The calf-paths of the mind


I came across the following discussion of the case method in an Alabama Supreme Court opinion, Moore v. Mobile Infirmary Ass'n, 592 So. 2d 156, 177-78 (Ala. 1991). Justice Houston in that case quoted it from Justice Jones in Lorence v. Hospital Board of Morgan County, 320 So. 2d 631, 634-35 (Ala. 1975). (This has actually appeared in eight law review articles and seven cases; the first judicial instance is in Van Kleeck v. Ramer, 156 P. 1008 (Colo. 1916).) The original is by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), who wrote a number of popular poems around the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps should be standard reading for entering 1Ls?

One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But left a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then, three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind this trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,

And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
So from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,

And many men wound in and out,
And bent and turned and dodged about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path;

But still they followed-do not laugh-
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding woodway stalked
Because he wabbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse, with his load,

Toiled on, beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on with swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare.

And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis.
And men two centuries and a half
Trod the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.

A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach.

For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And toil away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue
To keep the path that others do.

But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach;
But I am not ordained to preach.