see also Life in the London Streets by Richard Rowe on area cleared to build the courts - click here
From the quiet of the Temple we will emerge into the noise of Fleet
Street, and, by taking a few careful steps, arrive at THE NEW LAW COURTS.
This splendid building, which we find on our right hand as we go westward from the City, forms an irregular square; its front towards the Strand being four hundred and eighty-four feet in length, while the depth from the Strand to Carey Street is four hundred and seventy feet. The southern, northern, and western fronts are of Portland stone, but the eastern has red bricks interspersed with the stone, as also have the interior courts and quadrangles. Each front is relieved by dwarf towers, arches, and other features; and there are two high towers, one at the south-east angle, and one at the eastern end of Carey Street, the former of which is one hundred and seventy feet in height, or nearly four times the height of old Temple Bar.
The general height of this great building is about ninety-five feet; and above its main or western block towers the large Central Hall, which from its base to the top of its roof measures one hundred and forty feet. The architect's plan has given accommodation to no less than eighteen distinct courts of law, each with its own entrance and staircase, and separate approaches and doors for the judges, the jury, the witnesses, the bar, and the public, together with rooms for clerks, secretaries, and registrars; and also waitingrooms. These last, I should think, are really needful apartments; for we most of us know what a very tedious affair a lawsuit generally is.
The first brick of this National Palace of Justice was laid, on the last day of April, 1874, at the junction of Bell Yard and Carey Street; and the complete buildings were opened by Her Majesty on December 4th, 1882. It was a grand sight. Every house in the Strand was gaily decorated; and as the Queen and her retinue passed along, the bells of the churches rang merrily, and the crowd of spectators cheered long and lustily. When Her Majesty arrived at the Central Hall, a procession was formed; and first went the builders, Messrs. Edward and Henry Bull, and the architect, Mr. Street; next came the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, in their best wigs and gowns; then the Judges, the Lord Chancellor being the hindmost; next various officials and Mr. Gladstone; and then the Queen, followed by her sons and daughters; the royal attendants bringing up the rear. Her Majesty proceeded to the throne which had been placed on a dais, or raised floor; and, after the key of the building had been presented to her, and then transferred to the keeping of the Lord Chancellor, she read a short address, in which she expressed her trust that the uniting together of the various branches of judicature in this the supreme court would conduce to the more efficient and speedy discharge of justice to her subjects; and that the learning and independence of her judges would prove in the future, as in time past, the chief security of the rights of her crown and the liberties of her people. The Lord Chancellor replied ; the Archbishop of York offered up a special prayer; and then Sir William Harcourt, by the Queen's direction, declared the building opened, and the state trumpeters gave a flourish of trumpets to mark the event.
Well, it is a fine palace, and there are generally plenty of clever men speechifying in its various courts; but I think you will agree with me that it is best to have as little to do with lawsuits as possible, however grand the apartments in which they may be heard.
Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)
ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, STRAND ... These immense buildings, designed by the late G.E.Street, were opened in 1883, when the business of the various courts formerly held at Westminster Hall was transferred here, the structure having been specially designed to accommodate under the same roof, the Supreme Court and all the divisions of the High Court of Justice. The public galleries of the various courts are reached by way of the staircases in the Strand on either side of the Central Hall.
Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895
THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE. - The old courts at Westminster being small and inconvenient, although admirably planned by Sir John Soane, R.A., this block of buildings was erected at a cost, including the site, of £2,200,000, from the designs of Mr. G. E. Street, and has a Strand frontage of 500 feet. The great Central Hall is about 238 feet long, 48 feet wide, and 80 feet high. It was opened on December 4, 1882, by Queen Victoria. There are over 1,000 rooms in all, including 19 Court rooms. The principal entrance is the large doorway at the left of the picture. The public is admitted to the galleries only, when the Courts are sitting, but during the Vacation tickets of admission to the Courts can be obtained on application at the Superintendent's office between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The site now covered by this stately pile was once occupied by a perfect maze of narrow courts and alleys of doubtful morality and undoubted insanitation. The architect, George Edmund Street, R.A., did not live to see these Courts completed.
George Birch, The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896
Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Royal Palace of Justice : The Great Hall
THE ROYAL PALACE OF JUSTICE: THE GREAT HALL.
