Several years since there came a young Virginian into one of the villages of the West—the county seat of a county—and announced himself to the citizens as a lawyer, who intended pitching his tent among them. It was but a short time before the sitting of the court, and our young debutant had the mortification to enter upon this legal passover without a single case. This state of things would have been rather discouraging under any circumstances, but it was still more so, since it was accompanied with an alarming emptiness in the region of the pocket. But our hero was not a man given to despondence; and he began forthwith to cast about him for the purpose of bettering his condition. Right over the way from his lodgings stood what is called, in Western parlance, a grocery, aliter, a “grog shop.” I need not say it had its full allowance of worshippers. From this delightful purlieu, amidst a Babel-like concord of drunken jargon, the ears of the briefless lawyer were struck with the notes of a violin.

He sauntered carelessly over, and entered this scene of rude joviality. To possess himself of a fiddle, which was in the hands of a lusty wood-chopper, was the work of a moment ; and it was but another moment before the throng were crowding around to listen. After giving them a sweat with “Deil up the gum-bush,” “Lord McDonald,” “Sugar in the gourd,” “Killykrankie,” “The Grand Spy,” and several other good old Scotch reels and strathspys, they perceived that the instrument was played by a master, and they all voted incontinently that the Orpheus of the grog shop was perfectly eclipsed. They were delighted ; but when the unknown visiter added his voice to the notes, and burst out into a comical negro song, the whole company were uproarious in their raptures. I must except the musical woodcutter : he took it in high dudgeon, that any one should presume to compete with him on his own dunghill.

“Harkee, Mister,” said he, going up to our hero in a threatening manner, “you may beat me on the fiddle, but I’ll be d—d if I can’t out-jump, throw down—and if it comes to that—whip you in the bargain.”

“I accept the challenge,” said the lawyer ; and throwing down the violin, the

p. 79

company repaired to the front of the grocery. There, at the first effort, he distanced his antagonist some six inches.

“He jumps like a greyhound!” said he of the axe, scratching his head, and somewhat mortified ; “but if I can’t throw him I’ll be d—d!”

But the success of the poor woodcutter was as bad in this trial of manhood as in the first. He was perfectly enraged by his discomfitures, and stripping off his coat, swore he would flog him at any rate. But the company, who had taken quite an affection to our hero, interfered, and they all adjourned to the grog shop to drink each other’s healths, and to smoke the calumet.

The lawyer in the meanwhile kept cracking his jokes, and singing his songs, and telling his stories, to the great diversion of the company.

It was not long before some of the topers began very naturally to talk about their cases in court. The lawyer then commenced giving them advice, and spoke very learnedly upon the subject.

“You must be a lawyer,” said an old man, who had been listening to him very intently.

He answered in the affirmative.

“Then I’ll be d—d if you shan’t plead my case to-morrow!”

“And mine,” said another.

“And mine,” said a third.

The fees were forthwith put into his hands—and our hero went to bed that night fifty dollars richer than he was in the morning.

The event proved that the confidence of his clients was not misplaced. The cases entrusted to him were managed in a masterly manner ; and he rose from that moment with rapid strides to the head of the bar. He afterwards filled many important offices in the State, and was in a fair way to have attained to the highest in the gift of the people ; but his unfortunate habits of dissipation undermined his constitution, and cut him off in the midst of his career. Such was the beginning and end of H. H. M.

“Random Sketches of the West.”


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 7.10 (22 April 1837): 78-79. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

We would like to thank the staff of the Library of Virginia Archives and Special Collections, Alderman Library, and Barrett Collection for their assistance. This page contains material in the public domain and it may be reproduced in its entirety or cited for courses, scholarship, or other non-commercial uses. We ask that users cite the source and support the archives that have provided materials to the Spirit site.