Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

James Hilary Mulligan


James Hillary Mulligan

Ben. LaBree, Notable Men of Kentucky at the Beginning of the 20th Century 64 (Louisville: Geo. G. Fetter Printing Co., 1901-1902)

James Hilary Mulligan was a native of Lexington, Kentucky, and the son of a Lexington businessman. He was born in Lexington, Kentucky on November 21, 1844. He graduated from St. Mary's College (Montreal, Quebec) in 1864 and received his law degree from Kentucky University (now Transylvania University) in 1869. He served at various times as an editor, lawyer, local judge, state representative and state senator, and in 1894 was appointed by President Cleveland, Consul-General to Samoa, a post he held for two years. Mulligan was a celebrated local orator and wrote poetry throughout his life. Maxwell Place, his home, is now the official residence of the president of the University of Kentucky.

[Source: University of Kentucky; William S. Ward, A Literary History of Kentucky 92-93 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988); John Wilson Townsend, 1 Kentucky in American Letters 1784-1912 348-349 (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1913)(2 vols.); John Wilson Townsend, "In Kentucky" and Its Author, "Jim" Mulligan (Lexington, Kentucky: John Bradford Club, 1935)] [An alternative representation of the Mulligan photograph]

Judge Mulligan recited the following autobiographical history to John Wilson Townsend on a "mid-winter evening of 1909 in his library . . . .":

My education—such as I got, or would take—was about as eclectic as have been my experiences since. Beginning with the dame-school of good old Mrs. Lord, and thence in various schools—parish, in part—including some three years under the Rev. James Gunn, I was for five years under the noted educator, Abram S. Drake—the last three in Transylvania High School, which had succeeded Transylvania University on the same foundation, when it became disrupted. After this I was at St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, for almost a year, when the college buildings were taken possession of by the government for hospital purposes. I then went to St. Mary's (Jesuit) College, Montreal, for two years, transferring afterwards, for one year, to the Mother house of the Canadian branch in France, at Vannes in Brittany, then returning to Montreal for an additional year, leaving at a time when it would have required two years more to complete the course, a something I was not encouraged to do, partly for the reason that St. Mary's was without authority to grant diplomas, by reason of the monopolies held by Lavall University, Quebec, and McGill University, Montreal.

Returning to Lexington, I entered the law office of General John B. Huston and W.S. Downey, partners as Huston and Downey. I was admitted to the bar in 1867 and graduated from the law department of Kentucky University in 1869. I soon entered the firm of Huston, Downey & Mulligan, which, after the death of Major Downey, was continued as Huston & Mulligan until the death of General Huston in 1881, when the firm of Mulligan & Beauchamp, succeeded it.

I represented the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Gazette, Louisville Democrat, and some Eastern papers at Frankfort for one legislative session, 1867-8, and was associated with Col. W.C. P. Breckinridge as city editor of the Lexington Observer and Reporter, when he was editor of that paper. Throughout my journalistic career I continued the practice of law.

* * * *

I was judge of the Recorder's Court of Lexington from 1870 to 1876, and though I have held some other offices, the first title has stuck to me. I was the first judge of the court named, which had a limited civil jurisdiction and a concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Court within the city, in penal cases, short of felonies with grand jury attachments and the like."

* * * *

I served four consecutive terms in the lower house of the Kentucky Legislature, entering in the session of 1881-2, and then one term in the Senate, representing Fayette county—my term in the upper body included the continuous session of more than one year, known as the "long parliament," immediately following the adoption of the new State constitution.

* * * *

I was appointed by President Cleveland as Consul-General to Samoa in June, 1894, resigning January 1, 1896. Immediately thereafter I was appointed Consul-General to Capetown, Africa, but declined the post; I was thereupon appointed a special agent of the treasury department, in a legal capacity, assisting in the preparation of cases by the government against importers in the collection of duties, where such questions were carried by appeal from the Board of General Appraisers to the Courts.

* * * *

After his last Emmett-Powers speech in Lexington, in October, 1903, Judge Mulligan lived the simple life. At his beautiful home, Maxwell Place, surrounded by his family, his friends, his books, he passed his last days in peace and happiness. Occasionally he wrote a poem, conducted a law case, or made an after-dinner speech—never a political one—with just enough brilliancy to demonstrate to his fellow citizens that his natural force had not abated, that he was still playing a prominent part in the great game of life. No man was more interested in the world's work than he, yet he was unwilling that other men might be artificers of that work and he the onlooker only. ["In Kentucky" and Its Author, "Jim" Mulligan, at 19-22, 31]

James Hilary Mulligan

James Hilary Mulligan
William Elsey Connelley & E.M. Coulter, History of Kentucky 268-270
(Chicago: American Historical Society, 1922)(vol. 4)


In Kentucky

"In Kentucky"
Josiah Henry Combs (ed.), All That's Kentucky 14 (Louisville:
John P. Morton & Company, 1915) [online text]

"Back to Sweet Clark County"
Josiah Henry Combs (ed.), All That's Kentucky 143 (Louisville:
John P. Morton & Company, 1915) [online text]

"In Kentucky" was written "in the library of Maxwell Place, on his [Judge Mulligan's] well-remembered yellow scratch paper, in black pencil, and . . . the first drafts, born in agony, were crumpled into the wastebasket, as he transferred the lilting lines, plumping down hard on the keys with one finger, to his battered antediluvian typewriter. That's the where of "In Kentucky"; 1902 is the when of it; and the Kentucky Legislature's unavoidable Lexington call is the why of it. Neither romancer nor iconoclast, born or unborn, will ever be able to muddy the waters of the poem's clear origin." [John Wilson Townsend, "In Kentucky" and Its Author, "Jim" Mulligan 3 (Lexington, Kentucky: John Bradford Club, 1935)(31 pgs.)]

