Tag Archives: Ralph Colp Jr.

It’s gone.


It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.






My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.




This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.



— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019



“Let it stand.” (an exchange of emails about James Joyce)

Once or twice [Joyce] dictated a bit of Finnegans Wake to [Samuel] Beckett, though dictation did not work very well for him; in the middle of one such session there was a knock at the door which Beckett didn’t hear. Joyce said, ‘Come in,’ and Beckett wrote it down. Afterwards he read back what he had written and Joyce said, ‘What’s that “Come in”?’ ‘Yes, you said that,’ said Beckett. Joyce thought for a moment, then said, ‘Let it stand.’ He was quite willing to accept coincidence as his collaborator. Beckett was fascinated and thwarted by Joyce’s singular method.


— Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford University Press, 1965), pg. 662




I had the following exchange of emails with my brother the other day. We were discussing certain aspects of writing.




May 8, 2019



Writing shouldn’t amount to an incoherent, rambling screed; a sort of data dump of the brain. But sometimes thoughts creep in and occur that don’t have to be excised.

P.S. There is an interesting passage in Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce describing how in Paris Joyce was dictating a passage from either Ulysses or Finnegans Wake (I don’t recall which) to his amanuensis, Samuel Becket. There was an interruption such as someone knocking on the door and Joyce said something which Becket wrote down. Then, Becket asked, was that supposed to be included? Joyce mulled it over and said leave it in. It was words such as “Come in.”







But leaving “come in” in text when it was just a remark that happened while writing and when it has nothing to do with the subject about which is being written is absurd. Joyce’s ego must have been enormous by then.






Joyce was a genius. Us mere mortals can’t carp or judge.

Yes, a bit nutty at times.

Dr. Colp [my former psychiatrist] and I talked quite a bit about Joyce from time to time. Dr. Colp once said to me: “What would I do with a genius like Joyce for a patient?”





Yes, a genius, but clearly his self-importance was out of control if he had become arrogant enough to leave something in that made no sense.




I wouldn’t argue the point. When I read this (years ago), it made me wonder.






I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce when I was in my twenties.

I don’t think it will be surpassed.




— Roger W. Smith

    May 12, 2019

“Congress shall make no law …”



In a story in yesterday’s Washington Post


“Supreme Court seems to seek narrow w:ay to uphold cross that memorializes war dead”

By Robert Barnes

The Washington Post

February 27, 2019


It is indicated that


A majority of the Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed to be searching for a way — a narrow way, most likely — to allow a historic cross commemorating World War I dead to remain where it has stood for nearly 100 years.

Two of the court’s four liberals suggested the unique history of the Peace Cross in the Washington suburb of Bladensburg, Md., may provide a way to accommodate its position on public land in a highway median.

But more than an hour of oral arguments showed the difficulty the court faces when it must decide whether government’s involvement with a religious symbol has an allowable sectarian purpose or is an unconstitutional embrace of religion.


And so on.



This is a contentious issue that has been with us for a long time. But I think it is absurd for jurists and interest groups to be splitting hairs over such questions. It calls for a satirist such as Jonathan Swift to show the absurdity of this kind of public debate.

My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr. (not an arrogant or haughty person, it should be noted) once remarked to me, in a completely different context, that human stupidity would always be very much part of humanity, very much with us.

Here’s food for thought.

The Constitution should not be taken literally. The Founders, schooled in Enlightenment thought, were wiser than that: Their intention was to produce a document the underpinning of which was clear, rational thinking.

Some of the “original intent”/strict constructionist types — including supposedly eminent judges and jurists, and legal scholars — are, to put it bluntly, idiots. Who read and interpret the words of the Constitution over literally, without any context or nuance, and without using common sense.

So are the citizens who, in reading the words of the First Amendment, think that it was intended to prohibit public exercise of religion. The Founders would have been horrified to see it interpreted that way.

The freedom of religion clause did not bar exercise of religion, or display of crosses, Christmas trees, or creches, for example, either in public or private. This would have been unthinkable to the Founders.







