Page images
PDF
EPUB

losing whatever individuality I had ever possessed; was in short becoming a mere composite or echo of all the other lawyers who had lived before me, even from the beginning of the world.

On the contrary it has been my in no wise unusual professional experience to be constantly engaged in expressing my own mind. What the average client really needs is not merely abstract law, but the opinion upon his problems of one sufficiently detached from them to get a somewhat different and perhaps truer perspective. Mr. Train says:

We cannot advise our clients according to the standards of ethics, morals, or even "justice", but must, irrespective of the common sense of the matter, perforce be bound by the idiosyncratic decision of some irascible bigwig several hundred years gone by, which has kept on growing like a legal stalactite and upon which our misfortune is about to crystallize as the final drop.

This is beautifully said but it does not say much sense. Most of the stalactites of injustice with which I have been familiar have been not old but new, and made not by the courts but generally by the legislatures.

I am reminded in this connection of a conversation I sat in on a good many years ago between a distinguished jurist now the presiding justice of one of our Appellate Courts and Theodore Roosevelt. "Theodore," said the Judge softly, "this is the way we decide cases.

We first find out whether we think the judgment below was right. If we do, we generally let it alone. If we think it was wrong, we generally find something in it to hang our hats on."

There are so many precedents that Justice can generally find one on which to hang her hat. I, therefore, dismiss Mr. Train's Babylonian reports and the precedents of Shadrach against Abednego without further comment.

The valedictorian complains that the law spoils one's sense of humor:

In order to satisfy his client's requirements a lawyer must conceal all his natural high spirits, imagination, and interest in the lighter and more agreeable side of living. He must seem to be immersed in the profundity of his own vacuity.

The solemn asses of the world are widely distributed and the law of course has its share, but the profession neither maintains nor seeks to maintain a monopoly. Mr. Choate's clients, for example, generally found that his sense of humor was not a liability but an asset. As a law student I watched the trial of the famous case of Laidlaw

against Sage. I shall never forget the painfully disconcerting effect which Mr. Choate's bubbling humor had upon Colonel James who represented Sage.

I remember an illuminating comment I once heard on an old trial lawyer who defended railroad accident cases in the New York courts for thirty years. He was highly learned, spoke through his nose, and was very solemn. The comment was this: "He always looked as if he expected to get stuck for a million dollars and his jurors got the idea and tried to accommodate him.”

When you have a clear liability case and it is only a question of "how much", a lighthearted Christian Science attitude toward the plaintiff's bodily afflictions generally helps a good deal in getting a glancing blow instead of a knockout in the inevitable verdict. There is no real reason for a lawyer to undergo an operation to remove his sense of humor. Dignity, which La Rochefoucauld defines as "a mystery of the body intended to conceal the defects of the mind", is not a necessary attribute of the lawyer. Legal perplexities are to the average client bad enough anyway, without the solemnity of a legal pundit to make them worse. The wise lawyer knows it and conducts himself accordingly.

The diatribe in which Mr. Train in

dulges against "the trial lawyer" who spends his days in the courts is the most unjustified of all his accusations against our unfortunate profession. He says:

They make the worst husbands in the world, for they are irritable, caustic, grouchy, cantankerous, and ill mannered, insisting upon quarreling over the most inconsequential matters, demanding a “yes or no answer when nobody cares a damn one way or the other, hammering at and refusing to drop a subject until they have forced an admission of their correctness or driven everybody else out of the room. They do not allow their wives enough money and they cross examine them and their offspring as to where they have been and what they have been doing, until the poor things have no escape except by prevarication or homicide.

If that is what being a trial lawyer did to the valedictorian, it is perhaps right for him to quit. But this is no true picture of the home life of the typical trial lawyer. All the average overworked trial lawyer asks of his family is that they let him alone. That his wife get accustomed to his not coming home to dinner and that she make the stock excuse when he fails to appear at the home of the friends with whom they are supposed to dine. He does not nag or cross examine his children. He confers upon them the blessing of almost complete neglect.

He is engrossed so much of the time with squabbles in which he is hired to participate that he is almost dumb about the house. He gets his money in lumps generally not so big as they ought to be, and when he has it, his family shares in it. They live, not from hand to mouth, but from lump to lump, and look forward from one prospective fee to another even further off. It is the hope that the furthest off fee will ultimately eventuate which keeps them alive.

The trial lawyer is in a perpetual state of excitement which he tries to keep to himself; all he asks when he gets

home, if he gets there at all, is to be allowed to go to bed early. He does not read anything except law reports and stenographers' minutes. His stenographer has either nothing to do or more rush work to get out in an hour or so than she ought to be expected to do in a day. She gets nervous prostration and her young man quits in disgust when he is left with tickets in his hands and no girl four or five times in succession.

