Scene.--A [Civil] Court of Justice. Barristers, Attorneys, and Jurymen.

Dramatis Persona: The Learned Judge, The Plaintiff, The Defendant, Counsel for the Plaintiff, Usher, Foreman of the Jury, Associate, First Bridesmaid, Chorus of Bridesmaids and Jurymen.

Time: The Present.

Usher: Silence in Court, and all attention lend.
Behold your Judge! In due submission bend!

Enter Judge on Bench.


All hail, great Judge!
To your bright rays
We never grudge
Ecstatic praise.
All hail!

May each decree
As statute rank
And never be
Reversed in banc.
All hail!


For these kind words, accept my thanks, I pray.
A Breach of Promise we've to try to-day. [line 104]
But firstly, if the time you'll not begrudge,
I'll tell you how I came to be a Judge.

ALL. He'll tell us how he came to be a Judge!

JUDGE. I'll tell you how. . .

ALL. He'll tell us how. . .

JUDGE. I'll tell you how. . .

ALL. He'll tell us how. . .

JUDGE. Let me speak. . .!

ALL. Let him speak!

JUDGE. Let me speak!

ALL (in a stage whisper). Let him speak!
He'll tell us how he came to be a Judge!

USHER. Silence in Court! Silence in Court!

SONG--JUDGE ["When I, Good Friends, Was Called to the Bar"]:

When I, good friends, was called to the bar,
I'd an appetite fresh and hearty.
But I was, as many young barristers are,
An impecunious party.

I'd a swallow-tail coat of a beautiful blue -- [line 115]
And a brief which I bought of a booby --
A couple of shirts, and a collar or two,
And a ring that looked like a ruby!

CHORUS. He'd a couple of shirts, and a collar or two,
and a ring that looked like a ruby.

JUDGE. In Westminster Hall I danced a dance,
Like a semi-despondent fury;
For I thought I never should hit on a chance
Of addressing a British Jury--
But I soon got tired of third-class journeys,
And dinners of bread and water;
So I fell in love with a rich attorney's
Elderly, ugly daughter.

CHORUS. So he fell in love with a rich attorney's
Elderly, ugly daughter.

JUDGE. The rich attorney, he jumped with joy,
And replied to my fond professions:
"You shall reap the reward of your pluck, my boy,
At the Bailey and Middlesex sessions.
You'll soon get used to her looks," said he,
"And a very nice girl you will find her!
She may very well pass for forty-three
In the dusk, with a light behind her!"

CHORUS. She may very well pass for forty-three
In the dusk, with a light behind her!

JUDGE. The rich attorney was good as his word;
The briefs came trooping gaily,
And every day my voice was heard
At the Sessions or Ancient Bailey.
All thieves who could my fees afford
Relied on my orations.
And many a burglar I've restored
To his friends and his relations.

CHORUS. And many a burglar he's restored
To his friends and his relations.

JUDGE. At length I became as rich as the Gurneys --
An incubus then I thought her,
So I threw over that rich attorney's
Elderly, ugly daughter.
The rich attorney my character high
Tried vainly to disparage--


JUDGE. Yes! (chuckles)
And now, if you please, I'm ready to try
This Breach of Promise of Marriage!

CHORUS. And now if you please, he's ready to try
This Breach of Promise of Marriage!

JUDGE. For now I'm a Judge!

ALL. And a good Judge, too!

JUDGE. For now I'm a Judge!

ALL. And a good Judge, too!

JUDGE. Though all my law be fudge,
Yet I'll never, never budge,
But I'll live and die a Judge!

ALL. And a good Judge, too!

JUDGE (pianissimo). It was managed by a job--

ALL. And a good job, too!

JUDGE. It was managed by a job!

ALL. And a good job too!

JUDGE. It is patent to the mob,
That my being made a nob
Was effected by a job.

ALL. And a good job too!



"reversed in banc" (line 101), that is, overturned by a higher court upon appeal.

"swallow-tail coat" (line 115) = formal, "tailed" suit jacket suitable for a Victorian professional man.

"a brief I'd bought off a booby" (line 116) since a "brief" is a statement of a case, including all salient facts and relevant points of law, prepared by a solicitor for presentation in court by a "barrister" (a higher class of attorney entitled to higher fees and trained at one of the Inns of Court: Gray's Inn, the Inner Temple, etc.), the Judge in terming the solicitor a "booby" (stupid or low-ranking fellow) may be deemed merely snobbish--or he may be implying that the is attorney could not see the financial potential of the case. [See Gilbert's sketches of life in the law courts in London Characters and the Humourous Side of London Life (1871).]

