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Post WAIS History: Ronald Hilton, Master Linguist (David Pike, France)
Created by John Eipper on 04/10/10 6:21 AM - wais-history-ronald-hilton-master-linguist-david-pike-france

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WAIS History: Ronald Hilton, Master Linguist (David Pike, France) (John Eipper, USA, 04/10/10 6:21 am)

David Pike writes: I was surprised to read, in the 6 April posting from Mary Hilton Huyck regarding her father, that in retirement, he taught himself quite serviceable Russian as well. Ronald Hilton studied Russian in Paris in the 1930s, and he often talked to me about his studies and the reason why in Paris he changed from one Russian school to another. Long before he retired from Stanford (and retirement was the only word he didn't understand), he was using the excellent Russian he knew. While still at Stanford he organized a conference with Soviet scholars that left the professional Sovietologists at Stanford green with envy, and in Moscow he presented a paper in Russian in front of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He could be both gentle and scathing, and in Moscow he was both, and he was never invited back. His Russian was too good. But the Soviets shouldn't have aggravated him. When Stanford closed down our beloved Bolivar House and its monthly Report, to the distress of the US State Department and the loss of its permanent order of 35 copies, Ronald crossed the street to open up CIIS, the parent of WAIS, as an institute outside Stanford's power to control. The journal he founded at that point was based exclusively on his analysis of the Soviet press in its global coverage, and to the Soviets he was rarely kind. Equally true of Ronald Hilton was the ease with which he changed his language gears. I was with him one night in Paris when we ran into a Russian tourist whose French was weak; Ronald immediately switched to Russian. I remember at Stanford in 1963 a visit to Bolivar House from Arnold Ebel's father, who may have been the German ambassador to Washington (I forget). Ronald switched effortlessly to German, and Arnold told me it was good. What was the level of Ronald's French? First of all, he received a First at Oxford. Even that had not challenged him. He had quickly found his fellow readers boring, to the point that he had switched tables at dinner to speak in other languages. When in the 1960s he spoke in Toulouse at the lycee where I taught, a French colleague told me that anyone would take him to be French. But when one of my daughters (whose native tongue is French) visited him at Stanford, she thought he had an accent. It is my opinion that his constant use of Spanish and his lack of use of French over so many years did cause a slight decline in his mastery of French, and a tendency to adopt a Spanish accent. Unconnected with any of this but still connected: WAISers may remember Lieutenant-General Vernon Walters, whom I once matched in panel debate on the question of Vietnam. He argued that those on the left who opposed the war in Vietnam were like those on the left in 1939 who had cried Why die for Dantzig? Poor Vernon had confused the 1930s' left with the 1930s' right, but that's the subject of another debate. I bring up the question of Walters, not because of anything he did for Richard Nixon in Brazil or anywhere else, but because he was, like Hilton, unusually gifted in languages. But there was a real difference between the two, and the difference lay in their respective intellects. That difference was enormous. What distinguished Ronald Hilton was that he used language as a means of learning. Best wishes again to Mamie, whom I sometimes crossed on Santa Ynez outside her home at midnight, when she was coming home and I was delivering the mail to Ronald in time for the start of his working day: 03:30. JE comments: I must meet David Pike in person someday. I could listen to his stories for hours. As the torchbearers of Ronald Hilton's intellectual legacy, we have much to aspire to. RH was a titan of languages, but more importantly, as David points out, he used his talents not to impose his views upon the world, but to understand the views of others. Who ever embodied lifelong learning better than Prof. H? (Early rising comes with WAIS Editor's job. Three days a week I'm up at 4 AM, but I just can't bring myself to cross the unpalatable threshold into the 3s. That isn't early morning; it's still the middle of the night. For the benefit of our European friends, however, I am three time zones ahead of California.)

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