The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 91
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J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb
I'll never forget walking into his seminar, held in the old History
Office, that first Monday evening. We sat around the table nervously
waiting for the great man to show up. He walked in a few minutes late,
his head low, wearing a baggy suit I later learned was almost a trade-
mark. He looked as if he hated students, had come to class only out of
duty, and would delight in exposing us as the imbeciles we probably
were. He sat at the chairman's desk, his head still down, thumbing
through some pages he never looked at again. When he finally glanced
up, he spoke in a voice that seemed as unfriendly as his face. But as he
talked, he began to loosen up; before long a smile graced his red, bi-
focaled face. Within minutes some kind of magic had taken place. As
the atmosphere warmed, Webb had the ten of us in the seminar talking
about what the West meant to us, how we felt the region was unique,
while he sat listening with a patient sincerity. Occasionally he would
comment or ask a question that penetrated the issue at hand, until we
found ourselves responding on a level far beyond our natural capaci-
ties. We became absorbed in a world charged with excitement, height-
ened by the feeling that what we said mattered, that the great man was
learning from us. Although none of us was wise enough to understand it
then, since he believed in us, we began to believe in ourselves. Gradu-
ally the disgruntled figure who had earlier sat down before us mel-
lowed into one of the kindliest men I have ever known.
No sooner had he excited us and given us a hold on security than
ideas began to explode around that seminar table. Concepts myste-
riously took shape that none of us had considered before, while Webb
sat listening as if he were discovering the subject for the first time. "I've
learned more from students," he liked to say, "than they have ever
learned from me." He believed that, and after twenty-five years in the
classroom, I've come to accept that he may have been right. Webb taught
by learning; there had to be an electrical flow between students and
teacher, otherwise there was no learning. That produced the voltage
that launched the adventure he cherished so much.
Sometimes in class Webb would chat about his writing, experiences
he had had working on books, techniques he had found effective or
useful. When he talked about writing, an aura came over him that was
magnificent. He was so genuinely devoted to what he was doing, writ-
ing for him was so obviously thrilling, that one caught fire just listening
to him reminisce about his life. He always talked about himself with
such humility, as if his success had been some wonderful accident he
never fully understood. And he had a way of making us feel that if he
had done it, we could too-that we also possessed the ability, that there
was a special topic waiting for each of us, some subject so much a part
of our own being that in writing about it we would rise above our natu-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/118/: accessed December 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.