Class of '59


September, 1968, Notre Dame Alumnus

The following anonymous letter was received at ND last month and we are seeking assistance in determining its authorship. The only clue we have is a Boston postmark:
"As you may remember, JOHN BELLAIRS a few years ago achieved wealth and notoriety by the publication of a scandalous book of 'humor.' Unfortunately, his head was quite turned by this success and he gave himself up to a life of pleasure and vanity. In a short time he had nearly exhausted his small store of money and friends and was, in every sense of the phrase, 'at the bottom of the barrel.'

"For a time he lived in a cheap waterfront boarding house in Bristol, England, consorting with dope smugglers, gun-runners, Irish poets, and the like. At length he seems to have become, however innocently, involved with the terrorist Welsh Liberation Army and at the insistence of Her Majesty's government he was finally placed aboard a collier bound for the States, with instructions nevermore to besmirch the soil of the United Kingdom with his wretched footprint.

"When he arrived here in Boston he was in a pitiable state indeed. His step was light and furtive, and he was given to darting rapid glances over his shoulder every half minute or so. He also muttered constantly and had a pronounced nervous tic. With the help of a few meager royalties, he was able to take a bed-sitting-room in a dingy hotel for men near the Back Bay station. But, although he was often hungry, he seemed unable to write. Most mornings, after rising, he would spend an hour or two rolling about on the floor, trying to discover, he said, whether his spine had warped during the night.

"The rest of the day might be spent in fruitless attempts to beg pieces of styrofoam from florists and camera shops. I believe he had some vague idea of building a raft and making 'a new start' somewhere in the Lesser Antilles. (Of course this came to nothing.) In the evening he was sometimes seen singing for his supper in Irish bars, a measure whose desperateness will be apparent to anyone who has ever visited an Irish bar in this city.

"Fortunately for Bellairs, he was at this time discovered and taken in hand by his old friend and classmate, CHARLES BOWEN (an exceptional man in every way). With a delicate combination of firmness, tact, and charity, he managed to restore to Bellairs not only a measure of self-confidence but also a decent sense of his duty to himself and to his state in life.

"Under his guidance, the errant author has returned to decent society and sober pursuits, and now devotes his time to acts of piety and virtue rather than to vice and dissipation. His talent, too, has been dedicated anew, and I am pleased to report that his prose style has achieved a level of purity that could scarecely have been dreamed of in the old days. He is presently at work on the scenario of a film version of the Baltimore Catechism.

"I want to emphasize that this miracle of regeneration could not have occurred without the kindness, patience, and generosity of Mr. Bowen. That man is surely a modern saint. It is a great credit to your Class to number him among its members. Sincerely, A Friend."

Any ideas?

Commentary

Charles Bowen says the following “gag letter” appeared in the Class of '59 column of the September 1968 Notre Dame Alumni magazine. The letter was “about John and me that I wrote and submitted anonymously. John had arrived in Boston the previous spring, and I assumed that an account of his (fictitious) economic and mental decay and my heroic actions in rescuing him from the pit (for which I praised myself lavishly) would be easily recognized as a joke, and that my authorship would be self-evident. I may have been right about the first of these recognitions, but I'm not sure about the second. In the next issue someone suggested another classmate who might have written it, and if the editor of the column thought differently, he never breathed a word. Whatever others may have thought, however, John knew immediately whence it came, and got a good laugh out of it.”