Volume I

Letter XIII

Alan Fairford to Darsie Latimer

Walter Scott

I WRITE on the instant, as you direct; and in a tragi-comic humour, for I have a tear in my eye and a smile on my cheek. Dearest Darsie, sure never a being but yourself could be so generous—sure never a being but yourself could be so absurd! I remember when you were a boy you wished to make your fine new whip a present to old Aunt Peggy, merely because she admired it; and now, with like unreflecting and inappropriate liberality, you would resign your beloved to a smoke-dried young sophister, who cares not one of the hairs which it is his occupation to split, for all the daughters of Eve. I in love with your Lilias—your Green Mantle—your unknown enchantress!—why I scarce saw her for five minutes, and even then only the tip of her chin was distinctly visible. She was well made, and the tip of her chin was of a most promising cast for the rest of the face; but, Heaven save you! she came upon business! and for a lawyer to fall in love with a pretty client on a single consultation, would be as wise as if he became enamoured of a particularly bright sunbeam which chanced for a moment to gild his bar-wig. I give you my word I am heart-whole and moreover, I assure you, that before I suffer a woman to sit near my heart’s core, I must see her full face, without mask or mantle, aye, and know a good deal of her mind into the bargain. So never fret yourself on my account, my kind and generous Darsie; but, for your own sake, have a care and let not an idle attachment, so lightly taken up, lead you into serious danger.

On this subject I feel so apprehensive, that now when I am decorated with the honours of the gown, I should have abandoned my career at the very starting to come to you, but for my father having contrived to clog my heels with fetters of a professional nature. I will tell you the matter at length, for it is comical enough; and why should not you list to my juridical adventures, as well as I to those of your fiddling knight-errantry?

It was after dinner, and I was considering how I might best introduce to my father the private resolution I had formed to set off for Dumfriesshire, or whether I had not better run away at once, and plead my excuse by letter, when, assuming the peculiar look with which he communicates any of his intentions respecting me, that he suspects may not be altogether acceptable, “Alan,” he said, “ye now wear a gown—ye have opened shop, as we would say of a more mechanical profession; and, doubtless, ye think the floor of the courts is strewed with guineas, and that ye have only to stoop down to gather them?”

“I hope I am sensible, sir,” I replied, “that I have some knowledge and practice to acquire, and must stoop for that in the first place.”

“It is well said,” answered my father; and, always afraid to give too much encouragement, added, “Very well said, if it be well acted up to—Stoop to get knowledge and practice is the very word. Ye know very well, Alan, that in the other faculty who study the ars medendi, before the young doctor gets to the bedsides of palaces, he must, as they call it, walk the hospitals; and cure Lazarus of his sores, before he be admitted to prescribe for Dives, when he has gout or indigestion——”

“I am aware, sir, that——”

“Whisht—do not interrupt the court. Well—also the chirurgeons have a useful practice, by which they put their apprentices and tyrones to work; upon senseless dead bodies, to which, as they can do no good, so they certainly can do as little harm; while at the same time the tyro, or apprentice, gains experience, and becomes fit to whip off a leg or arm from a living subject, as cleanly as ye would slice an onion.”

“I believe I guess your meaning, sir,” answered I; “and were it not for a very particular engagement——”

“Do not speak to me of engagements; but whisht—there is a good lad—and do not interrupt the court.”

My father, you know, is apt—be it said with all filial duty—to be a little prolix in his harangues. I had nothing for it but to lean back and listen.

“Maybe you think, Alan, because I have, doubtless, the management of some actions in dependence, whilk my worthy clients have intrusted me with, that I may think of airting them your way instanter; and so setting you up in practice, so far as my small business or influence may go; and, doubtless, Alan, that is a day whilk I hope may come round. But then, before I give, as the proverb hath it, ‘My own fish-guts to my own sea-maws,’ I must, for the sake of my own character, be very sure that my sea-maw can pick them to some purpose. What say ye?”

“I am so far,” answered I, “from wishing to get early into practice, sir, that I would willingly bestow a few days——”

“In further study, ye would say, Alan. But that is not the way either—ye must walk the hospitals—ye must cure Lazarus—ye must cut and carve on a departed subject, to show your skill.”

“I am sure,” I replied, “I will undertake the cause of any poor man with pleasure, and bestow as much pains upon it as if it were a duke’s; but for the next two or three days——”

“They must be devoted to close study, Alan—very close study indeed; for ye must stand primed for a hearing, in presentia dominorum, upon Tuesday next.”

