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[-88-] TEN O'CLOCK A.M. - THE COURT OF QUEEN'S BENCH, AND THE "BENCH" ITSELF.
The author presents his compliments to the "neat-handed Phillis"
who answers (when she is in a good temper, which is but seldom) the
second-floor bell, takes in his letters, brings up his breakfast, stands
in perpetual need of being warned not to light the fire with the proof-
sheets of his last novel, pamphlet on the war, or essay on the AEolic
digamma, or twist into cigar-lights the cheques for large amounts
continually sent him by his munificent publishers, and exercises her
right of search over his tea-caddy and the drawer containing his
cravats, all-round collars, and billet-doux; the author and your
servant presents his compliments to Phillis - ordinarily addressed by
Mrs. Lillicrap, the landlady, as "Mariar, you ussey "- and begs her
to procure for him immediately a skin of the creamiest parchment,
free from grease, a bottle of record ink, a quill plucked from the wing
of a hawk, vulture, or some kindred bird of prey, a box of pounce, a
book of patterns of German text for engrossing, and a hank of red
tape or green ferret, whichsoever, in her aesthetic judgment, she may [-89-] prefer. He would be further obliged if she would step round to the
author's solicitor, and ask, not for that little bill of costs, which has
been ready for some time, but which he is not in the slightest hurry for - but for copies of Tidd's Practice, the Law List, and Lord St.
Leonards' "Handy Book on Property Law." For I, the author,
intend to be strictly legal at ten o'clock in the morning. I serve you
with this copy of "Twice Round the Clock" as with a writ; and in
the name of Victoria, by the grace, &c., send you greeting, and command - no, not command, but
beg - that within eight days you enter
an appearance, to purchase this volume. Else will I invoke the
powers of the great ca. sa. and the terrible fi. fa. I will come against
you, with sticks and staves, and the sheriff of Middlesex shall take
you, to have and to hold, wheresoever you may be found running up
and down in his bailiwick. Son nutrito di latte legate. I am fed with
law's milk at this hour of the morning. Shear me the sheep for
vellum, fill me with quips and quiddities; bind me apprentice to a
law stationer in the Lane of Chancery, over-against Cursitor Street;
and let me also send in a little bill of costs to my publishers, and
charge them so much a "folio," instead of so much a "sheet."
This exercitation over, and the necessary stationery brought by Phillis, alias "Mariar," I approach my great, grim subject with diffident respect. What do I know of law, save that if I pay not, the Alguazils will lay me by the heels; that if I steal, I shall go to the hulks; that if I kill, I shall go hang? What do I know of Sinderesis, feoffors and feoffees, and the law of tailed lands? What of the Assize of Mortdancestor, tenants in dower, villein entry - of Sylva caedua, which is, I am sure you will be glad to hear, more familiarly known as the 45th of Edward the Third? These things are mysteries to me. I bought the habeas corpus once (the palladium of our liberties is an expensive luxury), but its custodian scarcely allowed me to look at it, and, hailing a cab, desired me to "look alive." I have been defendant in an action, but I never could make out why they should hare done the things to me that they did, and why John Lord Campbell at Westminster should have been so bitter against me. I never was on a jury; but I have enjoyed the acquaintance of an Irish gentleman whose presence on the panel was considered invaluable at state trials, he having the reputation of an indomitable "boot-eater." Finally, I have, as most men have, a solicitor, a highly respectable party, who, of course, only charges me the "costs out of pocket." But what is the exact measure of "costs out of pocket ?" I never knew.
[-90-] Not wholly destitute of legal literature is your servant, however. In Pope and Arbuthnot's Reports (vide Miscellanies) I have read the great ease of Stradlings versus Styles, respecting the piebald horses and the horses that were pied, and have pondered much over that notable conclusion (in Norman-French) by the reporter- "Je heard no more parceque j'etais asleep sur mong bench." I have followed the arguments in Bardell versus Pickwick : I have seen the "Avocat Patelin" and the "Lottery Ticket"; I have paced the Salle des Pas Perdus in Paris, and Westminster Hall, London; I knew a captain once who lived in the equally defunct "rules" of the Queen's Bench; and I have played racquets in the area of that establishment, as an amateur (?). So, then, though, in a very humble degree, I conceive myself qualified to discourse to you concerning legal London at ten o'clock in the morning.
