even noticed I had it. On my person, too.
Small wonder those terrorists seem to have a free hand.
Books by Richard Taylor
both very practical -
full of hints and tips
His last books:
Virtue Ethics: An Introduction
I have my favorites, sure - find out for yourself what yours would be.
He's worth it.
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