Wister’s The Virginian, WalternVan Tilburg Clark’s The Ox-nBow Incident, and A.B.nGuthrie’s The Big Sky.nEach piece is marked bynStegner’s graceful style, his commonnsense, and his humaneness.nAs he says in his openingnessay, “I fear immoderate zealn. . . because it restricts the rangenof human understanding andnthe wise reconciliation of opposites,nand creates orthodoxynwith a sword in its hand.” One isnespecially pleased to find thenfollowing note of affirmationnfrom a modern writer: “I am terriblynglad to be alive; and when Inhave wit enough to think aboutnit, terribly proud to be a mannand an American, with all thenrights and privileges that thosenwords connote; and most of all Inam humble before the responsibilitiesnthat are also mine. For nonright comes without responsibility,nand being born luckier thannmost of the world’s millions, Inam also born more obligated.”nThe sanity of Stegner’s visionnis remarkable. From his firstnnovel, Remembering Laughtern(1937), through Angle ofnRepose (Puhtzer Prize, 1972)nand The Spectator Bird (NationalnBook Award, 1977), tonRecapitulation (1979), he seesnthe westering experience of thenAmerican people as a passagenfrom innocence to maturity, anprocess in which the old virtuesnoften became new vices becausenthe energy that aeated an empirenis now dissipated in buildingnfast-food restaurants, shop­nping malls, and gargantuannpower plants in the pristinenwilderness. If we are to survive,nwe must learn how to temper thenpioneering spirit with responsibility:n”What freedom means isnfreedom to choose. What civilizationnmeans is some sense ofnhow to choose, and among whatnoptions…. We need to learn tonlisten to the land, hear what itnsays, understand what it can andncan’t do over the long haul;nwhat, especially in the West, itnshould not be asked to do.”nStegner has devoted most of hisnwriting to the American West,nboth in its days as a frontiernwhere Americans wrestled annempire from the plains, deserts,nand mountains, and in the presentnwhen the pioneering visionnhas degenerated into the “Now-nWow” philosophy which characterizesn(though certainly inndifferent ways) both the SierranClub and the Sagebrush Rebels.nFor Stegner the loss of the oldnvirtues in the American West isnsymptomatic of what has gonenwrong in the whole nation. Wenare,hesays, “a bundle of contradictions,nconflicts, fragmentations,ncolliding moralities, andnchanges so swift and constantnthat we come closer than any civilizationnin history to being experimentaln. We don’ t have a nationalnlife, we have life-styles, allnkinds of life-styles, in a constantnflux that may be working up tonperfection in a series of steps andnmay, on the other hand, benpointlessly circular.” And,nobserving the contemporarynscene and the New Morality, hencomments wryly that we seem tonhave “come out of inenia intonSt. Vitus’s Dance.” Clearly wenare, to borrow a thought fromnhis essay on Willa Cather (notncollected here), in danger ofnneglecting “the quintessentiallynAmerican burden of remakingnin terms of a new place everythingnthat makes life gracefulnand civilized.”nThe literature of the AmericannWest is still mistakenlynviewed by many as nothing morenthan cowboys and Indians, ZanenGrey, and Gunsmoke. ButnStegner’s work—like that ofnCather, Mari Sandoz and OlenRolvaag, in whose tradition henclearly stands—clearly showsnthat Western American literaturencan be, as he describes thenphotography of Ansel Adams,n”an affirmation of life.” DnTruths Timeless and VigorousnThe Portable ConservativenReader; Edited by Russell Kirk;nViking/Penguin; New York.nRecendy, The Portable ConservativenReader appeared withnthe Viking/Penguin colophonsnand Russell Kirk’s name. Certainly,nthe man from Mecostanneeds no introduction here, asnhis The Conservative Mind is anbook that exists on many shelvesnin a well-thumbed condition.nKirk’s editorial task of bringingntogether authors who arc representativenof conservative thinkingnis not as simple as might benthought. As he points out in hisnintroduction: “Conservatismnnot being an ideology with pretentionsnto universality and infallibility,nthere can be nonCapitalist Manifesto to setnagainst the Communist Manifesto.”nConservatism is multifaceted;nthere is no single textnlike Das Kapital •vihxch its partisansncan go to or work from; notneven the Bible fulfills such anrole. Kirk provides a vivid andnsuccinct formulation that shouldnbe kept in mind by those whongrapple with the protean question:nWhat is conservatism?nWrites Kirk: “If we penetrate tonthe root, we discover that ‘con­nnnservatism’ is a way of looking atnthe human condition. As a conservativenPolish proverb puts it,n’Old truths, old laws, old boots,nand old friends are the best.’nThe conservative impulse is anman’s desire to walk in the pathsnthat his father followed; it is anwoman’s desire for the suretiesnof hearth and home.” The finalnsentence quoted here is one thatnshould give pause to those whonthink that conservatism is annideology that has come to thenfore in America, and who basenthis thought on the evidence ofnnothing more than political victories.nFrequently, men of then80’s are not even cognizant ofnwhere their fathers trod, so busynare they making their way alongnthe fast track in North Dallas ornsome other area of migration;nmany of today’s women likennthemselves to Athena rathernthan Demeter: the agora is morenimportant than the hearth.nPredictably, Kirk begins withnBurke; happily, he also providesna wide-ranging collection of conservativenwritings. Adams,nHamilton, Randolph—ofncourse. Coleridge, Cooper,nHavrthorne—at last. Kirk recognizesnthat the ordinary readern(and this is one who bypasses thensnare of pulp thrillers andnmagazine racks), no matter hownserious, requires a certain variation,na change from well-arguedntreatises to delightful poems andnincisive allegories. Lewis, Eliot,nMuggeridge, Nisbet—naturally.nObviously some are missing—thennames here are just ansampling—but primarily as a resultnof the parameters imposednby the “portable” format.nNevertheless, a dip into this textnis not unlike a plunge into ancommonly frigid but invitingnlake that shares a name withnKirk’s home state, Lake Michigan:nrefreshing, invigorating,nand character-building. Thatnmany today prefer a hot tubndoesn ‘t make the experience anynless satisfying. Dnm^m^mm^nDecember 198Sn