THE Atlantic has always taken an eager interest in young writers, for their sake and for our own; since we do not have the spending power of some of our larger competitors, we must of necessity find fresh talent and give it the best possible display in our showcase. This is one reason why I — and Bliss Perry before me — travel and lecture intensively: it is the most encouraging way of meeting on college campuses and off the beaten track those shy and dedicated men and women who are struggling to write.
Three years ago we received a short story from an unknown named Jesse Hill Ford. It drew a most vivid picture of a Southern heel and the girl he was betraying, but the ending did not seem quite right. We could not bring ourselves to accept the story — neither could we forget it. Mr. Ford wrote from Chicago, and with my note of rejection, which kept the door open for revision, I made a mental note to look him up.
We had our first breakfast together last fall in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr. Ford, who is thirty, had driven seventy miles to hear me the night before and had arisen at 5:30 that morning to catch me before I flew off to my next stop. We talked about writing, and to explain why he had moved back to the South he gave me a copy of an article he had prepared for his home-town paper, the Nashville Tennessean. These were the paragraphs that sank in:
“I left the concrete canyons of Chicago a year ago to come to Humboldt, center of West Tennessee’s strawberry industry.
“But I didn’t come here to pick strawberries. I came to write my novel.
“I am already famous. I have the biggest dog, the smallest car, the oldest house and the most scandalous children in town.
“And I’m still writing my novel.
“I left a good job with the American Medical Association’s public relations staff to strike out on my own. When I decided to begin writing full time, my wife suggested we move to Humboldt. After all, it’s her home town, and she could teach school while I worked on my novel. Meanwhile our children would be free to rove and roam as never they were in the Windy City.
“Having been raised in Nashville, I was more than eager to return to Tennessee. We packed up our Volkswagen, and with our little girl, who is three, and our boys, who are four and six, we headed south. On the way down we stopped at Omaha, Illinois, and ordered a Saint Bernard puppy at a kennel there.
“Six months later I had made five dollars, averaging a little less than a dollar a month. The five dollars came from a sportsmen’s magazine for a tip to fishermen on how to tape a fold-down fingernail snipper to a casting rod for clipping line. But the novel was going tolerably well and the Saint Bernard had arrived, with a small but insatiable appetite.
“I must explain that I am not an independently wealthy coupon clipper with oil wells in Texas. Would that I were! And unfortunately, no foundation has taken me to its bosom to nurture as I write, I am here and writing because my wife was willing to leave her household duties and begin teaching in the sixth grade after seven years of marriage. I am here because we were able to save a little during the years I was in public relations, and I am here because my parents and her parents believe in me enough to bridge the gap between our income and our outgo.
“Naturally, we cannot afford my role as dollara-month writer indefinitely. Either I begin earning before the wolf breaks down the door or back I go into the salaried world of nine to five.”
On January 21 I wrote, accepting Mr. Ford’s new story, “The Surest Thing in Show Business,” and telling him we should print it as an Atlantic “First” in the April issue. Back came this reply:
“There is jubilation here, and it is spreading like pond ripples after a stone; I am not going to say that I pinched myself, but I will say that I got a little giddy and almost waxed sentimental. I didn’t open the letter until I was back outside the Post Office and on the way back up the sidewalk towards home. I’m always fearful when I open letters nowadays, especially those from Boston. So I held it a while and wondered. My dog, Captain, who is almost well after being hit by a car, was along with me, and his pal, the Labrador from next door, was along too. So finally I opened it and there your letter was, with the check.
“I’m sorry now I just didn’t go ahead and yell. It’s all right in Humboldt to yell. They haven’t quite forgotten David Crockett, a former resident of this country, and on occasions, and this would be one, you can just holler and nobody cares. In fact they are sympathetic. But I just kept on walking until I got home where the kids were shut in with chicken pox and their grandmother was reading to them. We kissed all around and they yelled and did an Indian dance and then I took off up to the schoolhouse and showed my wife, Sally, and she called several of the other teachers out in the hall and they read the letter and came very close to tears.
“I came back home and the Cumberland Presbyterian preacher was there waiting for me. My father-in-law had told him down at the clinic and he was right there to shake my hand and read the letter. We talked about duck hunting a minute and he left and then the dogs had caught the excitement so they jumped the city trash collectors and I had to go out and separate them. Now I’m at the office writing you, and I want to say here and now that your letter couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I suppose the way to repay something like that is to write the very best I can, and you can be sure, Sir, that I will bend every energy in that direction.”
I think it well that readers be occasionally reminded of the gamble, the dismay and sacrifice which young writers (and their families) make to be writers. There is a happy postscript to this: the story we originally rejected — in a letter which the author says “raised me literally out of the dust” — has been revised and accepted and will appear this summer.
THE THIRTEENTH JUROR
“A bank,” said Bob Hope, “is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.” That witticism came to mind when I read the first news stories about Dr. John Bodkin Adams of Eastbourne. Here was a prosperous general practitioner who led the local Boy Scouts and taught Sunday school and who for decades had made a comfortable living taking care of the wealthy, aging widows in that English seaside resort. What possible motive could he have had in killing off these posh invalids, when they were worth so much more to him alive? True, the doctor had a lively expectation of favors to come in the wills - a chest of old silver or an aging Rolls-Royce which would be exempt from the high English taxes — but such anticipation could hardly have prompted murder.
