Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life

Article excerpt

I suppose the secret of death is to choose not to expire the same day as famous people. I read in Lapham's Quarterly that JFK, C.S.Lewis and Aldous Huxley all met with the man in the white suit on 22 November 1963.

John Jay Mortimer, a friend of very long standing, died last week and I attended his funeral in Tuxedo Park, the seat of his very old and fine family. After his daughter Minnie gave the reading, Lewis Lapham, the renowned editor of Harper's and now Lapham's Quarterly, spoke in a quiet, unemotional tone about his old friend. It seems that at the height of the Cold War, a Soviet bigwig editor had come to New York for a lunch with Lewis. The latter invited John Jay to come along because of his impeccable knowledge of Russian history as well as his fluency in Russian. Well, you can guess the rest. One vodka toast to peace and friendly co-operation followed another, and John Jay during a lunch did more for Soviet-American relations than Walter Duranty's wilder dreams.

(For any of you unfamiliar with that prostitute, Duranty was the NY Times man who knowingly ignored Stalin's crimes and forced famine of Ukraine during the 1930s and who won a Pulitzer Prize for his lies as a result. ) John Jay spoke about Catherine the Great, quoted Pushkin, enlightened the Russkie about the Hermitage, and expounded about the immortal Russian soul. The commie was over the moon when - alas - John Jay demanded one last toast. The three men got up with full glasses and John Jay, in a loud and clear voice, thundered: 'To the Tsar.' End of lunch, as the furious commie stormed out into Madison Avenue never to be seen again.

The church roared. But for me, this is why John Jay was 'le chevalier sans peur and sans reproche'. Politics was the furthest thing from his mind. Lewis, who had gone to great trouble to arrange the meeting, swallowed rather hard but thought it brilliant. 'That's John Jay, ' was all he said. He was followed as speaker by the Mark Twain of our time, Michael Thomas.

It is an unfortunate scribe or speaker indeed who tries to convey to those who don't know him - and there are few - Michael in full flow. A 60-year-old friendship detailed in 15 minutes, with bon mots and asides by an extremely cultured and witty man, cannot be done justice to by a scribe of my calibre. All I can say is if it had not been a funeral service, a hell of a lot of people would have paid to hear it. Then came Topper Mortimer, who told us what a rare father he had, one who, in his own quiet way, convinced him to go out and play tackle football after young Topper had been traumatised by seeing the violence of contact. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.