Townsend notes that "In Kentucky" is an "occasional poem" which was "[b]anqet-born, newspaper-heralded" and became "the premier post-card poem of the century" with more than a million cards sold since the poem's appearance. [Id. at 3-4]

Townsend presents "Over the Hill to Hustonville" as Judge Mulligan's first widely known poem:

Over the Hill to Hustonville

Over the hill to Hustonville,
   Past mead and vale and waving grain,
With fleecy clouds and glad sunshine
   And the balm of the coming rain;
On where hidden beneath the hill,
   In the widening vale below—
Chime and smithy and distant herd
   Sing a song of the long ago.

Over the hill to Hustonville
   Where silent fields are sad and brown
And the crow's lone call is blended
   With the anvil-beat of the town;
Where sweet the hamlet life flows on,
   And the doors, ever open wide,
Welcome the worn and wandering
   To the ingle and cheer inside.

Over the hill to Hustonville
   I knew and loved as a child,
A scene that yet lights up to me
   With a radiant glow and mild;
With drowsy lane and quiet street,
   The gables quaint and the houses gray,
Ancient inn with battered sign,
   And an air of the far-away.

Over the hill to Hustonville
   Where men are still sturdy and strong
As were their sires in days long past—
   As true as their flint-locks long;
And maids are shy and soft of speech—
   As the wild rose lithesome and true—
Eyes alight as the coming dawn—
   Softly blue, as their skies are blue.

Some—sometimes—in the bye-and-bye,
With all my life-won riches rare—
Dead hopes and faded memories—
A silken floss of baby hair—
Fast-locked close within my heart—
Worn of strife and the empty quest—
I'll o'er the hill to Hustonville.
To dream ever—and rest—and rest.

[Townsend, id. at 13-14]

Mulligan's daughter, Kathleen Mulligan was also a lawyer, but so far as we know, not a poet. She was born in Lexington, Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky. She was reputedly the first woman to sit as a judge in Kentucky upon her appointment as a Lexington municipal judge in 1928. She wasl also the first woman vice president of the Kentucky Bar Association. She authored a number of legal treatises. [Source: Mary Young Southard (ed.), Who's Who in Kentucky: A Biographical Assembly of Notable Kentuckians 295 (Louisville: The Standard Printing Co., 1936)]

In Kentucky

The moonlight falls the softest
    In Kentucky;
The summer's days come oftest
    In Kentucky;
Friendship is the strongest,
Love's fires glow the longest;
Yet, a wrong is always wrongest
    In Kentucky.

Life's burdens bear the lightest
    In Kentucky;
The home fires burn the brightest
    In Kentucky;
While players are the keenest,
Cards come out the meanest,
The pocket empties cleanest
    In Kentucky.

The sunshine's ever brightest
    In Kentucky;
The breezes whisper lightest
    In Kentucky;
Plain girls are the fewest,
Their little hearts are truest
Maidens' eyes the bluest,
    In Kentucky.

Orators are the grandest
    In Kentucky;
Officials are the blandest
    In Kentucky;
Boys are all the fliest,
Danger ever nighest,
Taxes are the highest
    In Kentucky.

The bluegrass waves the bluest
    In Kentucky;
Yet bluebloods are the fewest (?)
    In Kentucky;
Moonshine is the clearest,
By no means the dearest,
And, yet, it acts the queerest
    In Kentucky.

The dove's notes are the saddest
    In Kentucky;
The streams dance on the gladdest
    In Kentucky;
Hip pockets are the thickest,
Pistol hands the slickest,
The cylinder turns quickest
    In Kentucky.

The song birds are the sweetest
    In Kentucky;
The thoroughbreds are fleetest
    In Kentucky;
Mountains tower proudest,
Thunder peals the loudest,
The landscape is the grandest —
And politics — the damnedest
    In Kentucky.

Note: This version of Mulligan's "In Kentucky" appears in J.T.C. Noe (ed.), A Brief Anthology of Kentucky Poetry 157-168 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Department of Extension, 1936). Noe's version differs in several significant ways from the version found on University of Kentucky website. Noe's version has only two minor differences than the version which appears in James Lane Allen, Kentucky in American Letters 1784-1912 (Vol. 1)(1913), in Lane's biographical entry on Mulligan (pp. 348-352) where he attributes his version of "In Kentucky" to The Lexington Herald, where it was published on February 12, 1902. In the Lane (Lexington Herald) version, the line which reads "Love's fires glow the longest" is rendered as "Love's light glows the longest". And the line which reads "Yet, a wrong is always wrongest"; drops the "a" to read—"Yet, wrong is always wrongest."

[See also, "Kentucky," in Bennett H. Young (ed.), Kentucky Eloquence. Past and Present. Library of Orations, After-Dinner Speeches, Popular and Classic Lectures Addresses and Poetry 462-463 (Louisville, Kentucky: Ben LaBree, 1907) [online text]; "Kentucky," in Josiah Henry Combs (ed.), All That's Kentucky 13-15 (Louisville, Kentucky: John P. Morton & Company, 1915)] [online text]