I have always had an affection for Westminster Hall. My earliest recollections are bound up with|
it, and I cannot bring my memory to tell me of a time when it was not to me an object of reverence
I think of it as an old friend, and love it so much that I glory in the knowledge that it is almost
certain to survive me. The carved angels who adorn the supports to the roof are all my intimates.
They have been my participes curarum "even from boyish days." They knew when I was in
trouble with my "construe," entangled in Greek roots, or posed in Euclid. They smiled on me
when my spirit failed me because of bullies. They were my confidents when I, aged 13, was so
deeply enamoured of the pretty daughter, aged 25, of the porter of our school. I used to discuss
to them, with a confidence unbounded, the propriety of declaring my affection, and the probabilities
of my lady's acceptance of me. They never told me the plain rude things I have been told and have
myself told since. My weekly shilling, with its threepence mortgage for eaten tarts, was not pointed
at us as insufficient for the maintenance of us both. They knew—and why therefore tell them?—
that Bessie —— had nothing to bring, save a good appetite, towards our mutual support. I told
them I should work all day for her: I should write books, invent engines, paint pictures, make great
discoveries in chemistry, and fifty other things which were quite easy to be done. There would be
no doubt about a living. They never sneered nor said unkind things, but always smiled and
beamed with kindness as I poured forth to them the whole secrets of my heart. This begat a close
friendship which has not waned by increasing. I still hold them as fast friends. When I became old
enough to understand what they said, they told me long stories of the things they had seen in their
time. They interested me with accounts of trials at which they had been witnesses, and filled me
with admiration by their descriptions of my historical favourites.
They bore testimony to the correctness of Vandyke's portrait of the unfortunate Earl of Strafford,
and brought the favour of the man so vividly to my mind, that I fancied I could see the clear-cut face
and dark complexion of him, and hear his ringing, bell-like voice appealing to the peers for mercy
on his fault, on account of the innocent "pledges which a saint, now in heaven, had left him."
They seemed not to have known of the earl's execution; for they said the trial broke down, and they
concluded the prisoner was acquitted. When I told them of the Bill of Attainder, and of the king's
consent to his friend's death, they wept whole heaps of dust and cobweb, and gave solemn
ratification to Strafford's endorsement of the Psalmist's warning about putting one's trust in princes
This did not prevent them from speaking sorrowfully about the trial of the king, and of his
They had seen the man who is portrayed in undying colours, in the noble picture now in Middle
Temple Hall, enter the place as a prisoner; and they had listened throughout the trial with mingled
awe and indignation, almost laughing outright, however, when they heard Lady Fairfax say aloud,
in answer to the call for her husband, that he knew better than to be present, since his wife was.
They heard the whole thing, including the sentence; and somehow or other they were already
acquainted with the fact of the execution.
Then they had stories to tell of the Seven Bishops, and Warren Hastings; they had overheard
Burke's bon mot [witty saying] about "the (vo)luminous pages of Gibbon." They had seen and
heard much more than I can remember or write down; and they pleased me immensely by the
ready confidence they gave me. We passed many happy hours together, and then came an
interval of separation, during which I listened to the stories of other roof-supporting cherubim, and
gathered scraps of information from many an ancient place. Time, however, brought me back
again to my old friends, if it did not to my first love. The latter made an excellent wife to the baker
who was patronized by the school; but the former remained as before, unchanged—unless,
perhaps, a trifle dirtier. They had often inquired of me what went on inside those doors which
faced one half of them on the floor beneath; and when I came back again after the separation
before named, it became my business to instruct myself so that I might answer their questions.
On the right of the Great Hall, as you enter it, is a flight of stone steps, on the top of which a
vestibule—guarded by a she Cerberus [three-headed dog], who has acquired a prescriptive right
to war upon the digestion of her Majesty's lieges, by means of strangely-compounded edibles
which she sells to them—leads to the two courts where the judges of the Queen's Bench dispense
justice. More of both of them presently. Running between the two, or rather at the back of one and
by the side of the other, is a darksome passage, dimly lighted, conducting, as a stranger might
legitimately think, to the dungeons and torture chambers whither are consigned the delinquents
condemned by the Court to purge their offences, but leading, in fact, to chambers destined to far
other uses. The genial light of day is excluded from this passage, and the insufficient lamps which
are supposed to illumine it, serve but to cast a grim shade upon the asembled clerks and clients
who haunt the hard seats along its sides as though they found in them a nature akin to their own.
Out of it a side door opens into the great Court of Queen's Bench; and through the door come
and go counsellors and senators, gowns, silk, and stuff—the elite of the law, with the rank and
file thereof. There is not any inscription over the door, as there is over the door in another place,
bidding those who enter leave hope behind them;—yet there is something in the ordinary,
unprofessional creature's breast which makes him read in the faces of those he finds in this grim
abode, a certain indication that hope has small place there. But the passage, whither does it
lead? To subterranean regions certainly—perhaps to the very cellar in which Guido Fawkes laid
the train which was to have carried King James and his Parliament, express, to heaven or to hell.
But a visit to the first chamber at the end of the stone staircase, on which wigged and robed men
ascend and descend, as unlike as possible to the angels whom the Patriarch Jacob saw from his
stony pillow [Genesis 28:11-12], reveals no more formidable a person than Mr. ——, the
robing-master, and no more suspicious-looking a being than the ancient man who is his servitor.
The room, however, in which they live, and move, and get their fees, is more open to cavil than are
its tenants. I incline to the opinion that it is Guy's original cellar; and so firmly, that I decline
to listen to any statement which shall try to convince me to the contrary, by showing that it is
many yards away from where the old Parliament House stood. Small, gloomy, with no daylight,
really underground, and damp and misty as cellars are wont—the eyes require time to get
accustomed to the gloom which the garish gaslights create but are powerless to dispel. Rows of
hooks round a stout framework on one side of the room suggest the neighbourhood of
Sachenteges, racks, bilboes [iron bar with sliding shackles for prisoner], and other "hateful and
grim things" to which they must be appurtenant; the framework itself, with many mysterious joints
and holes in it, looks in the semi-darkness not unlike some foul instrument of torture; and at first
it is difficult to divest one's self of the notion that he has got into a veritable chamber of horrors,
of which the prepossessing-looking Mr. —— is perhaps the attendant surgeon, and of which his
curiously-featured assistant is the sworn tormentor. Instinctively one looks about for barrels of
gunpowder, the coals which conceal them, and a figure like that the boys drag about on the 5th
of November; and I am far from being convinced they are not actually there, though I have not
been able to discover them. That small mirror in the wall, surely it must be used for ascertaining
whether breath is left in a tortured victim; the wavy character of its surface precludes the idea of
its being employed as a means to personal adornment, and the former use would be in keeping
with the character of the room. Those ominous-looking boxes of wood and tin, in shape not unlike
the human head, and labelled with names—what is their office? Is this the hangman's morgue,
and is he allowed to keep the heads of decapitated felons to scare the living from crime, or to
allow of phrenologists studying their science on the original busts? Or is this a sort of
parliamentary terror akin to that which Domitian contrived for the Roman senators when he
showed them into a dimly-lighted funereal chamber, wherein they found their coffins, "ready for
immediate use,"—as the advertisements have it—and inscribed with their own names? Are
wordy and hated members brought into this hall of English Vehmgericht and frightened into
agreements to vote differently, and to shorten their speeches, by the sight of their own head
cases, labelled with their names—and of Greenacreish sort of bags yawning to receive their
skulless trunks? I scrutinize the names on the cases, sniffing the while—for I am not without a
presentiment that the Calcraft museum theory is the right one,—and I look curiously for the
names of certain hon. members who would be sure to be represented if the second supposition
were correct. My eyes do not deceive me when I actually read the names of some of them. I saw
them alive and well but a few days since;—have all their glories shrunk to this little space, so
soon? "Alas, poor ——!" I exclaim, and turn away from the cases, convinced that the British
public cannot be aware of the secrets of these secret places, and resolved that I will lose no
time in making it acquainted with the discoveries I have made. Even judges under Charles I
refused to say that Felton might lawfully be tortured; and shall my Lord Westbury be suffered to
tweak the noses of his opponents with red-hot pincers, like another Dunstan, and to consign
their "proud tops" to these infernal preserved meat canisters? No. The smart young men
connected with an "Independent Press" shall hear of it; and the decree of the second Lateran
Council of Pompeii shall assuredly be quoted against it.
