The career of Frederick McKean Minto, Jr., Esq., now John G. Johnson Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, may have been saved by the Second World War.

He graduated from law school in 1939 and was immediately hired by Conyers & Dean, in which his father and my grandfather were then the senior partners. There were eight other partners and about a dozen associates, which made it a large office by the standards of the day. Mr. Minto and my grandfather were both smart ambitious country boys whose excellent work at the turn of the century had caught the watchful eye of old judge Conyers, but no two men were ever less alike.

George Graham was a genuinely kind man, endlessly patient with other people's problems, surprisingly liberal in social and political matters, interested in music and books, a devoted member of the Philadelphia Orchestra board, second violin in a chamber music group that played together every Thursday night for twenty years. He was happiest when he was tipped back in his chair beside the rolltop desk, feet propped on the edge of the wastebasket, gazing out past the tower of City Hall and listening to some young lawyer babble away about the latest crisis in the office.

How did a man like that rise to the top of a profession which usually rewards entirely different qualities? In the first place, he had an extraordinary grasp of what the law is all about, a faultless instinct for the situation, the way a matter ought to be handled; he knew deep down that laws are interpreted by men, and he knew that understanding men was at least as important as understanding court decisions. In the second place, all his professional life he operated behind a screen of partners who thoroughly enjoyed the clash of arms and the smell of gunpowder. At C&D there was never any shortage of brutal counterpunching legal condottieri, and their leader was the senior Frederick McKean Minto, a scowling knobby little man, a fighter who gave no quarter and asked none. He kept a spittoon in his office, and used it. His cantankerousness infuriated friend and foe alike. Sometimes at dinner my grandfather would tell about a situation that Fred Minto had exacerbated to the point that the Lord God of Hosts and all His Angels could not repair the damage. But he got results. In fact, I now suspect that the Messrs. Conyers & Dean sometimes used the team of Minto and Graham like modern police interrogators use the Bad and Good Detectives: the opponent was first thoroughly bloodied by Minto, after which dealing with the gentle Mr. Graham was such a relief that the client (our client!) usually got what he wanted.

I never really knew Mr. Minto, but I think that the affection this otherwise pretty terrible old man lavished on his only son was caused by a rebellion against the ogre role into which life had cast him. In any event, young Freddie became accustomed to the best of everything: the finest tennis rackets and fishing rods and shotguns, along with lessons in how to use them; a Packard convertible on his sixteenth birthday; and long vacations abroad, which resulted in passions for French wine, Austrian food and English tailoring. He grew up cocky; his father would back him up no matter what he did.

When Freddie came into the office they started him of with trial work. Then as now, litigation was considered the best training for lawyers. Boys just out of school are supposed to look up points of law and help draft briefs and watch the older men perform in court, and then eventually they are allowed to cut their teeth on automobile accidents or collection matters or the divorces of unimportant clients. This is supposed to teach them to "think on their feet." Freddie Minto felt that such apprenticeship was beneath him and his father apparently agreed, because he was trying substantial cases by himself much sooner than my grandfather considered safe for the firm. It was in these years that Freddie accumulated a supply of courtroom anecdotes that would serve him for the rest of his life.

This was also the time we first met. My mother and I had just moved in with my grandfather, and Freddie, who had known her in her debutante days, appeared quite often to take her to dinner. Of course I had no interest in him, nor he in me, but I do have the memory of a cheerful chunky blond young man whose freshly shaved face glowed as my mother swept down the stairs toward him.

By the fall of 1940, Freddie was in trouble. He had lost a negligence case which the insurance company thought should have been won. He had irritated some younger partners by professing himself too busy to work on their projects. And he had been discourteous to an older lawyer on the other side of a difficult will contest. That incident was reported to my grandfather -by the judge.

