A (Free) Book About Lawyers

Project Gutenberg has released Pleasantries of English Courts and Lawyers: A Book about Lawyers, by John Cordy Jeaffreson, originally published in London in 1875. (The book has been variously available over the years, last published by Hein in 1974.) Gutenberg makes the book available for downloading in HTML and plain text formats, in addition to Plucker format, which is new to me but makes texts suitable for reading on smart phones and the like.

This is a quaint, not to say arch, look at life at the English bar that can be amusing and may provoke thoughts about how much things have — or have not — changed in the last century and a quarter. Herewith a sampler of quotes from more or less random points within the book.

A law-student of the present day finds it difficult to realize the brightness and domestic decency which characterized the Inns of Court in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Under existing circumstances, women of character and social position avoid the gardens and terraces of Gray’s Inn and the Temple. [page 1]

Bar mourning is no longer a feature of legal costume in England. On the death of Charles II. members of the bar donned gowns indicative of their grief for the national loss, and they continued, either universally or in a large number of cases, to wear these woful habiliments till 1697, when Chief Justice Holt ordered all barristers practising in his court to appear “in their proper gowns and not in mourning ones”–an order which, according to Narcissus Luttrell, compelled the bar to spend £15 per man. From this it may be inferred that (regard being had to change in value of money) a bar-gown at the close of the seventeenth century cost about ten times as much as it does at the present time. [page 100]

One of Erskine’s smartest puns referred to a question of evidence. “A case,” he observed, in a speech made during his latter years, “being laid before me by my veteran friend, the Duke of Queensbury–better known as ‘old Q’–as to whether he could sue a tradesman for breach of contract about the painting of his house; and the evidence being totally insufficient to support the case, I wrote thus: ‘I am of opinion that this action will not lie unless the witnesses do.'” [page 183]

Bringing from Oxford to London that fine sense of the merits of port wine which characterized the thorough Oxonion of a century since, William Scott made it for some years a rule to dine with his brother John on the first day of term at a tavern hard by the Temple; and on these occasions the brothers used to make away with bottle after bottle not less to the astonishment than the approval of the waiters who served them. Before the decay of his faculties, Lord Stowell was recalling these terminal dinners to his son-in-law, Lord Sidmouth, when the latter observed, “You drank some wine together, I dare say?” Lord Stowell, modestly, “Yes, we drank some wine.” Son-in-law, inquisitively, “Two bottles?” Lord Stowell, quickly putting away the imputation of such abstemiousness, “More than that.” Son-in-law, smiling, “What, three bottles?” Lord Stowell, “More.” Son-in-law, opening his eyes with astonishment, “By Jove, sir, you don’t mean to say that you took four bottles?” Lord Stowell, beginning to feel ashamed of himself, “More; I mean to say we had more. Now don’t ask any more questions.” [page 208]

[via Bill Dimitroff]

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