I have just finished reading the newspaper obituaries. I learned a good deal. Nothing that had not been suggested to me before, over all these many years, but the details had always remained a little murky -- like stones under water. I knew that he had come from Germany to Cambridge before the war, had taught at Aberdeen, had become Regius Professor at Oxford, had traveled widely and knew important people -- but of the details of his life I knew very little, nor was I particularly curious to know them. But now, today, I am grateful to have learned a little more.
Our relationship, all thirty years of it, always remained on a strictly personal level. I am not an academic -- although I owe our meeting to having attempted, albeit briefly, to become one. It was late in the summer of 1969. Having wearied of my employment on the staff of an appellate court, I had resolved to take some graduate courses at Boalt Hall to see if my true place was in the academy. One of the professors to whom I had been assigned was David Daube, a visitor from Oxford who, I was assured by my advisor, was "very famous and very old." I remember meeting him for the first time one very hot afternoon in August, in the Faculty Club I believe -- the dramatic profile, the courtly manner, the arresting accent . . . and the strange leather sacklike contraption with which he ventilated his lungs from time to time. And one more thing: that he was not quite so elderly as I had been led to believe. He seemed, rather, ageless. (He was in fact but 62, my own present age as it happens.)
My dream of academic distinction soon evaporated, but the warm relationship which had grown up between us remained. We met for lunch at Larry Blake's from time to time -- until late in 1971 I moved with my family to the Basque country of France, where we remained for the next two years. Soon after my return in 1973, however, our meetings resumed, growing in frequency to about once a month. From that time until his recent death, that practice continued -- at Larry Blake's for many years, then later at the City Club, and finally at Chaparral House and Oak Park Convalescent.
On the surface, we had very little in common. He was . . . who he was. I was, am, a journeyman lawyer, a sometime novelist, the remote offspring of Mormon pioneers who came across the plains with Brigham Young. The one obvious thing we shared was a love for the stories of the Old Testament, one of which had figured in the first of my novels. He knew them much better than I, of course, but I knew enough to keep the conversation moving. He was very generous, not only in making adjustments for my ignorance but in many, many other ways. Martha and I were invited to the sumptuous gatherings which he used to put on in those days at various local restaurants -- the Old Poodle Dog, the Coachman, Ernie's (all gone now, alas)-- and sometimes he invited us and our two children to join him and Helen and her children for Sunday brunch at some fancy Nob Hill hotel. He always paid, of course -- he would not have it any other way, and it was best not to suggest any variance from this practice.
As the years passed, our lunches came to assume a certain pattern. This was before he began to adopt what Jonathan has called his "mantra" ("I'm in a terrrrible condition"), and instead we began with his inquiry into the health and activities of my wife and children. Then, as a rule, would come a question in the form of an enigmatic statement. "I don't suppose you've ever heard of King Ahab." When I assured him that I had indeed heard of the rascal, he would cast off, describing some twist or turn of the story which he found interesting (meaning in code that he was already midway into an article about it). An hour later he would look at his little watch, say that he must be going . . . and order dessert -- invariably ice cream and coffee. An hour more and we would at last depart, walking slowly up Durant toward the law school.
He was one of a kind -- I am not of course the first to observe this. His passing leaves a void which cannot be filled. I knew this when he lived, and now I know it all the more. I loved him, and there is not much more to say.