Then history intervened. Freddie belonged to the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry, an exclusive club for Philadelphia gentlemen. They give parties, and on ceremonial occasions they put on eighteenth century uniforms and ride about town on rented horses. As part of the Pennsylvania National Guard, they were called up in February 1941. For a few weeks, Freddie fooled around with horses at Indiantown Gap. Then he wangled a transfer to officers' candidate school at Fort Knox, and by the time the United States came into the war he was already on the intelligence staff of one of the new armored divisions being formed in Texas.

He took to the war like a boy let out of school. In Tunisia he saw just enough combat to prove to himself that he was not afraid and to qualify him as an expert in a very inexperienced army. In England he helped train the new units that were streaming across the Atlantic. He caught the eye of a rising young tank general, at whose side he landed on Utah Beach, participated in the hard battles of the Norman bocage, the armored breakout, and the sweep across France.

Next summer the war was over, but Freddie spent another year in Berlin and Vienna, running errands for his general, getting a close look at field marshals and prime ministers, making friends with diplomats and newspapermen of his own age -some of whom later became important. He did not return to Philadelphia until the following spring, a bemedaled beefy lieutenant colonel of thirty-one years -with a French wife.

It must have been romantic at the beginning: American troops quartered in the Burgundian village, jeeps and tanks in the mud and snow, the young captain who wants to organize a barrel of wine for the general's mess, the handsome stubborn daughter of the grower who says this wine is not ready and will not let the captain have it . . . it would have been a good movie script. But the movie would end when the hero returns, marries the girl and carries her off to America. Real life just goes on. Claudine had never gone beyond the village school, never learned to speak English properly; a Roman Catholic country girl she was equally frightened of the society people with whom her husband grew up and the professors with whom he worked. They settled on a farm in Chester County which she never left except to go shopping and to Mass. She cooked wonderful meals, and bore him five children, grew enormously fat, and made no effort to understand what her husband did in the city every day.

Is Freddie Minto happy?

Consider the testimony of Caroline Boatwright Anders, undressing in her bedroom after a dinner party at which the hostess did little except cook and serve the meal: "Well, I don't think there's anything mysterious about it. Freddie doesn't want to be bothered with a wife at all; what he wants is a cook and a governess and a housekeeper all rolled into one, and that's what he got himself. I just feel sorry for Claudine, a fish out of water if I ever saw one. Freddie, that bastard, is happy as a clam!"

I guess that sums it up, although I've never believed that he is as happy as he pretends to be. After the war he went back to Conyers & Dean, but it wasn't the same. His father had died, more ambitious and methodical young men had climbed to important slots by way of duty with the Lend-Lease Program or the War Department or the Foreign Service. Freddie simply lacked the patience to start again with library research and small lawsuits, and the older men were no longer inclined to put up with his slapdash work and his two-hour martini-drenched lunches.

Then he got a lucky break. The Law School was jammed to its casement windows with returning veterans, the faculty needed help, and Freddie accepted a part-time appointment as lecturer on litigation. As a teacher he was an instant and tremendous success. The school was full of brilliant young professors who prided themselves upon their "Socratic Method" - a style of intellectual Ping-Pong by which student arguments are first encouraged and then savagely demolished, ideas are juggled in the air like so many oranges. and under no circumstances is anything ever explained.

Freddie was much too lazy for such techniques. His lectures served up generous helpings of "black letter law" - The Law that every first-year student is trying desperately to synthesize from page after page of unintelligible court opinions -spiced with uproarious courtroom anecdotes and lengthy commentaries upon such topics as shotguns, fishing tackle, the superior dental services available to the Afrikakorps, cattle diseases in southern France, prostitution in London as contrasted to prostitution in Vienna, and the personal foibles of deceased members of the Supreme Court -all delivered in a parade-ground shout you could hear out on Thirty-fourth Street. His courses became the most popular at the school; nor was enrollment hurt by the discovery that Freddie found it unnecessary to invent new examination questions every year. The law clubs developed files of questions together with answers prepared by top students, and in those hard postwar years when half the class was sometimes busted out, a really good grade in First Year Judicial Remedies saved more than one prospective lawyer. Graduates of this vintage like to proclaim that "Freddie Minto was the only one who taught us any law."

