I recently finished re-reading David Grene’s memoir, Of Farming & Classics. Grene balanced action and contemplation in his life in a truly remarkable way: he spent half the year teaching classics in the University of Chicago’s fascinating Committee on Social Thought, then the other half farming, first on a small farm in Illinois, then back on small farms in his native Ireland.
His memoir is a charming little book. Just 160 pages, it’s focused and delightful, pushing against our assumptions regarding the nature of both farming and education. Since Grene’s life was so focused on these two things, there’s no real struggle between chronology and theme in the book: the two themes run neatly in parallel through his life, from farming in summers and learning Greek as a boy through his remarkable career at the University of Chicago, especially under its idiosyncratic wunderkind president, R.M. Hutchins (who became president of the university when he was 29!).
The final chapter, a defense of fox hunting, feels strangely out of place and disappointingly polemical compared to the rest of the book; this chapter aside, the book deserves its place on my shelf of contemplative, contrarian agrarians, next to his kindred spirit Wendell Berry.
P.S. ~ One of the final pages of the book mentions a recording of Grene reciting passages from Othello; the website pointed to and the bookstore mentioned as sources of the recording are both shuttered. If anyone knows where this recording can be found, I’d be grateful!