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Book of Scottish Story
My First Fee


A Chapter from the Autobiography of an Advocate.

"Fee him, father, fee him."

Seven long yearning years had elapsed since, with the budding anticipation of youthful hope, I had assumed the lugubrious insignia of the bar. During that dreadful time, each morn, as old St Giles told the hour of nine, might I be seen insinuating my emaciated figure within the penetralia of the Parliament House, where, be-gowned and bewigged, and with the zeal of a Powell or a Barclay, I paced about till two. These peripatetic practices had well-nigh ruined me in Wellingtons, and latterly in shoes. My little Erskine was in pawn; while my tailor and my landlady threw out unmistakable and ominous hints regarding their long bills and longer credit. I dared not understand them, but consoled myself with the thought, that the day would come when my tailor would cease his dunning, and my landlady her clamour.

I had gone the different circuits, worn and torn my gown, seated myself in awful contemplation on the side benches, maintained angry argument on legal points with some more favoured brother, within earshot of a wily writer. In fine, I had resorted to every means that fancy could suggest, or experience dictate; but as yet my eyes had not seen, nor my pocket felt— a Fee. Alas! this was denied. I might be said to be, as yet, no barrister: for what is a lawyer without a fee? A nonentity! a shadow! To my grief, I seemed to be fast verging to the latter; and I doubt much whether the "Anatomie vivant" could have stood the comparison—so much had my feeless fast fed on my flesh!

I cannot divine the reason for this neglect of my legal services. In my own heart, I had vainly imagined the sufficiency of my tact and subtlety in unravelling a nice point; neither had I been wanting in attention to my studies; for Heaven and my landlady can bear witness, that my consumption of coal and candle would have sufficed any two ordinary readers. There was not a book or treatise on law which I had not dived into. I was insatiable in literature; but the world and the writers seemed ignorant of my brain be-labouring system, and sedulously determined that my fee-ling propensities should not be gratified.

Never did I meet an agent either in or out of Court, but my heart and hand felt a pleasing glow of hope and of joy at the prospect of pocketing a fee ; but how often have they turned their backs without even the mortifying allusion to such a catastrophe! How often have I turned round in whirling ecstacy as I felt some seemingly patronising palm tap gently on my shoulders with such a tap as writers' clerks are wont to use; but oh, ye gods ! a grinning wretch merely asked me how I did, and passed on!

Nor were my non-legal friends more kind. There was an old gentleman, who, I knew (for I made it my business to enquire), had some thoughts of a law-plea. From him I received an invitation to dinner. Joyfully, as at all times, but more so on this occasion, was the summons obeyed. I had laid a train to introduce the subject of his wrongs at a time which might suit best, and with this plan I commenced my machinations. The old fox was too cunning even for me; he too had his plot, and had hit upon the expedient of obtaining my opinion without a fee— the skinflint! Long and doubtful was the contest; hint succeeded hint, question after question was put, till at last my entertainer was victorious, and I retired crestfallen and feeless from the field! By the soul of Erskine, had it not been for his dinners, I should have cut him for ever! Still I grubbed with this one, cultivated an acquaintance with that, but all to no purpose ; no one pitied my position. My torments were those of the lost! Hope (not the President) alone buoyed me up; visions of future sovereigns, numerous as those which appeared to Banquo of old, but of a better and more useful kind, flitted before my charmed imagination. Pride, poverty, and starvation pushed me on. What! said I, shall it be hinted that I am likely neither to have a fee nor a feed? Tell it not in the First Division; publish it not in the Outer House! All my thoughts were riveted to one object —to one object all my endeavours were bent, and to accomplish this seemed the ultimatum of bliss.

Often have I looked with envy upon the more favoured candidates for judicial fame—those who never return to their domicile or their dinner, but to find their tables groaning with briefs ! How different from my case! My case? What case? I have no case! Not one fee to work its own desolateness! Months and months passed on, still success came not! The hoped-for event came not; resolution died within me; I formed serious intentions of being even with the profession. As the profession had cut me, I intended to have cut the profession. In my wants, I would have robbed, but my hand was withheld by the thought that the jesters of the stove might taunt me thus: "He could not live, so he died, by the law." I have often thought that there is a great similarity between the hangman and the want of a fee; the one is the finisher of the law, the other of lawyers!

