Regnery Publishing Inc.
updated 7/13/2004 5:17:35 PM ET 2004-07-13T21:17:35

For years conservatives have been awaiting -- and publishers have been coveting William F. Buckley Jr.’s literary autobiography.

"Miles Gone By" is a perfect capstone to a celebrated life of writing: Buckley weaves together his most personal writings from the past half-century. His journey begins with his early days when music, hard work, and laughter filled the rooms of his boyhood home, Great Elm; continues onto Yale where a young political controversialist penned his first of over forty-five books; leads to the founding of the successful magazine "National Review"; and carries us through the triumphs, tribulations, laughter, and love of Buckley’s extraordinary life. 

Throughout his lifetime, Buckley’s path has intertwined with some of the most notable and beloved figures of our time. He chronicles his first dramatic encounter with Ronald Reagan, the dried-flower collage that Princess Grace gave his wife, and the captivatingly bright and engaging Henry Kissinger. He has listened to Vladimir Horowitz perform at home, challenged the slopes with David Niven, and delved into the mind and earned the respect of Whittaker Chambers.

William F. Buckley Jr. is a syndicated columnist, founder of National Review and was the host of "Firing Line" the longest–running program in television history with the same host.

Excerpts from “Miles Gone By”

The secret of fireflies
Outdoors it was very very still, and from our bedroom we could hear the crickets and see the fireflies. I opined to my sister Trish, age twelve, that when the wind dies and silence ensues, fireflies acquire a voice, and it is then that they chirp out their joys for the benefit of the nightly company, visible and invisible.

“Why do they care if it’s quiet outside?”

I informed her solemnly that it was well known to adults that fireflies do not like the wind, as it interferes with their movements. Inasmuch as I was thirteen and omniscient, my explanation was accepted. (p. 3)

The true grit of Ronald Reagan
His [Ronald Reagan’s] assignment was to introduce me to the assembly….But entering the hall we came upon a huge bump in the road: not only was the sound system not on, the room where you turned it on was locked! They couldn’t find the kid who was supposed to have turned it on, or the janitor who had the keys….That’s when I espied True Grit in the future president. He ascertained that the window at the end of the stage overlooked a parapet about a foot wide, which extended, at the far end of the building, to the window of the control room. So he climbed out the window, arms outstretched for balance, and edged his way above the roaring traffic to the critical window, broke it open with his elbow, climbed into the room, found the switch, and flipped it—and the show was on. (p. 258)

Typical Buckley…
I said to Johnny Carson, when on his program he raised the question, that to say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around. (p. 346)

The masterful plot
The first time we dined with him at his house in Connecticut I plotted with my friend and fellow guest James Burnham. Our objective was to get Vladimir to play for us. After dinner, winking at Burnham, I said, “Volodya” (he had asked to be called by his nickname), “why are you playing Clementi at your concert next week?”

“Yes, I’ve wondered the same thing,” chimed in Burnham, as plotted.

“You dohn like Clementi?” His expression was at once sad and combative.

“Well, sure, I like him.” I managed to sound unpersuaded.

He rose and strode to the piano. Burnham and I smiled triumphantly as Vladimir proceeded to play six Clementi sonatas. And when Horowitz plays Clementi, Clementi becomes my favorite composer. (pp. 269–270) 

Upsidedownsideways
My best friend at Yale had become engaged to my favorite sister. All my siblings had met Brent Bozell save my poor sister Maureen, cloistered at the Ethel Walker School….I wrote to my sister, age fourteen, telling her to send me a map of the huge lawn that rolls out from the school….Armed with that map and my future brother-in-law, I set out…I found the school….The problem was that the trees…happened to be the tallest trees this side of the California redwoods….I was terribly proud of the way I executed it all….I managed to sink down after skimming the treetops, touching down on the lawn as though it were an eggshell. I looked triumphantly over to Brent...The very next glimpse I had of him was, so to speak, upsidedownsideways. We had hit a drainage ditch….invisible from the air….The aircraft was nosed down absolutely vertically into the ditch….We were sustained by our seatbelts, without which our heads would have been playing the role of our feet…I am not sure I recall the conversation with Brent exactly, but it was on the order of:

“Are we alive?”

“I think so.”

“What happened?”

“Ditch.”

“Why did you run into it?”

“Very funny.”

“We had landed, goddammit.  We were just braking down.”

“This isn’t going to be easy to get up from.”

…We returned to New Haven by bus. Brent, who had a good book along, did not seem terribly surprised, even after I assured him that most of my airplane rides out of Bethany were round trips. (pp. 213–216)

The Titanic
In 1987, I ventured two and a half miles down to the ocean floor to explore the mythogenic remains of the great ship that had gone down seventy-five years earlier…[T]he great moment was coming….We were in place, on guard by our portholes. The lights flashed on. Nothing to see….Then, gradually, it happens: You are descending slowly to what looks like a yellow-white sandy beach, sprinkled with black rock-like objects. These, it transpires, are pieces of coal. There must have been a hundred thousand of them in the area we surveyed, scattered between the bow of the ship and the stern, a half-mile back. On the left is a man’s outdoor shoe. Left shoe….And then, just off to the right a few feet, a snow-white teacup. Just sitting there, thank you, on the sand. I would liken the tableau, in its sheer neatness, to a display that might have been prepared for a painting by Salvador Dali…Finally the moment came to terminate our sortie and begin our slow ascent…eventually you are airborne into the mother ship’s womb. The hatch is turned, and you climb out; a Superman grin on your face, you have to admit. (pp. 469, 479, 481)

Excerpt published with the permission of Regenry Publishing Inc.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,