The judges of the land-of Queen's Bench, Exchequer, and Common Pleas, Chief-Justices, Barons, and Puisne Judges, and Sages of the Court of Probate, Divorce, and Matrimonial Causes - are mostly jaunty, elderly gentlemen of cheerful appearance, given in private life to wearing light neckcloths, buff waistcoats, and pepper-and-salt trousers, and particularly addicted to trotting down to the Courts of Westminster mounted on stout hacks - 'tis the bishops, par excellence, who ride the cobs-and followed by sober grooms. There are judges who, it is reported, make up considerable books for the Derby and Oaks - nay, for the double event. I have seen a judge in a white hat, and I have seen a vice-chancellor drinking iced fruit effervescent at Stainsbury's in the Strand.
Parliament Street and Palace Yard are fair to see, this pleasant morning in Term time. The cause list for all the courts is pretty full, and there is a prospect of nice legal pickings. The pavement is dotted with barristers' and solicitors' clerks carrying blue and crimson bags plethoric with papers. Smart attorneys, too, with shoe-ribbon, light vests, swinging watch-guards, and shiny hats (they have begun to wear moustaches even, the attorneys!), bustle past, papers beneath their arms, open documents in their hands, which they sort and peruse as they walk. The parti-coloured fastenings of these documents flutter, so that you would take these men of law for so many conjurors about to swallow red and green tape. And they do conjure, and to a tune, the attorneys. Lank office-boys, in hats too large, and corduroys and tweeds too short, and jackets, stained with ink, too short for them; cadaverous office-runners and process-servers, in [-91-] greasy and patched habiliments, white at the seams; bruised and battered, ruby-nosed law-writers, skulking down to Westminster in quest of a chance copying job; managing clerks, staid men given to abdominal corpulence, who wear white neckcloths, plaited shirt-frills, black satin waistcoats, and heavy watch chains and seals, worn, in the good old fashion, underneath the vest, and pendulous from the base line thereof, file along the pavement to their common destination, the great Hall of Pleas at Westminster. The great solicitors and attorneys, men who may be termed the princes of law, who are at the head of vast establishments in Bedford Row and Lincoln's Inn Fields, and whose practice is hereditary, dash along in tearing cabs: you look through the windows, and see an anxious man, with bushy gray whiskers, sitting inside; the cushions beside and before him littered, piled, cumbered, with tape-tied papers. He has given Sir Fitzroy three hundred, Sir Richard five hundred, guineas, for an hour's advocacy. Thousands depend upon the decision of the twelve worthy men who will be in the jury-box in the course of an hour. See! one of them is cheapening apples at a stall at this very moment, and tells his companion (who has just alighted from a chaise-cart) that in that little shop yonder Marley murdered the watchmaker's shopman. Great lawyers such as these have as many noble fortunes in their hands as great doctors have noble lives. Of the secrets of noble reputations, doctors and lawyers are alike custodians; and, trustworthy.
