Not long after your death on October 25 of last year, friends and relatives wondered whether I might write something about you. They knew that we had corresponded and that I regularly visited you in San Antonio, so they felt I should put something on record. But when I tried my hand at it, I found it impossible to convey my thoughts or feelings. It then occurred to me that the best way to write about you would be to write to you, as I did for so many years.
Naturally, I wasn't about to discuss your many accomplishments—the positions you held, the books you wrote—the obituaries and eulogies for the great Jacques Barzun took care of all that. You were touted as one of the last true public intellectuals: a cultural historian, a philosopher of education, an authority on the English language, a prophet of Western decline. The newspapers relished the fact that you were nearly 105 years old when you passed away.
And yet somehow, for all the words spent on your achievements, I still felt as though the tributes had missed something. What they failed to capture was the way in which you used the written word not only to define and distill cultures past and present, but also to reach out, to lift up, and—for lack of a better phrase—to establish a human connection. This may sound odd, coming from your grandson, but the feeling of intense loss I experienced was the loss of a bond that had developed almost entirely through the letters we exchanged....