The rest of the faculty was not enchanted, but Freddie became a professor anyway: the Dean and the older members of the tenure committee recognized a valuable bird when they saw one. Although he cut the umbilical cord to C&D, he retained his other connections downtown, kept his club memberships, had frequent lunches with classmates who were rising in the firms, and recommended his favorite graduates for top jobs. When the Dean began his capital construction drive, Freddie piloted him with massive savoir faire through partners' meetings, alumni lunches and interviews with foundation executives all over the country. They raised twelve million dollars in three years, and not long thereafter Freddie held an endowed chair.

As a law professor he remained a very rare bird: he did not string together a new collection of cases for sale to his students, nor did he draft a penal code for Malaysia, set up a law school in Ethiopia, reorganize the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, pursue the Mafia, or negotiate fishing treaties for the State Department. All he did was teach law. In his English suits and his bowler and his Troop button he became one of our local attractions, pointed out to visitors. Weekends he put on faded fatigue pants and combat boots and drove a tractor among his corn fields. In the spring he went trout fishing; in the fall he shot pheasants and quail, and in the winter, deer -always appropriately attired in expensive costumes from Liberty's or Abercrombie's or L. L. Bean.

Of course I did not know him through all this period. I saw him again for the first time on my first day in law school. He wore a heavy wool suit of greenish plaid material, with a white oxford shirt and a maroon bow tie, clomping up and down on the platform in carefully polished army shoes, hands grasping his broad red firehouse suspenders.

"All right, can we settle down now, gentlemen?" His voice bounced off the portrait-covered walls. "In this course we will examine the more academic aspects of judicial process, a not particularly academic subject, as it happens, the rules -such as they are- by which disputants attempt to settle their differences in court, that is before a retired politician on the bench plus twelve numbskulls in the jury box! We are using Atkinson & Chadbourn, Cases and Other Materials on Civil Procedure, nine hundred pages of wisdom culled from decisions both ancient and modern, weighing in I'm told at four pounds eight ounces and costing the outrageous sum of ten dollars. Next year I plan to scissor-and-paste my own casebook together, but that's what I say every year. Anybody read the first case? Oh, the hell with the first case, has anybody read this third case, King's Bench Division, 1732? Yes? Mr. - ah -" (consulting his chart) "Mr. Barkan? Am I pronouncing that right? What's the case about? . . ." (pausing to stare out the window while the student wrestled with the case). "No . . . No . . . Anybody else? Yes, over there . . . No! That is absolutely and completely WRONG! Gentlemen, whenever you read a case, any case. you can save yourself a lot of grief if you will ask yourself one simple question: Who is suing whom for what? Is that entirely clear? All right. Now, let's see. (The chart again.) "Mr. Anders . Mr. G. Anders?" The bald head suddenly came up, the blue eyes peering over the rims of the spectacles. "Are you who I think you are? Yes, I see you are . . . Well . . . who is suing whom for what here, Mr. G. Anders?"

We became friends. I don't know exactly why. He was thirteen years older, settled in his profession and his way of life, his body showing the effects of too much good food and alcohol yet strong and sunburned, a man quite consciously playing a role he had created for himself. I suppose he saw something of my mother in me, like everybody else he had worshiped my grandfather, and most of all he enjoyed the company of a younger man who had not heard the stories with which he had been regaling everybody else for years.

And I? My grandfather had just died, I had no other relatives and few close friends, Caroline was finishing up at Radcliffe . . . I guess I was just lonely, and Freddie was a marvelous companion. On frosty Saturday mornings in November we would tramp along the muddy country lanes, carrying shotguns and watching the setter bitch Victoria sniffing on ahead, then scramble up into the rolling fields of barley and clover and dried-out cornstalks bordered by thorny hedges and forests of blazing sugar maple and oak and elm trees, and as we crashed through the corn Freddie would yell, "Watch out, she's pointingl" and then a great clatter of wings and the heavy blur against the cloudless cobalt sky and the skull-rattling explosions and the sharp powder smell and sometimes the nearby thump as a bird fell; otherwise "Oh shit!" from Freddie and perhaps the sight of a cock and a couple of hens, already out of range, gliding slowly toward the trees.

