Arthur Schlesinger, who looks more like Arthur Schlesinger than anyone else ever could, sprawls in a corner of the little library couch and nuzzles that last of Hoyo de Monterey Rothschild cigar.
"A quasi-Havana," he says, the ample lower lip pouting out to touch the incisors, then puckering toward a smile. "One prefers a Havana, of course."
Schlesinger is author of the best-selling "Robert Kennedy and His Times." Right now, snug in the endless caverns of Evangeline Bruce's house in Georgetown, he's predicting an end to "the lull the doldrums" of the '70s.
"Sometime in the 1980s the dam will break again, you'll have another period of activity and the themes of Robert Kennedy, in the last years of his life, will reemerge," he says.
As will Schlesinger himself, one assumes - lifelong tender of the phoenix of liberalism and its heroes, Roosevelt and the Kennedys.
He wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson and three volumes on Roosevelt, among his 21 books. He served as a mandarin, a staff intellectual, in the Kennedy White House, bouncing around the East Wing with his memos and eyeglasses and polkadot bowties.
Always a bowtie: "I don't own a four-in-hand anymore, I don't think," he says. "Bowties are so easy, you can't spill soup on them. They were very popular in the Roosevelt days, but they're out of favor now, it seems." (The bowtie today is floppy and maroon-and-white polka-dotted.)
Out of favor: "You have now a kind of acceptance and acquiescence," he says, leaning back with his palm behind his head. "But it's temporary. There's an inherent cyclical rhythm in this country - activism, then exhaustion. I think that presidents such as Harding or Carter are what the American people want during the lulls.
"Of course, you do have the problem then of the cycle versus the personality. That has troubled me a great deal. You wonder, for instance, what Roosevelt could have done had he been elected in 1924. There's not a sense of implacability about all this."
Nor is there to Schlesinger. He's never propounded a theory of history, like Toynbee or Spengler; nor has he followed his famous father as a social historian ("a pots and pans man," as they say in the trade), amassing great sheaves of facts; instead, he has chosen as much to evoke as to record history with a prose so energetic that his subjects, especially Robert Kennedy, loom, if not larger, then somehow realer than life.
He can set a scene with an easy piquancy that is born of nostalgia: "Kennedy climbed onto a flatbed truck in a parking lot under a stand of oak trees. The wind blew smoke and dust through the gleam of the spotlights . . ."
So the word "if hangs in the library air: "If Robert Kennedy had been elected in 1968," says Schlesinger, "we would have been out of Vietnam in 1969, and a lot of Americans and Vietnamese wouldn't have died. We would have had more programs on urban decay, self-regeneration, programs like Belford-Stuyvesant, a real jobs program for unemployed youth."
And now, at 61, he's waiting for the phoenix to stir again.
Of course, Schlesinger has always been a house outsider. He was two years younger than his classmates at Exeter, and his peers will tell you that those who are not Arthur Schlesinger's peers can sometimes find him abrasive.
He mulls that one: "Abrasive - obviously I don't think so. Do you think so?" he says to his second wife, Alexandra (they have a son named after Robert Kennedy), a wonderfully tall woman who does not think so but seems glad that she-s been asked.
"Before I became old and mellow. I was young and stated my opinions rather forcefully perhaps," he says.
But then, outspoken outsiders are just what "some people want to have around them," Schlesinger says. "Roosevelt liked to have people who gave him different viewpoints. Some politicians are not threatened by intellectuals. They have a great personal security."
Isn't such a security generally the perquisite of an aristocracy - the Roosevelts, Stevensons and Kennedys?
"Kennedy had a very open White House," Schlesinger admits. "It was not channeled or compartmentalized. I can understand why people onthe organizational charts would feel threatened by people with a very casual access to the president, but a sensible president does not let himself become a prisoner of the executive bureaucracy."
Was there ever a great president who did not run the sort of White House a Schlesinger could be welcomed in?"
The problem here is that his relationship to both Kennedys were founded more on mutual intuitions than on definable assignments, bringing him closer to the history he wrote than some other, higher-placed aides.
(It may have been both this closeness and a abrasiveness some waggish historian had in mind at an early '60s meeting of the American Historical Association at the Shoreham. He pinned on the bulletin board a note ostensibly addressed to Oscar Hamblin, and eminent Harvard historian: "Oscar - Call me at the White House - Arthur.")
But Schlesinger isn't worried. "As Oscar Wilde said. "The one duty we owe to the history is to rewrite it.' I say things as I see them. History can be a high-risk occupation. But it's all in the game."
After all, he's confident enough that he never bothered to get a Ph.1) or even a master's. He's one of the fastest pens in the East, turning out a constant rush of book reviews, movie reviews (written over the years for Vogue), dissents, attacks, essays, appeals.
He has a recurring nightmare, in fact: "You know the dream people have that they're back in school and they have an exam the next day and they haven't studied for it: I have exactly the reverse: I'm a professor giving an exam or a lecture, and I haven't prepared for it."
The phone rings. His wife answers.
"It's Averell," she says, meaning Harriman, of course.
Schlesinger takes a chair by the phone, falling into a slouch.
"Hello?" he says, with the ends of the "o" tucking in with an educated precision.
While he talks, Alexandra says yes, he can be hard to get along with when he's writing, but then again "he writes with his door wide open, everybody running in and out, children, me, everyone."
Schlesinger has clearly vanished into the phone conversation. As you leave, you hear him saying:
"Do you know the pope, Averell?"
But he manages a huge, cheery wave of goodbye.