Thursday, August 2, 2012

John McPhee's Magnanimous Despot

A Favorite Shelf



“He [Frank Boyden] is at the near end of a skein of magnanimous despots who... created enduring schools through their own individual energies, maintained them under their own absolute rules, and left them forever imprinted with their own personalities.”

John McPhee, The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield



20 comments:

Ne Cede Mails said...

Excellent quote. The same could be said of both Nathaniel Batchelder and, later, John Ratte' at my beloved Loomis Chaffee.

Paul Connors said...

What would we do without these schools, not tainted by the overbearing and unproductive UNION contracts of the public school systems, where teachers care more about their benefits than they do about really educating the students. Now more than ever, these centers of excellence must be encouraged.

Anonymous said...

I love John McPhee. He is one of my favorite writers. I never read The Headmaster, but I just ordered it from the library! I can't wait.

C said...

John McPhee is great. Who else could get a layperson to happily read an entire book about oranges? He's a very skilled writer.

Barbara said...

I have read this book numerous times. I so admire Frank Boyden for his immense integrity and character, and the devoted care he and his wife took of the students of Deerfield. Sometimes kids need a loving despot in their lives. It would be great to hear stories from readers who knew him or had some connection with the school.

Flea said...

I went there in the late sixties. Boyden was in his nineties and was referred to by students as "Quid." He was very big on having us sing...although I don't think he knew the lyrics of a very popular student ditty called the "Banker's Anthem" which referred to Deerfield as "the a@#$#%e of the universe."

Sartre said...

Funny, I read The Headmaster just a year or so ago. Also read A Roomful of Hovings, which I see on your bookshelf. My favorite profile in that one was of the greenskeeper at Wimbledon.

BTW Thomas hoving's memoir, Making the Mummies Dance, is a terrific read.

Katahdin said...

"For Chips (and perhaps Boyden too), like some old sea captain, still measured time by the signals of the past. . . ."

Buzzy O said...

We're a bunch of Bankers,
Bankers are we,
Born in a whorehouse,
We were meant to f#@k all over the universe,
Of all the sons of b&^%$^*s,
We are the worst,
We come from old Deerfield,
The a$%&*#e of the universe!

Cranky Yankee said...

In 1979, McPhee wrote a series of articles for The New Yorker about a country chef he called 'Otto'. He wouldn't give away his location or too much information, but Mimi Sheraton later tracked him down and somewhat burst the bubble in a piece in the Times.

With each new article, though, the descriptions of Otto's trips into New York and other spots for his ingredients, methods and creations were office water cooler events. Ah, life before the web:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1979/02/19/1979_02_19_043_TNY_CARDS_000324265

Squeeze said...

Lest we overlook "The Rector of Justin," Louis Auchincloss' masterpiece of the genre.

Anonymous said...

Can't say I'm too romantic about despots, magnanimous or otherwise. Would like to hear what some of this fellow's critics have to say.

Paul Connors: Horace Mann didn't have the horrible, terrible union contracts that you abhor. Still seems not to have been a very well run institution.

Mink80 said...

Read Looking for a Ship years ago...about ten days ago something made me think about Lykes Brothers, and I downloaded it from Amazon. Looking forward to re-reading this week on vacation in the mountains of Western NC.

BTW, loved the Wiscasset post. There used to be a restaurant on the north side of the bridge that we would stop at for lunch on the way to Deer Isle every summer. Many times we would meet my grandparents who would be on their way home to West Newton from the DI house...making room for us to spend the month of August there.

My birthday is in August, and one of my favorite things to do in my childhood was to drive over to see Mr. Condon at his store for ice cream...just as Robert McClosky had Sal do....

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Mink80 - Are you referring to the Muddy Rudder? How incredible that you would get ice cream from Mr. Condon! That may be my favorite book of all time. I could barely keep a dry eye when Robert McClosky had CBS' "Sunday Morning/Postcard from Maine" visit on his island.

Mink80 said...

Muddy Rudder indeed rings a bell....but this would have been around 1965-69 when I was about 10 or 11 so the mind could be soft! I have a picture somewhere...there were booths along a paneled wall. I also have a picture of me, my sister and my two first cousins sitting on the front porch of the store with Mr. Condon. Probably 1965 or 1966...would have been my 7th or 8th birthday.

Later on my birthday fave was foot long hot dogs and the onion rings at the Country View Drive In on Rt 15 on the way up to Blue Hill.

I am lucky enough that this year will be spent with a bottle of 1986 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill have been saving....need to drink it!

Mink80 said...

Just checked the bookshelf...have autographed copies of Time of Wonder and Make Way for Ducklings....my mother must still have the autographed copies of BFS and OMIM, Homer Price and my all time favorite, Burt Dow, Deep Water Man. Loved the Tidly-Idly!!!!! Mom remains a HUGE RM fan....spoke to her this evening....was cocktail time in Maine!!!!

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Mink80 - Did you ever know the Merritts (Francis and Priscilla, or Pris) who ran Haystack for years? This would be after they moved it to Deer Isle of course, not their original location in Liberty/Haystack Mountain. (One can never interrupt cocktail time in Maine!)

Mink80 said...

Made many trips over to Haystack...by car and by boat. Boat was nearer, but I seem to remember a huge hill down to the water, and maybe no dock. I'll ask my mother if she did. I was too young...I suppose. I was always fascinated by the glassblowing....pretty cool the way they did that ( or should I say hot???)....

My better memories were zipping over to Le Chalet Francais to try and get a look at the gals in the sailboats!!!! Years later after the French Camp closed, whoever bought the place made some of the buildings over into rental cottages...my cousin took one for several summers in the early 1990s...

Pete said...

My next summer read.

Anonymous said...

I too went to Deerfield in the late 60s and was part of the first senior class graduating after Mr. Boyden. A classmate named Alan Jolis who is no longer with us wrote a brilliant piece recalling the night Mr. Boyden told us he was leaving. It merits a read at http://deerfield.edu/purpose/perspectives/the-quids-goodbye.