The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 57
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J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb
Republic, describing the last rites for Webb in some detail, including
the scene at the graveside in the Texas State Cemetery. Andrew, who
had been a pallbearer at the funeral, added simply, "It was a sad day."
It was. Yet there was consolation in the fact that Webb had lived to
fulfill his mission as a historian. Ironically, moreover, through his ca-
reer he had also fulfilled the mission Frederick Jackson Turner had left
incomplete. But this was a thought that came to me several years later
following a long conversation with Avery O. Craven at a meeting of the
Organization of American Historians in Chicago. It was a one-sided con-
versation, consisting mostly of reminiscences by Craven, then around
ninety years of age, and centering on the subject of Turner, who had
been Craven's graduate advisor. Eventually Craven got around to an
account of a visit he had paid to his mentor during his terminal illness.
As he took his leave, Craven said, Turner, who was lying on a couch in
his study, gave his former student a last word of admonition: "Avery,
don't ever publish anything until it is finished." A moment later he
added, "And then it will be too late." With a curious smile on his lips,
Craven said, "I wonder what he meant." I'm sure that Craven, if he did
not as a young man know what Turner meant, had long since come to
understand. That is, he had come to understand what Turner had real-
ized about himself all too well: namely, that-although he had struggled
to do so-he had never given the influential thesis he had propounded
about American history in 1893 substantive, finished form; and now it
was too late. I would suppose, too, that Craven grasped the deeper im-
plication of Turner's strange advice: that while a theory of history may
be studied for generations, no theory actually has a vital life beyond its
own historical context. By the time Webb completed The Great Frontier
(1952), the importance attached to the vision that he had of Turner's
vision had become diminished; the big debate about the frontier thesis
was fading away. To one reviewer of the volume, I remember, it seemed
so irrelevant that he said, "Our Socrates has mumbled in his beard."
But Webb had succeeded at once in giving the Turner theory a solid
embodiment and creating a new angle of historical vision. When it is
truly perceptive, historical interpretation, although it inevitably be-
comes a part of the history of history, has a germinal power and comes
to another fruition in the endless struggle to find out what history is,
which is a way of saying to find out who and what we are. It seems to me
that in posing the prophetic question, what do we do in a frontierless
world?-what do we do in a historical situation in which neither so-
called frontiers of the mind or frontiers in airless and arid space afford,
as he said, true substitutes for the fact of the destroyed world fron-
tier?-Webb is quite as relevant as the next newscast.
Here’s what’s next.
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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/m1/84/: accessed September 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.