Educator, writer. Babcock was born on March 6, 1898, in Appomattox, Virginia, the son of Homer Curtis Babcock and Rosa Blanche Moore. He earned an A.B. from Elon College in 1918, then pursued graduate studies at Columbia University, the University of Virginia (A.M., 1923), and the University of South Carolina (Ph.D., 1927). On June 3, 1919, he married Alice Hudson Cheatham. He briefly taught high school English in Virginia before joining the faculty at the College of William and Mary in 1921. In 1926 Babcock came to the University of South Carolina (USC) on a year’s sabbatical leave. He found the people, school, and state so hospitable that he stayed thirty-eight years, joining the English department and becoming a fixture at the university.
At USC, Babcock was an institution about whom truths and legends were freely circulated. He might begin a class with “I’ll give twenty-five cents to anyone who can spell Houyhnhnm,” and reportedly he greeted students with a broadside of snowballs after a rare southern snowfall. His jovial bond with students made his courses the most sought after at the university, causing students to sign up a year in advance for his English 129 course entitled “I Want a Word.” In this vocabulary and semantics course, students learned of the charm and power of words as they listened to Babcock reveal their nuances and connotations.
Babcock was equally at home in the field as at the blackboard. He used the outdoors as a canvas to draw a vast array of colorful characters, becoming a master of the hunting-fishing tale. His stories were replete with references to English and American literature. More than one hundred of his stories found their way into print in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including Field and Stream. Anthologies of his works include My Health Is Better in November (1947), Tales of Quails ’n’ Such (1951), I Don’t Want to Shoot an Elephant (1958), and Jaybirds Go to Hell on Friday, and Other Stories (1964). His writing traveled the literary spectrum with ease. In his novel The Education of Pretty Boy (1960), Babcock wrote of a young boy’s gun-shy bird dog because he thought the dog “was too pretty not to be immortal.”
Babcock’s writings continued their popularity years after his death. A reviewer from the New York Times once compared his writing to “a rare old Bourbon you want to make last as long as possible.” A counterpart at Field and Stream applied a similar metaphor: “Like a good wine,” Babcock’s stories “grow better with age.” Babcock died in Columbia on December 10, 1964, and was buried in Appomattox, Virginia.
Babcock, Havilah. The Best of Babcock. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1974.
Neuffer, Claude Henry. “Havilah Babcock: Virginia Carolinian.” Georgia Review 21 (fall 1967): 297–310.