Vital Signs

Living the Good Life in the South

Havilah Babcock was a teacher who was once one of the best-known educators in South Carolina and a writer who had a national audience.  Today, few remember him.  This is partly because of the passage of time—Babcock died in 1964.  It is more owing to changes in American life and literature.

Babcock was a proud Southerner who taught and wrote about the best of Southern life, and that always meant hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits.  He was a true Southern agrarian.  Yet, unlike those from the more famous literary circle, his agrarianism was more practical than philosophical and critical.  Rather than a professor who happened to write about the outdoors, Babcock was an outdoorsman who happened to be a professor.

I did not hear of Havilah Babcock until about 15 years ago, when an old college friend contacted me after learning I taught at the University of South Carolina, Babcock’s former academic home.  I started to read Babcock, beginning with his 1958 classic I Don’t Want to Shoot an Elephant, in which he defended the local hunter, his love of place and desire for a modest trophy—like a quail—against those who gallivanted around the globe to shoot something exotic and massive.  In reading this and his other works, I gained insight into a unique man and his vision of the good life.

Havilah Babcock was born in Appomattox County,...

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