In making convoluted, tortuous arguments, the litigators do a great disservice to the public and threaten the common weal. Someone shouldn’t feel anxious about, or have to explain or defend oneself about, erecting or preserving a monument with a cross to honor war dead. To maintain the converse is the worst type of sophistry. And, by the way, it’s also a good example of a form of perverse presentism. Believe, me, when the Bladensburg Peace Cross was erected in 1925, it was done with good intentions. It was meant to show honor and respect. And, the Founding Fathers would be turning in their graves to be told there was something wrong about erecting a monument with a religious symbol on it.

— Roger W. Smith

   February 28, 2019

“the business of the biographer”


His domestick habits, so far as they are known, were those of a severe student. He drank little strong drink of any kind, and fed without excess in quantity, and in his earlier years without delicacy of choice. In his youth he studied late at night; but afterwards changed his hours, and rested in bed from nine to four in the summer, and five in winter. The course of his day was best known after he was blind. When he first rose he heard a chapter in the Hebrew Bible, and then studied till twelve; then took some exercise for an hour; then dined; then plaid on the organ, and sung, or heard another sing; then studied to six; then entertained his visiters, till eight; then supped, and, after a pipe of tobacco and a glass of water, went to bed.


— Samuel Johnson, “Milton,” The Lives of the Poets





Samuel Johnson, in a famous essay on biography, shows the importance of minute particulars: how they bring a person to life and create reader interest:

It is frequently objected to relations of particular lives, that they are not distinguished by any striking or wonderful vicissitudes. The scholar who passed his life among his books, the merchant who conducted only his own affairs, the priest whose sphere of action was not extended beyond that of his duty, are considered as no proper objects of public regard, however they might have excelled in their several stations, whatever might have been their learning, integrity, and piety. But this notion arises from false measures of excellence and dignity, and must be eradicated by considering that, in the esteem of uncorrupted reason, what is of most use is of most value.

It is, indeed, not improper to take honest advantages of prejudice, and to gain attention by a celebrated name; but the business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute details of daily life, where exterior appendages are cast aside, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account of Thuanus is, with great propriety, said by its author to have been written that it might lay open to posterity the private and familiar character of that man, cujus ingenium et candorem ex ipsius scriptis sunt olim semper miraturi, whose candour and genius will to the end of time be by his writings preserved in admiration.

There are many invisible circumstances which, whether we read as inquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to enlarge our science or increase our virtue, are more important than public occurrences. Thus Salust, the great master of nature, has not forgot, in his account of Catiline, to remark that his walk has now gone quick, and again slow, as an indication of a mind revolving something with violent commotion. Thus the story of Melancthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us that, when he made an appointment, he expected not only the hour but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the idleness of suspense; and all the plans and enterprises of De Wit are now of less importance to the world than that part of his personal character which represents him as careful of his health, and negligent of his life.

But biography has often been allotted to writers who seem very little acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent about the performance. They rarely afford any other account than might be collected from public papers, but imagine themselves writing a life when they exhibit a chronological series of actions or preferments; and so little regard the manners or behaviour of their heroes that more knowledge may be gained of a man’s real character, by a short conversation with one of his servants, than from a formal and studied narrative, begun with his pedigree and ended with his funeral.

— Samuel Johnson, Rambler #60, October 13, 1750





In his preface to Letters of Theodore Dreiser (1959), edited by Dressier scholar Robert H. Elias, Elias, who knew Dreiser personally, noted that letters “that simply record data, biographical or bibliographical, or that are primarily love letters” had been excluded. My former therapist, Ralph Colp, Jr., said up front, without hesitation, that this was a mistake, a serious omission. I agreed.

I happened once to mention to Dr. Colp the Penguin series of biographies: Brief Lives. I had purchased one of them. Dr. Colp said that a brief life leaving out most or many important details amounted to an insufficient biography. I realized that he was right.



— Roger W. Smith

   December 2018

re the development of musical appreciation, as seen in myself



I am afraid some people will see this post as boastful. It is not intended to be.






I have a good friend whom I share with my wife. He was a former teaching colleague of hers.