When the Crown accused Dr. Adams of deliberately drugging a Mrs. Morell to her death, it precipitated the longest murder trial ever to be held in the Old Bailey and in several respects the most fascinating. It attracted to that famous courtroom the pick of the English bar, journalists from the Continent, and, among the crowding spectators, a novelist, SYBILLE BEDFORD, who sat in the press box throughout the seventeen days and whose penetrating, personal account of the proceedings, THE TRIAL OF DR. ADAMS (Simon and Schuster, $3.75), is absorbing reading. She was, if you like, the thirteenth juror. Her purpose was to re-create the mounting tension of the trial, to show the judge’s power of clarification, the credulity and persuasiveness of the witnesses, and the adroit and implacable questioning of the contending counsel. Ceaselessly she watches the doctor, who sits high up in the dock “like a contained explosive.” She sees him bow to the judge when the court rises; she sees him actually “bounce in his chair in anger” when the specialists testify against his treatment of the patient or “swinging his head in mournful negation” at the inference of the prosecution.
Having served recently on a jury, I was struck by two differences in the English practice: the jurors are not locked up for the night as ours are, and the key witnesses — the three nurses — are overheard discussing the case as they come to the court and deciding what details it would be wiser not to mention. They are taken to task for this by the Queen’s counsel for the defense, young Geoffrey Lawrence. With his compelling voice and clear profile, he makes an ever-deepening impression on the court, and the skill with which he demolishes the testimony of the nurses is the first of the surprises which he administers to the prosecution. Miss Bedford is soon under the spell of Mr. Lawrence, and she reproduces his probing in a deft, delightful way: “There is something in his fine and compact bearing that suggests the matador holding up the bull’s ear.” One can almost hear the jury listening.
The final shot is triple-barreled, and the result is not quite what the prosecutor may reasonably have expected: “Mrs. Morell told me,” said Nurse Randall, “that the doctor had promised her he would not let her suffer at the end.” With that admission a light flooded into the courtroom which the prosecution could never put out; the jury required only forty-four minutes to reach its verdict. This is a swift, intimate, and exciting exposition of British justice.
ELIZABETH THE REAL
“The aim of this book,” writes ELIZABETH JENKINS in her preface to ELIZABETH TIIE GREAT (Coward-McCann, $5.00), “was to collect interesting personal information about Queen Elizabeth I. As I have tried to focus attention all the time upon the queen, the shape of the book is very irregular; sometimes events of great importance are briefly mentioned or omitted while minor ones are dwelt on in detail.” I doubt if there has ever been a more personal book about the Virgin Queen or one with so persuasive an explanation as to why she remained a virgin to her dying day.
The chapters on her girlhood are searing and pathetic. Her mother, Ann Boleyn, was executed before Elizabeth was three, but not before the child had witnessed the King’s anger and Ann’s passionate entreaty. Her stepmother, Jane Seymour, was gentle, and Elizabeth was never to forget the midnight christening of her brother, Edward VI, the delicate boy who was so devoted to her while he lived. Elizabeth was seven when Catherine Howard was dragged away shrieking from Henry’s presence in Hampton Court, and the scene reopened a wound which was already neurotic and numbing. The Earl of Leicester, who came nearer to marrying Elizabeth and closer to rousing her love than any other man, told the French ambassador that “he had known Elizabeth since she was a child of eight, and from that very time she had always said: ‘I will never marry.’ ”
Those charged with Elizabeth’s education, as Miss Jenkins shows, were to supply the loving care which the princess needed. There were five of them, and they were her partisans for life. Katherine Champernowne (“Kat,” for short), her governess, who recognized the child’s remarkable abilities; the Welsh attendant, Blanche Parry, who afterwards became Keeper of the Royal Books and who of course urged her to speak Welsh; William Grindal, the young Cambridge scholar, who taught her the classics (in addition she learned four modern languages: French, Italian, Spanish, and Flemish); and the master of her mature studies, the celebrated Roger Ascham. When Kat married John Ashley he added his quiet stability to the little group. Such loyalties were needed: at twelve Elizabeth offended the King and was banished from court for an entire year; on Henry’s death she was separated from her beloved brother; at fourteen she was being teased and nastily fondled by Admiral Seymour; and in her fifteenth year she was committed to the Tower by the jealous, suspicious Mary.
From such a crucible of experience there emerged a young Queen whom Miss Jenkins delights to write about, “a pale young woman of twenty-two, with a weird brightness like sea fire, and hands of miraculous delicacy,” intelligent, unerring in her choice of words under stress, sure in her hold on the people, determined to avoid war and keep out of debt, fond of dancing, jewels, and spirited horses, loving flattery and the thought of marriage but not the act. She attracted the ablest men in the realm, foremost in his diligence, William Cecil, and they guided her in her long rivalry with Mary Queen of Scots. They pressed her, as did Parliament, to marry, and cannily she resisted. The high points in this book are Elizabeth’s annual processions, when she saved money by living off her wealthy nobles; her fencing with the French and Spanish ambassadors; and her boisterous, long-dallying courtship with Leicester. In her age, when the Armada threatens and when the hawks, Raleigh and Essex, swoop down, the fun and the red hair are gone, but she is still the greatest ruler in Christendom, majestic, courageous, intricate, and eloquent to the end.
THE FOUNDER OF ISRAEL
An Erasmus with the light touch, wise and a wonderful talker, SIR ISAIAH BERLIN, professor of social and political theory at Oxford, has long been studying the origins of the Russian Revolution. His concise and brilliant essay, CHAIM WEIZMANN (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, $2.25), is an evaluation of the man who founded our most vulnerable democracy; it is a definition of greatness, a study of the motives which led to Jewish nationalism and of the leading part which the Russian Jews played in that movement, and a delineation of leadership such as Carlyle would have rejoiced in. Sir Isaiah’s judgments are the result of a long, close friendship, and they are expressed in a prose which is sensitive and forceful. I give one brief example: “They trusted him because he seemed to them an exceptionally powerful, self-confident, solid champion of their deepest interests. Moreover he was both fearless and understanding, He understood their past and their present, but above all was not frightened of the future.” This is a little book to throw such a bright light.