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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Briefless Barrister

By John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887)

[From Poems. Highgate Edition. 1868.]

A Ballad

AN ATTORNEY was taking a turn,

In shabby habiliments drest;

His coat it was shockingly worn,

And the rust had invested his vest.

His breeches had suffered a breach,

His linen and worsted were worse;

He had scarce a whole crown in his hat,

And not half a crown in his purse.

And thus as he wandered along,

A cheerless and comfortless elf,

He sought for relief in a song,

Or complainingly talked to himself:

“Unfortunate man that I am!

I’ve never a client but grief:

The case is, I’ve no case at all,

And in brief, I’ve ne’er had a brief!

“I’ve waited and waited in vain,

Expecting an ‘opening’ to find,

Where an honest young lawyer might gain

Some reward for toil of his mind.

’Tis not that I’m wanting in law,

Or lack an intelligent face,

That others have cases to plead,

While I have to plead for a case.

“O, how can a modest young man

E’er hope for the smallest progression,—

The profession ’s already so full

Of lawyers so full of profession!”

While thus he was strolling around,

His eye accidentally fell

On a very deep hole in the ground,

And he sighed to himself “It is well!”

To curb his emotions, he sat

On the curbstone the space of a minute,

Then cried, “Here’s an opening at last!”

And in less than a jiffy was in it!

Next morning twelve citizens came

(’Twas the coroner bade them attend),

To the end that it might be determined

How the man had determined his end!

“The man was a lawyer, I hear,”

Quoth the foreman who sat on the corse.

“A lawyer? Alas!” said another,

“Undoubtedly died of remorse!”

A third said, “He knew the deceased,

An attorney well versed in the laws,

And as to the cause of his death,

’Twas no doubt for the want of a cause.”

The jury decided at length,

After solemnly weighing the matter,

That the lawyer was drownded, because

He could not keep his head above water!