He reads all my posts — I am very happy to have him as a regular reader. He tends to admire my writings, which is very welcome, although if he disagrees with something (such as an opinion of mine about an author), he will tell me or my wife. He is a thoughtful person and reads with care and attention. But his criticisms are not harsh.

He has mentioned several times to both of us having enjoyed my writings and thoughts on classical music. He is an accomplished and serious pianist and a lover of music, about which he is knowledgeable.

I said I was glad that he enjoyed my posts about music. “You know,” I said, “with my limited technical knowledge of music, I am surprised to find I can write about it. But it seems I can.”

He said something in response to the effect that my writings on music read like those of a music critic.

Thinking more about this, I wrote my friend a follow up email, the text of which follows.



— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018





Dear _______,

Yesterday we were talking about early influences, namely music and art.

I seem to be able to “think musically.”

Even though I can’t read music or play an instrument.

How is it that I know (or think I do) that Bartók outranks Stravinsky? How and why is it that when I was listening once to folksongs by Bartók, I was reminded of Porgy and Bess? And, then (this was in the past), I happened to read something about Gershwin somewhere and found out that he had used pentatonic scales in Porgy and Bess and realized that Bartók did the same with folksongs that used ancient modalities.

As I said, I seem to have always been able to think musically. My father graduated from Harvard when I was around four or five with a degree in music. I don’t recall it well, but he had 78 RPM records of classical music that he would play when doing assignments. I recall that I loved the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 — if one can do that at a very early age, one is inherently musical. I enjoyed listening to my mother play classical music on the piano around bedtime. I liked some other works I recall such as Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. Plus kids’ songs such as “Rain, Rain, Go Away (Come Back Again Some Other Day).” I still remember the words and the basic tune. We had a scratchy old record of it which I wanted to hear over and over again.

I seem to have a photographic memory for music. I always recall what the pieces were and remember them exactly, going way back and extending through my lifetime. If I hear a different rendition at some later date, I can tell it’s not the same. (This includes popular music and rock.) How is it that I remember both the music and the actual pieces, including what they were?

For example, on the first day of school I attended in the seventh grade in my new hometown, Canton, our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, led us from the piano in singing. The songs were “Over the River and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House We Go. The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh”; and, “Oh, Those Golden Slippers.” I can hear the songs still. I can hear Mrs. Sullivan playing — can seem to almost remember how that old piano sounded —  remember what the songs were and the melodies.

Music is linear, like mathematics. I think linearly. I always did very well in math. Music and subjects like algebra are left brained.

I never had to develop an interest in music, like, say, someone who says, or thinks, they should take up tennis or golf for some reason, and begins by taking lessons.

It was similar to my love of books and reading in that it was never an interest that was part of academics or coursework. The best interests develop naturally this way.

So that when I was in high school, I began to seriously develop a taste for and knowledge of classical music. It came naturally.

But when it comes to playing and performing, I could never, should I have tried, come close to my siblings’ proficiency.

A footnote: My former therapist, Dr. Colp’s, intellectual development seemed similar, in some respects. He grew up in a very intellectually stimulating atmosphere of books and ideas. He told me that the life of the mind was like breathing for him.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a home were music was a part of everyday life and where aesthetic enrichment and appreciation came with the territory. Music has always been an important part of my life.



Ralph Colp, Jr. review of “The Gates of Memory” by Geoffrey Keynes

Ralph Colp, Jr. review of ‘The Gates of Memory’ by Geoffrey Keynes



As shown in my post “tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”



My former therapist, the late Ralph Colp, Jr., was an extraordinary man.

Posted here (above) is one of his many book reviews. It shows how well Dr. Colp could write, with great acumen and sensitivity.

We had many discussions about writing and writers. He told me that, like most young writers, he used to obsess at the beginning over style. But he said he soon overcame this and was able to not worry too much about it. His writing is notable for its clarity and straightforwardness.

Note that in this review of Geoffrey Keynes’s autobiography, Dr. Colp reminisces about a visit he had with Keynes. Geoffrey Keynes (brother of John Maynard Keynes), like Dr. Colp, was a physician-scholar. Keynes is well known as a scholar (and lover) of William Blake. Dr. Colp told me about having met Keynes. I had told him about my interest in Blake.