The unkind remarks which Mr. Train quotes from Jeremy Bentham against lawyers are more than a century out of date. Macaulay says somewhere of Bentham that he "found jurisprudence a gibberish and he left it a science". Neither end of this famous sentence was more than half true. Moreover, Bentham's particular bête noir, Lord Eldon, has been dead a good while, and the unprogressive and wholly reactionary attitude of both the courts and the legal profession in England against which Bentham complained with much justice, but in an abominable style, has passed long ago. The law is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer and it will, I am sure, survive the humorous assaults of a new and, alas, transitory Bentham in the person of the creator of Mr. Tutt.

Balzac says somewhere that there must be a heaven, for there is nothing perfect in this world but misery. The law as a profession has its fair share in the fallibility of an imperfect world. It is, however, doing its part, and more, in mitigating the asperities of life and making toward a civilization in which justice is a reality, and peace among nations something more than a delusion or a remote and impracticable ideal. "They that forsake the law, praise the wicked; but such as keep to the law contend with them" (Proverbs 28:4).

ON

THE DOCTOR LOOKS AT BIOGRAPHY

By Joseph Collins

NE of the commonest delusions of sane persons is that the writings of psychopaths are without value or interest. They are usually of greater merit artistically, and far more informative and suggestive, than those of the equilibrated. Contrast, for instance, Ford Madox Ford's book on Joseph Conrad with Henry Festing Jones's book on Samuel Butler. One is life, the other is death; one is clay into which the breath of life has been breathed, tenuous, elastic, receptive, emissive; the other is inanimate, inert, rigid, and crumbles when you handle it.

Mr. Ford has megalomania and glories in it. He has systematized delusions of grandeur to which his conduct conforms. He believes he is, and has been in his generation, the finest stylist in the English language and he expresses himself as if convinced that not only did he teach Joseph Conrad to write, but that the renown of the romancer was due in large measure to his collaboration. They are harmless delusions and do not interfere one jot or tittle with my enjoyment of his books. Indeed, as he grows older and fatter he writes better and better. Few contemporary English writers could excel "Some Do Not ...", none save possibly Cunninghame Graham could equal "Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance". I am moved to that statement after reading Mr. Galsworthy's tribute.

The Joseph Conrad that Mr. Ford presents may not be the Conrad that

Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. Doubleday, Mrs. Jones, or Mrs. Smith knew, but I am convinced that he would be pleased that I should know him as his modest friend depicts him.

"A biography should be a novel." That seems fair, since most novels are biographies. Mr. Ford has written a novel about Joseph Conrad and he has achieved a work of art. It will have the same effect upon readers as Rodin's sculptures have upon searchers for æsthetic stimulation or appeasement. Some will be moved to smash, others will be thrilled. All will admit merit. It is an informative, not a documented book, informative of a soul, not a body; not how many days he lived and where he lived, but how he lived and thought; how he dreamed and loved; how he interpreted men's conduct and how he shaped his own. The work is a remembrance, a logical unfolding of Joseph Conrad as he appeared to Mr. Ford from the first days of their acquaintance to the last. We are told little about Conrad's political, religious, and social ideas. Mr. Ford was no more curious to know what his friend's past was than we are to know that an English dramatist made a shapeless play out of one of Mr. Ford's novels. Yet the latter episode becomes important when we learn that this, and Mr. Ford's interest in the publication of a review, were the cause of the only "scolding" he ever got from Conrad. Forbearing and forgiving Conrad, diffident and reticent Mr. Ford!

The life of a man is an open book for no one, not even for himself. The characteristics and peculiarities of Conrad intrigued his biographer from the beginning. He binds them with tenuous threads to Conrad's hereditary traits and the influence of his environment, and finally presents the picture complete, allowing his readers to draw their own conclusions.

