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Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Max Beerbohm, Richard Du Cann, H. Montgomery Hyde, and Dinner at Brown’s Hotel

From Washington Lawyer, November 2006

By Jacob A. Stein

spectator Max Beerbohm (1872–1956), the British essayist, said he picked up the word sympat from someone he met at a vacation spa. In the few days they were together they developed a real friendship. When they parted the new friend said to Max that they had a most pleasant sympat, a Portuguese word, used to describe a temporary friendship that happens to spring up unexpectedly.

He said that sympat is the word that describes the friendship formed in a holiday, far from one’s relatives and usual friends. “You, reader, know the kind of friendships that I mean. Like me, you must have struck them up often. At home, in the midst of your ordinary friends, you are insusceptible to strangers. But in the solitude of a strange place you are agog for any kind of social intercourse.” When you happen to find someone similarly stranded, a sympat may take place.

Mary and I created a sympat of our own 20 years ago. We were in London staying at Brown’s Hotel where, by some good luck, we had a substantial credit. We thought how nice it would be to arrange a dinner for some London friends. The fact of the matter was we had no London friends to invite.

As we thought about it, we recalled chance meetings with two Londoners. One was Richard Du Cann (1929–1994), an English barrister we had met at an American Bar Association meeting. The other was H. Montgomery Hyde (1907–1989), an author, a barrister, and a few other things, whom we had met on one of his trips to Washington.

We found their addresses in the London telephone book. We sent invitations to Mr. and Mrs. Du Cann and Mr. and Mrs. Hyde inviting them to a private seven o’clock dinner party at Brown’s. We were well prepared to be the only ones attending. A betting person would have put the odds at 70–30 against our invitees showing up.

A few minutes after seven, Richard Du Cann and his wife appeared. They looked quite disappointed when they saw nobody in the room but us. They looked at the table and saw the setting for six. Who else was to be there? Two more people like us they hardly knew? We did not identify the other couple. The Du Canns had the common decency not to ask.

As the waiting period was becoming unbearable, H. Montgomery Hyde and his wife appeared. Hyde was surprised and delighted to see Du Cann and Du Cann was surprised and delighted to see Hyde. They had last seen each other years ago during the prosecution of the publisher of one of D. H. Lawrence’s novels. The Crown wanted the book banned as pornographic. Richard Du Cann was a barrister representing the publisher and H. Montgomery Hyde, who had written a book about pornography, was his expert witness. The trial received considerable publicity and the defense won.

Du Cann and Hyde joked about the trial, recalled some of the testimony, and commented about the judge. Then the table talk turned to that intriguing topic, a definition of pornography, and then Hyde’s varied careers as a writer, an MP, and a spy during the Second World War.

Brown’s provided attentive waiters (three of them) anxious to please. The food was excellent. After dessert, brandy and cordials all the way around and cigars for the gentlemen. At eight thirty sharp Du Cann proposed a finality toast and we parted, never to see each other again.

We did receive a book from Du Cann and from Hyde, a book each had written. Richard Du Cann’s The Art of the Advocate and H. Montgomery Hyde’s biography of Norman Birkett, a distinguished English barrister.

Du Cann’s book is still in print. It covers the opening statement, the examination of witnesses, and the closing argument.

Du Cann gives the standard advice concerning closing argument: “Stand-up, speak-up and shut-up.” He then gives examples of how to open the closing argument. Here is one that gets high marks: “Gentlemen of the jury: the charge against the prisoner is murder, and the punishment for murder is death; and that simple statement is sufficient to suggest to us the awful solemnity of the occasion which brings you and me face to face.”

Norman Birkett, as Hyde described him in the biography, was the leader of the English trial bar in the 1920s and 1930s. He topped off his career with a judgeship.

Birkett had a compulsive interest in the lawyer’s art, in the way a lawyer presents his case. All fails if the presentation of the case is not orderly. Birkett liked to make his point with this story:

Mr. Justice Maule is affectionately remembered by generations of lawyers for the wisdom that lay concealed behind his rich humor. One of his most famous observations was on this very matter of presentation. Provoked by the confused and blundering way in which an advocate was presenting a bewildering array of facts to the jury, Mr. Justice Maule said:

“Mr. Smith, do you not think by introducing a little order into your narrative you might possibly render yourself a trifle more intelligible? It may be my fault that I cannot follow you—I know that my brain is getting a little dilapidated; but I should like to stipulate for some sort of order. There are plenty of them. There is the chronological, the botanical, the metaphysical, the geographical, why even the alphabetical order would be better than no order at all.”

Well, there you have it. Now get busy and get me that chronology.

Jacob A. Stein can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].