I knew of Keynes before becoming a patient of Dr. Colp and have several beautiful Blake books edited by the former.

— Roger W. Smith

    July 2018

Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble



On Thursday, November 16, 2017, I heard a performance at Carnegie Hall of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 16 in E-flat major, K. 428 by the Tetzlaff Quartet. Mozart’s K. 428 is one of his Haydn Quartets, a set of six string quartets that he dedicated to Joseph Haydn.

It is a flawless work. It exemplifies Mozart’s genius. It also brought to mind a sentence in my first-year Russian textbook — written by a famed Slavicist and foreign language teacher, Alexander L. Lipson — which was as follows: “Как и Моцарт, Пушкин написал только шедевры” (Kak i Motsart, Pushkin napisal tol’ko shedevry. Like Mozart, Pushkin wrote only masterpieces.)

The Russian word for masterpieces, shedevry, is the same as and is derived from the French. (Makes me think of the French used by the aristocracy in War and Peace.)

The Mozart piece brought to mind the comparison between Mozart and Pushkin made in the textbook from my college Russian course, and the course itself.





I was eager and thrilled to be able to take introductory Russian in my sophomore year at Brandeis University. The course was taught by Charles E. Gribble. Professor Gribble, who held a doctorate from Harvard, began his teaching career at Brandeis. When I took the course with him, he was in his late twenties. At that time, Professor Gribble was in the preliminary phase of founding an important publishing house for Slavicists: Slavica Publishers. He was the firm’s editor for thirty years.

I was motivated to study Russian for several reasons:

I had discovered the works of the Russian émigré scholar Pitirim A. Sorokin in my senior year in high school. I was totally engrossed in books of his such as Leaves from a Russian Diary. This led to a fascination on my part with Russian culture.

At the time, the Soviet Union was regarded with outright hostility, fear, and suspicion. Being by nature a contrarian, I tended to think differently. Politics aside, I saw, as did Sorokin (to quote from one of his works), “an essential similarity or congeniality in a number of important psychological, cultural, and social values” between the USA and the USSR: vast territories with all that implies (such as various climates, topography, and regional characteristics); rich natural and human resources; major cultural and urban centers; the fact that both countries were world powers; and so on. I was a sort of Slavophil without knowing it.

Russia as I imagined it was a country with vast expanses like us and a multiplicity of nationalities and ethnic groups and with a rich, continually growing culture, including Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (whom at this stage of my educational development I had not yet read) and composers such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich (whose works I had already become acquainted with and admired — in fact, Shostakovich’s fifth symphony almost in and of its itself made me a Slavophil). Just like America, Russia was huge, diverse, all encompassing, culturally fertile; and with a vibrant economy. And, I felt intuitively, a rich language.




My previous language study had consisted of a year or two of French in junior high school (a complete waste); four years of high school French, on the basis of which I was placed into third year French at Brandeis University; and two years of high school Latin. Romance languages.

It was a thrill for me to be studying a Slavic language and one with a different alphabet.

Learning the Cyrillic alphabet, in both cursive and print form, was a stumbling block for me, a hurdle to be overcome. It often felt like I was back in the first grade learning my letters and being taught to sound out words phonetically.

Our professor, Charles Gribble, knew the author of the textbook we used, Alexander Lipson, personally. Lipson taught at either MIT or Harvard; I forget which.

Lipson’s first year Russian textbook was in developmental form; it hadn’t yet been published. It consisted of pages that had been copied and bound, but not in book form. Without covers.

It was a clever and entertaining text, besides being well conceived from a pedagogical standpoint.

I was fascinated to find that Russian had cases — six of them — like Latin. (I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to emend or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction. See Addendum below.)





The genitive case (possessive) in Russia was introduced early, as follows. There would be an entertaining reading with a lot of words ending in –ого (-ogo), indicating the Russian form for a noun such as doctor’s used in a phrase such as “the doctor’s office.” Even Russian proper nouns have a possessive form, so that “Tolstoy’s house” becomes “Дом Толстого” (dom Tolstogo).