“I, sir?” I replied in astonishment—“I have not opened my mouth in the Outer House yet!”

“Never mind the court of the Gentiles, man,” said my father; “we will have you into the Sanctuary at once—over shoes, over boots.”

“But, sir, I should really spoil any cause thrust on me so hastily.”

“Ye cannot spoil it, Alan,” said my father, rubbing his hands with much complacency; “that is the very cream of the business, man—it is just, as I said before, a subject upon whilk all the tyrones have been trying their whittles for fifteen years; and as there have been about ten or a dozen agents concerned, and each took his own way, the case is come to that pass, that Stair or Amiston could not mend it; and I do not think even you, Alan, can do it much harm—ye may get credit by it, but ye can lose none.”

“And pray what is the name of my happy client, sir?” said I, ungraciously enough, I believe.

“It is a well-known name in the Parliament House,” replied my father. “To say the truth, I expect him every moment; it is Peter Peebles.”1

“Peter Peebles!” exclaimed I, in astonishment; “he is an insane beggar—as poor as Job, and as mad as a March hare!”

“He has been pleaing in the court for fifteen years,” said my father, in a tone of commiseration, which seemed to acknowledge that this fact was enough to account for the poor man’s condition both in mind and circumstances.

“Besides, sir,” I added, “he is on the Poor’s Roll; and you know there are advocates regularly appointed to manage those cases; and for me to presume to interfere——”

“Whisht, Alan!—never interrupt the court—all that is managed for ye like a tee’d ball” (my father sometimes draws his similes from his once favourite game of golf); “you must know, Alan, that Peter’s cause was to have been opened by young Dumtoustie—ye may ken the lad, a son of Dumtoustie of that ilk, member of Parliament for the county of——, and a nephew of the laird’s younger brother, worthy Lord Bladderskate, whilk ye are aware sounds as like being akin to a peatship2 and a sheriffdom, as a sieve is sib to a riddle. Now, Peter Drudgeit, my lord’s clerk, came to me this morning in the House, like ane bereft of his wits; for it seems that young Dumtoustie is ane of the Poor’s lawyers, and Peter Peebles’s process had been remitted to him of course. But so soon as the harebrained goose saw the pokes3 (as indeed, Alan, they are none of the least) he took fright, called for his nag, lap on, and away to the country is he gone; and so? said Peter, my lord is at his wit’s end wi’ vexation, and shame, to see his nevoy break off the course at the very starting. “I’ll tell you, Peter,” said I, “were I my lord, and a friend or kinsman of mine should leave the town while the court was sitting, that kinsman, or be he what he liked, should never darken my door again.” And then, Alan, I thought to turn the ball our own way; and I said that you were a gey sharp birkie, just off the irons, and if it would oblige my lord, and so forth, you would open Peter’s cause on Tuesday, and make some handsome apology for the necessary absence of your learned friend, and the loss which your client and the court had sustained, and so forth. Peter lap at the proposition like a cock at a grossart; for, he said, the only chance was to get a new hand, that did not ken the charge he was taking upon him; for there was not a lad of two sessions’ standing that was not dead-sick of Peter Peebles and his cause; and he advised me to break the matter gently to you at the first; but I told him you were, a good bairn, Alan, and had no will and pleasure in these matters but mine.”

What could I say, Darsie, in answer to this arrangement, so very well meant—so very vexatious at the same time? To imitate the defection and flight of young Dumtoustie, was at once to destroy my father’s hopes of me for ever; nay, such is the keenness with which he regards all connected with his profession, it might have been a step to breaking his heart. I was obliged, therefore, to bow in sad acquiescence, when my father called to James Wilkinson to bring the two bits of pokes he would find on his table.

Exit James, and presently re-enters, bending under the load of two huge leathern bags, full of papers to the brim, and labelled on the greasy backs with the magic impress of the clerks of court, and the title, Peebles against Plainstanes. This huge mass was deposited on the table, and my father, with no ordinary glee in his countenance, began to draw out; the various bundles of papers, secured by none of your red tape or whipcord, but stout, substantial casts of tarred rope, such as might have held small craft at their moorings.

I made a last and desperate effort to get rid of the impending job. “I am really afraid, sir, that this case seems so much complicated, and there is so little time to prepare, that we had better move the court to supersede it till next session.”

“How, sir?—how, Alan?” said my father—“Would you approbate and reprobate, sir? You have accepted the poor man’s cause, and if you have not his fee in your pocket, it is because he has none to give you; and now would you approbate and reprobate in the same breath of your mouth? Think of your oath of office, Alan, and your duty to your father, my dear boy.”

