I just learned from catching up on The Corner that Conor Cruis O'Brien recently passed away (there are several O'Brien posts there over the past few days). I've tried to read his book on Burke, but having commenced it, I confess that it turned out to be simultaneously too much Burke and too much O'Brien for my taste (which I guess proves that I'm not actually a Burkean at heart). I understand from those who have made their way through the book that it is really quite good.
Instead, O'Brien's passing brings to mind one what is one of my most memorable (and probably my earliest true "intellectual") experience as a Freshman at Dartmouth. Dartmouth has a marvelous program called the Montgomery Fellows program that brings visiting scholars to campus for any time from a few days to a week or two. And they reside in a house just off campus for their duration.
Well my Freshman year I decided not to treck all the way home to South Carolina for Thanksgiving Break, and somehow was chosen with another student to have dinner at the Montgomery House with Conor Cruise O'Brien. I confess I had not the slightest idea who he was. But it turned out to be an utterly entertaining and engaging evening. The hightlight of which I recall at one point O'Brien calling for "a basket" to express his disapproval of someone else's views on the Frech Revolution (the allusion was indeed quite funny at the time). And I recall him triumphantly whipping out a pen at one point and declaring it to be his "word processor." Anyway, a fascinating and charming fellow, and utterly gracious to clueless 18-year old me.
I never saw him again after that, but that evening has been one that has remained with me for over 30 years now. Quite an impression.