No part of the late Mr. G. E. Street's splendid Gothic building in the Strand is more noteworthy than the Great Hall, which is one of the most successful of modern efforts in medieval architecture. Our view of it is taken from the main entrance; on the left are the Chancery and Divorce Courts, etc., and on the right those of the Queen's Bench. Along the Hall, which is 238 feet long, 48 feet wide, and 80 feet high, the Judges walk in stately procession on great occasions. To the right of the entrance is Mr. Armstead's statue of the architect, who unhappily died before the completion of his masterpiece. It was in 1882 that the Queen opened the Palace, which extends from the Strand to Carey Street, and cost £750,000, while nearly a million and a half had to be paid for the site.Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Royal Palace of Justice, with Temple Bar Memorial
THE ROYAL PALACE OF JUSTICE, WITH TEMPLE BAR MEMORIAL.
Whatever faults may be urged against the Courts of the Royal Palace of Justice, the exterior of the late Mr. G. E. Street's masterpiece, which has a frontage of five hundred feet upon the Strand, must compel admiration. At the point where our picture begins is the entrance to the Great Hall (see page top), and through the door in the tower just beyond admission is gained to the public galleries in the Courts. In the middle of the street, at the end of the Strand and the beginning of Fleet Street, is Sir Horace Jones's much-ridiculed monument, surmounted by a griffin, marking the site of old Temple Bar. The building in the Italian style beyond the Clock Tower is the Law Courts branch of the Bank of England, and the Gothic tower rising between Chancery and Fetter Lanes is that of St. Dunstans-in.the-West.Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Up to Date, by George Augustus Sala, 1895 - Ten-Thirty A.M at the New Law Courts (Pt.I-II)
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TEN-THIRTY AM. AT THE NEW LAW COURTS
G. 5. In the High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division,
1892 E. No. 1014. Between Pogis Underpump, plaintiff, and Gotopi and Co.,
"Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, to Wearied Wobbler, Paperstainer. Greeting. We command you to attend at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, at the sittings of the Queen's Bench Division of our High Court of Justice to be holden on Tuesday, the --- day of ---, 1892, at the hour of 10.30 in the forenoon, and so from day to day during the said sittings, until the above cause is tried, to give evidence on behalf of the plaintiff. Witness, Glaucus Owlett, Baron Ivybush, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, the --- day of --- in the year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Ninety-Two."
This is the engaging document which, about three weeks ago, just as you had finished your breakfast) was [-323-] handed to you by an attorney's clerk, with a complexion like a suet pudding, enlivened here and there by currants in the shape of pimples of a pale mauve hue; and thatched with a shock of red hair. So far as you could gather from the statements of your domestics, this unwelcome bearer of a writ of subpoena obtained admission to your residence on the plea that he had something to do with the gas, or that he wished to ascertain the net value of a first edition of Cocker's Arithmetic. At all events, he did get in somehow - attorneys' clerks would bore their way into a lignum vitae chest with four locks and two iron bands round it - and after cheerily remarking that it was a fine morning (it happened to be pouring cats and dogs), he served you with the subpoena, tendered you half-a-crown in payment of your travelling expenses to the Royal Law Courts in the Strand, and took a somewhat precipitate departure; quite indifferent to your wrathful, "I ought to have had a guinea instead of two-and-sixpence for my expenses," and your indignant declaration that you were a hostile witness and would probably do the plaintiff more harm than good if you were called. As the clerk scuttled downstairs, you shouted over the banisters that you wouldn't come at all; whereupon he looked up with a fiendish grin on the suet-pudding face, and said, "YOU MUST". Having discharged this Parthian dart, he vanished into the infinities.
After the departure of this limb of the law, you took up the abhorred subpoena, stuck it in the pier-glass, and shook your fist at it. Then you felt very much as Job [-324-] expressed himself as having felt with reference to his birthday. You had formed such nice little plans for a day out of town on the very date fixed for your enforced attendance at the Halls of Themis! Wither the Halls of Themis! You were going to Brighton, to Tunbridge Wells, to Newmarket, to the Crystal Palace; but now all your plans are dashed to atoms by this implacable piece of paper. It was but a sorry consolation to sneer at the immense amount of tautology in the summons. Truly it was most gracious and condescending on the part of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland to send you her greeting, and in the first person plural too; and to a modified extent you feel flattered that the Lord High Chancellor, whose acquaintance you once made at a public dinner, and who cut you dead the next day in Pall Mall, should testify to the genuineness of the Royal invitation.