Joseph Conrad, according to the portrait, was not the sort of man about whom a conclusion could be readily reached; and when it was, you could not bank on it. He was of cosmopolitan appearance: considerable British insularity, but more Slav and Eastern in his makeup. He gave the impression of a Frenchman, born and brought up in Marseilles! His hatreds seem to have exceeded his loves, but his life was a contradiction of his tastes and he has more friends than enemies. Mr. Ford avows that Conrad hated the sea and disliked to write. "Un métier de chien", he used to call it. When he had made up his mind to write for a living, he had his choice of three languages: he discarded Polish instantly, French with a sigh of regret which he never overcame, and decided on English. And he hated English as a medium of prose, even more than he hated the sea! He thought in French, sometimes in Polish, never in English, unless his thoughts were confined to the most common of everyday commonplaces; when they occupied a higher sphere they were always in French. It was because of the difficulty with which Conrad was constantly confronted that he first thought collaborating with one who was reputed to be "the finest stylist in the English language". Like Omar's master potter, he knows!

of

Mr. Ford does not marvel at Conrad's desire to write in English, despite the

fact that he knew French so much better. Ford himself writes French better than he does English, not that he knows it better he does not - but because "in English, he can go gaily on, exulting in his absolute command of the tongue; he can write like Ruskin or like the late Charles Garvice, at will". In writing, but not in speaking French, he must pause for a word; it is in pausing for a word that the salvation of all writers lies. The proof of prose is not in the percentage of right words the precious word; not even the startlingly real word. That we might have a whole book on Mr. Ford without a word about anyone else!

I

Mr. Ford bears heavily on their collaboration, and one unfamiliar with the writings of the two authors might gather that Mr. Ford was the fons et origo of much of Conrad's work. have no doubt that Conrad put an appreciative valuation on Mr. Ford's assistance, but I have the same certainty that he did not evaluate it as did his biographer.

Some will think that Mr. Ford has recently had a bad quarter of an hour reading the current number of "La Nouvelle Revue Française" which is devoted wholly to Conrad. There his colleagues and admirers, French and English, tell of Conrad's personality and his writings but never a word of his "collaborator". Water enters a duck's back a thousand times more penetratingly than failure to accord him what he believes to be his right penetrates the dura mater of Mr. Ford Madox Ford.

Stephen Crane said, "You must not be offended by Hueffer's manner. He patronizes Mr. James, he patronizes Mr. Conrad. Of course, he patronizes me, and he will patronize Almighty God when they meet, but God will get used to it, for Hueffer is all right." We are

ready to agree with Stephen Crane even after we read as an antithesis that the words in which Henry James always referred to Mr. Ford were "votre ami, le jeune homme modeste".

Conrad's life revolved around his books, he was constantly occupied with the best manner in which to introduce a character of fiction. It was necessary to get the character in with a strong impression, and then work backward and forward over his past; this theory was the result of thought and experiment on the part of the collaborators. In the same manner, they devised the best opening for each type of writing; their theory was that the opening paragraph of book or story should be of the tempo of the whole performance, so that the ideal novel should begin either with a dramatic scene or with a note that should suggest the entire book. They agreed that style has no other use than to make the work interesting. Hence, they sought to render their thought in the manner which appeared the most sincere and interesting, not to make a display of erudition or of cleverness, or of juggling with words.

Mr. Ford's book is adorned with flights into the land of constructive writing, and there is much to learn from the theories and principles expressed on the authority of both Joseph Conrad and Mr. Ford. For, there is no denying that the latter's style is fluent and clear, picturesque enough to be original yet kept constantly within the limits of pure English. Mr. Ford says that their greatest admiration for a stylist in any language was given to W. H. Hudson, of whom Conrad said that his writing was like the grass that the good God

[ocr errors][merged small]

seem to be that Conrad got his greatest inspiration from Turgenev.

Conrad's philosophy was resumed in one word, "fidelity". He was faithful in his adhesion to Herrick's maxim: To live merrily and trust to good letters. He never believed in using novels as a medium of preaching; if his standards of morality suffered from some of his heroes' breaches, he would create one who would express the opinions Conrad might have been willing to express himself. Thus did Conrad expound his beliefs anonymously, and because he was a gentleman he always created another hero who would refute the preacher's arguments. His belief was that one of of the most important qualities for a novelist to cultivate was humility, to make himself as little conspicuous as possible to the reader.

Mr. Ford has a heart. Unlike his mind, it is assiduously concealed, but it pierces through the coarse envelope of the purely intellectual interest to which he attempts to confine his biography of Joseph Conrad. None of his memoir may be true, but that does not detract from it as a work of art. He shows no trace of real emotion, and his remembrances carry with them no suggestion of the broken heart which some authors would have assumed had they been writing on the same subject with the material Mr. Ford had at his disposal. His book, whether biography or autobiography, is a beautiful tribute to the man he liked and the author he loved. He says that there never was a word of spoken affection between them, never a personal note which would have revealed to either the inner sentiment the other entertained for his collaborator and playmate. But if Mr. Ford will never know what were Conrad's feelings for him, readers of the biography will know that Mr. Ford's book

« PreviousContinue »