The briefless barristers would like to patronise cabs, but they can't afford those luxuries. They walk down Parliament Street arm-in-arm, mostly men with bold noses of the approved Slawkenbergius pattern, and very large red or sandy whiskers. Whiskers cost nothing, noses are cheap - I had mine broken once for nothing, though it cost me several pounds sterling to get it mended again. Their briefless clothes are very worn and threadbare, their hats napless, their umbrellas- they always carry umbrellas - gape at the mouth, and distend at the nozzle. These barristers are second wranglers, fellows of their college, prizemen; they have pulled stroke-oar, and bibbed at wine parties given by marquises. They are very poor and briefless now. The chambers in the Temple are very high up; the carpet, ragged; the laundress is a tipsy shrew who pilfers ; the boot-boy insists upon serving up small coal broiled with the mutton chops. It is but seldom, but very seldom, that they can order a steak at the "Rainbow," or demand a bottle of Port from the plump waiter at the " Cock." No attorneys ascend their staircase ; no briefs are frayed in being pushed through the [-92-] aperture of their letter-boxes; editors are deaf, and the only magazine which receives their contributions don't pay. They cannot help asking themselves sometimes, sadly and querulously, poor fellows, of what avail is the grand classical education, tedious and expensive; the slaving for a degree or for honours ; the long nights spent beneath the glare of the reading lamp, learning and re-learning the palimpsests of law; of what avail are the joints of mutton and bottles of heady wine consumed at the keeping-term dinners ; of what avail the square of the hypothenuse, and the knowledge (in the best Latin) that strong men lived before Agamemnon; of what avail the wig (it is getting unpowdered), the gown (it is growing threadbare), and the big Greek prize-books with the College arms emblazoned on the covers? Lo! there is Tom Cadman, who has been an unsuccessful play-actor and an usher in a cheap boarding-school, writing leaders for a daily paper in the coffee-room of the " Albion," or returning thanks for the press at a champagne dinner; there is Roger Bullyon, of the Home Circuit, whose only talent is abuse, who knows no more of law than he does of the conduct to be expected from a gentleman, who will never, if he live till ninety, be more than a fluent, insolent donkey, and yet there he is, with more briefs than he can carry, or his clerk compute the fees on. But console yourselves, oh, ye briefless ones. Though the race be not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, your chance is yet in the lucky- bag; the next dive may bring it forth splendid and triumphant.
"No one is so accursed by fate,
No one so utterly desolate,
But some heart, though unknown,
Responds unto his own."
Mr. Right, the attorney, is coming post-haste after you, his waistcoat
pockets distended with retainers and refreshers. In that tremendous
lottery of the law, as wise Mr. Thackeray terms it, who shall say that
you may not be next the fortunate wretches who shall win the prize - the gros lot? To-day is poverty and heart-sickening hope deferred
and the pawn-shop; but to-morrow may make you the thunderer
before the judicial committee of the Privy Council on the great appeal
from Bombay, Parsetjee-Jamsetjee-Ramsetjee Loll versus Boomajee-
Krammajee-Howdajee Chow. It may make you standing counsel to
the Feejee Islands Company, or defender of group 97 of Railway
Bills. So, despair not, briefless man but pause before you sell that
sheet anchor of hope, of yours, for old iron.
[-93-] Barristers in large practice drive over Westminster Bridge's crazy arches (the rogues have houses at Norwood and Tulse Hill, with conservatories and pineries) in small phaetons or gleaming clarences, with sleek white horses. They have wives rustling in sheeny silks and glowing with artificial flowers, who, their lords being deposited in the temple of Theseus, are borne straight away to Stagg and Mantell's, or Waterloo House; or, perchance, to that glorious avenue of Covent Garden Market, where they price cucumbers at Mrs. Solomon's, and bouquets at Mrs. Buck's. For, note it as a rule, though it may seem a paradox, people who have kitchen-gardens and hot-houses are always buying fruit, flowers, and vegetables. The steady-going old Nisi Prius barristers, in good practice-sedate fogies-with their white neckcloths twisted like halters round their necks; pompous old fellows, who jingle keys and sovereigns in their pockets, as, their hands therein, they prop up the door-jambs of the robing-room, in converse with weasel-faced attorneys, are borne to Westminster in cabs. Very hard are they upon the cabman, paying him but the exact fare, and threatening him with the severest terrors of the law at the slightest attempt at overcharge; and much are they maledicted by the badged Jehus as they drive slowly away. These Nisi Prius worthies are great hands at a rubber of whist, and are as good judges of port-wine as they are of law.
