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He was a great motive finder, Elliott. One day when he set out what seemed to me a truly wild motive for the behaviour of one of our fellow Council members, I told him that he reminded me of Metternich.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“When he heard that Talleyrand had died, Metternich is supposed to have said, ‘I wonder what he meant by that?’”

Elliott didn’t laugh.

On another occasion, Elliott Lazar, this tubby Jewish character, a failed fiddler, told me that he was a great admirer of Lawrence of Arabia. Although Elliot was as far from possible from being a socialist, on another occasion he revealed an admiration for Leon Trotsky. A third god in his pantheon of heroes was Disraeli. The pattern behind all this, I began to see, was Elliott’s hunger for power, which caused him to admire the men he did, outsiders, who had come out of nowhere to achieve it. Did he see taking up the chairmanship of the NEA as his equivalent of arriving at Aqaba, leading the Red Army, winning Queen Victoria over to his side and defeating Gladstone?

I began to see that Elliott suffered not merely from insomnia, but also from megalomania and paranoia. This meant that he was up all night worrying about people taking power away from him that he never really possessed. His couldn’t have been an easy life.

As I say, I found myself on Elliott’s side in these disputes over grants to hopeless poets and quilt-makers and left-wing folk singers. Owing to this, our friendship deepened; he also had an uncanny way of drawing me in, making me feel as if I were part of his family. This, though it provided some of the pleasures of intimacy, also carried, I began to sense, certain responsibilities. The unspoken understanding was that, as a member of his inner circle, a family member, one must never betray him.

During my second year on the Council I met Elliott’s actual family, his wife Gerianne and his son Richard, the only son of an only son. Gerianne was not the wife I would have imagined for Elliott. She was from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a largish woman, dishwater blonde, a striking face with high cheekbones, a bit taller than he, distinctly not Jewish. She was a singer, for years singing secondary roles for the Atlanta Opera and, later, the Lyric Opera in Chicago. Elliott had met her at the Aspen Music Festival, where they both performed one summer and in later years returned to teach. Gerianne’s specialised in saying amusing, slightly outrageous things in a southern twang. Coming out of the movie Bull Durham, which I went to with her one night in Washington, she said: “That does it. I’m never again going to see a movie again I haven’t seen before.”
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