Once more, what could I say? I saw from my father’s hurried and alarmed manner, that nothing could vex him so much as failing in the point he had determined to carry, and once more intimated my readiness to do my best, under every disadvantage.

“Well, well, my boy,” said my father, “the Lord will make your days long in the land, for the honour you have given to your father’s grey hairs. You may find wiser advisers, Alan, but none that can wish you better.”

My father, you know, does not usually give way to expressions of affection, and they are interesting in proportion to their rarity. My eyes began to fill at seeing his glisten; and my delight at having given him such sensible gratification would have been unmixed but for the thoughts of you. These out of the question, I could have grappled with the bags, had they been as large as corn-sacks. But, to turn what was grave into farce, the door opened, and Wilkinson ushered in Peter Peebles.

You must have seen this original, Darsie, who, like others in the same predicament, continues to haunt the courts of justice, where he has made shipwreck of time, means, and understanding. Such insane paupers have sometimes seemed to me to resemble wrecks lying upon the shoals on the Goodwin Sands, or in Yarmouth Roads, warning other vessels to keep aloof from the banks on which they have been lost; or rather, such ruined clients are like scarecrows and potato-bogies, distributed through the courts to scare away fools from the scene of litigation.

The identical Peter wears a huge greatcoat threadbare and patched itself, yet carefully so disposed and secured by what buttons remain, and many supplementary pins, as to conceal the still more infirm state of his under garments. The shoes and stockings of a ploughman were, however, seen to meet at his knees with a pair of brownish, blackish breeches; a rusty-coloured handkerchief, that has been black in its day, surrounded his throat, and was an apology for linen. His hair, half grey, half black, escaped in elf-locks around a huge wig, made of tow, as it seemed to me, and so much shrunk that it stood up on the very top of his head; above which he plants, when covered, an immense cocked hat, which, like the chieftain’s banner in an ancient battle, may be seen any sederunt day betwixt nine and ten, high towering above all the fluctuating and changeful scene in the Outer House, where his eccentricities often make him the centre of a group of petulant and teasing boys, who exercise upon him every art of ingenious torture. His countenance, originally that of a portly, comely burgess, is now emaciated with poverty and anxiety, and rendered wild by an insane lightness about the eyes; a withered and blighted skin and complexion; features begrimed with snuff, charged with the self-importance peculiar to insanity; and a habit of perpetually speaking to himself. Such was my unfortunate client; and I must allow, Darsie, that my profession had need to do a great deal of good, if, as is much to be feared, it brings many individuals to such a pass.

After we had been, with a good deal of form, presented to each other, at which time I easily saw by my father’s manner that he was desirous of supporting Peter’s character in my eyes, as much as circumstances would permit, “Alan,” he said, “this is the gentleman who has agreed to accept of you as his counsel, in place of young Dumtoustie.”

“Entirely out of favour to my old acquaintance your father, said Peter,” with a benign and patronizing countenance, “out of respect to your father, and my old intimacy with Lord Bladderskate. Otherwise, by the Regiam Majestatem! I would have presented a petition and complaint against Daniel Dumtoustie, Advocate, by name and surname—I would, by all the practiques!—I know the forms of process; and I am not to be triffled with.”

My father here interrupted my client, and reminded him that there was a good deal of business to do, as he proposed to give the young counsel an outline of the state of the conjoined process, with a view to letting him into the merits of the cause, disencumbered from the points of form. “I have made a short abbreviate, Mr. Peebles,” said he; “having sat up late last night, and employed much of this morning in wading through these papers, to save Alan some trouble, and I am now about to state the result.”

“I will state it myself,” said Peter, breaking in without reverence upon his solicitor.

“No, by no means,” said my father; “I am your agent for the time.”

“Mine eleventh in number,” said Peter; “I have a new one every year; I wish I could get a new coat as regularly.”

“Your agent for the time,” resumed my father; “and you, who are acquainted with the forms, know that the client states the cause to the agent—the agent to the counsel——”

“The counsel to the Lord Ordinary,” continued Peter, once set a-going, like the peal of an alarm clock, “the Ordinary to the Inner House, the President to the Bench. It is just like the rope to the man, the man to the ox, the ox to the water, the water to the fire——”

“Hush, for Heaven’s sake, Mr. Peebles,” said my father, cutting his recitation short; “time wears on—we must get to business—you must not interrupt the court, you know.—Hem, hem! From this abbreviate it appears——”

“Before you begin,” said Peter Peebles “I’ll thank you to order me a morsel of bread and cheese, or some cauld meat, or broth, or the like alimentary provision; I was so anxious to see your son, that I could not eat a mouthful of dinner.”