I find I have been wrong. Though the question as to the powder and coal and Guy Fawkes
remains an open one, there is, I fear, no ground for the anxiety which I had intended to exhibit
through the medium of the press. Further inquiries have satisfied me that Mr. —— is not the
chirurgeon I had imagined him; though it required the exhibition on his part of his power as a
"leech," to bleed me to the extent of £1 5s. before I could be convinced. His assistant---a silent
and sad man—evidently affected by long acquaintance with the place—is no sworn tormentor.
Mr. —— is "master of the robes," committed to his care; and the silent man helps him to put
them on the backs of counsellors who patronize him. The tin canisters, in shape not unlike the
human head, are wig-boxes, labelled with the names of those who own them; the butcher-like
hooks, of which mention was made, support the gowns which are fellows with the wigs; and the
Greenacreish bags are the vehicles in which the gowns travel when going from one court to
another. The mirror is really meant to help in adorning the person, and the framework alluded to
is intended to hold the property of those who frequent the room. In point of fact, this is no other
than a robing-room. The plain deal [fir or pine wood] table is not used for dissecting purposes,
but as a place for hats. This knowledge came only with the lapse of time. The first occasion on
which I entered the room, I almost held my breath till I had got out of it again, and felt, as I
ascended the stone steps to the Court above, something of the feeling which Dante had, when he
left the last circle of the Inferno, and came where he could see the stars again.
On this same first occasion I distinctly remember how shame and confusion were made to cover
my face in this passage, of which I spoke just now, though the "glooming," or "gloaming," which
prevailed within it hid the fact from the sight of all beholders. I had noticed two men whispering
together, looking at me the while, as if they were speaking of me, and a cold shudder ran
through me as the thought flashed across my mind that they might be there in the interests of
Messrs. C—— and D——, whose forbearance, in respect of sundry "small claims," had been
taxed somewhat fully; and the horrible idea occurred to me, that these men had been sent to
beard [defy] me in the very precincts of the Court, in the hope of driving me to that which was next
to impossible—a settlement. I was questioning to myself how far the privilege of counsel attending
the Courts of Justice would cover me, and was doubting anxiously whether that privilege was
enjoyed only by those who actually had business to transact, or whether it extended over the
whole class generally. I was doubting how far it would be wise to allow of this plea, which
savoured of adding insult to injury, being debated, and then roused myself at the thought, what
an occasion this would be for showing the world the astonishing powers of speech and
reasoning which I took it for granted reposed within me, and almost hoped myself right in the
surmise which conscience, rather than judgment, had thrown out as to the character of the men,
when one of them advanced towards me, holding a brief [solicitor's summary for guidance of
barrister] in his hand, and inquired in a tone which relieved me greatly, notwithstanding my
recent wishes for a contest, whether I were not Mr. Jones.
I readily acknowledged that ancient name to be mine [so the author's name is Mr. Jones], and
then bubbled up in my mind the thought that my good genius had been playing me a good turn,
and had sent this man to give me my first Court brief. How kind of D——, my attorney friend,
who had promised me so often, while yet I was but a student, how great things he would do for
me. There could be no doubt I had done D—— much wrong when I had mistrusted the lavish
promises he showered upon me. Yes; my name was Jones!
"Consultation at nine to-morrow morning, sir, in the robing-room. Mr. D—— will feel much
obliged if you will attend particularly to this case, as Mr. —— (the leader and Q. C. [Queen's
Counsel]) will be very much engaged, and may not read his brief."
Mr. D——! I did not know him. Had never heard his name before. My friend's London agent,
"Very well," I answered, looking at the brief, whereon were inscribed those cabalistic signs
which so much gladden the hearts of all counsel, whether leader or junior, and which informed
all whom it might concern that Mr. Jones was concerned for the plaintiff, in an action against the
Great Western Railway, and that Mr. Jones was to have ten guineas [ten pounds and ten
shillings] for his advocacy therein.
Holding the brief in my hand as though it were a marshal's baton, I entered the Court of Queen's
Bench with the idea of making an impression upon my brethren who should see me enter there,
though for the first time, with a brief in my hand. Upon L—— and B—— especially I desired to
let fall the full weight of my importance, because they had so many times hinted at the absurdity
of my ever expecting to hold a brief, unless, as they were pleased to add, it might be one in my
own behalf as defendent in an action upon sundry accounts delivered. I walked in and
sideway'd to a place in the middle of the second row, where I saw L—— sitting behind his
morning paper, his wig pushed back and disclosing a quantity of his brown curly hair, his gown
just clinging to his shoulders, and a look of nothing particular to do showing itself upon his face.
"Hullo! Jones, got a brief! Your own, old chap? Deuced glad of it; special jury of course. Want
reporting?" for D—— is reporter-in-chief of cases tried before her Majesty's judges at
Westminster and Guildhall, to the "Law Reformer's Gazette."
"Good firm, that!" said L——, looking at the name of my clients. "How did you get taken in tow?
I thought your namesake on the Southern Circuit did their junior work. Want new blood, I
suppose; but like to keep the old name."
A cold shudder passed through me as L—— uttered these words, for they conveyed to my mind
the idea of there having possibly been a mistake. I strove to cast it off, but could not; the
suspicion was enough to unsteady my eyesight as I endeavored to run cursorily through the brief.
The interesting nature of the action, and the many points of argument which it opened up,
gradually absorbed me so much, that I did not notice the entrance of the attorney's clerk who had
given me the brief, and who was now signalling to me by many signs and gestures.
"There's another brief for you, Jones," said L——, nudging me so as to draw my attention to the
man, who, unable to reach me, evidently desired to have speech with me, and who seemed to
be in a very excited state of mind.
Sidling out as I had come in, earning the curses which all win who tread on tender feet, I arrived
at the spot where the man stood, and then—the horrid truth which L——'s words had caused me
to suspect, dawned in its fulness upon my mind, and desolation swept across me.
The man had made a mistake. He had confounded my name—confound him!—with that of my
learned friend of the same name on the Southern Circuit, the very man of whom L—— had
spoken. Not knowing the gentleman he was told to instruct, he had asked a colleague if each
fresh comer from the robing hall bore the style, in which I rejoice, and unluckily for me it
happened that I came up before my namesake, and the colleague who made it his business to
acquaint himself with the name and abode of each member of the bar, old or young, had told the
wretch that my name was Jones. Acting upon this meagre information, Messrs. D——'s clerk
put the brief into my hands—and now, the real Simon Pure having been discovered, it
behoved me to surrender my supposed gain—all the apologies of my misleader, humble though
they were even to abjectness, not serving to compensate me for the loss of ten guineas, the
dignity of the thing, and the prospect which had been before me of seeing my name in the
newspapers in connection with one of the most important cases that was tried that term. After
such an event I could not go back to the Queen's Bench, but turned a sadder and a poorer man
into the adjoining Court of Exchequer.
An old judge—I might say a very old judge—was sitting on the bench, looking like the
impersonation of law, and of all that was dignified and venerable in man. He was one who had
been easily chief as a student at college, and no less easily chief as a junior counsel at the bar.
His name was associated with many a famous case, of which the memory even of the bills of
costs had perished; he had survived the clients of his early days, and, while yet a young man,
had "gone lightly o'er low steps" in the road to advancement; now his name was considered to
be a synonym for justice, and those who sometimes questioned the manner in which he laid
down the law, did not venture to question his law itself; and they readily pardoned the privileges
which old age assumed, for sake of the time when these were not needed; and because of the
comprehensive grasp of the old man's mind, which enabled him to apprehend a thing in its
entirety, without bestowing upon it his whole attention.