On the whole, however, you are more strongly inclined to agree with Prince Bismarck, who, at Versailles, in 1870, talking to Dr. Moritz Busch on the inordinate prolixity of English legal processes, remarked, "What is the use of all this diffuse talk about Victoria, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith, sending Greeting in a writ of summons to somebody whom Her Majesty does not know from Adam? Would it not be more practical and easy to say, 'Look here, you scoundrel, you come to the New Law Courts, Queen's Bench Division, on such or such a day, and don't tell any lies, or it will be the worse for you'?"
There is plainly no armour against fate, as the [-325-] Elizabethan poet so pregnantly reminded us. You know that you will lose time, money, and patience by appearing as a witness in the case of Underpump versus Gotopi; but you have been served with the subpoena, and you must needs obey it. So you resign yourself to your unhappy lot; and on the appointed Tuesday dispatch a hasty breakfast, and, after your ill-digested meal, hail the shabbiest of four-wheeled cabs, and, feeling more than ever like the patriarch Job on his birthday, make the best of your way to the Royal Courts of Justice.
It is one of those charming London November mornings, when there is taking place a kind of triangular duel between the rain, the fog, and the smoke, all fiercely battling for the mastery. The result of their contest is an unanimous agreement on the part of all three to half drench you with drizzling raindrops, largely mingled with soot, and half choke and half blind you with the carburetted hydrogen of coal smoke combined with the native odour, so it would seem, of the Essex marshes, which exhilarating perfume in the shape of fog has come to spend a merry forenoon in town.
When the poet Coleridge visited Cologne he professed to have discovered no less than seventy distinct stenches in that venerable cathedral city. There are many more on a damp and foggy day in London still, this much justice must be done to the new Law Courts, in the admission that in winter time they have one grand and peculiar miasma of their own - a more [-326-] powerful and more nauseous emanation even than that of Great Grubby Street Police Court. It is an amalgamated effluvium, a reek of stuff gowns, dog-eared papers, mouldy parchment, horse-hair wigs, imperfectly washed spectators, police constables and witnesses, with a bracing whiff of ammonia from the wood pavement in the Strand outside, to which, on days when a sensational trial is in progress, must be added the Araby the Blest gusts from the scent-bottles and the perfumed handkerchiefs of the gaily-dressed ladies who have flocked to listen, with the greediest of ears, to the scandalous details of a crapulent case, just as they would flock to an opéra-bouffe theatre to witness some mongrel, topical, and choregraphic entertainment, full of slang dialogue, and fishfag "breakdowns" and "cellarflaps."
You have not the slightest idea as to the whereabouts of the particular Court of the Queen's Bench Division where the case of Underpump versus Gotopi is to be heard. At the central entrance gate, towards which crowds of lawyers' clerks, with stuff bags under their arms, are flocking, you think that you might as well ask a policeman, and you address yourself to a very bluff, stalwart, morose-looking constable, who to all appearance has had something for breakfast which did not agree with him. At all events, he meets your deferential query with a "dunno," and looks as if he had a good mind to run you in forthwith for your impertinence. So you venture timidly up some stone steps and find yourself in a stone hall immensely long, [-327-] immensely high, and ridiculously narrow in its proportions. It is very dark to boot, and about as unimposing an apartment for a Great Hall of Pleas as can readily be imagined.
There are a great many arches supported on massive pillars in this hall; and, on the whole, it strikes you that an unnecessary number of thousands of pounds sterling have been lavished on the construction of a gigantic vestibule into which the public have been distinctly warned that they have no right of entrance unless they are personally concerned in some matter which is before the Court. However, as you are a witness in Underpump versus Gotopi, you feel that, on this day at least, you have a warrant for ingress to the atrium of the Temple of Justice. To your left as you enter, there is a kind of darksome bower in which an attendant is sitting in a grove of overcoats and umbrellas, all emitting the approved London Particular Law Courts Smell.
