Charles G. Bell

A recent Twitter conversation got me thinking about great teachers who have inspired me, and one of the names that came to mind was Charles G. Bell. I met him in his ‘preceptorial’ about American literature in the summer Graduate Institute of 1984 at St. John’s College, Santa Fe (New Mexico). He would have been 68 or so at the time, but he still climbed trees for exercise and was infamous for, among other things, skinny-dipping when invited to parties by pool-owners.

Mr. Bell had, apparently, read every book ever written on every subject under the sun, and could read, write, and speak several languages. He was a polymath who started out studying physics but then switched to English. The St. John’s ‘tutors’ teach all the subjects, but he was one of the few who could rightfully claim expertise in almost all of them. He was also mentor and friend to the poet Galway Kinnell and, most importantly to me, a wonderfully kind, sympathetic, and inspiring teacher.

I keep writing in the past tense because I haven’t seen him in many years, but he apparently is still alive, well into his 90s, in Maine with one of his daughters. If anyone knows for sure, please drop a comment! UPDATE: Mr. Bell passed away on Christmas morning, 2010. His obituary in the Santa Fe New Mexican is worth reading.

Mr. Bell wrote both poetry and novels, but his great opus is Symbolic History, a comprehensive slide-and-sound history of everything. His autobiographical sketch, also on the Symbolic History site, is well worth reading.

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4 thoughts on “Charles G. Bell”

  1. I was also a student of Mr. Bell. I last heard from him several years ago after his wife Dani died. We went to see him the last time we were in Santa Fe recently but got the same message you did – in Maine. I would have seen his obit if he has died as I still ge the St. John’s journal.

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  2. Bell came up in a conversation recently. I was able to dig this us(below), no idea if he still lives there but this would be a good place to start if you actually want to track him down and see him before it is too late.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=P5H0ySirN1MC&pg=PA60&lpg=PA60&dq=symbolic+history+charles+bell&source=bl&ots=C78pdi0TWB&sig=THh1A-BZxpWCC59eojRCP6JCqfs&hl=en&ei=H1oRTYKfD4G0sAO8rKCZDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  3. Hello,

    I came across your note as I was looking for links to Symbolic History Through Sight and Sound. I am sorry to report that Charles Bell just passed away, on Christmas Day. He was a bit over 94. He died at his daughter Sandy’s home, in Belgrade, Maine. He had pretty much “taken off” in recent years (with some form of dementia, though still very much alive and reciting stretches of Italian poetry, etc.) and had been living in a home for elders in Gardiner, Maine.

    I never had Charles in seminar, but as my father was a tutor at St. John’s I pretty much grew up as part of his extended family. I later published some of his poems in my review _ecopoetics_.

    There apparently will be some sort of memorial at St. John’s College in May, 2011.

    Best,

    Jonathan

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