No. XX—p. 94.

THIS is not only a familiar “Joe Miller” story, but it has been popular throughout Europe in various forms since the Middle Ages. Wright, in his elaborate introduction to the early English metrical version of the Seven Sages (vol. xvi of the Percy Society publications), states that he had met with it among the Latin tales of the 13th and 14th centuries. The first appearance of the story in English (taken perhaps from Valerius Maximus), so far as I have ascertained, is in the collection of jests entitled Tales and Quicke Answeres, very Mery and Pleasant to Rede, printed about 1535, where it is related as follows:

“There were two men on a time, the whiche lefte a great somme of money in kepyng with a maiden on this condition, that she shulde nat delyuer hit agayne, excepte they came bothe together for hit. Nat lang after, one of them cam to hir morn-yngly arayde, and sayde that his felowe was deed, and so required the money, and she delyuered hit to hym. Shortly after came the tother man, and required to have the moneye that was lefte with hir in kepying. The maiden was than so sorow-full, both for lacke of the money, and for one to defende hir cause, that she thought to hange hirself. But Demosthenes, that excellent oratour, spake for hir and sayd: Sir, this mayden is redy to quite her fidelite, and to deliuer agayne the money that was lefte with hir in kepyng, so that thou wilt bringe thy felowe with the to receyue it. But that he could nat do.”

The story reappears in another jest-book, Jacke of Dovers Quest of Inquirie, or his Privy Search for the Veriest Foole in England, 1604, under the title of “The Fool of Westchester,” where two “cony-catchers,” or sharpers, deposit a sum of money with “a widow woman,” one of whom obtains the deposit, and decamps. When the other fellow brings the case to trial before the judges in London, the widow—without the help of “Demosthenes”—steps briskly to the bar, and offers to restore the money on the original condition, that both came together to claim it.—It is reproduced, with some variations, in The Witty and Entertaining Exploits of George Buchanan, who was commonly called the King's Fool, where three pedlars leave a pack with a widow, who kept an inn on the highway-side, charging her strictly, before witnesses, to deliver it to none of them unless they all came together. Two of the pedlars return, after a time, and, pretending their partner had gone to a certain fair, obtain the pack. When the third comes and learns how he had been cheated, he cites the poor woman before the judges, and “George” dons a lawyer's gown, and pleads her cause suc­cessfully.—Strange to say, Lloyd, in his State Worthies, has actually related the story as an incident in the early legal career of William Noy, attorney-general (1577-1634)—the case of the Three Graziers and the Alewife, in which judgment was about to be given against the poor woman, when young Noy, having obtained a fee from her in order that he should be able to plead in her behalf, starts up and informs the court that his client is prepared to pay the money when all three are present to receive it. This is given, on Lloyd's weak authority, in Chalmers' Biographical Dictionary, vol. xxiii, pp. 267, 268, although the same legal feat had been previously credited in the same work to Thomas Egerton, Lord Chancellor (1540-1617). We have seen that the “case” was a popular jest in England before either Noy or Egerton was born.—A French variant is found in the Nouveaux Contes à rire, 1737, under the title of “Jugement subtil du duc d'Ossone contre deux Marchands;” and Rogers, in the notes to his poem of “Italy,” gives an Italian version, in which a young lawyer, the lover of the old lady's daughter, plays the part of the successful advocate.