Unless we got our limit in the morning, we might lunch on a sandwich and a bottle of beer, sleep for ten minutes stretched out in the sun-warmed leaves with our hats down over our eyes, and then move out across the next valley. By five o'clock, in the chilly dusk, we would come limping up the poplar-lined driveway toward the cheerful lights of the big whitewashed farmhouse. The pheasants would be turned over to Claudine - flushed, stoutly aproned, bustling about a huge kitchen filled with bubbling pans and steaming kettles and munching children. Freddie and I would take off our boots and settle our aching bones in front of the fire in the library, sip sour-mash bourbon, and then we would talk.

Or rather, Freddie would talk.

He talked about the war:

The Panzer IV versus the Sherman; the Allied invasion of North Africa-General de Gaulle and General Giraud and who shot Admiral DarIan and why; the training of American tank crews on the Salisbury Plain; how quickly a suit could he built by Savile Row tailors in the winter of 1943 despite the fact that half the block was bombed out; lunches at the Savoy Grill with the Countess of Cranmore; complicated negotiations between British headquarters at the Horse Guards and General Eisenhower's headquarters in Grosvenor Square relating to distribution of gasoline supplies on the Normandy beachhead; the Countess of Cranmore at the Haymarket Theatre; impossibility of saving tank crew when tank had been driven accidentally into twelve feet of water while coming off Landing Craft; menu of lunch served on June 10, 1944, by the landlord of the Lion D'Or in Bayeux to an American general, his aide, and two British nurses; annoyance of American general on learning aide had serviced both British nurses while general asleep after lunch; extemporaneous remarks of General George S. Patton, Jr., delivered on the open highway east of Soissons upon being informed that the mayor of Soissons would not release captured German gasoline supplies without written authorization from General de Gaulle. . . .

He talked about politics:

"Stay the hell out of it. Been the ruination of more good lawyers than anything else. They ask you to run for something and first thing you know you get used to seeing your picture in the paper all the time. And you find out that every son of a bitch wants something; wants a law passed or a law killed or a job for his sister's kid or food for starving wogs somewhere or better service on the Paoli Local. You start thinking it's Government and Statecraft but it just turns out to be that everybody wants something, and you better get it for him. And who gives a shit whether the Democrats or Republicans are running things? If you get right down to asking what's wrong with the way things are being run, you find out what's really wrong is that their guys are in instead of ours. Stay the hell out of it."

He talked about the law:

"Listen, the one thing to keep in mind all the time is that the law is made by judges, and judges are people like everybody else. If they get the idea that your client tried to pull something funny, tried to get cute -well, you can point to all the precedents and decisions back to Hammurabi or somebody, but they'll decide the case against you. After they've decided how the case should go, they'll have their law clerks think up some theory to support them. You can dig up cases to support any proposition, you know. The real trick is to convince everybody that your client ought to win. Your grandfather's specialty, as a matter of fact!"

He talked about Conyers & Dean:

"No, there's no reason you shouldn't go with C&D. It's a hell of a good firm, probably the best firm in town and no sweatshop either. I just fucked up, that's all. Some headshrinker will tell you I hated my father and the firm represented my father and that's why I couldn't make the grade, but that's a lot of horseshit. I know he was an old prick but he was always good to me, I mean you couldn't really talk to him, of course, but he tried with me, he really tried to talk to his son, and I guess that never works too well, maybe I'd have turned out better if he'd whomped me once in a while but I guess he got tired of whomping people and wanted to have a friend."

