by Barak Fravasi
Kirschman had sent a fax to inform me of Congdon’s death and I could tell from the announcement that the fax had been sent to several dozen of Congdon’s friends, who were also friends of Kirschman’s, this method of communication seeming in poor taste I thought, though obviously efficient and perhaps the best method of communication all things considered, but what Kirschman could not have known was that the fax would arrive while I was listening to the Double Violin Concerto, which was Congdon’s favorite, the noise of the fax machine destroying the music of course and forcing me to stop the machine but giving me the opportunity to listen to the piece again from the beginning, I thought, and as I sat with the fax listening to the music I realized that this music had been Congdon’s favorite because of Balanchine’s use of this piece and not because of the composition per se, for he never listened to recorded music in my experience except on the radio, as he was addicted to the radio and had been since childhood he told me once. A good friend Congdon was, to me but certainly not only to me and indeed I think our friendship had to have been among the least demanding of friendships, certainly when compared with either of our friendships with Kirschman, and he was a good historian and hopefully, I thought listening to the Double Violin Concerto, his books will continue to be read by students of the Industrial Revolution, though of course the fate of his works is no more certain now than during the last years of his life, when he managed to complete the largest work of his career which will perhaps now find a publisher I thought. Congdon’s lifelong ability effortlessly to assess distances more precisely than anyone any of us had ever known must be on the minds of all of his friends, I realized, his answers to questions about distances asked even under the most informal circumstances were remarkable, and I remember especially several years ago the stunned look of the man in a truck who asked us casually, as we walked near the University, how closely he was parked to the small car ahead of him, Congdon replying that he was about eight inches from the car, and one had to admire the driver for recognizing that Congdon was giving a sincere reply and not offering a mocking reply, but Congdon thought nothing of these things, just as he thought nothing of replying to questions from his children about the distances to various cities in Europe with precision at least two figures more significant than any of their teachers could offer, but of course this prodigious quality of Congdon’s mind, certainly his most prodigious quality as he would often comment when remarking sadly on the influence of his historical scholarship, will go unnoticed in the news of Congdon’s death, there being no room for such things in Kirschman’s five-hundred word obituary.
“Obituary” first appeared in Puffyfruit, a Providence ‘zine, in 1999. It appears in electronic form here, for the first time, with the kind permission of Barak Fravasi.