The attendant is very civil The Queen's Bench Division Courts, he tells you, are upstairs; but in what particular tribunal the case in which you are legally compelled to be interested is to be tried, he knows not. You had better look at the "cause list." It is stuck up, the civil attendant adds, between two of the arches. "Where?" "There;" and he points in the direction of Hampstead Heath; that is to say, he might as well have extended his dexter digits towards that healthy acclivity ; since, to the north, right in front of you, you can discern little beyond fog and smoke.
[-328-] At length you are rescued from a deplorable state of uncertainty by a friendly barrister. You had become aware of him just before you entered the Court as, with the hem of his check trousers prudently turned up, he was cautiously picking his way across the muddy Strand. You cannot exactly make up your mind as to whether he is a young, or a middle-aged, or an elderly counsel learned in the law, because he is lean, and gaunt, and wan, and the rust and rime of the Law Courts are upon him; and he is wrinkled and furrowed, and has altogether "a stale and accustomed look." His wig has been put on awry, and it is off-coloured and seems rnildewed. Even half an ounce of flour would brighten it up a little. His whiskers, which are sparse and straggling, are as mouldy-looking as his peruke. His forensic gown is frayed and threadbare; he has no bag-that has been borne into Court, you suppose, by his clerk-but he has a bundle of papers in his hand, tied up with green ferret.
The papers are dog-eared and yellow with age. What are they, you wonder? Have they any connection with the Qui Tam actions of yore, or the Thellusson Will litigation, or the Tichborne case, or the great suit between Stradling and Styles touching the pied horses and the horses that were pied? In any case, fortunately for you, the lean and hungry-looking barrister of uncertain age turns out to be a most obliging gentleman. The Queen's Bench Division, he says, is upstairs - everything at the New Law Courts seems to be upstairs - and Underpump versus Gotopi will be heard in Court [-329-] Number Nine. He happens to be going thither himself, and will be very happy to be your guide. The case, he incidentally adds, promises to be a "nutty" one. Then, as, with childlike confidence, you follow the seedy barrister upstairs, you begin to bestow a thought on the case itself.
You did not know the plaintiff - who is a distinguished philologer - until about a month ago, when he called on you and expressed a lively wish that you would testify as to what you knew about the custom among dictionary-makers as to the admission to or exclusion from dictionaries of certain words or phrases of Sanskrit, or Greek, Urdu Pahi, or Sclavonic or pure Whitechapel and Bethnal Green derivation. Mr. Underpump was the compiler of a new dictionary of the English language; and Messrs. Gotopi are well-known printers in a large way, carrying on business in Inkdabber Lane, Steampress Street, E. C., who contracted to print the new dictionary in question. It happened, however, that they objected to certain words and phrases in the manuscript supplied by the compiler, on the ground that if they printed them, they might expose themselves to the wrath of Mrs. Grundy, and might possibly be the means of raising a blush to the cheek of the Young Person. Very reluctantly you consented to attend and give evidence as to what you thought was advisable to admit and what to banish from a work which, after all, was to be issued at so high a price as to render its perusal by Mrs. Grundy or the Young Person a matter of extreme unlikelihood; still, [-330-] you were slightly reassured when you gave the required consent to find that several eminent English word-masters had also promised to be in attendance at the Law Courts and give their evidence on this matter of literary etiquette and ethics.
Your conductor pilots you up a narrow and gloomy staircase and into a corridor narrower and gloomier still. First turning to the right; second turning to the left. Then you encounter a great rush of lawyers' clerks and people of indescribable mien who apparently have some business in this most unlovely place. Then your cicerone halts at a door guarded by a police constable; he introduces you into Court Number Nine, and giving you a friendly nod, departs. In what case or cases, you wonder, is he retained, this lean and hungry practitioner: if any practice he have?
It is yet early, and the body of the Court itself is nearly empty, although the exiguous gallery, reserved for the public who have entered by a side door in the Strand, is already full. Perhaps, they have heard, by means of some occult subterranean wire, that Underpump versus Gotopi is going to be a "nutty case." You make your way into what is called the "well" of the Court, that is to say, the not very wide space on the floor between the last row of seats appropriated to Counsel and the Bench itself. You take your seat behind a long table already piled by assiduous clerks with papers tied up with red tape or with the green ferret aforesaid, and from this coign of vantage take a survey of the scene around you-not without a feeling [-331-] of nervous apprehension lest an usher should sternly inform you that you have no right to be in that part of the Court at all, and that you must go somewhere else. Whither? That is uncertain. There is nothing whatever certain about the Law of England save that, whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant in a suit, you will undergo much trouble and more misery, and have some portion, at least, of your skin taken off you, in the way of duly taxed costs.
