I’m sure many country attorneys in the eighteenth century had trouble with their articled clerks, so I thought it might be useful to have a think about this in terms of the three-way relationship between attorney, clerk and the suffering parent who paid his premium. I’ve adopted a fictitious letter approach, this week Eagle to parent, next week parent to Eagle. Here goes:
Your son has no doubt told you that I have lectured him of late about his inattention to work. I must say I think he is a little more attentive since my reprimand, though rather more giddy and thoughtless than I should wish, for as Mr Gill’s clerkship will now soon be expired, he has but little time to prepare himself fully to succeed to the weight of the business, which I would have a pride in leaving to him on Mr Gill’s leaving me. If he will take the necessary trouble to qualify himself for the situation of Head Clerk (and which he can do by perseverance if he will), I need not tell you how much greater benefit it will be to him than if he were to neglect the time that is still left between now and Christmas next. But if he lets slip the present opportunity, I shall be obliged in justice to myself to consider him not as the Head Clerk and to give him mere drudgery accordingly.
I feel anxious that he should be a credit to me and he can’t be a credit to me without a reciprocal, if not superior advantage to himself. I am willing and solicitous to do everything in my power for his advantage but without a corresponding exertion and attention on his part my efforts will be fruitless. I am sorry he is so unfortunate as to have weak eyes, which he says disable him in a great measure from attending the office in an evening after candlelight. I don’t know, however, how far this weakness incapacitates him from (what might be of great use to his mind) reading at home with a shade or a lamp, for he can bear the glare of a drawing-room, and also to play at billiards in an evening.
I must leave it to you to say whether you approve of the latter – if you do, I can have no objections so long as he does not allow it to interfere in his thoughts or otherwise with business hours, but I thought it proper that you should know of it that you may give such directions (if any) as you think best.
I cannot conclude without adverting (and I do it most unwillingly) to the very great attachment which (it is in everybody’s mouth) subsists between your son and Miss Dolly Binns, for although her family is of undeniable respectability, I do think at his age such a circumstance must engross too much of this thoughts to render him at all attentive to the desk, and unless he banishes her from his mind for the present (which I fear he cannot do without avoiding her society at least in some degree) he cannot be expected to give his undivided mind to his studies, without which, the law being of so abstruse a nature, he cannot expect to attain to even a tolerable knowledge of the profession.
I have been thus particular and candid (though reluctantly) in consequence of your previous request and hope it will eventually be of use to your son, though at present he may not relish it.
Horseford, August 22, 1797
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