The business of the world is carried on by unreal things

A 17th century law student had to make a visit to Bristol and booked in with the landlady at a small inn. He had to stay rather longer than expected and ran out of money. The outstanding bill was five pounds, then a substantial sum. He took a piece of parchment and wrote in Latin a credit note for the sum; wearing his law robes he sealed this impressively and passed it to her saying that it was worth five pounds. He told her that he would be coming again to Bristol and would stay again at her inn. His intention was to retrieve the note then and give her actual money.

After he had gone, it occurred to her that she could settle the cobbler’s bill, and buy some new shoes into the bargain, for five pounds. So she took the parchment sheet and showed it to the cobbler explaining that the lawyer had told her it was worth five pounds. He was equally impressed by the incomprehensible Latin and the seal and in turn thought that he would use this little windfall to settle his own account with a carpenter.

Bills were then generally paid by instalments and the carpenter now felt flush with money. So he squared his own account with the neighbouring farmer butcher and gave some substantial orders. The farmer now had the parchment but as it happened he did not need to use it for the moment.

When the law student now a full blown lawyer came again to Bristol the following year he enquired of the landlady about the credit note. He was alarmed to hear that it had been taken as actual currency and tactfully followed its fortunes till he came to the farmer. He felt embarrassed, he could hardly own up to a confidence trick. In conversation he asked the farmer whether the latter had any legal problems. “Yes, ” he was told, “a little spring has appeared half way up the hill above my farm. I am wondering whether I can pipe it onto my land or whether it’s some how public property.”

The lawyer said he would search in the archives and next day told the farmer: “I have discovered that your farm happens to be held under an ancient system of tenure called Frankalmoign which entitles you to certain water rights also. So you can lawfully pipe that spring onto your land.”

The farmer was overwhelmed with gratitude and said “What will be you lawyers fee, Sir?”

“Why, just five pounds will do” said the lawyer happily and took his own promissory note for five pounds which the farmer gladly offered him.

After they had parted the happy farmer turned back for a last wave, and was amazed to see the lawyer tearing the parchment up.

© Trevor Leggett

The ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali say that the business of the world is carried on by things which are unreal but which have a prestige given to them by ignorance so that they appear to be real.

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