The spectacle which you behold is scarcely an imposing one; indeed, if you have lately visited Brussels, and witnessed a trial in one of the spacious, handsome, and commodious apartments in the new Palais de Justice there, you might opine that Court Number Nine or court number anything in the late Mr. Street's Brobdingnagian pile, on which something like a million sterling has been spent, is only one of a series of ugly, mean, and shabby rooms, quite unsuitable for the dispensation of justice, to say nothing of dignity, in the capital of the greatest empire in the world. It is ill-lit, ill-ventilated, and full of the old London Particular Law Court odour, which will grow stronger and stronger as the Bar, the attorneys with their clerks, the jury, and the witnesses troop in. At present, beyond a few barristers in the extreme back benches, and the clerks fitfully gliding to and fro, there are very few people to meet your gaze. But as the minute hand of the clock creeps slowly but surely towards 10.30, the court grows fuller and fuller.
There is a little pen with appliances for writing in [-332-] which a group of two or three, swelling imperceptibly to double that number of gentlemen, are gathered and begin to refer to their note-books. These persons you instinctively recognise as representatives of the press. Turning round, and looking at the barristers' seats, rising amphitheatrical till the rearmost are lost in the misty distance, you find that counsel learned in the law have begun to muster with some strength; and presently you recognise more than one eminent Q. C. and several rising stuff-gownsmen of your acquaintance.
It is Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs who is to try the case. A learned judge-black letter scholar so they say, an adept in Norman French, an experienced, impartial, clear-sighted, high-minded, and altogether exemplary luminary of the law. You must not be led away to adopt an erroneous inference by the trifling circumstance that Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs is to all appearance fast asleep during a greater part of the cases heard before him. Yet, somehow or other he contrives to follow every sentence in the addresses of counsel for the plaintiff and the defendant, and every jot and tittle in the examination and cross-examination of the witnesses. It is only Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs' way to close his eyes and to appear to be wrapped in the arms of Morpheus. When the time for summing up arrives, it turns out that he has made careful notes of the entire body of evidence, and he proceeds to astonish the jury by the exhaustiveness of his knowledge of the suit and the lucidity and cogency of his comments thereon.
His lordship is the most punctual of judges, and at [-333-] the stroke of 10.30 he has emerged from a little door as though he were one of the automata which flank - or used to flank - the dial of the great Strasburg clock, has bowed with somewhat an air of cast-iron courtesy to the Bar and the spectators generally, and has taken his seat on the Bench.
TEN-THIRTY A.M. AT THE NEW LAW COURTS
ON the morning of the trial at the Guildhall of the memorable
breach of promise case of Bardell versus Pickwick,
Mr. Snodgrass wondered what the foreman of the jury, whoever he would be, had
got for breakfast. To which made answer sharp little Mr. Perker, plaintiff's
solicitor, "Ah, I hope he has got a good one." "Why so?"
inquired Mr. Pickwick. "Highly important, very important, my dear
sir," replied Perker; "a good, contented, well-breakfasted juryman is
a capital thing to get hold of. Discontented or hungry jurymen, my dear sir,
always find for the plaintiff."
You can scarcely help recalling the sagacious remarks of Mr. Perker as you watch the jury - it is a special one - coming tumbling into the dock and going through, in the usual uncouth and ungainly fashion, the process of being sworn. I don't know how it is, but I never witnessed a trial yet, either in London or in the provinces, where the jurymen did not appear to be tumbling upstairs into their box, and, subsequently, tumbling down-[-335-]stairs out of it. Jurymen's boots seem to me to make a peculiar creaking sound, and to have their own characteristic reverberations on the floor of a Court of Law.
As you do not care one cowrie whether the case of Underpump versus Gotopi and Co. is decided in favour of the plaintiff or the defendants, and your sole solicitude is to ascertain when you will be released from the thraldom under which you are at present mentally groaning, it matters little to you whether the jury this particular morning have had a good breakfast or a bad one. Still you find yourself scanning the twelve honest men rather narrowly, and asking yourself how many of them may be to any extent conversant with the elements of philology, or are competent to understand the curious ethical questions which are intertwined with the literary bearings of the dispute between the lexicographer and his printers.
