Page images

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


Attended by men, or protected by circumstances that

guard them from impertinence and scandal, gentlewomen
can without discomfort pass and repass the walls of our
legal colleges; but in most cases a lady enters them
under conditions that announce even to casual passers
the object of her visit. In her carriage, during the
later hours of the day, a barrister's - wife may drive
down the Middle Temple Lane, or through the gate of
Lincoln's Inn, and wait in King's Bench Walk or New
Square, until her husband, putting aside clients and
papers, joins her for the homeward drive. But even
thus placed, sitting in her carriage and guarded by
servants, she usually prefers to fence off inquisitive eyes
by a bonnet-veil, or the blinds of her carriage-windows.
On Sunday, the wives and daughters of gentle families

brighten the dingy passages of the Temple, and the sombre courts of Lincoln's Inn: for the musical services of the grand church and little chapel, are amongst the religious entertainments of the town. To those choral celebrations ladies go, just as they are accustomed to enter any metropolitan church; and after service they can take a turn in the gardens of either Society, without“ drawing upon themselves unpleasant attention. So also, unattended by men, ladies are permitted to inspect the floral exhibitions with which Mr. Broome, the Temple gardener, annually entertains London sightseers.

But, save on these and a few similar occasions and conditions, gentlewomen avoid an Inn of Court as they would a barrack-yard, unless they have secured the special attendance of at least one member of the society. The escort of a barrister or student, alters the case. What barrister, young or old, cannot recall mirthful eyes that, with quick shyness, have turned away from his momentary notice, as in answer to the rustling of silk, or stirred by sympathetic consciousness of women's noiseless presence, he has raised his face from a volume of reports, and seen two or three timorous girls peering through the golden haze of a London morning, into the library of his Inn? What man, thus drawn away for thirty seconds from prosaic toil, has not in that half minute remembered the faces of happy rural homes,—has not recalled old days when his young pulses beat cordial welcome to similar intruders upon the stillness of the Bodleian, or the tranquil seclusion of Trinity library? What occupant of dreary chambers in the Temple, reading this page, cannot look back to a bright day, when young, beautiful, and pure as sanctity, Lilian, or Kate, or Olive, entered his room radiant with smiles, delicate in attire, and musical with gleesome gossip about country neighbors, and the life of a joyous home ?




Seldom does a Templar of the present generation receive so fair and innocent a visitor. To him the presence of a gentlewoman in his court, is an occasion for ingenious conjecture; encountered on his staircase she is a cause of lively astonishment. His guests are men, more or less addicted to tobacco; his business callers are solicitors and their clerks; in his vestibule the masculine emissaries of tradesmen may sometimes be found-headwaiters from neighboring taverns, pot-boys from the • Cock' and the Rainbow.' A printer's devil may from time to time knock at his door. But of womensuch women as he would care to mention to his mother and sisters—he sees literally nothing in his dusty, illordered, but not comfortless rooms. He has a laundress, one of a class on whom contemporary satire has been rather too severe.

Feminine life of another sort lurks in the hidden places of the law colleges, shunning the gaze of strangers by daylight; and even when it creeps about under cover of night, trembling with a sense of its own incurable shame. But of this sad life, the bare thought of which sends a shivering through the frame of every man whom God has blessed with a peaceful home and wholesome associations, nothing shall be said in this page.

In past time the life of law-colleges was very different in this respect. When they ceased to be ecclesiastics, and fixed themselves in the hospices which soon after the reception of the gowned tenants, were styled Inns of Courts; our lawyers took unto themselves wives, who were both fair and discreet. And having so made women flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone, they brought them to homes within the immediate vicinity of their collegiate walls, and sometimes within the walls themselves. Those who would appreciate the life of the Inns in past centuries, and indeed in times within the memory

of living men, should bear this in mind. When he was not on circuit, many a counsellor learned in the law, found the pleasures not less than the business of his existence within the bounds of his 'honorable society.' In the fullest sense of the words, he took his ease in his Inn; besides being his workshop, where clients flocked to him for advice, it was his club, his place of pastime, and the shrine of his domestic affections. In this generation a successful Chancery barrister, or Equity draftsman, looks upon Lincoln's Inn merely as a place of business, where at a prodigious rent he holds a set of rooms in which he labors over. cases, and satisfies the demands of clients and pupils. A century or two centuries since the case was often widely different. The rising barrister brought his bride in triumph to his chambers,' and in them she received the friends who hurried to congratulate her on her new honors. In those rooms she dispensed graceful hospitality, and watched her husband's toils. The elder of her children first saw the light in those narrow quarters; and frequently the lawyer, over his papers, was disturbed by the


of his heir in an adjoining room.

Young wives, the mistresses of roomy houses in the western quarters of town, shudder as they imagine the discomforts which these young wives of other days must have endured. “ What ! live in chambers ?” they exclaim with astonishment and horror, recalling the smallness and cheerless aspect of their husbands' business chambers. But past usages must not be hastily condemned, -allowance must be made for the fact that our ancestors set no very high price on the luxuries of elbow-room and breathing-room. Families in opulent circumstances were wont to dwell happily, and receive whole regiments of jovial visitors in little houses nigh the Strand and Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill and Cheapside;-houses hidden in narrow




passages and sombre courts-houses, compared with which the lowliest residences in genteel suburb" of our own time would appear capacious mansions. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the married barrister, living a century since with his wife in chambers-either within or hard-by an Inn or Courtwas, at a comparatively low rent, the occupant of far more ample quarters than those for which a working barrister now-a-days pays a preposterous sum. Such a man was tenant of a 'set of rooms' (several rooms, although called 'a chamber') which, under the present system, accommodates a small colony of industrious 'juniors' with one office and a clerk's room attached. Married ladies, who have lived in Paris or Vienna, in the old town' of Edinburgh, or Victoria Street, Westminster, need no assurance that life 'on a flat is not an altogether deplorable state of exist

The young couple in chambers had six rooms at their disposal,-a chamber for business, a parlor, not unfrequently a drawing-room, and a trim, compact little kitchen. Sometimes they had two sets of rooms, one above another; in which case the young wife could have her bridesmaids to stay with her, or could offer a bed to. a friend from the country. Occasionally during the last fifty years of the last century, they were so fortunate as to get possession of a small detached house, originally built by a nervous bencher, who disliked the sound of footsteps on the stairs outside his door. Time was when, the Inns comprised numerous detached houses, some of them snug dwellings, and others imposing mansions, wherein great dignitaries lived with proper ostentation. Most of them have been pulled down, and their sites covered with collegiate 'buildings;' but a few of them still remain, the grand piles having long since been partitioned off into chambers, and the little houses striking the eye as quaint, misplaced, insignificant blocks of human

« PreviousContinue »