Friday, March 13, 2009

Rumpole's creator

Christopher Hitchens appreciates the creator of Horace Rumpole in Vanity Fair. John Mortimer died last January. Those of us who knew of him primarily through the Rumpole stories will always be grateful for them and for the pleasure they provided. Hitchens:
...[I]t is given to very few people to create one imperishable fictional person, and then to see that very person take on life and flesh as if animated by Pygmalion. In the name and figure of Horace Rumpole, old rogue and old hero of the Old Bailey, as impersonated—no, incarnated—by Leo McKern, we have someone for the ages, someone who will be available at need to our inner eye and ear every time it is demonstrated once again that “the law is a ass.”
Mortimer's politics were libertarian:
Emphatically not a conservative.... His libertarian instincts were as natural to him as breathing: he took up cigar smoking only when the government tried to ban the habit in public places, and I have a clear memory of him standing on the Thames Embankment among a huge demonstrating crowd of red-faced country Conservatives, whom he normally despised, blinking owlishly in the sun and upholding the right of rural folk to pursue foxes on horseback without being shadowed by blue-uniformed policemen.
Sadly, although possessed of an unsentimental and realistic opinion of human nature, Mortimer failed to discern any purpose in existence:
Mortimer was obsessed by the brevity and ephemerality of life and art, naming one of his books of memoirs after Lord Byron’s regretful view that the human span was like “the summer of a dormouse,” and maintaining that “the shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yogurt.” Taking a fatalistic view that was at odds with his ostensibly cheery humanism, he used to say that “if you look in playgrounds, you see the little judge and the little burglar and the little murderer and the little banker.” He tried and failed to derive consolation from religion, and once had the following exchange with Cardinal Basil Hume: Hume pontificated to him that, were there to be no God, human life would be absurd. “Well, exactly” was Mortimer’s rejoinder.
Exactly, indeed.

Mortimer Rests His Case |

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