In a minute or so, the swearing-in having been completed, the jurymen have settled down in their places, looking, on the whole, as if they knew that they were about to be profoundly bored. I was never myself on a jury but once in my life. It was a Middlesex jury, sworn to try criminal causes at Hicks's Hall. My fellow-jurymen were kind enough to elect me as their foreman, and I expected to have to pass at least five days of wearisome woe in the unsavoury precincts of Clerkenwell Green. As it was, being naturally - I hope - of a merciful temperament, I did my best to persuade my colleagues to acquit all the prisoners; and on the second day of the Sessions, the learned Assistant-Judge - bless him! - [-336-] finding perhaps that the course of justice was getting somewhat impeded through the compassionate character of the verdicts, sent me about my business. I hope that the next foreman did not find everybody guilty.
If, as all cheerful people should be, you are an attentive student of your Pickwick, you will, I feel almost certain, be disposed to agree with me that, although English jurisprudence has been to a very great extent reformed or modified since the period when the action in which Mrs. Bardell was plaintiff and Mr. Pickwick defendant was tried, very few changes have taken place in the aspect or even in the personality of an English civil tribunal. Bardell versus Pickwick came for hearing, I should say, about the time when I was born, that is to say, sixty-five years ago, and although that admirable caricaturist "Phiz," in his etching depicting the court, has arrayed his characters in the costume of 1836, it will be a matter of no difficulty to you now to pick out from the rows of seats apportioned to Queen's Counsel and from the upper benches tenanted by the gentlemen in stuff gowns, Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz and Mr. Serjeant Snubbin, with their juniors, Mr. Skimpin and Mr. Phunky.
To be sure, old Serjeants' Inn has been disestablished and demolished, and the legal title of Serjeant is almost, if not altogether, extinct; still the mantles of Buzfuz and Snubbin have descended on shoulders well worthy to support those revered togas. Mr. Pickwick, although he no longer wears shorts and black gaiters, yet sits occasionally on the low bench just beneath the desks [-337-] of the Queen's Counsel, which is constructed for the convenience of attorneys who from that spot can whisper into the ear of the leading counsel in the case any instructions that may be necessary during the progress of the trial. "The occupants of these seats," the illustrious historian of the Pickwick Club tells us, "are invisible to the great body of spectators, inasmuch as they sit on a much lower level than either the barristers or audience, whose seats are raised above the floor. Of course, they have their backs to both, and their faces towards the judge." Such was the "well" of the Court when Dickens wrote his first and most famous novel, and such is it at present.
The witness-box still looks like a kind of pulpit with a brass rail, and in the background, high up towards the gallery, there is the same numerous muster of gentlemen in wigs and gowns, "who present as a body all that pleasing and extensive variety of nose and whisker" for which the Bar of England was so justly celebrated in 1828, and for which it is still as justly renowned. Stay; one little sumptuary alteration has in the course of a couple of generations been made in the appearance of the Bar. Moustaches are pretty plentiful, and even beards make a far from infrequent appearance among the Counsel; while, in the "well," although you feel confident that the sharp-looking little man with the closely-cropped black hair is Mr. Perker, that the stout heavy man is Mr. Dodson, and the lean and hatchet-faced individual is Mr. Fogg, attorneys and solicitors in 1894 no longer think it necessary to [-338-] appear in public in sable garments. A lawyer nowadays may wear any costume that he pleases; whereas, even as recently as the period when Dickens wrote Bleak House he described Mr. Tulkinghorn as being attired entirely in black, with knee-breeches tied up with ribbons, and black stockings. Nowadays the gentlemen who are kind enough to serve us with writs, or to serve others at our request with these documents, to retain counsel for us, and, even if we win our case, may confidently be reckoned upon to favour us with sweet little bills of costs "as between solicitor and client," may wear without reproach any costume they choose. Dodson may appear in a suit of dittoes, and Fogg in a Newmarket cut coat and Oxford grey continuations; while nobody would quarrel with Mr. Perker if he donned a plaid ulster.