Whence comes the Chief, the leader, the great advocate of the day, who carries attorney and solicitor general, chief-justice, chancellor, peer, written as legibly on his brow as Cain carried the brand? - how he reaches Westminster Hall, or how he gets away from it, no man can tell. He will make a four hours' speech to-day, drive eight witnesses to the verge of distraction, blight with sarcasm, and sear with denunciation, a semi-idiotic pig-jobber, the defendant in an action of breach of promise of marriage, in which the plaintiff is a stay-maker of the mature age of thirty-seven. What shrieks of laughter will ring through the court when in burning accents, in which irony is mingled with indignation, the Chief reads passages from the love-smitten but incautious pig-jobber's correspondence, and quotes from his poetical effusions (they will write poetry, these defendants) such passages as-
"When you tork
You are like roast pork.
"Say, luvley chine,
Will you be mine.
[-94-] Two hours afterwards, and the Chief will be on the other side of Westminster Hall, in the Commons' House of Parliament, pounding away
on the wrongs of a few people in Staffordshire who object to the odour
of some neighbouring gas-works, and, to use an Americanism, "chawing
up" the ministry at a tremendous rate. How is it that about the
same time he manages to dine with the Merchant Cobblers at their
grand old hall on St. Crispin's Hill; to take the chair at the festival of
the Association for improving the moral condition of Mudlarks; to
make a two hours' speech at the meeting for the suppression of street
"catch-'em-alive-O's"; to look in at half-a-dozen west-end clubs; to hear
Bosio- ah poor Bosio, ah, poor swan, miasma'd to death in the horrid
marshes of Ingria and Carehia - in the last act of the "Traviata ;" and
to be seen flitting out of the bar-parlour of Joe Muttonfist's hostelry
in Mauley Court-yard, Whitechapel, where the whereabouts of the
impending great fight between Dan Bludyer, surnamed the "Mugger,"
and Tim Sloggan, better known as "Copperscull," for two hundred
pounds a-side, will be imparted to the patrons of the "fancy?" Tom
Stoat, who knows everything and everybody, says he saw the Chief
at the Crystal Palace Flower Show, and it is certain that he (the
Chief) will be at the Queen's Ball to-night (he has a dinner party this
evening), and that after the opera he will take a chop and kidney at
Evans's. And after that? What a life! What frame can bear, what
mind endure it! When does he study? when does he read those mammoth briefs ? when does he note those cases, prepare those eloquent
exordia and perorations? Whence comes the minute familiarity with
every detail of the case before him which he seems to possess, the
marvellous knowledge he displays of the birth, parentage, education,
and antecedents of the trembling witnesses whom he cross-examines?
What a career ! and see, there is its Hero, shambling into Westminster
Hall, a spare, shrunken, stooping, prematurely-aged man. He has not
had a new wig these ten years, and his silk gown is shabby, almost to
raggedness. He is no doubt arguing some abstruse point of law with
that voluble gentleman, his companion, in the white waistcoat. Let us
approach and listen, for I am Asmodeus and we are eaves-droppers.
Point of law ! Upon my word, he is talking about the Chester Cup.
