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A Cool Hand

June 2024
1min read

As a young bachelor in New York in the years immediately following World War II, I was fortunate to be frequently an “extra man” at the small dinner parties of Judge and Mrs. Learned Hand in their house on Sixty-fifth Street (later the residence- speaking of brushes with history—of Richard Nixon). Judge Hand was a great man, the greatest it has ever been my privilege to know, and I hung on his beautifully articulated phrases. One night when I arrived, always the first, I found him reading a letter from Bernard Berenson, his friend of many decades, with whom he maintained a regular correspondence.

“BB wants to know why I always subscribe my letters to him in such hyperbolic terms as ‘Your devoted pupil’ or ‘Your disciple in art’ or Tour constant admirer.’” The judge put away the letter and glanced at me with his great, bushy eyebrows raised. “He asks why I never sign myself simply ‘Affectionately yours.’”

I paused, but I knew I had my cue. “Well, sir, why don’t you?”

“Because I don’t like him!”

Nor did he ever joke in such matters.

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