The weather being desperately cold this morning, you descry more than one prosperous solicitor whose greatcoat is trimmed with expensive astrakan; and lo and behold, not far from you is Mr. Eugenius Snapdragon of the world-famed firm of Snapdragon and Snapdragon, Jeroboam Place, Holborn, whose picturesque countenance and silvery locks might entitle him to sit as a model for a Venetian senator in a picture by Sir John Gilbert, and who wears above his elegant morning dress a huge pelisse frogged and braided and lined with the costliest Russian sable, with cuffs as deep, so to speak, as a draw-well, and a collar as high as one of the round tires of those Hebrew belles with whose extravagant toilette the prophet Isaiah was so terribly angry.
[-339-] As for the lawyers, so with their clerks. Articled clerks and copying clerks flourish at present just as they did sixty-four years ago; only "the middle-aged copying clerk with a large family, who was always shabby and often drunk," is becoming a somewhat rare specimen of a limb of the law in this well-dressed age. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Lowton, Messrs. Dodson and Fogg and Mr. Perker's young men are quite as conspicuously to the fore this morning in the Strand as they were at Guildhall in 1828, but I scarcely think that they patronise the bar-parlour at the Magpie and Stump quite as habitually or quite as uproariously as they were wont to do when George the Fourth was king; and as you glance round the "well," you become aware of clerks, some of whom have a decidedly sporting and others as pronounced a military appearance. Nay, more than one positively pose as mashers.
And now the great case of Underpump versus Gotopi and Co. has been called on, is well under weigh, and Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs, wrapping his black robes round him and comfortably ensconced among his cushions, seems to be taking his first nap. Mr. Skimpin - the rose by any other name would smell as sweet - opens the case in a not very interesting succession of drawls, lisps, and sniffs, and then Mr. Serjeant Snubbin - I beg his pardon - Mr. Snorter, Q.C., proceeds to address the jury for the plaintiff. Listening to this most eloquent advocate, in whose nasal organ perhaps the sound of the loud bassoon is too frequently audible, you might yield to the pleasant conviction that if there existed on the [-340-] face of this earth an individual who was only a little lower than the angels, that person was Mr. Pogis Underpump, who, by the way, is also an LL.D. of the University of Wildcatsville, Iowa, U.S.A., and a D.C.L. of the University of Schaffskopfstein, Moravia. Somehow or another, Snorter, Q.C., contrives to mingle with the merely legal elements in his client's case the information, doubtless so highly pleasing to the jury, that Mr. Underpump is a devoted husband, the affectionate father of a large family of sons and daughters, whom he is training up in the principles of piety and virtue. The plaintiff's learning, Snorter, Q.C., continues, is prodigious; and as for his lexicon, it might be read from cover to cover by a whole High School full of Young Persons, and all the sweet girl-graduates of Girton and Newnham to boot.
Then he puts the plaintiff into the box, and you are sorry to find that ere poor Mr. Underpump has been five minutes under examination, he offers every promise of making the saddest of messes of it before the trial comes to an end. He has a very low and foggy voice to begin with, and a deplorable habit of biting his nails when he is asked a question, and is generally so indistinct that Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs waking up, to all appearance, from his "beauty sleep," exclaims, "Speak up, sir!" in such a thunderous tone, that the unhappy plaintiff collapses for a moment over the brass rail of the witness-box, just as you have seen Mr. Shallabalah do when Punch gives him an unusually sounding thwack with his baton. The poor man has really a plain tale [-341-] to tell, only he fails to tell it plainly; and even his friendly advocate is compelled now and again to snort at him half angrily and to entreat him not to wander from the point.
But fearfuller woes await him. Mr. O. Bullyrag, Q.C., who leads for the defendant, has been eyeing the plaintiff and licking his lips throughout the whole of his examination. Then comes the hideous agony of cross-examination. Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz - I mean Mr. Bullyrag, Q.C.- rends the unhappy plaintiff, figuratively speaking, limb from limb. He cuts him up into ten thousand pieces; he ties slow matches between the victim's fingers and sets them alight; he heats copper basins and claps them on the shuddering plaintiff's pate; he turns him inside out, and then suspending him by the hair of his head, tied to a rope which passes through a pulley in the ceiling of the court, he bumps Underpump up and down - always figuratively speaking - in an ebony arm-chair, the seat of which is cut into diamond - shaped facets, just as the sworn tormentors did to poor Beatrice Cenci.