In with ye, then, my merry men all, to the hall of Westminster, for the Court of Queen's Bench is sitting. It is not a handsome court; it is not an imposing court. If I were to say that it was a very mean and ugly room, quite unworthy to figure as an audience-chamber for [-95-] the judges of the land, I don't think that I should be in error. Where are the lictors and the fasces? Where the throned dais on which the wise men of the Archeopagus should properly sit? The bench looks but an uncomfortable settle! the floor of the court is a ridiculous little quadrangle of oak, like a pie-board ; the witness-box is so small that it seems capable of holding nothing but the shooting "Jack" of our toyshop experience; and the jury-box has a strong family likeness to one of the defunct Smithfield sheep-pens, where sit the intelligent jury, who have an invincible propensity, be the weather hot or cold, for wiping their foreheads with blue cotton pocket handkerchiefs. A weary martyrdom some of those poor jurymen pass; understanding a great deal more about the case on which they have to deliver at its commencement than at its termination; bemused, bewildered, and dazzled by the rhetorical flourishes and ingenious sophistry of the counsel on both sides, and utterly nonplussed by the elaborately obscure pleas that are put in. But the usher has sworn them in that they "shall will and truly try" the matter before them; and try it they must. To a man who has, perhaps, a matter of sixty or seventy thousand pounds at stake on the issue of a trial, the proceedings of most tribunals seem characterised by strange indifference, and an engaging, though, to the plaintiff and defendant, a somewhat irritating laisser aller. The attorrneys take snuff with one another, and whisper jokes. The counsel chat and poke each other in the ribs; the briefless ones, in the high back rows, scribble caricatures on their blotting-pads, or pretend to pore over "faggot" briefs, or lounge from the Queen's Bench into the Exchequer, and from the Exchequer into the Bail Court, and so on and into the Common Pleas ; the usher nods, and cries, "Silence," sleepily ; the clerk reads in a droning monotonous voice documents of the most vital importance, letters that destroy and blast a life-long reputation of virtue and honour letters that bring shame on noble women, and ridicule on distinguished men ; vows of affection, slanderous accusations, outbursts of passion, anonymous denunciations, ebullitions of love, hatred, revenge. Some one is here, doubtless, to report the case for to-morrow's papers, but no active pens seem moving. The Chief has not assumed his legal harness yet; and the junior counsel employed in the case are bungling over their preliminaries. The faded moreen curtains ; the shabby royal arms above the judge, with their tarnished gilding, subdued-looking lion, and cracked unicorn ; the ink-stained, grease-worn desks and forms ; the lack-lustre, threadbare auditory,[-96-]
TEN O'CLOCK A.M. : INTERIOR OF THE COURT OF QUEEN'S BENCH
[-97-] with woe-be-gone garments and mien, who fill up the hinderpart of the
auditory: though what they can want in the Court of Queen's Bench
Heaven only knows; the bombazine-clad barristers, in their ill-
powdered wigs-quite fail in impressing you with a sense of anything
like grandeur or dignity. Yet you are in Banco Regina. Here our
sovereign lady the Queen is supposed to sit herself in judgment; and
from this court emanates the Great Writ of Right - the Habeas Corpus.
To tell the truth, neither counsel, jury, nor audience seem to know or
to care much about what is going on ; but there are three persons who
sit up aloft-not exactly sweet little cherubs, for they are very old,
wrinkled men-who know the case like a book, and considerably better
than many books; who have weighed the pros and cons to the rninutest
hair's breath, to a feather's turn of the scale, who are awake and alive,
alive O! to all the rhetorical flourishes and ingenious sophistry of the
advocates, and who will tell the jury exactly what the case is made of
in about a tithe of the time that the junior counsel would take in enumerating
wrongs of which the plaintiff complains, or whose commission
the defendant denies. it is an edifying sight to watch the presiding judge -
that shrivelled man in petticoats - with his plain scratch wig
all awry. Now he hugs his arms within his capacious sleeves; now he
crosses his legs; now, yes, now he twiddles his judicial thumbs; now he
nods his august head, allows it to recline over one shoulder, and seems
on the point of falling off to sleep ; now he leans wearily, his cheek in
his hand, his elbow on the bench, first on one side, then on the other;
then he rises, shakes his old head, yawns, and, with his hands in his
pockets, surveys the outer bar through gold-rimmed spectacles. He
seems the most bored, the most indifferent spectator there ; but only
wait till the chiefs on both sides have concluded their eloquent bamboozling of the jury; mark my Lord Owlett settle his wig and his
petticoats then, sort and unfold the notes he has been lazily (so it
seemed) scrawling from time to time, and in a piping, quavering voice,
begin to read from them. You marvel at the force, the clarity, the
perspicuity of the grand old man ; you stand abashed before the intellect, clear as crystal, at an age when man's mind as
well as his body
is oft-times but labour and sorrow; you are astonished that so much
vigour, so much shrewdness, so much eloquence, should exist in that
worn and tottering casket. Goodness knows, I am not an optimist,
and give but too much reason to be accused of nil admirari tendencies;
yet I cannot help thinking that if on this earth there exists a body of [-98-] men grandly wise, generously eloquent, nobly impartial, and sternly
incorruptible, those men are the judges of England.