A special jury case was on, and the jurymen's names were being called over by the associate of
the court. The name of a most intimate friend, from whom I had parted only that morning, was
called out from the box, and though surprised, for he had not told me of his having been
summoned, I quite expected to see him step forward and answer. Imagine my dismay when a
shabbily-dressed man who had been standing near the "well" of the Court, made the
melancholy announcement that my friend had been dead three months. A momentary regret
passed through my midriff as I thought of R——'s amiable wife and three young children; but it
was momentary only, for I knew quite well that R—— was alive this very morning, and had left
me not two hours ago for his office in Jute Street. There was some mistake, but in the interests
of R——, who I knew hated jury summons, I did not think it incumbant on me to right it. Several
names were called to which no answers were given, and there seemed to be but a poor chance
of making up the jury. Nine were in the box—three more were wanted, and two of those who
remained to be called over, the shabbily-dressed man announced the same doleful tidings that
he had announced about my friend. Who was this that took such an interest in special jurors that
he knew to a nicety the dates of their decease, and came there to volunteer the information
which he had himself acquired? For he spoke evidently as amicus curiae [friend of the court]—he
was not an official person, yet because perhaps that his statements were made voluntarily, no
one questioned the correctness of his speech. The judge made some remarks about the
carelessness of the sheriffs in keeping dead men's names upon the panel, the counsel for the
plaintiff prayed a "tales," and the jury was completed by common jurors. The case went on, but
the shabby man interested me. He was evidently a frequenter of the Courts, and appeared to
be known to the ushers and people in attendance; and I thought he was perhaps some retired
attorney or barrister who made it his hobby to get up the histories of jurors, and was believed
therefore, as a matter of course. It was not until afterwards I learned from R——, to whom I
announced his own death, that he paid this man so much a year to kill him when inconvenient
summonses came, on which occasions he sent them to the shabbily-dressed man, who instantly
committed such homicide as would be sufficient to excuse the victim from attendance at
The case was one for a special jury—a compensation case for damages done through
negligence of a servant—and a great fight for the verdict was expected. The counsel engaged
for the defence were an eminent Queen's Counsel and a junior—aetatis suae 45 [aged 45]—
who was reckoned one of the best of stuff gownsmen. Their battery was a strong one, and they
wore upon their faces an expression of quiet satisfaction which betokened the comfortable
assurance they felt of being able to silence whatever artillery might be brought against them.
"Who are for the plaintiffs?" I inquired of the man next me.
"Serjeant [member of highest class (abolished 1880) of barristers] —— and P——, a new
junior, I believe."
"P—— of the Home Circuit?"
"He'll have hard work against little S——," I remarked, "unless the serjeant helps him more than
he is wont to do. Is the serjeant here?"
"I have not seen him," answered my friend, "and some one said just now he would not come."
"Poor fellow!" I exclaimed, for I knew P—— to be the very quintessense of nervousness. "Surely
he is given over to the hands of the Philistines:" and so indeed it seemed. P——'s leader was
not in Court, P—— could not learn anything about him, and it seemed to be pretty certain that if
the case went on, P—— would have to conduct it himself.
Poor P——! there he sat, looking unusually pale, and suffering evidently from the suppressed
excitement which was born of the strange position in which he found himself. He sat there in his
place behind the leader's bench, with books and papers before him, in formidable array: his
brief, which he bound and loosed from its tape bonds at least ten times in as many minutes, was
in his left hand, and the fingers of his right hand unconsciously played the devil's tattoo [drum
beat] with a quill pen on the red baize desk: his eyes looked wistfully at the side door, as he
watched for the coming of him who came not. Little S——, his opponent, whispered words of
soothing into his leader's ear. The pair smiled benignly on each other, and looked across at
my poor nervous friend, who was unknown to them as well as to fame, with a glance in which
pity mingled with some professional scorn.
The jury were sworn, and had settled themselves to their duty with that expression of resigned
unwillingness on their faces which jurymen of all sorts are wont to wear. The counsel for the
defence untied their briefs and opened them out leisurely on the slope. The Court was all
attention, reposing its chin on its hands; there remained nothing to be done but to open the
case for the plaintiff.
I looked across at P——, no longer watching the side door, but gazing curiously at the judge,
who stared down at him. The nervous, restless look was intensified to the utmost, but to my
surprise and relief there was no appearance of confusion. I knew P—— to have a strong will
and a stronger sense of duty, and rejoiced as I saw, or fancied I saw, these two coming to his
assistance against his own nervous system and the two skilled verdict-getters who now
A dead silence for about a minute was broken by the judge uttering with some significance, as
he still looked hard at P——, the monosyllables, "Well, sir!"
P—— rose and said in a voice tremulous as that of him who hears his own notes alone, for the
first time in a public place—
"I hope your lordship will forgive me for keeping the Court waiting. My leader is absent in the
other Court, and will be here directly. I have sent for him."
"Oh, sir," said the judge—grinning a grim grin as he said it—"your leader intends to give you
an opportunity of distinguishing yourself. You'd better begin."
The jury laughed, the "learned friends" on the other side laughed, and all the "learned men" in
Court chuckled at the facetious judge, who was unable to resist the temptation of saying a
smart thing even to a man so evidently nervous as poor P——. I trembled for P——, but he was
no way dismayed. On the contrary, the judge's joke stood him in excellent stead; it lent him that
slight touch of indignation, gave him that sufficient wounding of his amour propre [self-esteem]
which enabled him to send his adversaries to the right about, and not only so, but to his own
and his friend's surprise, to take part in the amusement of which he himself was the occasion.
"Your lordship is aware that there are two ways of distinguishing one's self," said P——, anxious
now to gain time, and glad to use the means the Court had unexpectedly provided for him. "And
I cannot but feel that I shall be as distinguished as poor Denmark beside the allies, if I am to be
deprived of the assistance of my learned leader."
"My brother will no doubt be here," said the leader of the other side, "meantime you can go on."
And then followed some "chaff," as mild as that which had gone before, about the absent
"brother" being the learned counsel's big brother (Serjeant —— was a very little one), and the
probable consequences to him of pushing on the case in the absence of the same, a disclaimer
on the part of the "other side" against being taken for the representatives of those
"distinguished foreigners," the allies against Denmark, cum multis aliis [with many others], which
wasted a good ten minutes, allowing Serjeant —— time to come up, and would have lasted ten
minutes more had not Mr. Baron —— [the judge] somewhat testily remarked that Mr. P——
could at all events open the pleadings, which Mr. P—— said "of course, he could do," and
proceeded to do, with a boldness which was the inspiration of the moment.
It is the duty of the junior counsel to begin under any circumstances, so that there was as yet
nothing falling to the share of P—— which would not have fallen had Serjeant —— been there.
P—— told "my lord and the jury" how that John Styles was the plaintiff and John Giles was the
defendant, and that the plaintiff sued the defendant "for that;" and then read the interesting
document known as the declaration, from which it appeared that John Giles was an exceedingly
bad man, who hired servants known by him to be incompetent, and also to be very skillful in
breaking other folk's legs; that he was habitually negligent as to the way in which he conducted
his business; and so far as the matter now before the Court was concerned, had "so negligently,
carelessly, and improperly conducted himself in that behalf," that by his approvedly unskilful
servant he had "broken, wounded, crushed, bruised, and maimed" the leg of John Styles, who
being a carman, earning a pound a-week, valued his injured limb at £1000.
A thousand pounds seemed a moderate sum to ask for injuries which required so many
adjectives to describe them; but John Giles said on the pleadings, that he was "not guilty," and
privately that Mr. Styles might go to a warmer climate for the money he sought to recover. "Upon
this plea," said P——, "issue has been joined, and that is the case for trial before you."
As a matter of fact, I believe the plaintiff was a carter [driver of cart], who had gone with his
master's cart to take some marble slabs from defendant's yard. The defendant was fifty miles
away at the time, but his foreman and helpers went to load the cart, and the plaintiff, though he
did not fetch the slabs out of the yard, nevertheless helped to make them fast in the van, which
was bound to protect. While they were making one of the slabs fast, the foreman jumped out of
the van and shook it, a slab fell over and broke the carter's leg. The action was against the
master for the negligence of his servant.
The point was a fine one, for if Styles could be made out to have been acting as defendant's
servant, or as a voluntary helper, he must be nonsuited. Only if he could be shown to have been
independent of defendant's orders, and to have been engaged upon the slabs in the capacity
of his own master's servant, had he a cause of action. It was sailing rather close to the wind, as
his leader himself told him in consultation; and indeed, but for P——'s showing him the principal
case on which he had relied, and which the learned serjeant, who had not read his brief, had
not, therefore, had occasion to look up, that gentleman had declared there was no case.
