A CASUAL PAST by Francis Biddle


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At the beginning of his autobiography Francis Biddle says that he feels he has remained a little shadowy throughout his book and he attributes this to the fact that he has not sufficiently escaped the commonplace or touched the abnormal. For this reason, no doubt, he devotes a major portion of the autobiography to the lives of his illustrious forebears -- the Randolphs of Virginia and the Biddles of Philadelphia, dating from their emigration here in the 17th century. Francis Biddle was born in Paris in 1886, grew up in Philadelphia in an environment that was predominantly feminine due to the fact that his lawyer father died when he was six. Groton, which he entered in 1899, was to be the masculine antidote for him and his brothers. He describes the type of school life there and later at Harvard, under Charles William Eliot when the faculty included such men as George Santayana, William James and Kittredge. But the Harvard of fifty years ago was notable also for its club life and Biddle recalls its social character with a certain fondness. More rapidly dealt with are the years he spent in Harvard Law School, his apprenticeship in the law as Justice Holmes' secretary, and his subsequent years as a Philadelphia lawyer interrupted with government service. His autobiography is painstaking, a leisurely written and certainly an interesting record of a way of life which has surely disappeared. Though Francis Biddle was Attorney General during F.D.R.'s administration his book is definitely not political.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1961
Publisher: Doubleday