The Mystery of the "But," 110 Yale Law Journal 893 (2001)
Good afternoon and welcome. We are here to remember and celebrate the life of a good friend who happened also to be a great man. We shall try with our words to express our friendship for Joe and do justice to his greatness. It goes without saying that we shall fail in the attempt. Our words will fall short of the facts, and can never reach the man himself. That is something we must accept. But Joe is gone, and all we now possess of him are the words we use to remember and describe him. That is something we must attempt. We shall try our best, partly for our own sake, because we need to keep as much of Joe as we can, and partly also for his, because Joe's life among us now depends on our poor power to translate from the vital world, so transient and bright, to the world of words, where we store up in a shadowy but more durable form all the feelings we wish could last.
In the program you received when you entered the auditorium you will find a brief précis of Joe's life. We are told that Joe was "exacting but kind," and with this phrase—chosen, I am sure, after much careful thought—the author has attempted to capture an aspect of Joe's character that anyone who knew him well—that anyone who knew him even slightly—will instantly recognize as one of his essential features. The most revealing word in this short phrase is the one that joins the other two—the word "but"—which signals the author's appreciation of the fact that the two qualities here brought into conjunction were, in Joe, somewhat opposed—even, perhaps, a contradiction. The contradiction has been softened by the author's choice of adjectives: "exacting" and "kind." In fact, the qualities to which these words refer are better described in more extreme terms: "Fanatical" and "loving" come closer to the mark. And these more extreme, but accurate, words make the mystery of the "but" even greater.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Kronman, Anthony Townsend, "The Mystery of the "But"" (2001). Faculty Scholarship Series. 953.