John McDonnell has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web his website with the electronic text, including scanned images, of the anonymous London Characters and the Humourous Side of London Life. With Upwards of 70 Illustrations apparently by a "Mr. Jones," which the London firm Stanley Rivers & Co. published in 1871. Brackets indicate explanatory material, such as interpretations of contemporary slang, by Mr. McDonnell. [Decorated initial "A" by Thackeray from Vanity Fair — George P. Landow.]
t 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 L1000.
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 distinguishable.
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 caricature likenesses.
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. 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., 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 to himself.
"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 day?"
"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 conscience.
"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.
Last modified 24 November 2012