At the expiration of about half-an-hour's torture, this wretchedest of Underpumps emerges from the witness-box, streaming with perspiration, staggering feebly, and groping in the air with his hands as though he had been dazed with some fierce light. So he has. Bullyrag, Q.C., has brought his biggest guns to bear upon him, and what with the fire and the smoke, and the smell of villainous saltpetre, the poor wretch is for the moment all but bereft of his senses. The jury look [-342-] upon him more scornfully than compassionately. While he was being examined by Snorter, Q.C., their countenances seemed to show that they considered the plaintiff to be an honest man, although a bit of a blunderer; but when Bullyrag, Q.C., has done with him, and flung his remains into the well of the Court, to be picked up and put together again by his solicitor, the jury, to all seeming, have come to the conclusion that if there ever cumbered the earth a hardened miscreant deaf to every dictate of honour and morality - a despicable caitiff who would think nothing of committing the Whitechapel murders, libelling the Equator, and setting the Thames on fire - that wretch was Pogis Underpump. What on earth was his solicitor about when he failed to retain Bullyrag, Q.C., for the plaintiff?
The plaintiff's case is, happily for him, not yet concluded. The evidence of experts has to be proffered, and it is your turn to be examined. You do not feel very nervous, for you have read the incriminated dictionary very carefully, and conscientiously think it to be a rather valuable addition than otherwise to English philology, although scarcely suitable for the tables of boudoirs or the desks of class-rooms patronised by the Young Person. You have been furbishing up in your memory a few Greek and Latin, Sanskrit and Sclavonic derivations which you have judiciously selected from your commonplace books, and you flatter yourself that you will be able to make a somewhat favourable show in the witness-box. You know Snorter, Q.C., very well. He is a member of a club to which [-343-] you belong - the Cicero -a capital whist-player and an admirable judge of port wine. Moreover you are not at all afraid of Bullyrag, Q.C., convinced as you are that he is at best a noisy wind-bag and braggart with not much more courage when boldly confronted than wind-bags and braggarts are usually found to possess.
But a great surprise, and one of a most pleasurable nature, is in store for you. It is just half-past 11 as you step into the box and are sworn. Then you plant your hands firmly on your hips and prepare yourself to answer the questions which you know will be propounded to you by Snorter, Q.C. Suddenly Bullyrag uprises in his seat and puts it to the judge that you should not be heard at all simply because you happen to be an expert and to know something tangible about dictionaries and their contents. Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs takes the same view that is put forth by Bullyrag, Q.C. The question, remarks his lordship, now altogether wide awake, is not one for experts to decide. It must be left to the common sense of the jury, who are men of the world, fathers of families, ratepayers, shareholders in the Truly Respectable Housekeepers' Company Unlimited, and all that kind of thing. Finally, Mr. Justice Braddlestroggs, with whom you have a dim remembrance of having met when you were witness in some previous trial of some journalistic case, in the course of which his lordship expressed his opinion that writers in newspapers were about the most worthless of mankind inasmuch as they wrote their articles for the purpose of sordid gain, bids you depart.
[-344-] Joy! joy! you are free ; you can telegraph home that you will return to lunch. No, you think better of that; you will lunch at the Cicero Club. All memories of the case of Underpump versus Gotopi are forthwith erased from your mind, just as the writing of a schoolboy is erased, by a wet sponge, from his slate. You do not care what becomes of Underpump, or what is to be the fate of Gotopi and Co.; whether the verdict goes for the plaintiff or for the defendants, or whether the jury, being unable to agree, are discharged without giving any verdict at all. You are as the onager - you may enjoy the desolate freedom of the wild ass - only, as you hurry down the dark stairs into the hall, you are lightly touched on one arm, and turning round you behold the lean and hungry-looking barrister with the frayed gown, the mildewed wig, and the pantaloons turned up at the heel. "Not such a nutty case after all," he remarks; "heard it all, so far as it has gone at least, from the top row, right-hand corner. Always sit there. Don't know how the case will go. Bullyrag is at his best this morning, but you never know what may happen. Sorry you were not called. Bullyrag would have made you sit up. Good-morning. Don't come here again."
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