Just as P—— was finishing his opening statement to the jury, a slight commotion was heard at
the entrance to the Court, and to the manifest joy and delight of P——, Serjeant —— came in
like a frigate in full sail. Nodding good-humouredly to all around, the serjeant seized the brief
which his clerk held before him, and without slipping the tape off, rose, as P—— sat down, and
proceeded to address the jury as though he had long been master of the case, and had not—
as in truth he had—been put in possession of the facts only two hours before in consultation.
You would have thought, to hear the serjeant, that he had been engaged in loading slabs in
vans all his life long; that until this particular moment he had never done aught else, and had
now come into Court for the sole purpose of telling the jury how his work is done. Then he
laboured to show that the defendant had admitted the plaintiff's case; said he should call
witnesses to prove it, as well as to depose [testify] to the serious nature of the injuries done
to the plaintiff, as set forth in such harrowing terms in the declaration. This done, he sat down,
and P—— proceeded to call the first witness for the plaintiff—the plaintiff himself.
A slight pause, after which the usher cried with a load voice—pitched as though he had a
personal quarrel with the witness—for John Styles to appear. A movement at the end of the
Court, and then a man as impotent-looking as he who could not crawl into the Pool of Bethesda
[John 5:2-7], was brought forward by two supporters and lifted into the witness-box. A chair was
provided for him, and, bound and becrutched, he showed like a victim to all the woes contained
in Pandora's box.
P—— elicited the details of the case, vainly trying to make the witness declare himself other
than he was evidently desirous of representing himself to be, viz., a willing helper to the men
engaged in loading the van; for P—— felt the danger of the man proving himself a volunteer, in
the sense of an unremunerated and free helper. "The other side" smiled as the examination
went on, and positively glowed with pleasure when his lordship interrupted P—— by remarking
that, as far as he had heard, he could not understand what case there was.
Up sprang the serjeant, snatching the book which P—— had shown him only a few hours
before, from P——'s hand, and with the air of a man who is suffering intolerably from some
sudden wrong, entreated his lordship to refrain from any expression of opinion until the case
had been fully gone into, adding, however, with special reference to the remark about there
being "no case," that he held in his hand a judgment on which he very much relied, and to which
he must beg his lordship's attention.
"My learned friend knows something of the case, I believe," said the serjeant, as he handed the
book to the usher, and nodded good-humouredly at Mr. Q. C. —— [Queen's Counsel],
who had shown cause in this very case, and who now muttered something about the two cases being
The judge took the book from the hand of the associate, who had received it from his lordship's
clerk, who had received it from the usher, who had received it from the serjeant; and after
scanning the outside of it, and looking at the fly-leaf to see the owner's name, proceeded to
read the judgment to which his attention had been drawn. Whilst his lordship read there was
much signalling and undertone talk between the members of the bar and the attendants in
Court. The words "non-suit"—"point reserved"—"new trial," came from the "other side,"
accompanied by much shaking of heads, which meant great things, doubtless, to the initiated
in such signs, for they shook their heads in return, and both sides seemed perfectly satisfied.
"Do you think, sir, the judge is with us?" said a man sitting behind me, and who I gathered from
the use of the pronoun "us," was interested in the case.
"I don't know," I answered; "he seems to be in a good humour."
"Has humour anything to do with his being for or against us, sir?" inquired the man. "I should
not have thought so."
"Perhaps not," I replied; "but judges are only men, and all men are subject to bouts of
indigestion." The man seemed to be lost in wonder on finding that even judges were not
impassible —[not liable to pain or injury]; and was even more astonished at the familiarity which
existed between the opposed "counsel" than Mr. Pickwick was when his leader shook hands
with the counsel for Mrs. Bardell. The judge finished his earnest perusal of the volume, and
laying the book down on its face, said, "This is a very important case; it is nearly your case,"
looking towards P——.
"It is our case, my lord," rejoined P——.
"Well," observed the judge, "I do not see how the matter can rest here with a verdict. It must go
into the full Court, and possibly to the Court above. Is it not a case for a settlement?"
P—— beamed with satisfaction. He had raked out the case in question, and mainly on the
strength of it he had advised the action being brought. He had withstood his own leader with it
in consultation, and now it came in the face of the judge's expressed opinion. "The other side"
looked a little disconcerted, but was glad "his lordship had thrown out this expression of
opinion." Then came a laying of heads together by the counsel engaged, assisted by the
attorneys on either side, who leaned over the back of the "well" in which they were confined,
and deferred to the wisdom of those whom they had entrusted with the case. His lordship read
the newspaper, the jury stood up and stretched their legs in the jury-box, and Mr. C. D., the
eminent (in that he was six feet high) junior counsel, who drew portraits many, though pleadings
few, sketched the scene before him, as a whole and in parts, upsetting the gravity which
resides under the wig, and moving every one to laughter by the absurdity and justness of his
The conference was of no avail. Counsel could not agree. The case must go on; so P——
finished his examination of the plaintiff, and Mr. Q. C. [Queen's Counsel] rose to cross-examine.
Little was elicited by this means, beyond the fact that the plaintiff had undoubtedly helped, but
whether as a volunteer, or as his own master's servant, was the somewhat fine question which
was left for the jury. And now a man, whose personal appearance had already attracted
considerable attention, was called. He had been sitting by the side of the solicitor in charge
of the case, and was evidently much interested in the issue of the trial. He had been present
at an interview between plaintiff and defendant, and was to bear witness to what had passed.
He was a fine-looking man, apparently a foreigner, with an animated expression of
countenance, and a costume which, the place and occasion considered, was truly wonderful.
Whether it was the way in which he found expression for the respect which his nature felt for
the tribunals of the kingdom, or whether it was the custom in his country so to appear before
the courts, did not come out: but this gentleman was attired in full evening dress, with an
elaborately worked shirt, diamond studs, and a coat which Mr. Poole's eye might have
pronounced faultless. No distinction had been made between him and the other witnesses in
the cause, as I cannot help thinking there should have been. It was scarcely right in the usher to
allow so magnificently clad a man to herd with the "seedy" crew who filled as of right that abyss
in the halls of justice known as "the well;" unless, and perhaps he was correct after all, the
usher thought of him as Lafeu thought of Parolles, in "All's Well that Ends Well," that "the scarfs
and bannerets about him did manifoldly dissuade him from believing him a vessel of too great
burden." Anyhow, there he sat in the "well" till his name was called out by the usher, in as
indignant a voice as that in which the first witness had been desired to stand forth. Then he
started to his feet as if the ground under them had suddenly grown red hot, and made his way
over blue bags, papers, and the legs of attorney's clerks, to the witness-box. Serjeant ——
introduced him to the judge as Count Dieudon, a Frenchman, while the associate explained,
as much by signs as by words, that the gentleman must remove the white kid glove from his
right hand, in order to hold the sacred book on which he was to swear to tell the whole truth and
nothing but that. There being some difficulty in explaining this, his lordship thought the delay
was caused by the witness objecting to take the oath, and thinking further, perhaps, that Count
Dieudon, who was as good a Christian as is to be found throughout all Leicester Square,
might possibly, from his general appearance, be of the Hebrew faith, rather testily told the
associate to ask the witness if he were a Jew. The bare suggestion caused a current of
eloquence to flow from the Frenchman, so strong and continuous, that it bid fair to supersede,
in the attention of the Court, the case which was actually before it. His lordship at length
succeeded in conveying to the speaker an assurance of his want of intention to insult him; M.
Dieudon succeeded in getting the white kid glove off his right hand; and the associate
succeeded in swearing him in the words of the oath.
"Did I understand you to say that the gentleman was a count?" inquired the judge.
"He is so, my lord," answered P——.
"Of the Roman Empire or the French?" asked his lordship, with a smile.
"One of the indebitatus [not owed] counts, I believe, my lord," said Mr. Q. C. [Queen's Counsel],
at which remark his lordship smiled again, and Count Dieudon, who did not understand the
allusion, and thought they were but settling the exact degree of rank, smiled also.