Heartily glad, I believe, to have so good a chance of stopping his client’s mouth effectually, my father ordered some cold meat; to which James Wilkinson, for the honour of the house, was about to add the brandy bottle, which remained on the sideboard, but, at a wink from my father, supplied its place with small beer. Peter charged the provisions with the rapacity of a famished lion; and so well did the diversion engage him, that though, while my father stated the case, he looked at him repeatedly, as if he meant to interrupt his statement, yet he always found more agreeable employment for his mouth, and returned to the cold beef with an avidity which convinced me he had not had such an opportunity for many a day of satiating his appetite. Omitting much formal phraseology, and many legal details, I will endeavour to give you, in exchange for your fiddler’s tale, the history of a litigant, or rather, the history of his lawsuit.

“Peter Peebles and Paul Plainstanes,” said my father, entered into partnership, in the year ——, as mercers and linendrapers, in the Luckenbooths, and carried on a great line of business to mutual advantage. But the learned counsel needeth not to be told, societas est mater discordiarum, partnership oft makes pleaship. The company being dissolved by mutual consent, in the year ——, the affairs had to be wound up, and after certain attempts to settle the matter extra-judicially, it was at last brought into the court, and has branched out into several distinct processes, most of whilk have been conjoined by the Ordinary. It is to the state of these processes that counsel’s attention is particularly directed. There is the original action of Peebles v. Plainstanes, convening him for payment of £3000., less or more, as alleged balance due by Plainstanes. Secondly, there is a counter action, in which Plainstanes is pursuer and Peebles defender, for £2500., less or more, being balance alleged per contra, to be due by Peebles. Thirdly, Mr. Peeble’s seventh agent advised an action of Compt and Reckoning at his instance, wherein what balance should prove due on either side might be fairly struck and ascertained. Fourthly, to meet the hypothetical case, that Peebles might be found liable in a balance to Plainstanes, Mr. Wildgoose, Mr. Peebles’s eighth agent, recommended a Multiplepoinding, to bring all parties concerned into the field.”

My brain was like to turn at this account of lawsuit within lawsuit, like a nest of chip-boxes, with all of which I was expected to make myself acquainted.

“I understand,” I said, “that Mr. Peebles claims a sum of money from Plainstanes—how then can he be his debtor? and if not his debtor, how can he bring a Multiplepoinding, the very summons of which sets forth, that the pursuer does owe certain monies, which he is desirous to pay by warrant of a judge?”4

“Ye know little of the matter, I doubt, friend,” said Mr. Peebles; “a Multiplepoinding is the safest remedium juris in the whole; form of process. I have known it conjoined with a declarator of marriage.—Your beef is excellent,” he said to my father, who in vain endeavoured to resume his legal disquisition; “but something highly powdered—and the twopenny is undeniable; but it is small swipes—small swipes—more of hop than malt-with your leave, I’ll try your black bottle.”

My father started to help him with his own hand, and in due measure; but, infinitely to my amusement, Peter got possession of the bottle by the neck, and my father’s ideas of hospitality were far too scrupulous to permit his attempting, by any direct means, to redeem it; so that Peter returned to the table triumphant, with his prey in his clutch.

“Better have a wine-glass, Mr. Peebles,” said my father, in an admonitory tone, “you will find it pretty strong.”

“If the kirk is ower muckle, we can sing mass in the quire,” said Peter, helping himself in the goblet out of which he had been drinking the small beer. “What is it, usquebaugh?—BRANDY, as I am an honest man! I had almost forgotten the name and taste of brandy. Mr. Fairford elder, your good health” (a mouthful of brandy), “Mr. Alan Fairford, wishing you well through your arduous undertaking’ (another go-down of the comfortable liquor). “And now, though you have given a tolerable breviate of this great lawsuit, of whilk everybody has heard something that has walked the boards in the Outer House (here’s to ye again, by way of interim decreet) yet ye have omitted to speak a word of the arrestments.”

“I was just coming to that point, Mr. Peebles.”

“Or of the action of suspension of the charge on the bill.”

“I was just coming to that.”

“Or the advocation of the Sheriff-Court process.”

“I was just coming to it.”

