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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

Two Colonial Lawyers

By Sir John Randolph (c. 1693–1737)

[Born about 1693. Attorney-General of Virginia. Died at Williamsburg, Va., 1737. From Randolph’s Breviate Book. In the Virginia Historical Register, Vol. I. 1848.]

ON the 14th of December, 1734, died suddenly of a fit, John Holloway, Esq., after having languished about ten months with a sort of epilepsy at certain times of the moon, which had much impaired his memory and understanding. He had practised in this court upwards of thirty years, with great reputation for diligence and learning; and was so much in the good opinion of the court, that I have upon many occasions known him prevail for his clients against reasons and arguments much stronger and better than his. His opinions were by most people looked upon as decisive, and were very frequently acquiesced in by both parties, those against whom he pronounced being discouraged from disputing against so great authority. He practised with much artifice and cunning, being thoroughly skilled in attorneyship; but when his causes came to a hearing, he reasoned little, was tedious in reading long reports of some cases, and little abridgments of others, out of which he would collect short aphorisms and obiter sayings of judges, and rely upon them, without regarding the main point in question; and arbitrarily affirm or deny a matter of law, which had often too much weight against the reason and difference of things. By this method he gained many causes, which always gave him great joy, but was as impatient if he lost one as if it tended to a diminution of his credit. He was blameable for one singular practice, in drawing notes for special verdicts; he would state naked circumstances of facts only, and leave to the court to collect the matter of fact out of them; so that upon such verdicts we have had many tedious debates about what the fact was. Whereas, if that had been found positively as it should be, there would have been no need of a special verdict. But against this I could never prevail.

His greatest excellence was his diligence and industry; but for learning, I never thought he had any, nor could it be expected he should. He had served a clerkship; went a youth afterwards into the army in Ireland in the beginning of King William’s reign; after that betook himself to business, having got to be one of the attorneys of the Marshalsea court; but not being contented with his income from that, turned Projector and ruined himself, which brought him first into Maryland, and afterwards hither….

His reputation was such, that he was universally courted, and most people thought themselves obliged to him, if he would engage of their side upon any terms; and he really thought so himself. This gave him great opportunities of exacting excessive fees, which I have heard he always did where the value of the thing in question would allow it; and covered great blemishes in one part of his private life, besides many imperfections of his mind, which anybody might observe who knew any thing of him. He was of a haughty, insolent nature; passionate and peevish to the last degree. He had a stiffness in his carriage which was ridiculous and often offensive; and was an utter stranger to hospitality. He was sincere in his friendship where he professed any,—but not constant, apt to change upon small provocations, and to contract new friendship upon very slight grounds, in which he would be very warm and ready to do all good offices. One of his greatest defects was that he would always bring his opinion and friendship to agree. But what he wanted in virtue and learning to recommend him was abundantly supplied by fortunate accidents. He was fourteen years Speaker of the House of Burgesses, and eleven years Public Treasurer. But in those he acted with little applause and less abilities, though he was three times chosen, and once unanimously. His management of the Treasury contributed to his ruin, and brought him to the grave with much disgrace. I was always his friend, and had a great deal of reason to believe him mine. Yet it was impossible to be blind to some imperfections. He died little lamented in the 69th year of his age.

In a few days afterwards in London died William Hopkins, Esq., who had practised in this court about twelve years, and in that time, by hard study and observation, he made a surprising progress; became a very ingenious lawyer and a good pleader, though at his first coming he was raw and much despised. But he had a carelessness in his nature, which preserved him from being discouraged, and carried him on till he came to be admired. He had a good foundation in school learning, understood Latin and French well, had a strong memory, a good judgment, a quickness that was very visible, and a handsome person,—all mighty advantages. But his manner was awkward, his temper sour, if it was to be judged by the action of his muscles; and was given, was too much given, to laugh at his own discourses.

When he had brought himself into good business, he almost totally neglected it, which I believe was owing to a desire of dipping into all kinds of knowledge, wherein he had a great deal of vanity, and prevented his digesting what he had so well as he would have done otherwise. He had many good qualities in his practice; was moderate in his fees; ingenious and earnest; never disputed plain points, but was a candid, fair arguer. Yet he had a failing which brought him to a quarrel with me. It was an odd sort of pride, that would not suffer him to keep an equilibrium in his own conceits. He could not see himself admired, without thinking it an injury to him to stand upon a level with any other. And therefore, though I was always his friend, had done him many kindnesses, and he himself thought himself obliged to me, he came into so ill a temper, as not to allow me either learning or honesty; which broke our acquaintance, and after that I thought I discovered some seeds of malice in him. He died in the flower of his age, and may be justly reckoned a loss to this poor country, which is not like to abound (at present at least) in great geniuses.