Count Dieudon had evidently made the English language his study, and was, moreover,
evidently well satisfied with the progress he had made in it. He had also given to the world three
large volumes on the Science of Agriculture, which he had with him in the witness-box, in case, I
suppose, any question should arise upon that subject in the course of the trial of a complaint for
broken limbs. As this was far from likely, it seemed rather unnecessary for him thus to burden
himself; but these three volumes were on the ledge before him, and served, at all events, to
show the judge how he should spell the witness's and author's name, which was given to him by
the learned serjeant as Dewdong, and by the more learned (in French at least) friend on "the
other side," as Doodone. The name and address of M. Dieudon having been written on the
judge's notes, and a further note having been made as the only means of stopping iteration of
the fact, that M. Dieudon was author of the great work in question, Serjeant —— got the range,
and began to fire into the witness's stock of information.
M. Dieudon gesticulated a good deal, poured forth volumes of Franco-English in copious
answer to the questions put to him, and gave to many English words a pronunciation which
reminded one of French spoken by Dan Chaucer's prioress [nun], who spoke "full fayre and
fetisly after the schole of Stratford-atte-Bow." So with M. Dieudon and his English. He spoke
"full fayre and fetisly," but not after the school of Westminster Hall. He might with propriety have
gone home and told his countrymen what the Irishman told his friends of the French, that they
were a very stupid people, who did not even understand their own language; for it was
undoubtedly true that practice and use were both essential to a right understanding of what M.
Dieudon had to say. Serjeant —— came to that part of his examination where it behoved the
witness to relate what had passed between plaintiff and defendant during the interview at which
he had been present: and as M. Dieudon was both tenacious of being thought able to speak
the counsel's own tongue, and also very voluble [with incessant flow of words] in his talk, the
serjeant deemed it advisable to beg the witness to relate the conversation, instead of getting at
it by means of questions. M. Dieudon readily complied , and with the air of a Jullien and the
voice of a Berryer, he told his simple tale; but when he came to the key of the whole
conversation—the important part, where it was supposed the defendant had promised, as
alleged in a second count, to pay the plaintiff a sum of money—he failed altogether to convey
an accurate notion of what had taken place.
"Miszer Steel he come to defendant, an say, 'Your man break my leg, and make me evil (me fit
mal). You recompense me. I live in hospital four, five month. Get not work; lose my living. What
you give me?' Defendant, he say nussing. Miszer Steel he press for answer, but defendant
shake his head. He stay a long time to make answer, and zen he say nussing."
The evidence, which, more than all the arguments based upon ethnological grounds, convinced
me of the affinity between French and Irish Celts, served also to upset the gravity of the Court,
which fairly laughed out, and with every wish to do no uncivil thing, could not refrain from seizing
this particular opportunity for mirth. The count was not further interrogated, and with, I fear, but
hurt feelings, departed from the box with the great work in three volumes, which was evidently
the pride and joy of his soul.
Michael Sullivan, the man who had done the mischief, and upon whom his master had already
thrown the blame of the entire action, was next called, and, impressed by the duty which lay
upon him to observe reticence upon the subject to be investigated, was more evasive in his
answers even than his countrymen are wont to be.
"Did you see the accident?"
"I did not, sir."
"Were you present at the time it occurred?"
"I was, sir."
"Did you see a slab fall over in the van?"
"I did, sir."
"Did it fall on plaintiff's leg?"
"I can't say."
"Do you believe it did?"
"I think it did, sir."
"Then you saw the accident?"
"I did not, sir."
"But you saw the slab fall, and think it went on to plaintiff's leg?"
"I did, sir."
"Then you think you may say you saw the accident, may you not?"
"I do not, sir."
And after much further bandying of words, it was found out that the witness had seen
everything except the actual snapping of the bone in the leg. He had seen the slab fall, he had
seen the leg after it had been crushed, he was certain the slab fell upon the leg, and yet, for the
reason above given, he declined to assert what nevertheless the jury believed, that he had
witnessed the accident.
"Now, sir!" said Serjeant ——, twitching his gown, and pushing his wig the least bit back on
his head, and looking a little fiercely at Michael, "did you not jump out of the van before the
slabs were secured within it?"
"I did, sir,"
"Did that shake the van?"
"It did, sir."
"Did not the slab fall over immediately afterwards?"
"It did, sir."
"Did not the slab fall over because you shook the van?"
"I can't say, sir."
"What was there besides to make the slab fall over?"
"I can't say, sir."
"Did not you say, referring to the accident, that is a bad piece of work I have done; I was a fool
to jump out like that?"
"I was not a fool!" retorted the witness, sharply; "and I'll thank ye not to say so again."
"Answer my question, sir," replied the serjeant. "Did you say so or not?"
"They're vary impertinent qhuestions ye'll be askin'," said Michael.
"Will you be kind enough to answer them?" said the serjeant.
"I don't rhemember."
"Try and recollect, now. You must know if you said so or not."
"I don't rhemember."
"Will you swear you did not say so?"
"I will not."
"Did you say so?"
"I don't rhemember."
"Will you swear that?"
"I will; I'll swear I don't rhemember, and I'll swear if I do rhemember, I forget."
"Very well," said the serjeant, joining in the laugh, which was general at this utter discomfiture
of his hopes. "Now, try to remember very distinctly this: Had you not been drinking that
morning before the accident occurred?"
"Ah, no!" said Michael, with the earnestness of a man tented on some point of special pride
"Are you sure of that?"
"Quite?" said Michael.
"Would you forget, if you did remember this, too?" inquired the serjeant.
"I can't tell," said Michael.
"Now, do you mean to tell me you had not been drinking on this particular morning?"
"I had some tay," answered Michael.
"No, no!" retorted the serjeant; "I do not mean 'tay.' Had you not been into a public-house that
"I had not."
"Not to have a friendly glass with any one? You know there is nothing to blame you for if you
had done so."
"I had not," was the answer.
"Then you were not drunk on that morning, you will swear?" asked the serjeant.
Michael did not answer directly, but looked somewhat archly into the well of the court, as if to
seek inspiration from his master and the attorney, who were sitting there. The instructions in
the serjeant's brief were that the man had been drinking, and there was other testimony to
show that he was "all by the head" before he began loading.
"I don't think I was drunk," answered Michael, after an interval.
"You don't think you were drunk," repeated the questioner, somewhat curiously. "What do you
mean? You told us just now you had not been drinking."
"I had a sup the night afore," added Michael, with the air of a man who has absolved his
"Oh, indeed!" said the serjeant, brightening up, for even he, astute as he was, could not divine
how a man could get drunk on any given occasion without imbibing anything stronger than
"tay." "Now, do you think you had sufficiently recovered from the effects of the sup the night
afore to be able to load the van properly on this particular morning?"
"I think it'd been better if I hadn't taken it," replied Michael, now fairly unmasked.
"Oh! you were not drunk, but you think it would have been better you had not taken this sup
the night afore. Very well, I have nothing more to ask you."
And the witness stood down.
Application was now made to the judge that ladies might be requested to leave the Court, it
being proposed to call the medical evidence to prove the nature of some injuries which were
included in the "otherwise seriously damaged and hurt" of the declaration. The request was at
once acceded to, and the Court, by the usher, its mouthpiece, proclaimed aloud that all ladies
were to leave the Court. A flutter ensued among the petticoats, and many went their way, with
an expression of mingled surprise and indignation upon the faces of the wearers of them, as
though they resented the notion of raising and then disappointing their curiosity. I say many
went their way, but not all; some there were who put a bold—their expelled sisters called it a
brazen—face upon the matter, and stuck to their seats like women whose desire for knowledge
is greater than their sense of shame. His lordship looked round upon these law-loving dames,
and remarked, in a significant tone, that he had directed all ladies to quit the Court. It was at
this particular moment that the usher became immortal, not knowing, however, the greatness
of the fame which he was laying up for himself. Whether he really did not see the bonnets,
whose unshamefaced owners kept them obstinately in the halls of justice, or whether it was in
the profundity of his scorn that he spake it, this deponent showeth not, but in answer to the
remark thrown out by the learned judge, came from the usher the pride-killing words, "All the
ladies have left the Court, my lord."
A smile, and then a titter, which waxed speedily till it became a laugh, was observable on the
face of the judge, jurors, and counsel. Even a blush flitted across the countenances of the
unshamefaced ones, and the usher stood a satirist confessed in the middle of the Court. His
lordship adopted the meaning which all hearers attached to the words of the censor, himself as
much astonished at his speech as the most amused one there, and, looking towards Serjeant
——, said that he might now proceed, since the modest women had left the Court.
