I first came upon Corey Ford's writing several years ago when my parents took me to a country inn. Along with a Gideon Bible, the establishment equipped my bedside table with a pamphlet containing Ford's essay entitled "My Dog Likes It Here." It was vintage Ford, warm and funny, accessible but elegant. "My dog is a large English setter, who acquired me when he was about six months old, and who has been making up my mind for him ever since," wrote Ford. "When we go out on a leash together he decides whether to run or walk or halt abruptly at the corner lamppost to mail a letter." At the time, I simply thought this was a lucky hostelry to have such a deft humorist living nearby and writing handouts. Only later did I learn that Corey Ford was an Algonquin Round Table irregular. He would have been a regular, but he was gone fishin' too often, which was fine with his readers, because when Ford returned he would write an account of his time in the outback. He was a gifted satirist of the Robert Benchley-Ring Lardner-James Thurber school. Ford also wrote deceptively simple essays, not unlike those of E.B. White. They might deal with hunting dogs or the vicissitudes of old age, but all address the human condition.
Ford died in 1969, and while the reputations of contemporaries like Thurber, Benchley and White have grown, Ford has been championed by few. Fortunately, one of those few must be in the employ of the Willow Creek Press of Wautoma, Wis., which has recently published The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury ($25). This handsome anthology reinforces the notion that what Lardner was to the diamond, Ford was to the duck blind.
The book consists largely of the "minutes" of 49 meetings of the Lower Forty Shooting, Angling and Inside Straight Club, Ford's fictitious bait-and-bullet society that convened each month in the pages of Field & Stream. The guys—Doc Hall, Judge Parker, Colonel Cobb, Dexter Smeed—would sit around Uncle Perk's hardware store, pass the jug of Old Stump Blower and chew tobacco and the fat. Listen to Ford's Lower Forty members on items of importance to outdoorsmen.
On Bird Dogs: "Reminds me of a very intelligent bird dog I had once," Colonel Cobb interrupted, filling the glasses from Uncle Perk's jug. "I was leading him down the main street of Boston, and he came to a solid point on a total stranger. I knew my dog never made a mistake, so I asked the stranger if he was carrying a bird in his pocket, and the stranger said he wasn't. So I asked him if by any chance he'd been handling a grouse lately, because I never knew my dog to be wrong before, but he said no, he never saw a grouse and he wasn't even a hunter. So I had to apologize for my dog, and I shook hands and said 'I'm sorry, sir, my name is Cobb.' 'Pleased to meet you, the stranger said. 'My name's Partridge.' "
On Game Birds: (Doc Hall speaking): "The only reason I didn't get any birds was because they kept on flying after they were obviously stone dead. For instance, this grouse got up right in front of me and took off across an open field, and I figured out the wind direction and trajectory and rate of climb, and I used my modified barrel with Number Eight chilled which throws a pattern of 29.3 square inches at fifty-five yards, and the only explanation is that the bird didn't know enough to fall."
As if to argue that Ford was more than just a jokester, the Sporting Treasury includes several essays of greater heft than the Lower Forty stories. These are uniformly good but only hint at the breadth of Ford's work. The book closes with "The Road to Tinkhamtown," Ford's best-known short story.
Obviously this has been more of an appreciation than a critique. That's inescapable. I always felt it was serendipity indeed to chance upon Ford's writing on a bedside table. It was fun discovering him. If you haven't, I urge you to do so. The Lower Forty is not an exclusive club; all that's required is a funny bone.