Books: The Hermit of Lambertville

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"You Are People." A typical day in the Cozzens' Lambertville house (bought in 1933, but soon to be abandoned because Cozzens fears that impending power lines will spoil his valley view) unreels with near monastic austerity. Daily except Sunday Cozzens rises at 5:15 a.m., brews a pot of tea for himself and fixes coffee for Bernice, who gets up at 5:45. In his 1957 station wagon he drives Bernice to the Trenton station for an early train to Manhattan, then returns for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, orange juice and milk. He works from 8 to noon (he is a two-finger typist). Says Cozzens, who spent eight years on By Love Possessed: "For every three pages I write, I throw away two. On a good day, I get two pages done."

After lunch (with two martinis) he naps for an hour, putters around in the flower garden (he tends the roses), and reads until he picks up Bernice at the station. After dinner Cozzens goes to his study, "where I meditate and put on a rubber tire with three bottles of beer." Cozzens' sole hobby is a pop record collection, vintage 1920 to 1927—Al Jolson, Paul Whiteman—which he plays by the hour on his hi-fi set. "Most of the time I just sit picking my nose and thinking."

To the charge that this life is isolated for a man who needs people as raw material, Cozzens retorts: "The thing you have to know is yourself; you are people."

What Fish Are About. The principle has worked remarkably well in Cozzens' books. The Last Adam etched a memorable portrait of a crusty, lusty New England doctor who serves the Life Drive rather better than he does his patients. Men and Brethren features a tough-minded Episcopal rector who copes with the eternal muddle of sin without sentimentalizing the sinner. The Just and the Unjust, the best U.S. novel ever fashioned around the law, focuses on a small-town murder trial; it illuminates both the law's technicalities and its larger meaning, its limitations and its glories (which are often the same thing). Guard of Honor, the best of U.S. World War II novels, revolves around a delicate problem in white-Negro race relations at a Florida air base; but poised on this axis is a massive, self-contained world of U.S. fighting men girding for war.

In all these books, Cozzens not only searched himself, but researched his subjects with immense care. For The Just and the Unjust he haunted the nearby Doylestown courthouse (it reappears in By Love Possessed), devoured legal tomes, listened to the shoptalk of the lawyers, finally became so adept that he was stumping" them on abstruse points of law. An Air Force general proofread Guard of Honor for boners, found not a single one.

Cozzens' men swim in their professions as naturally as fish in water, but he never assumes that water is what a fish is about. He raises questions of appearance v. reality, theory v. practice, but his chief question is: How may half-baked youth be seasoned to maturity? The recipe culled from his books: 1) the skepticism of Montaigne, 2) the craft of Machiavelli, 3) the self-reliance of Emerson, 4) the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, and 5) the patience of Job. Cozzens' heroes do not "have fun"; they cannot "not give a damn"; they are trying to be responsible grownups in a confusing and dangerous world.

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