The trial proceeded, the terrible nature of the injuries received by the plaintiff was explained to
the jury, and medical testimony was heard in support of the case.
Now his lordship had a way of notifying counsel of his having written down upon his notes the
answers of the witnesses, which many of those addressed disliked, almost to resistance point.
He did not raise his head and nod, as judges are wont, but kept his face still fixed in the
direction of his paper, uttering in a sort of under-growl, as a sign for counsel to proceed, the
monosyllables "Go on!" It was not so much the use of these two good words that vexed the
hearts of the learned, it was the manner of the user. Many had been the complaints made in
robing-room and in hall, of the bearish (so they termed it) method which his lordship adopted, and
among the complainants was none so bitter as Mr. Q. C., who was for the defence in this action.
He had fretted and fumed visibly during the whole of the time he was cross-examining, and all
who knew him were well aware that ere long an explosion must take place.
His lordship had taken down the evidence which Mr. Q. C. elicited from the witness, and, being
no respecter of persons, had notified the fact in his usual way to the great man before him. Mr.
Q. C. could not endure it longer; he made no fresh attempt to question the witness, but stood
stock still as in respectful attention, waiting his lordship's leisure to continue.
"Go on!" repeated his lordship, but silence still reigned; Mr. Q. C.'s head became a little more
erect, his eyes dilated a trifle more, and the starch in the large neckerchief which enwound his
throat seemed "to bear him stiffly up," as Hamlet desired his sinews might bear him.
"I said, 'Go on!'" observed his lordship, somewhat testily, raising his eyes rather than his head,
to look at the counsel.
The moment had arrived for the expected explosion; his lordship himself had fired the train. As
men who watch some curious and new experiment, the bar stood agaze, while Mr. Q. C., with
an expression of deep astonishment and concern, stirred himself from his pointer-like attitude
of attention, and exclaimed with loud and seemingly contrite voice:—"I beg your
lordship's pardon, I thought you were speaking to the usher."
Respect for the Bench kept down open mirth, and Mr. Q. C., with the tact of a general who
knows how to follow up a victory, without crushing the enemy it is his interest to keep in the
field, proceeded with his examination as if nothing unusual had happened. His lordship
endured in silence, and bided his time for an answer.
P——, to my surprise and delight, did gloriously, not being disconcerted even when the judge,
not knowing his name, and wishing to call him by it, desired the intermediates before
mentioned as sitting between judge and counsel, to acquire this information for him. The stage
whisper in which the inquiries were made one of the other, telling all whom it might concern that
P—— was unknown to the frequenters of this Court, did not cover him with confusion; I fancied
I detected even a sort of satisfied look upon his face as, in answer to the last inquirer, he
showed his name on his brief, whereon was marked a sum equal to that which potentially had
been mine in the case of the Great Western Railway.
When Mr. Q. C. rose to cross-examine, some question as to the admissibility of the evidence
he thought to elicit occurred to that learned gentleman's mind. He wished to remove it; and
also, perhaps, by taking his lordship into his confidence, to mollify through an appeal to his
amour-propre [self-esteem], the evil prejudice which the late rasping had occasioned. It was,
therefore, in a peculiarly insinuating [fooling by flattery] way that he announced his intention of
adducing [citing as proof] the questionable evidence, and in a still more insinuating way, that
he asked his lordship whether he thought it would be admissible.
Now it was strangely forgetful, in a man so astute as Mr. Q. C. undoubtedly was, so to act. He
might have put forward the evidence and waited for his appeal to the judge until such time as
the opposing counsel objected formally; or he might have announced his intention to put it
forward, and proceeded to execution without inviting, as he did, the interference of a man he
had offended. As it was, he gave himself over into the hands of Samson, and suffered accordingly.
His lordship failed to notice Mr. Q. C.'s first inquiry, maintaining the firm demeanour he had worn
since the learned gentleman's tongue had lashed his indignation into a desire to find vent; but
when Mr. Q. C. once more asked, as eager to be instructed, whether his lordship thought this
would be evidence, Baron —— raised raised his head, looked straight into the lantern above
him, and said to the lantern, as though he were delivering himself of an abstract proposition for
the special edification of the lantern:—"Her Majesty and the House of Lords are the only persons
entitled to ask me any legal questions." This, uttered in a monotone, without passion, but with
entire deliberateness, fell as falls a killing frost upon a tender plant. Not that Mr. Q. C. resembled
a tender plant though, for he was among his brethren as the oak in a forest—yet, no less did he
feel keenly the chilling blast of his lordship's oracular breath. He feigned not to notice what
everybody else noticed; he stammered out something; he looked confused, and at last said he
should not press the evidence if his lordship did not think it worth while.
His lordship expressed no opinion whatever, but being wearied with the long day's sitting, and
being desirous, perhaps, not to risk losing the vantage ground he had manifestly gained, once
more proposed to his brother, Serjeant ——, to consider whether the case was not one for a
compromise. Serjeant —— having freely admitted that he thought the justice of the case
required some such solution, his lordship announced that he would adjourn the Court to enable
counsel to come to some arrangement. His lordship had risen to go, and had stamped his way
over half the length of the platform, when a very junior counsel, in a state of terrible trepidation,
rose to make a motion of the Court. Blue bags and red bags, books and papers, the owners of
these, and the clerks of the owners, were bundling out of the Court; the registrar had already
stretched himself a weary stretch in token of the ending of the day's work; the usher, henceforth
immortal, had girded up his loins to go—when the faint echo of the very junior counsel's voice
resounded through the Court. His lordship stood in half attention for a second, looked hard at
the speaker, and then, resuming his walk towards the door curtain, was understood to say
"To-morrow! To-morrow!" and so went out. The very junior counsel could not get a hearing, and
before the solicitor who had instructed him had finished the tale of his reproaches, I fled forth
into Westminster Hall, and told this tale to my friends, the cherubim in the roof.
"Tell it not, save to the printer," said they, as I left them to their darkness and the gloom in which
they have thriven so long.
"I will not," answered I; and I have kept my word.
"And yet he semed besier than he was," wrote Dan Chaucer five centuries ago, when"No wher so besy a man as he there n'as."
And then I, too, walked over to the court-house, down the narrow street and down the hill.
describing the Man of Laws in the "Canterbury Tales;" and such was the reflection which crossed
my mind as I saw P——, of whom we know somewhat already, rush in great haste from his
lodgings in the High Street to the court-house at Brisk, one fine summer morning, a few circuits
back. He was armed for the fight—a fight more in the fashion of Ulysses than of Ajax—and bore,
besides the brief with which he had been trusted, two massy books of authority to back up his
intended statements. He passed on, and I finished my pipe; for, though the advice of the great
Q. C. who had instructed me many times in the way wherein I should walk, had been that,
business or no business, it behoved me to show in Court regularly at nine o'clock every morning,
when the Court sat—and this advice was, beyond question, wholesome—yet had I found it to be,
like many other wholesome things, very unpalatable. I gave the "no business" side of the advice
a fair trial, and small was the apparent advantage derived from it; the "business" side would
have met with equal justice, had it thought fit ever to present itself. Six circuits were enough for
the proof of half the advice; and as, at the tail of the seventh, "business" did not surrender to take
its trial, I thought it small harm to do as I liked in the matter; hence it was that, on this particular
morning, I stayed to finish my pipe instead of rushing eagerly, as P—— was doing, to the
dispensary for justice. I took my own time about bringing into subjection to the brush the hair
which stood out after my morning's dip in the river "like quills upon the fretful porcupine;" I
donned my robes and wig at my own pace; and, as I thought of P—— with his brief, and his
books, and his haste (on my honour there was no hint of envy, though P—— was but on his
second circuit), the words of old Chaucer occurred to me as apposite [well put], and—for I liked
P—— greatly—by the time my toilette [process of dressing] was over, I had got as far as heartily
to wish that Chaucer's preceding line might be equally applicable,
A heap of folk were about the doorway—attorneys' clerks, barristers' clerks, witnesses, and
lookers-on. I passed through; and, all the world being my way, it made no difference whether I
went into the Crown Court or the Civil Court, so I turned into the former, and made my way to a
The dock was rather thickly tenanted; and, as I entered the court, a miserable-looking lad was
standing in front of this pen, awaiting the beginning of the prosecution, which charged him with
"feloniously and unlawfully stealing," &c. He had, in truth, been guilty of neglect rather than
crime; but had, unfortunately, been brought before some stern moralists of magistrates, who
took the uglier view of his case and sent him for trial; he was undefended by counsel, and was
called upon to say if he was guilty or not guilty to the charges made against him.