And once he talked about philosophy:

"Well, I think it helps if you can make up your mind what you want out of life." (Come to think of it, this conversation didn't take place in Freddie's library, but on a fishing trip in the mountains, sitting late at night over a couple of sauteed rainbow trout and a bottle of California Mountain White, with smoke from the stove backing up a little into the room and the April rain pattering on the roof.) "I mean for example your old man, do we know what he wanted? Presumably he wanted to express himself, to write poems and plays and things that would move other people, make them laugh or cry or understand each other or themselves. That's what an artist is supposed to want, isn't it? Or maybe he wanted to make a lot of money and be famous. I guess we don't know. Not even that Kraut professor who wrote that book about him -sure I read it, you think I'm ignorant?- he didn't seem to know what made Anders tick. And old Fred Minto Senior? I don't think that's so hard to figure out. He didn't want to go back to that farm and get up at five o'clock to take care of the cows and the chickens and clean all the shit out of the barn. He wanted to make some money and get up at seven o'clock like a gentleman and wear a clean shirt every morning and have lunch with judges at the Union League, that's what he wanted. And lots of bonds in the tin box. What do I want? I'll tell you exactly, and I'll tell you the moment it all came to me. One morning in early August '44, we were in front of Falaise, in the apple orchards, and the First Canadians were on our left. For some reason, can't remember why, we had to drive over there to see them and they were having a sticky time. Everybody was standing around looking at maps. Panzer Lehr Division was in front of them, really counterattacking pretty hard -Oh I remember, we wanted to show them the road on the other side of this little village where our people were, so the idea was that somebody should ride out with their tanks, so my general, the son of a bitch, says to this Canook battalion commander, 'Here, Captain Minto is a red-hot tanker, he was at Kasserine, he'll go with you and show you the road,' so they took one man out of this big Centurion, the commander moved down to the gunner's seat and I went into the turret and hung on the throat microphone -just like in Tunisia, only there I was with four complete strangers. Well, we started off across the orchard, there was firing toward the left but I couldn't see anything directly ahead, I was trying to watch the map and get a fix on the goddamned village which I knew must be at the other end of this orchard, but I couldn't see it. So then we came up on this dirt road, road going right through the orchard, you see, and I figured the road must lead to the village, so I opened the hatch and put my head out, we started up the road, around the bend and Holy Christ not fifty yards in front of me right beside a stone barn of some kind is this big fat Tiger -not a Mark IV, not a Panther but the big baby, the Tiger- so close I could see the Iron Cross of his turret, which was turned a little so his tube faced down to the other end of the orchard, where the firing was. Well, then everything happened at once. I saw that there wasn't room to turn around and our gun was too long to bear on him from this position so I yelled, 'Reverse Left,' meaning the driver should back us off the road but I guess they thought I wanted the turret traversed left so our gun went off to the left and the driver drove off the road and by God if we didn't get the muzzle hung up in the crotch of an apple tree and the tree held, so the whole Centurion started to slide sideways and then I saw the Tiger's gun turn toward us and the next thing I knew I was hanging outside the turret by the throat microphone, and everything was burning. I didn't even hear the first shot that blew me out of the turret, but I did hear the second one and the whole thing was roaring flames and the Canadians were screaming and couldn't get out and I was dangling there with this wire around my throat and I thought Jesus God if I ever get out of this I'm going to live every day as if it was the only one, I'm going to eat every meal and drink every bottle and screw every girl as if I'm never going to get another and I'm not going to spend one minute of my life doing anything I don't enjoy! . . . Well then the wire broke and I fell into the grass and crawled away. I heard the Tiger clanking off in the other direction and then the Canadians came up the road with six more Centurions and armored infantry and that's the end of the story."