"Westminster Hall" (line 120), adjacent to the Houses of Parliament, housed the Common Law Courts until they removed to the Strand in 1882.

"like a semi-despondent fury" (line 121) is an apt simile since the furies or "Eumenides" of classical mythology were the snake-haired goddesses of retributive justice who pursued the objects of their wrath through life and into the Underworld. The placation of the Eumenides in the Orestia of Aeschylus (458 B. C.) commemorates the founding of Athenian criminal law as a replacement for familial vengeance. Presumably the Judge is comparing himself to a "despondent" fury because, like such a goddess without victims to pursue, he was bereft of clients, and therefore income.

"third-class journeys" (line 123) could be somewhat unpleasant, although undoubtedly economical, because the soot and ashes of the locomotive's smoke would often be deposited on the third-class passengers. Originally on British railways there were three "classes" of accommodation, corresponding to the three levels of British society; second class, however, was gradually phased out in the early 1870s.

"pluck" (line 131) daring, acumen, courage (with the suggestion that the young barrister is being socially daring in agreeing to become the husband of an ugly, old spinster, despite the obvious pecuniary and professional advantages of such a liaison).

"Sessions or Ancient Bailey" (line 141) refers to the central criminal court for Wales and England, a fortified keep or two surrounded by a ditch (bailey) built in 1539 on Cheapside opposite the Thames, the Old Bailey's being established as the central institution in 1834. Sessions were held four times a year in a given county, the county of Middlesex being the area including London in which W. S. Gilbert himself practised.

"As rich as the Gurneys" (line 147): Joseph John Gurneys (1788-1847), the English Quaker, reformer, and banker, had become a byword for "wealthy man" by the 1870s when W. S. Gilbert wrote the sketch Trial by Jury for the 11 April 1868 issue of the comic magazine Fun.

The problem with the Puritan style of life and its simplicity, however, is that it has some tendency to produce riches simply through hard work, innovation, and thrift. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Quakers made enormous contributions to technological change. Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale, England, discovered how to smelt iron from coal and may well have had more ultimate impact on the world than any other Quaker. Then, of course, probity and trustworthiness got Friends into banking, insurance, and finance, where again they made very large contributions in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 18th century came Joseph John Gurney ("I became as rich as the Gurneys," says Gilbert in Trial by Jury), the Frys, the Cadburys, the Rowntrees of England, the Biddles of Philadelphia.

It is not wholly surprising that with increasing riches a little worldliness, including the arts, crept in. Joseph John Gurney is particularly interesting in this regard. The prosperous Victorian banker, master of Earlham Hall, traveled in almost triumphant procession with his sister, Elizabeth Fry, to the crowned heads of Europe. He was invited to preach before both houses of Congress in Washington, honored and feasted (I have been told that in some rural meetings in the United States leftovers were called "Joseph Johns" for decades after he passed by) he seems the epitome of Victorian prosperity. Yet his diary reveals a constant tension between his sense of inner spiritual weakness and failure, and the impressive "worldly" outward presence. [The site originally credited no longer exists: Quakers and the Arts]

"an incubus then I thought her" (line 148): although an "incubus" denotes a hideous demon bent on sucking the life and spirit out of the dreamer, Gilbert may be using the term in the more general sense of "nightmare. " Neither sense is particularly complimentary to the personality or appearance of the young barrister's quondam fiancee. If the young barrister deemed her an oppressive demon in that she weighed heavily upon his mind, the Judge's argument goes, he was then justified in casting her off. As a man attracted to the superficial (note his fondness for his blue swallow-tail coat and pseudo-ruby), he could not by nature be genuinely attracted to an ugly woman. Angelina, on the other, a young woman wealthy enough to hire an attorney and pursue Edwin into court, has both the wealth and the good looks that the Judge obviously values in a woman.

"being made a nob" (line 169) i.e., a member the nobility or important person (derived from the "nobility" [landed aristocracy] or the Anglo-Indian "nabob").

Related Materials


Bradley, Ian. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1996. Pp. 14-19.

Gilbert, William S., and Sullivan, Sir Arthur. Trial by Jury. Act One. The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: The Modern Library, 1936. Pp. 46-49.

25 March 2005

17 June 2020