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The Humourous Story of Farmer Bumpkin's Lawsuit

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The beauty of a farm yard on a Sabbath day, and what a difference a single letter will sometimes make in the legal signification of a sentence.

It was during the Long Vacation—that period which is Paradise to the Rich and Purgatory to the Poor Lawyer—to say nothing of the client, who simply exists as a necessary evil in the economy of our enlightened system of Legal Procedure: it was during this delightful or dismal period that I returned one day to my old Farm-house in Devonshire, from a long and interesting ramble.  My excellent thirst and appetite having been temperately appeased, I seated myself cosily by the huge chimney, where the log was always burning; and, having lighted my pipe, surrendered my whole being to the luxurious enjoyment of so charming a situation.  I had scarcely finished smoking, when I fell into a sound and delicious sleep.  And behold! I dreamed a dream; and methought:

It was a beautiful Sabbath morning, in the early part of May, 18--, when two men might have been seen leaning over a pigstye.  The pigstye was situated in a farm-yard in the lovely village of Yokelton, in the county of Somerset.  Both men had evidently passed what is called the “prime of life,” as was manifest from their white hair, wrinkled brows, and stooping shoulders.  It was obvious that they were contemplating some object with great interest and thoughtful attention.

And I perceived that in quiet and respectful conversation with them was a fine, well-formed, well-educated sow of the Chichester breed.  It was plain from the number of her rings that she was a sow of great distinction, and, indeed, as I afterwards learned, was the most famous for miles around: her progeny (all of whom I suppose were honourables) were esteemed and sought by squire and farmer.  How that sow was bred up to become so polite a creature, was a mystery to all; because there were gentlemen’s homesteads all around, where no such thoroughbred could be found.  But I suppose it’s the same with pigs as it is with men: a well-bred gentleman may work in the fields for his living, and a cad may occupy the manor-house or the nobleman’s hall.

The Chichester sow looked up with an air of easy nonchalance into the faces of the two men who smoked their short pipes, and uttered ever and anon some short ejaculation, such as, “Hem!” “Ah!” “Zounds!” and so forth, while the sow exhibited a familiarity with her superiors only to be acquired by mixing in the best society.  There was a respectful deference which, while it betrayed no sign of servility, was in pleasing contrast with the boisterous and somewhat unbecoming levity of the other inhabitants of the stye.  These people were the last progeny of this illustrious Chichester, and numbered in all eleven—seven sons and four daughters—honourables all.  It was impossible not to admire the high spirit of this well-descended family.  That they had as yet received no education was due to the fact that their existence dated only from the 21st of January last.  Hence their somewhat erratic conduct, such as jumping, running, diving into the straw, boring their heads into one another’s sides, and other unceremonious proceedings in the presence of the two gentlemen whom it is necessary now more particularly to describe.

Mr. Thomas Bumpkin, the elder of the two, was a man of about seventy summers, as tall and stalwart a specimen of Anglo-Saxon peasantry as you could wish to behold.  And while I use the word “peasantry” let it be clearly understood that I do so in no sense as expressing Mr. Bumpkin’s present condition.  He had risen from the English peasantry, and was what is usually termed a “self-made man.”  He was born in a little hut consisting of “wattle and dab,” and as soon as he could make himself heard was sent into the fields to “mind the birds.”  Early in the November mornings, immediately after the winter sowings, he would be seen with his little bag of brown bread round his neck, trudging along with a merry whistle, as happy as if he had been going home to a bright fire and a plentiful breakfast of ham, eggs, and coffee.  By degrees he had raised himself to the position of ploughman, and never ploughman drove a straighter or leveller furrow.  He had won prizes at the annual ploughing and harrowing matches: and upon the strength of ten and sixpence a week had married Nancy Tugby, to whom he had been engaged off and on for eleven years.  Nancy was a frugal housewife, and worked hard, morning, noon and night.  She was quite a treasure to Bumpkin; and, what with taking in a little washing, and what with going out to do a little charing, and what with Tom’s skill in mending cart-harness (nearly all the cart-harness in the neighbourhood was in a perpetual state of “mendin’”), they had managed to put together in a year or two enough money to buy a sow.  This, Tom always said, was “his first start.”  And mighty proud they both were as they stood together of a Sunday morning looking at this wonderful treasure.  The sow soon had pigs, and the pigs got on and were sold, and then the money was expended in other things, which in their turn proved equally remunerative.  Then Tom got a piece of land, and next a pet ewe-lamb, and so on, until little by little wealth accumulated, and he rented at last, after a long course of laborious years, from the Squire, a small homestead called “Southwood Farm,” consisting of some fifty acres.  Let it not be supposed that the accession of an extra head of live stock was a small matter.  Everything is great or little by relation.  I believe the statesman himself knows no greater pleasure when he first obtains admission to the Cabinet, than Tom did when he took possession of his little farm.  And he certainly experienced as great a joy when he got a fresh pig as any young barrister does when he secures a new client....