Come away though, now, Don Cleophas; we must go further afield. The case that is "on" just now is not of sufficient interest to detain us; though here is an episode sufficiently grotesque. An old lady is entitled to some damages, or to some verdict, or to some money or apology, or, at all events, something from somebody. My Lord Owlett suggests a compromise, and instructs counsel to ask her what she will take to settle matters.
"What will you take?" asks the gentleman in the bob-tailed wig of the old lady.
Now the old lady is very deaf, and merely shakes her head at the counsel, informing the jury, in confidence, that she is "very hard o' hearin'."
"His Lordship wants to know what you will take?" asks the counsel again; this time bawling as loud as ever he can in the old lady's ear.
"I thank his lordship kindly," the ancient dame answers stoutly " and if it's no illconwenience to him, I'll take a little warm ale!"
And, amid a roar of laughter from the spectators, we quit the Court of Queen's Bench.
Nor must we linger, either, beneath William Rufus's carved roof- tree, so ingeniously heightened, and otherwise transmogrified, by Sir Charles Barry and his satellites. This is a different Westminster Hall to that which I knew in my childhood, just after the great fire of 34. There was no great stained glass window at the end then, no brazen Gothic candelabra, no golden House of Lords in the corridor beyond, where the eye is dazzled with the gilding, the frescoes, the scarlet benches and rich carpets, and where the Lord High Chancellor sits on the woolsack, like an allegory of Themis in the midst of a blaze of fireworks. In my time, the keeper of her Majesty's conscience and the Great Seal sat in a panelled room, like a dissenting chapel. Let us hasten forth from the Great Hall, for it is full of memories. I spoke of famous footsteps on the Mall, St. James's ; how many thousand footsteps - thousands? - millions rather, have been lost here in fruitless pacing up and down Westminster Hall is always cool : well it may be so; the dust was laid and the air refrigerated centuries since by the tears and the sighs of ruined suitors. What a wondrous place the old hall is I what reminiscences it conjures up - they will not be laid in the Red [-99-] Sea - of the gorgeous banquets of the Plantagenets, of the trials of Laud and Strafford, and of Laud and Strafford's master; of Mr. Jonathan Wild's ancestor walking the hall with a straw in his shoe ; of poor little Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, her husband, standing their trial here on a velvet-covered platform in the midst of the hall, for treason to Bloody Mary. Did they ever cut a state prisoner's head off in Westminster Hall, I wonder, as they did Mary Stuart's in the hall at Fotheringay? The place is large enough.
