What of the making public of a letter, what of the vocation of correspondent? Letters are a private genre, belonging in general, Kundera would say, to the domain of intimate life. When they "go public" some boundary is crossed, some violation is committed. Kundera's position hints that the great Oliver Wendell Holmes was perhaps a bit of a monster, seeming in his private life to be very much the "same" man as he was in his public vocation, except for his romantic effulgency with Clare Castletown. Reading this occasionally twittery and school boyish prose in Professor G. Edward White's article, I found myself alternately embarrassed on Holmes's behalf and overjoyed that he could break out,however mildly, from the constraints of his tightly bound self.'
A second matter beckons for attention. When we-we scholars, we bibliophiles, we voyeuristic gazers on and into the lives of others-bring letters or a diary into the public domain, this entails a responsibility and presents an epistemological, if not an ethical, dilemma, depending on whether the correspondent intended the letters for destruction or preservation. We also confront a challenge of meaning or interpretation.Toward the end of his discussion of Holmes as correspondent, Professor White asks: "Why did Holmes write so many letters, and how did he conceive of his role as a correspondent? What light can his conception of that role shed on his life as a whole? Can we better understand Holmes the judge, or Holmes the person, from examining his correspondence?"
White concludes that the correspondence is "not a particularly good source of insight into [Holmes's] life as a judge." Holmes "rarely discussed in detail the cases on which he was working," gave few clues as to how he adjudicated, and even fewer juicy details on interactions among the Justices." For Holmes, correspondence was itself an object of desire, a cathected pleasure. Thus, correspondence took second place to judging in Holmes's world, because desire ranked lower than duty.
Jean B. Elshtain,
Private Lives, Public Selves,
43 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol43/iss6/5