"Not guilty!" said the boy in a low voice; and the counsel for the prosecution began.
In cases where the prisoner is undefended, it is not usual for the prosecution to make any
speech, properly so called. The case is stated to the jury; the witnesses are called and
examined from the depositions; and then the whole is summed up and laid before the jury, the
prisoner being allowed to make his own defence after the case for the prosecution is closed.
But on this occassion the counsel for the prosecution was about as new to his work as the
prisoner was to crime; and, without intending to injure the poor lad against whom he appeared,
but in pure ignorance of what was right, he commenced an oration which was evidently not the
inspiration of the moment, but a studied speech, which had had more than one rehearsal.
"The magnitude of the crime with which the prisoner stands charged is such as to demand the
promptest attention, and the most summary repression. Our homes, our property—I might add,
"Really, sir, this course is very unusual," said the judge, interrupting the flow of the advocate's
The prosecutor did not see in what way the course was unusual, and, in complete innocence,
harked back upon the initial words of the speech—"The magnitude of the crime—"
"Really, sir, I must interrupt you," said his lordship; "you would do better to proceed with a
simple statement of facts." And, with much show of unwillingness—for the learned counsel, who
was from "the green isle," was, like most of his countrymen, a really "good fist" at a speech, and
disliked missing an opportunity of making one—the prosecutor continued on his way, stating the
facts simply and calling the witness.
The first witness was a labourer, who had seen the prisoner with the "feloniously stolen" article
in his possession (the lad had been told to take a spade to A——, but had carried it only to his
father's house, where he had mislaid and forgotten it).
"Were you on the road leading to A—— on the morning of the 3rd July?"
"Did you meet anyone?"
"Yes; the prisoner."
"Had he anything with him?"
"Was it this spade?" (producing one).
"Did you know whose spade it was?"
"I knew it belonged to Master Turner, up to Wurnley?"
"Did you say anything to the prisoner about the spade?"
"I said, 'You young rascal, you've stolen that spade!'"
"What made you sat that?"
"I knew he must ha' stolen it,"
"No other reason?"
"Then if you knew he must ha' stolen it, why did you not tell a policeman?"
"Did you not see any policeman?"
"Why did you not tell him?"
But the counsel pressed the witness on this point, and at length succeeded in getting an answer.
"Why did you not tell him, sir? Answer the question."
"Well," said the man, "I certainly did see a policeman, but he was only a b—— big fool of
an Irishman, and I knew it was no use to tell him."
Poor J—— looked a little discomfited at this reply; and in answer to his lordship's inquiry, said
he had no further questions to put to the witness, who was ordered to stand down, and the case
went on to an acquittal of the prisoner.
Then came the trial of a man for forgery, a conviction, and the sentence. The man was an old
offender in the same direction; and his lordship thought fit to pass upon him "a substantial
sentence," as he called it, out of regard to the peculiar hatefulness of the crime, and to the fact
that the prisoner had been tried before. I mention this case not merely because it followed that
of which I have just written, but because of the peculiarly sad effect which the sentence had
upon one quite other than the prisoner.
A nervous movement of the hands and a slight twitching of the mouth, alone had betrayed the
keen interest the prisoner took in the proceedings which so intimately concerned him. When
the clerk of arraigns asked the jury if they were agreed upon the verdict, a wistful look, which
seemed to indicate a desire to anticipate the sentence, was turned upon them; and when the
clerk further asked them if they found the prisoner "guilty" or "not guilty," a painful anxiety
showed in the forger's face, and communicated itself to the bystanders: and when the word
"Guilty" dropped from the foreman's lips, a sense of relief came upon all who heard it.
His lordship—than whom was no judge more ready to make allowance for the infirmities of poor
human nature—considered of the sentence he should pronounce, and felt it his duty to give, as
he said, a substantial one. Addressing a few remarks to the better feelings of the prisoner, he
told him how grieved he was to see him continue in his former evil way; that as he had, however,
chosen to do so, it behoveth the law to protect people from his knavery; and the sentence of the
Court was that he be kept in penal servitude for four years.
As soon as the words "penal servitude for four years" closed the sentence which the judge
pronounced, a shriek was uttered in the far-end of the court, which pierced the ears of everyone.
A woman had fainted; some poor creature to whom even the wretched man in the dock was
dear, and upon whom the sentence, double-edged, fell with the sharper side upon her. The man
was removed by the "dungeon villains" (two eminently mild and kindly-looking men, by the way),
and the friends of the poor soul, whose sobs seemed to strain her very heart-strings, gathered
her up and bore her out.
Now, it may be womanish, but bother me if "a scene in court" like this is at all to my liking. I hate
to be agitated whether I like it or not; to find the apple in my throat swell and get inconvenient, as
though it were the "prime" apple which caused our first mother to err; to feel warm and glowing
about the eyes, and, will I nill I, to be obliged to smother my emotion by blowing tunefully on my
nose. And these things had to be endured on this occasion, in spite of the philosophy of a
youthful attorney who stood by, and said, with a desire to be overheard, "that such things must
happen, and the police ought to see that these women were kept out of court." To be sure I
knew nothing of the people; and, for aught I did know, they might be the wickedest and least
deserving of sympathy in the whole world. So far as the trial itself went, there was nothing
particular to set the feelings in play: had the mere facts of the crime been proved as stated, the
prisoner found guilty, and sentenced in the ordinary way, I do not suppose for an instant that
anyone would have been unusually struck by the sentence. But the little something not usual—
the extraordinary addition of a woman's cry of sorrow; that woman having nothing visibly to
connect her with the case before the Court; and the sign which that cry gave of links and
sympathies outraged, of which the Court could take no cognizance—these were the springs
of an emotion which none but the assize-hardened do not feel—"the one touch of nature which
makes the whole world kin." [note: assize are periodical county sessions held by judges on
circuit for administration of civil and criminal justice]
Professing the stoic philosophy, I dislike occasions which make me show my feelings as a man.
The "one touch of nature" I admire in the abstract, and in Shakespeare, from whom the
expression is stolen, but do not desire to be subject of it in my own person. Lest nature should
touch me again, I left the Crown Court, and walked over to the Civil side, where Justice —— was
trying the special jury cases, and where, amidst the lookers-on, I saw my landlord, with eyes in
which pity mingled with contempt as he looked on me, robed, but sans [without] brief. A
moment's reflection told me that he would charge me no less for the numerous "extras" which
were certain to appear in my bill, pitiful though the glance might now be; so I placed my
eye-glass (not that I am short-sighted, you know, reader) firmly into my eye-socket, assumed a
haughty air, which was intended to hurl back the landlord's pity with scorn, and addressed myself
to attending to the speeches that were being made.
It was evident from the experience just narrated, that, though I might have the bad digestion, I did
not possess "the hard heart" which is said to be as necessary for a good lawyer, as a gold
latch-key has been held to be to an officer in the Horse Guards. I may improve, however, as
time goes on.
P——, of whom mention was made just now, was about to open the pleadings in a case that
had been called on, when O——, breathless and anxious, rushed in from the Crown Court,
where he was engaged in a case requiring full attention, having heard that this cause, in which
he was also retained for the defendant, had been called. His object was to get the case
postponed till he could attend to it; and had he been other than he was, or had he not placed
temptation right in his lordship's way, he might have got what he wanted. But he was a great
drawer of the longbow; one who was known to all the profession for the entirety in which he
adopted M. Talleyrand's saying, that speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts: he was
this; and, being this, he tempted the Court beyond its power to bear.
Hurrying up to the counsel's table, he motioned to P—— to refrain from opening, and begged
his lordship to put off the case, "for," said he, "I am at this moment speaking in the
His lordship's eye twinkled; the bar noticed the mess poor O—— was in; and O—— himself
was aware of his mistake as soon as he had made it. Time was not given him to amend, for
his lordship repeating the words, "this moment speaking in the Crown Court," added with an
arch smile, which was well understood by all who saw it, "No, no, Mr. O——, I can't believe that."