Once again I stand within the precincts of the Queen's Bench; but where is my Lord Owlett, where the bewigged barristers and the jurybox with the "twelve honest men" within wiping their semperperspiring foreheads? I am standing in the centre of a vast gravelled area, bounded on the south side by a brick wall of tremendous height, and crowned by those curious arrangements of geometrical spikes known as chevaux de frise. To the north there is a range of ordinary- looking houses, the numbers of which are painted very conspicuously in white characters on a black ellipse above the doors, about which, moreover, there is this peculiarity, that they are always open. If you peep through the yawning portals, you will see that the staircases are of stone, and that the roofs of the rooms on the ground-floor are vaulted. There are no barred windows, no bolts, bars, or grim chains apparent, though from the back windows of these houses there is a pleasant prospect of another high wall, equally surmounted with chevaux de frise. When the spider has got the fly comfortably into his web, and has satisfied himself that he can't get out, I daresay that he does not take the trouble to handcuff him. In the midst of this gravelled area stands a pump, known as the "Dolphin ;" to the right of this institution, and somewhat in the back-ground, is a great square building, called the " State House." The rooms here are double the size to those in the houses I have alluded to, and are accorded by the governor of the place as a matter of favour to those inmates of the - well, the college - who can afford to fill them with a sufficient quantity of furniture. Close to the State House is a strong iron gateway, through which the guardians of the college have a strong disinclination to allow the under-graduates to pass, unless they be furnished with a certain mysterious document called "a discharge." The guardians themselves are ruddy men with very big keys ; but they seem on the very best terms with the gentlemen whose intended exercise outside [-100-]
TEN O'CLOCK : INTERIOR OF THE QUEEN'S BENCH PRISON
[-101-] the walls they feel compelled (doubtless through solicitude for their
precious health) to debar, and are continually bidding them "good
morning" in the most affable manner; it being also one of their
idiosyncrasies to rub their noses with the handles of the big keys while
going through the salutation. In days not very remote there were
certain succursals, or chapels of ease, to the college, in the shape of
dingy tenements in the borough of Southwark, extending as far as the
Elephant and Castle; and in these tenements, which were called the
"Rules," such collegians as were in a position to offer a fantastic guarantee entitled a " Bail Bond," were permitted to dwell, and
thence they wrote letters to their friends and relations, stating that
the iron was entering into their souls, and that they were languishing - well, never mind
where - in college. These "rules" were abolished
in the early years of her present Majesty's reign; and at the same time
a stern Secretary of State prohibited the renewal of a notable saturnalia
called "a Mock Election," of which no less celebrated an artist than
Hayden painted a picture (he was himself a collegian at the time),
which was bought, for considerably more than it was worth, by King
George IV. The saturnalia was fast falling into desuetude by itself;
but the Home Secretary also interfered to put a stop to the somewhat
boisterous conviviality which had reigned among those collegians who
had money, from time immemorial, and which bad converted the
Queen's Bench into a den of the most outrageous and disgraceful dissipation and revelry. Under the present not very stringent regulations
(considering what a carcere duro is, the other alma mater of Whitecross Street, to say nothing of the hideous place called Horsemonger
Lane), the collegians are restricted to the consumption of one quart of
beer-which they may have just as strong as ever they like - or one
imperial pint of wine, per diem, at their option ; yet it is a very
curious fact, that no collegian who was flush of cash was ever found to
labour under any difficulty in providing sufficient refreshment for his friends when
he gave a wine party in his room. The payment of rent is unknown in the college ; and it is but rarely that the time-honoured
system of "chummage," or quartering two or more collegians in one room, and allowing the richest to pay his companions a stipulated sum
to go out and find quarters elsewhere, is resorted to. As a rule, the
collegian on his arrival, after spending one night in a vaulted apartmeat close to the entrance, and which bears a strong resemblance to
the Gothic vault described in "Rookwood" - an apartment known as
[-102-] the "receiving ward" - has allotted to him, by solemnly-written
ticket, a whitewashed chamber of tolerable size, moderately haunted by
mice, and "passably" infested by fleas. Straightway there starts up,
as it were from the bowels of the earth, a corpulent female, rubicund
in countenance, tumbled in garments, and profuse in compliments,
assuring him that he is the very "Himage of the Markis of Scatterbrass," which his aunt let him out by composing with his creditors, or
"Capting Spurbox, of the Hoss Guards, as 'ad champagne hevery mornin', and went through the court payin' nothink." She, for a
small weekly stipend - say, five shillings - agrees to furnish your room;
and in an astonishingly short space of time you find the bare cube
transformed into a sufficiently comfortable bed-room and sitting-room.