In the next or a subsequent chapter of Lipson’s textbook, the genitive case and its usage and endings would be formally introduced and explained. Since one already had a rudimentary familiarity with it in the previously encountered reading, one assimilated the grammar point with ease. This is sound pedagogy. It’s how we learn the grammar of our native language.





Despite being motivated, I had difficulty with the course.

Some of the students had already taken Russian in high school, which, in the case of a language like Russian with a steep learning curve, put me at a competitive disadvantage, so to speak.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I tried very hard. I spent hours in the language lab, but — despite my best efforts — I always seemed to be a couple of lessons behind the rest of the class.

Professor Gribble said he would take into account class attendance and effort in grading. He kept his word. I got D on practically every quiz and exam. My final grade for the 6 credit course was C.

I have always had a very high aptitude for foreign languages. In French and Latin classes in high school, I was usually (but not always) the best student in the class. The same was the case when I took Spanish as a postgraduate student at Columbia University.

So how does one account of my struggles with introductory Russian? My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., had an explanation. He regarded it as a case of what one might call “learning inhibition.” When a student feels uncomfortable with the classroom setting and the instructor. This was true of my experience with Professor Gribble. Strangely enough, he was actually a good guy. I went to a web site containing his obituary at


and it was clear that this was the case. (The obituary mentions his concern for and rapport with students.) In the following year (I did not enroll for second year Russian), I would occasionally run into Professor Gribble in the snack bar. He was always pleasant and seemed interested in how I was doing.





Alexander Lipson died in 1980 at the age of fifty-one. He was the author of a three part textbook, A Russian Course, which in its prototype/preliminary form, we had used as our text in Professor Gribble’s course.

In a review published in The Slavic and East European Journal of the book Alexander Lipson in Memoriam (1994), Catherine V. Chvany refers to Lipson as follows:

… language pedagogue extraordinaire, maverick entrepreneur, linguist’s linguist, travel tour designer, and enfant terrible. Though Lipson never completed his own Ph.D., members of his now gray-haired cohort have claimed in my hearing they learned more from Alex Lipson — about language, about Slavic, and about teaching — than from any of their professors.

She also notes “Lipson’s broad interests [which reflected] Lipson’s profound if irreverent knowledge of Russian literature and culture.” One could sense this in the text of his we used, which was much more fun and informative than most language textbooks. And, often, downright funny.

For instance, I will never forget how Chapter One began:

Хулиганы сидят в парке весь день и курят. (Khuligany sidyat v parke ves’ den’ i kuryat; Hooligans sit in the park all day and smoke.)

This was a mockery of Soviet attitudes towards deadbeats.

Another chapter had a reading devoted to the topic of навозные мухи (navoznyye mukhi): manure flies. This was a satire on life on the Soviet колхоз (kolkhoz; collective farm). After this chapter, the Russian word for fly, муха (muka), was permanently implanted in my mind.

Then, there was the aforementioned chapter with a reading on Pushkin. It included a short poem by Pushkin, “Ты и Вы” (“Thou and “You,” 1828) that was accessible to first year students and from which I got a feeling for the enchanting musicality and the sensuality and power of Pushkin’s verse.


Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она, обмолвясь, заменила
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюбленной возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с нее нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!


Pustoye “Vy” serdechnym “Ty”
Ona, obmolvyas’, zamenila
I vse schastlivyye mechty
V dushe vlyublennoy vozbudila.
Pred ney zadumchivo stoyu,
Svesti ochey s neye net sily;
I govoryu yey: kak vy mily!
I myslyu: kak tebya lyublyu!


She substituted,
by a chance,
For empty “you” — the gentle “thou”;
And all my happy dreams, at once,
In loving heart again resound.
In bliss and silence do I stay,
Unable to maintain my role:
“Oh, how sweet you are!” I say —
“How I love thee!” says my soul.


Russian — as with the French tu and vous or Spanish tu and usted — has two forms (formal and familiar) of the second person pronoun.



— Roger W. Smith

   November 18, 2017






Addendum :


The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article:

“Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017