March 24, 2018

Source: Bigstock

The second remarkable thing about this story (and Jacobs’ work in general) is that he renders English working-class speech accurately and colorfully but without any condescension or mockery at its incorrectness. This might not seem like a very great achievement, but in fact it is one that is rare in English literature. It suggests to me that Jacobs was a good man, genuinely tolerant, and I should be surprised to discover (knowing almost nothing about him) that he was not.

I am afraid that I am not as good a man as he. I have seen quite a lot of medical compensation fraud in my time, and I take an altogether darker view of it than did Jacobs. It irritates rather than amuses me. Perhaps this is because the fraud is now more elaborate; at least Jacobs’ protagonist knew what he was doing and was almost honest in his dishonesty. Nowadays people are more inclined to be dishonestly dishonest, repeating their lies to themselves and their listeners so often that they come to believe them. They become querulous, resentful, and indignant, and whatever the outcome they are dissatisfied with it, feeling an injustice has been done them.

The legal system does everything possible to encourage dishonest claims. For example, I have never known a plaintiff, no matter how outrageously false his testimony under oath in the witness box, however preposterous his claim for compensation, charged with perjury. And the whole process of going to court is so horrifyingly expensive that it turns justice into a game of poker admixed with blackmail, and cases of no merit whatsoever are settled for vast sums. Disputes over wills consume entire estates, not necessarily tiny ones alone, in legal fees. There is no need for bribery for the law to be corrupt.

The advantage of having read Jacobs’ story is that it will calm me down in the future whenever I encounter a fraudulent claim (so long as it is not against me—no medicine is a cure against all diseases). It is, somehow, a great consolation to know that Man has always been a scoundrel and will never be otherwise.


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