For eighteenpence a week extra you may have a double green baize
door with brass nails, like a verdant coffin, and white dimity curtains
to your windows, with real tassels. In the train of the stout tumbled
female, there always follows a gaunt woman of no particular age, with
ropy hair, a battered bonnet, and scanty garments apparently nailed
to her angular form, who expresses, with many curtsies, her desire to
"do for you. Don't be alarmed; she simply means that for three or
four shillings a week she will clean your room, boil your kettle, and
bring up the dinner, which has been cooked for you in the common
kitchen of the college. She, too, has an acolyte, a weazened old man
an a smock frock and knee shorts (though I think that he must be
dead or have left college by this time*) (* This old man's name was "Corney," at least I never knew him by any
other appellation, he had been a collegian for years; and being a Briton who
"stood upon his rights," and was for "freedom of opinion," gave the governor
an immense amount of trouble. I think one of the happiest days of Captain
Hudson's life must have been the one on which "Corney" (who, it turned out, ought
never to have been imprisoned at all) got his discharge. He took lodgings immediately, I have heard, at a neighbouring coal shed, and brought an action
(in forma pauperis) against the governor for false imprisonment, and wrongful detention of
property, about once a fortnight.) who for a shilling a week will
make your boots shine like mirrors; who resides here, and has resided
here for many years, because he can't or won't pay thirty pounds, and
who is reported to be worth a mint of money. So here the collegian
lives, and makes as merry as he can under adverse circumstances. The
same tender precautions adopted by the authorities of the college to
prevent the unnecessary egress of those in state pupillari, are enforced
to preserve a due state of morality among them. There is a chapel, as [-103-] there is an infirmary, within the walls; the lady collegians, of whom
there is always a small number in hold, are kept in jealous seclusion.
Dicing and card-playing are strictly prohibited, and contumacious contravention of the rules involves the probability of the recalcitrant
student being immured in a locus penitentiae called the " Strong
Room." There he is kept for four and twenty hours, without tobacco.
Horrible punishment! This is in the college attached to her
Majesty's Bench. Pshaw! Why should I beat about the Bench, or the
bush, any longer, or even endorse the quibble adopted by those collegians who wish to have their letters addressed to them genteelly,
of "No. 1, Belvidere Place?" That which I have been describing is a
debtors' jail - the Queen's Prison, in fact.
And what of the collegians - the prisoners-themselves? It is ten o'clock in the morning, and they are sauntering about in every variety of shabby deshabille, smoking pipes after their meagre breakfasts, walking arm in arm with one another, or with friends who have come to see them, and whose ingress is permitted from nine a.m. until seven p.m. None are allowed to enter after that hour; but those visitors already in are allowed to stop till nine in the evening. Some of the collegian prisoners, poor fellows, have women and little children with them, who are very silly and sentimental, in their illogical way; but you may depend on it that, in nine out of ten of these groups, the staple theme of conversation is the probability of the captive being "out next week." They are always going to be out next week, these caged birds ; but they die sometimes in the Bench, for all that.
Don't you think, too, that it would be as graceful as expedient to draw a veil over these broken-down men ? Even the felons in Pentonville are allowed to wear masks in the exercise-yard. Why should I, whose sternest, strongest aim it is to draw from Life, and from the life only, but who wish to pluck the mote from no man's eye, to cast a stone at no glass house built on the pattern of mine own, expatiate in word-pictures upon the dilapidated dandies, the whilom dashing bucks in dressing-gowns out at elbows, and Turkish caps with tassels, set, with a woe-begone attempt at jaunty bearing, on one side, the decayed tradesmen, the uncertificated bankrupts, the cankers of a calm world and a long peace, that prowl and shuffle through the yards of a debtors' prison? Why, every man of the world has acquaintances, if not friends, there. Why, poor old Jack, who gave the champagne dinners we were so glad to be invited to, has been in the Bench for [-104-] months. Yonder broken-winged butterfly, relapsing, quite against the order of nature, into a state of grubhood again, may have gone through his Humanities with the best of us, and may say Hodie midi, cras tibi. To-day he is in jail; but to-morrow I, you, my brother the millionaire, may be taken in execution; and who shall say that we shall have the two pounds twelve wherewith to purchase the habeas corpus?
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]