Pondering on my griefs, with my feet on the expiring embers of a sea-coal fire, the chair in that swinging position so much practised and approved in Yankee-land,—the seat destined for a clerk occupied by my cat, for I love everything of the fe-line species,—my cogitations were disturbed by an application for admittance at the outer door. It was not the rat-tat of the postman, nor the rising and falling attack of the man of fashion, but a compound of both, which evidently bespoke the knockee unaccustomed to town. I am somewhat curious in knocks; I admire the true principles of the art, by which one may distinguish the peer from the postman—the dun from the dilettante—the footman from the furnisher. But there was something in this knock which baffled all my skill; yet sweet withal, thrilling through my heart with a joy unfelt before. Some spirit must have presided in the sound, for it seemed to me the music of the spheres.

A short time elapsed, and my landlady "opened wide the infernal doors." Now hope cut capers—(Lazenby, thou wert not to blame, for of thy delicacies I dared not even dream!)—now hope cut capers within me ! Heavy footsteps were heard in the passage, and one of the lords of the creation marched his calves into the apartment. With alacrity, I conveyed my corpus juris to meet him, and, with all civility, I requested him to be seated. My landlady with her apron dusted the armchair (I purchased it at a sale of Lord M-------'s effects, not causes,—expecting to catch inspiration). In this said chair my man ensconced his clay.

I had commenced my survey of his person, when my eyes were attracted by a basilisk-like hunch of papers which the good soul held in his hand. In ecstasy I gazed—characters were marked on them which could not be mistaken; a less keen glance than mine might have discovered their import. My joy was now beyond all bounds, testifying itself by sundry kickings and contortions of the body. I began to fear the worthy man might think me mad, and repent him of his errand; I calmed myself, and sat down. My guest thrust into my hands the papers, and then proceeded to issue letters of open doors against his dexter pocket His intentions were evident; with difficulty could I restrain myself. For some minutes he "groped about the vast abyss," during which time my agitation increased so much that I could not have answered one question, even out of that favourite chapter of one of our institutional writers, "On the Institution of Fees." But let me describe the man to whom I owe so much.

He was a short, squat, farmer-looking being, who might have rented some fifty acres or so. Though stinted in his growth upwards, Dame Nature seemed determined to make him amends by an increase of dimension in every other direction. His nose and face spoke volumes—ay, libraries— of punch and ale; these potations had also made themselves manifested lower down, by the magnitude of the belligerent powers. There was in his face a cunning leer, in his figure a knowing tournure, which was still further heightened by his dress; this consisted of a green coat, which gave evident signs of its utter incapability of ever being identified with Stultz; cords and continuations encased the lower parts of his carcase; a belcher his throat; while the whole was surmounted by a castor of the most preposterous breadth of brim, and shallow capacity. But in this man's appearance there was something that pleased me; something of a nature superior to other mortals. I might have been prejudiced, but his face and figure seemed to me more beautiful than morning.

Never did I gaze with a more complacent benevolence on a breeches-pocket At last he succeeded in dragging from its depths a huge old stocking. through which "the yellow-lettered Geordie's keeked." With what raptures did I look on that old stocking, the produce, I presumed, of the stocking of his farm. It seemed to possess the power of fascination, for my eyes could not quit it. Even when my client {for now I calculated upon him) began to speak, my attention still wandered to the stocking. He told me of a dispute with his landlord about some matters relating to his farm, that he was wronged, and would have the law of the laird, though he should spend his last shilling (here I looked with increased raptures at the stocking). On the recommendation of the minister (good man!), he had sought me for advice. He then opened wide the jaws of his homely purse—he inserted his paw—now my heart beat—he made a jingling noise—my heart beat quicker still—he pulled forth his two interesting fingers—oh, ecstasy! he pressed five guineas into my extended hand—they touched the virgin palm, and oh, ye gods! I was Fee'd !!!.—Edinburgh Literary Journal.


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