“As Tweed comes to Melrose, I think,” said the litigant; and then filling his goblet about a quarter full of brandy, as if in absence of mind, “Oh, Mr. Alan Fairford, ye are a lucky man to buckle to such a cause as mine at the very outset! it is like a specimen of all causes, man. By the Regiam, there is not a remedium juris in the practiques but ye’ll find a spice o’t. Here’s to your getting weel through with it—Pshut—I am drinking naked spirits, I think. But if the heathen he ower strong, we’ll christen him with the brewer” (here he added a little small beer to his beverage, paused, rolled his eyes, winked, and proceeded),—“Mr. Fairford—the action of assault and battery, Mr. Fairford, when I compelled the villain Plainstanes to pull my nose within two steps of King Charles’s statue, in the Parliament Close—there I had him in a hose-net. Never man could tell me how to shape that process—no counsel that ever selled mind could condescend and say whether it were best to proceed by way of petition and complaint, ad vindictam publicam, with consent of his Majesty’s advocate, or by action on the statute for battery pendente lite, whilk would be the winning my plea at once, and so getting a back-door out of court.—By the Regiam, that beef and brandy is unco het at my heart—I maun try the ale again” (sipped a little beer); “and the ale’s but cauld, I maun e’en put in the rest of the brandy.”

He was as good as his word, and proceeded in so loud and animated a style of elocution, thumping the table, drinking and snuffing alternately, that my father, abandoning all attempts to interrupt him, sat silent and ashamed, suffering, and anxious for the conclusion of the scene.

“And then to come back to my pet process of all—my battery and assault process, when I had the good luck to provoke him to pull my nose at the very threshold of the court, whilk was the very thing I wanted—Mr. Pest, ye ken him, Daddie Fairford? Old Pest was for making it out hamesucken, for he said the court might be said—said—ugh!—to be my dwelling-place. I dwell mair there than ony gate else, and the essence of hamesucken is to strike a man in his dwelling-place—mind that, young advocate—and so there’s hope Plainstanes may be hanged, as many has for a less matter; ‘for, my lords,’—will Pest say to the Justiciary bodies,—‘my lords, the Parliament House is Peebles’ place of dwelling, says he—being commune forum, and commune forum est commune domicilium.’ Lass, fetch another glass of and score it—time to gae hame—by the practiques, I cannot find the jug—yet there’s twa of them, I think. By the Regiam, Fairford—Daddie Fairford—lend us twal pennies to buy sneeshing, mine is done—Macer, call another cause.”

The box fell from his hands, and his body would at the same time have fallen from the chair, had not I supported him.

“This is intolerable,” said my father—“Call a chairman, James Wilkinson, to carry this degraded, worthless, drunken beast home.”

When Peter Peebles was removed from this memorable consultation, under the care of an able-bodied Celt, my father hastily bundled up the papers, as a showman, whose exhibition has miscarried, hastes to remove his booth. “Here are my memoranda, Alan,” he said, in a hurried way; “look them carefully over—compare them with the processes, and turn it in your head before Tuesday. Many a good speech has been made for a beast of a client; and hark ye, lad, hark ye—I never intended to cheat you of your fee when all was done, though I would have liked to have heard the speech first; but there is nothing like corning the horse before the journey. Here are five goud guineas in a silk purse—of your poor mother’s netting, Alan—she would have been a blithe woman to have seen her young son with a gown on his back—but no more of that—be a good boy, and to the work like a tiger.”

I did set to work, Darsie; for who could resist such motives? With my father’s assistance, I have mastered the details, confused as they are; and on Tuesday I shall plead as well for Peter Peebles as I could for a duke. Indeed, I feel my head so clear on the subject as to be able to write this long letter to you; into which, however, Peter and his lawsuit have insinuated themselves so far as to show you how much they at present occupy my thoughts. Once more, be careful of yourself, and mindful of me, who am ever thine, while ALAN FAIRFORD.

From circumstances, to be hereafter mentioned, it was long ere this letter reached the person to whom it was addressed.



This unfortunate litigant (for a person named Peter Peebles actually flourished) frequented the courts of justice in Scotland about the year 1792, and the sketch of his appearance is given from recollection. The author is of opinion that he himself had at one time the honour to be counsel for Peter Peebles, whose voluminous course of litigation served as a sort of assay-pieces to most young men who were called to the bar. The scene of the consultation is entirely imaginary.


2.    Formerly, a lawyer, supposed to be under the peculiar patronage of any particular judge, was invidiously termed his peat or pet.    [back]

3.    Process-bags.    [back]

4.    Multiplepoinding is, I believe, equivalent to what is called in England a case of Double Distress.    [back]

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