WHY DID they call him the most subversive professor in Maryland?
"Oh, that," said one of his friends. "Well, you know Byrd Stadium? He suggested the University of Maryland drop all that big intercollegiate sports stuff that fills up stadiums and turn the whole thing into the biggest rose garden on the East Coast. Some of the guys in the state legislature said he was the most subversive fellow in the state."
Thus prepared, and innerly armed against the subversion of intellectuals (and doubtful that Bryd Stadium is a good enough site for a rose garden) I went to see Dr. Carl Bode, who it turns out does not give a damn about flowers or rose gardens.
"It's quite nice," said his wife.
"He runs off to play tennis and I weed the garden, and he feels guilty about my doing the work, so he lets me do anything or buy anything for the garden I like. Do you think this porch could be turned into a greenhouse?"
Dr. Bode, professor of English, was this year's Chancellor's Lecturer, and newly home from a lecture tour of French universities where youth is on fire to hear about American transcendentalists. Unaware he is probably going to get stuck for a greenhouse construction bill, Dr. Bode began to talk (with a bit of prodding) about a thousand or two things.
Bode is affable and endlessly full of H. L. Mencken, on whom he is a penultimate authority. It is not generally known, by the way, that Mencken's parents kept all their plumbing bills and everything else - depressing to today's billpayers.
Bode (rhymes with Cody) is author of the span-new "Maryland," a 200-page history of the state. Bode is not one of those writers who likes to tell you how the agony never abated all the time he was writing: on the contrary he says writing is fun. Still (and here he is getting to it) you have no idea the problems trying to write 350 years of history in 200 pages.
He cut the knot by choosing three fellows of different centuries and telling their stories fairly completely. You get an idea of the great movements and currents, plus a sense of the day-to-day life.
Bode writes occasional columns for The Baltimore Sun, musing hither and yon on smog and man's unconquerable soul, etc.
He wore a tie and jacket when he delivered the Chancellor's Lecture and they say there was some other occasion he wore a tie but nobody can think just when. He teaches sometimes outdoors on the grass, improving on Plato (who walked about with students under the trees) by sitting down.
On the theory that high culture has a way of sneaking up on a society which always thought it was vulgar (many could not make heads nor tails of Giotto or Picasso or Brahms, etc., and loudly deplored the collapse of standards evident in those works), Bode gives attention to pop culture. How embarrassing it will be if it turns out Warhol is an artist of wonderment and not simply an ass. Bode is looking into writers nobody ever took seriously to see why people read them.
Bode is interested in art rebels, people who stir up the natives. I was not sure if Emerson is one - Bode is very strong on Emerson who is becoming fashionable with the young but who is, in spite of that, not bad.
Bode's house is wood and stone on numerous levels with an octagonal two-story entrance hall of wood with an off-organge ceiling that suggests the lantern of Ely only without stained glass. It used to be countrified out there.
Hyattsville (where he lives) was known for the Great Hyattsville Bog which had lignified wood in its somewhat polluted water, and Hyattsville also has some beautiful views from moderate heights over the lowlands. Now, all around Bode, modest $160,000 houses are springing up, and it may be a measure of the man that Bode is not resentful.
Hell, he only paid for his land, not all the land within sight, and he likes the idea that other people will have nice houses too, with the same fine view that he has.
There is a slang word, "loose," and Bode may illustrate it. I can imagine him in a rage, but cannot imagine him snotty, petty or picky (of course I never had him as a teacher - one can always spot the weak points of good teachers because they do not priss about like gods).
When we all learned that some of Jane Goodall's chimpanzees had killed a divergent group that had broken away from the main colony, we were of course sorry. Ms. Goodall had always believed one difference between the higher apes and man was that apes didn't kill each other in any organized way.
A few days ago I dropped out to the airport to console Ms. Goodall and found her in good spirits, considering. Accompanied by her husband, Derek Bryceon, a member of congress in Tanzania, she sniffed a tuzzy-muzzy of the chief fragrant daffodils that should have brightened her visit to Detroit (where she was heading to lecture after some lectures at Sweetbriar College at Lynchburg, Va.)
When she began observing her chimpanzees in Africa 18 years ago, of course it took time for them to accept her and to conclude she was no enemy.
A peak experience of her life was the day the first chimp let down the bars, so to speak. In those early years the thing that amazed her most was how like humans the apes were. It was only gradually, once she had accepted that, that she began to be amazed at the differences.
She thinks language may be the thing. She says chimpanzees who have learned to communicate somewhat in sign language are quite different - almost essentially different, though genetically identical to the others - from chimps who have not learned signs.
Man is the animal that gets babies to talk. It makes a difference. She says.