Williams's essay is a kind of memoir of his acquaintance with the critic F. R. Leavis while they were both on the English faculty at Cambridge University. Leavis and Williams could not have been more far apart ideologically—Leavis, as the author of "The Great Tradition," was the voice of conservative literary scholarship. Literature, he argued, was limited to a few "great authors" that had stood the test of time—generally white, British, and male. Williams, on the other hand, was a Marxist and saw Leavis's project as a perpetuation of upper class elitism and ideology.
Williams, in his essay, is not concerned with his critical differences with Leavis, however. It is, instead, a meditation on the man himself, told from the point of view of someone who served with him on faculty committees. Leavis, for all his notoriety, remained a mystery: as Williams memorably says, "as I got to know him [I] knew I was not getting to know him." Instead, Williams recalls Leavis in faculty meetings arguing tenaciously, or casually dismissing the relevance of European literature. He bears Leavis no ill will; they never discussed their critical differences and seem to have been on distant but pleasant terms.
One of the aims of Williams's essay is to try to reconcile the man he knew with the famous critic. While Leavis believed that the artistic value of a work lay in the words themselves, Williams's own "reading" of Leavis suggests that there is a connection between the man and his ideas, which is not always clear. His story about the last time he saw Williams, running across the street to mail letters to his many correspondents, is full of a kind of longing. Leavis remains a mystery, even in the reality of this trip to the post office; there is a sense that Leavis himself is unaware of the forces that drive him.