We would move into the candlelit dining room, where Claudine would bring us things like her own pate' maison, clear turtle soup, roast pheasant with sauerkraut cooked in Chablis, a bottle of her father's Burgundy, cucumber salad with sour cream dressing, apples from her own orchard, three different kinds of French cheese, and a bottle of Calvados. Eventually we would stagger back to the library, carrying the brandy with us, light cigars, and if Freddie was finally talked out, we might put on some records -most often his beloved Alexander's Feast: The Ode to St. Cecilia and the Power of Music, Handel and Dryden, trumpets, flutes and drums, lilting airs and thundering choruses, Alexander of Macedon and his musician Timotheus:

War, he sung, is toil and trouble;
Honor, but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still and still destroying:
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, 0 think it worth enjoying.
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the gods provide thee.

Next year I got married.

"I do not have anything against Freddie Minto," said my bride on more than one occasion. "I think he's a charming fixture of our world, a true eccentric in an almost English sense, and I think it's lovely that you're such good friends, but it just so happens that I don't enjoy trying to make conversation with that Frenchwoman all evening while he goes on and on about how he crossed the Danube in an inner tube or something! And he encourages you to drink too much!"

So I saw less of Freddie. What can you do? But I suppose that as long as I live I will remember him slouched back in his ancient leather armchair, slippers on the fender, cigar in one hand, glass of Calvados in the other, his face glistening in the light of the dying fire, roaring along with the floor-rattling high fidelity speakers and the Oriana Concert Choir and Orchestra:

Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier's pleasure,
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

previous chapter, next chapter



1961 - A Point of View
[1] The annual meeting of the stockholders of the Boatwright Corporation
[2] What are you going to do about Boatwright and what are you going to do about yourself?
[3] Have we learned anything this evening, Doctor?
[4] Producing results?
>[5] Alexander's Feast
[6] How'd you like to go over to Salzburg for a month with me?

1947 - An Island
[7] You're not going to Berlin. You're staying here.
[8] All right, we're the Military Government.
[9] The Americans are teaching us to be democratic instead of fascistic.
[10] Well, this is Fasching.
[11] Letters after Ash Wednesday
[12] Say Boris is at Schloss Fyrmian.
[13] THE AMERICAN ACADEMY IN EUROPE - Prospectus for the First Session
[14] Learn to think of people as individuals.
[15] Parlez-moi d'amour, redites-moi des choses tendres.
[16] Not one thing left to show that you've ever been on earth? - "Sources of Soviet Conduct"
[17] A Countess, a Prussian Officer and a Ländler
[18] Now this part of your life is over and I'm sending you home.
[19] A father who's too busy to watch his son die. - The Spring of 1961
[20] I cannot sell Schloss Fyrmian to the Academy.

1961 - A Change of Air
[21] The first thing I saw was the Festung Hohensalzburg far in the distance, silhouetted against the shadowy curtain of the high mountains.
[22] Next day at the Academy we got to work - Graham, you know what Fleischer did?
[23] Im weißen Rößl am Wolfgangsee
[24] Brockaw writing a thesis on Austrian baroque architecture? - Boatwright Corporation and Boris Fleischer, plaintiffs
[25] You know there a Mr. Devereaux? Mr. Armistead Devereaux?
[26] I think always of Peter Devereaux.
[27] It sounds like an act of desperation, and it won't hold up in court.
[28] In those Oklahoma Hills WHERE AH WAS BOW-AHHHN!
[29] ... that we should meet again like this . . . I think perhaps there is a reason.
[30] "Is there here an American by name of Brockaw?"
[31] This is Boris Fleischer!
[32] "Does Hans work for Gehlen?" Paola shook her head. "More the other way around."
[33] Won't you please come home? Everybody needs you, I most of all.
[34] With this Waffenstillstand you have time now.
[35] You're going to regret this for the rest of your life!
[36] We Europeans would not do it. None of us. - People think you need medical attention.
[37] Will they trust you?
[38] Some things about the U.S.A. are perhaps rather important, and to us impressive.
[39] You're going to need a good lawyer.

version: March 2, 2004
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Arthur R.G. Solmssen, Joachim Gruber