Hutchinson, Dennis J., The Yale Law Journal
When Byron White moved in the spring of 2001 from Washington, D.C., where he had been a public servant for forty years, back to Denver, where he had begun his legal career after World War II, he brought with him a vast cache of personal memorabilia that had been collected over a lifetime. The collection includes scrapbooks that his mother started when he was in high school and which were continued by his wife, Marion, after they were married in 1946. It also contains other artifacts--athletic programs, photographs, portraits, bronze busts, plaques, trophies--running the gamut of a life spent largely in the public eye since late adolescence. For the time being, the collection is being stored in the federal courthouse that bears his name, and a special room is being considered to house the collection. When White delivered the collection, two of his former law clerks who were living in the Denver area helped sort and arrange the material. Among the artifacts is a chapbook that White began in high school under the direction of his remarkable English literature teacher, Evelyn Schmidt Ely. (1) White explained to the former clerks that his values, first bred at home, took root under Mrs. Ely's direction. Two works, he said, became polestars in his life. The first was John Milton's sonnet, which is customarily entitled, On His Blindness:
When I consider how my light is spent, Ere hall my days, in this dark world and wide, And that once Talent which is death to hide, Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, lest he returning chide; "Doth God exact day-labour, light denied," I fondly ask; But Patience, to prevent That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts; who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his State Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest: They also serve who stand and wait." (2)
The poem, copied out in a round, young hand more than sixty-five years before, now carried an immediate poignancy--White had recently suffered a series of small strokes that prevented him from speaking more than a word or two at a time and that precluded him from sitting by designation on federal courts of appeals after his retirement from the Supreme Court. Thus, nearly a half-century of public service--"man's work[s]"--was finished.
The other work copied in the chapbook, its particular pages rubbed with wear, was the inspirational poem, If, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1910:
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired of waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream--and not make dreams your master; If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!" If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son! …