O—— knew what fame was his, and the bar knew, and the judge knew; and if the public who
looked on knew not, I take this opportunity of hinting at it, for the express purpose of showing
them that if their vulgar and calumnious riddle about lawyers being such restless people,
because they first lie on this side and then on that, and lie even in their graves—a riddle
feloniously stolen, by the way, from a bon mot [witty saying] of Sir Christopher Hatton's,
when he was Lord Chancellor—be founded on fact, the professional brethren of these restless
men take good care they shall not forget their characteristics. For the riddle I ever thought the
properest answer was, that lawyers are restless because they never lie at all; but even if I could
make my meaning clear upon this head, as an able writer in a magazine some time ago did his,
in an article called "The Morality of Advocacy," there would be no end of people to join issue
with me; so I give up the attempt to alter the riddle and its answer, deeming the game not worth
O——'s application was granted, as P—— and his learned friends did not object, and O——
went back in peace to his defence of "bigamus." The next cause was called, and at the name
of it, a young man of temperament the most nervous in the world, a quality which made the bar
an almost insuperable bar to him, rose to his feet, and announced that he appeared for the
defendant. Counsel for the plaintiff opened, called his witnesses, and closed his case, which
seemed to be a winning one. Counsel for the defendant rose, blushed to the very roots—I had
almost written tops—of his wig, looked like the incarnation of confusion, and thus delivered:—
"My lord, and gentlemen of the jury; my client in this case—my client, gentlemen—my client,
my lord—my client;" and at this stage the poor man seemed perfectly overcome by the natural
enemy with which he was combating. His mouth was as if paralysis had stricken it; his lips
were parched, his glance wandered about the court, his tongue stammered, and then wagged
no more. The Court waited; some men pitied the poor creature stuck in the slough of words,
unable to get free; others enjoyed the joke and grinned unkindly grins. The occasion was too
much also for his lordship, who leaned forward a little, and said, in a tone of voice which with
other words might have been taken for encouraging, "Pray, sir, proceed; thus far the Court is
The nervous man was stung to the quick, and like a stag pursued to a corner, turned round and
stood fiercely at bay. He floundered on in spite of himself, and was getting fairly under way, to
the relief of everyone who heard him, when in an unfortunate moment he allowed his
eloquence to hurry him into a false quantitiy, and then he was in the toils again. There is a writ
called of "quare impedit" the e whereof in "impedit," is short. By pure misfortune—for the
nervous man "was a scholar, and a ripe and good one"—by pure misfortune, and the hurry he
was in, he gave this word as though the e were long, and called the writ one of "quare impedit
The sharp ear of the judge detected the false concord, and before the speaker could correct
for himself, was down upon him like a Nasmyth's hammer. "Pray shorten your speech, sir.
Remember we have a good deal to get through." The blow was a fair one, though it fell heavily
upon Mr. T——, who continued to speak like one grown desperate, reminding one of the bull
in a Spanish arena when the red flags and the darts have been plied some time. He plunged
on here and there through the case, butting, but not bellowing at his antagonist, who did for him
the service of a matador, and gave him the coup de grace, to the poor fellow's utter
The said antagonist rose to reply, and as a boa constrictor licks and fondles his prey before
he devours it, so the antagonist bespattered Mr. T—— with praise, and complimented him
upon "his thrilling and powerful appeal." "The Lord hath delivered him into my hands," was the
profane aside, however, with which the advocate forecast, to those nearest him, the issue of
the fight. The speaker went on and proceeded to dissect the speech of his opponent, and,
metaphorically speaking, the speech-maker himself. He exposed the fallacies, turned the
facts so as to show the reverse side of them, and drew a deduction from his learned friend's
own premises, so diametrically opposite to that which had been drawn by him, that Mr. T——,
though he did not interrupt by speaking, could not refrain from showing his dissent by violent
shaking of the head.
"My learned friend on the other side shakes his head," said the speaker, raising his voice, and
emphasizing the word "head." "I don't know that there's much in that;" and at this neither pity
nor decorum could keep the bystanders within bounds; a laugh, general and hearty, was raised
at the expense of poor Mr. T——, who, painfully alive to the wound which had been inflicted,
gesticulated in vain endeavor to get a hearing for something which might have hurled his enemy
to the ground; but the possibility got thrown away; Mr. T—— remained crushed, though
Now it happens that the court-house at the assize town of Brisk is inconveniently near to the
market, which is the resort of farmers for miles round. Thither come cattle, sheep, and beasts
of burden; and thither are taken grain, and hay, and all kinds of agricultural produce. The place
is so near to the courts of law, that the sounds of marketing, the grunts of pigs, and the noise
of blatant beasts, have many times been known to pierce the sanctum of justice, and to
interfere with the delivery of grave human utterances. On this occasion, when Mr. T—— came
so grievously to grief, high market was going on in the street and place outside. Animals of
various kinds had given audible proof of their presence, and just as the vanquisher of Mr.
T—— resumed his speech, a jackass, desirous of showing his sense of the learned
gentleman's sharp wit, set up a bray sufficiently loud to be heard right through the court.
It was his lordship's turn now, and he, thinking perhaps that so keen a tonguesman as he who
was speaking could look well enough to himself, to be able to bear a rub down, said, with a
good-humoured smile, which was the salve to his blow, "One at a time, brother; one at a time."
The serjeant reddened slightly, and merely nodded assent to his lordship's proposition. The
laugh was against the serjeant, but "nothing he reck'd," or seemed to do, and went on to the
close of his speech.
His lordship began to sum up the case to the jury, sifting the facts, and laying down the law. He
had not proceeded very far, when the animal aforesaid, instigated, no doubt, by a feeling of
kindness for the serjeant, took advantage of a slight pause in the summing up, to testify once
more to its appreciation of English jurisprudence. The loud hee-haw! resounded through the
court, attracting the attention, if not the fears, of the judge. Respect for the bench precluded
any such notice by the bar, as the bench had taken of the former bray; but his lordship had
flung down his glove to the serjeant, and the serjeant was not the man to refuse the gage
[challenge]. He followed his own plan in taking it up. When the judge continued his address to
the jury, the impression created by the jackass being yet fresh upon the audience, Serjeant
—— turned him around to the leader who sat next to him, and said in a stage whisper, heard
distinctly by every one, "I never noticed till now the remarkable echo in this court."
"Not even with your long ears," said a junior in a whisper as audible as the last remark,
whereby the laugh which began to rise at his lordship's expense was shifted back again to the
serjeant, who strove between his dignity—which would not let him notice the junior so
immeasurably beneath him—and his anger, which made his fingers itch to punch the junior's
head. The serjeant was a wrathful man, and had the reputation of even "swearing his prayers."
Forth from his mouth flowed a string of muttered curses, like lava from a volcano that cannot
burst in open fury; and to judge from appearances a breach of the peace seemed not unlikely
to occur at a later hour of the day; though, as far as I know, none actually took place, the
serjeant, a thoroughly good fellow, having been observed to select his youthful adversary for
special attention at the mess on that very same day; and even after speaking highly of him as
a foeman worthy of his own steel. He recognised an equal, as Lord Thurlow did when the
usher of the court gave back his lordship's "— damn you," after enduring meekly and in
patience for the space of five minutes a long string of invectives, hurled at him because the
Lord Chancellor's inkstand was not filled.
P——'s case came on in due course, and P—— fleshed his maiden sword right valiantly. He
bore up against the excessive respect of his own witness, who insisted on calling him "my
lord," drawing upon him a flood of congratulations from his brethren, and a remark from his
lordship that "the witness was only anticipating." O—— strove and did mightily; and the jury
gave right between them—at least I trust so, for I cannot speak out of my own knowledge. The
heat of the weather and the stuffiness of the court combined, with the want of special interest
in any one of the causes, to make the assize court of Brisk, in the county of ——, intolerable
by four o'clock in the afternoon. The only piece of paper I had touched for the day in the way
of business, was the messman's dinner-list, whereon I had inscribed my name. It was useless
to wait, I thought, so nudging R——, my fellow in lodgings, and mine own peculiar friend, I left
the court for more refreshing haunts. I strode away, and in company with R——, who "rowed
in the same boat" with myself, sought upon the waters of the Cray an appetite for the dinner
we were to eat at half-past six.