Page images

were no less eager to impart it. During term law was talked in hall at dinner and supper, and after those meals the collegians argued points. “The cases were

“ put” after the earlier repast, and twice or thrice a week moots were “brought in” after the later meal. The students were also encouraged to assemble towards the close of each day and practise 'case-putting in their gardens and in the cloisters of the Temple or Lincoln's Inn. The 'great fire' of 1678-9 having destroyed the Temple Cloisters, some of the benchers proposed to erect chambers on the ground, to and fro upon which law-students had for generations walked whilst they wrangled aloud; but the Earl of Nottingham, recalling the days when young Heneage Finch used to put cases with his contemporary students, strangled the proposal at its birth, and Sir Christopher Wren subsequently built the Cloisters which may be seen at the present day.

But there is reason to fear that at a very early period in their history the Inns of Court began to pay more attention to certain outward forms of instruction than to instruction itself. The unbiassed inquirer is driven to suspect that case-putting soon became an idle ceremony, and 'mooting' a mere pastime. Gentlemen ate heartily in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and it is not easy to believe that immediately after a twelve o'clock dinner benchers were in the best possible mood to teach, or students in the fittest condition for learning. It is credible that these post-prandial exercitations were often enlivened by sparkling quips and droll occurrences; but it is less easy to believe that they were characterised by severe thought and logical exactness. So also with the after-supper exercises. The six o'clock suppers of the lawyers were no light repasts, but hearty meals of meat and bread, washed down by 'green pots' of ale and wine. When the hom’sounded for supper, the student

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

was in most cases better able to see the truth of knotty points than when in compliance with etiquette he bowed to the benchers, and asked if it was their pleasure to hear a moot. It seems probable that long before 'caseputtings' and 'mootings' were altogether disused, the old benchers were wont to wink mischievously at each other when they prepared to teach the boys, and that sometimes they would turn away from the proceedings of a moot with an air of disdain or indifference. The inquirer is not induced to rate more highly the intellectual effort of such exercises because the teachers refreshed their exhausted powers with bread and beer as soon as the arguments were closed.

When such men as Coke and Francis Bacon were the readers, the students were entertained with lectures of surpassing excellence; but it was seldom that such readers could be found. It seems also that at an early period men became readers, not because they had any especial aptitude for offices of instruction, or because they had some especial fund of information—but simply because it was their turn to read. Routine placed them in the pulpit for a certain number of weeks; and when they had done all that routine required of them, and had thereby qualified themselves for promotion to the rank of sergeant, they took their seats amongst the benchers and ancients with the resolution not to trouble themselves again about the intellectual progress of the boys.

Soon also the chief teacher of an Inn of Court became its chief feaster and principal entertainer; and in like manner his subordinates in office, such as assistant readers and readers elect, were required to put their hands into their pockets, and feed their pupils with venison and wine as well as with law and equity. It is amusing to observe how little Dugdale has to say about the professional duties of readers—and how much about their hospitable functions and responsibilities. Philip and Mary ordered that no reader of the Middle Temple should give away more than tifteen bucks during his readings; but so greatly did the cost of readers' entertainments increase in the following century, that Dugdale observes—“But the times are altered; there being few summer readers who, in half the time that heretofore a reading was wont to continue, spent so little as threescore bucks, besides red deer; some have spent fourscore, some an hundred.”

Just as readers were required to spend more in hospitality, they were required to display less learning. Sound lawyers avoided election to the readers' chairs, leaving them to be filled by rich men who could afford to feast the nobility and gentry, or at least by men who were willing to purchase social éclat with a lavish outlay of money. Under Charles II. the “readings' were too often nothing better than scandalous exhibitions of mental incapacity: and having sunk into disrepute, they died out before the accession of James II.

The scandalous and beastly disorder of the Grand Day Feasts at the Middle Temple, during Francis North's tenure of the reader's office, was one of the causes that led to the discontinuance of Reader's Banquets at that house; and the other inns gladly followed the example of the Middle Temple in putting an end to a custom which had ceased to promote the dignity of the law. Of this feast, and his brother's part in it, Roger North says: “He (i.e. Francis North) sent out the officers with white staves (for so the way was) and a long list to invite; but he went himself to wait upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sheldon; for so also the ceremony required. The archbishop received him very honorably and would not part with him at the stairshead, as usually had been done; but, telling him he was no ordinary reader, went down, and did not part till he saw him past at his outward gate. I cannot much commend the extravagance of the feasting used at these readings; and that of his lordship's was so terrible an example, that I think none hath ventured since to read publicly; but the exercise is turned into a revenue, and a composition is paid into the treasury of the society. Therefore one may say, as was said of Cleomenes, that, in this respect, his lordship was ultimus herorum, the last of the heroes. And the profusion of the best provisions, and wine, was to the worst of purposes-debauchery, disorder, tumult, and waste. I will give but one instance; upon the grand day, as it was called, a banquet was provided to be set upon the table, composed of pyramids, and smaller services in form. The first pyramid was at least four feet high, with stages one above another. The conveying this up to the table, through a crowd, that were in full purpose to overturn it, was no small work: but, with the friendly assistance of the gentlemen, it was set whole upon the table. But, after it was looked upon a little, all went, hand over hand, among the rout in the hall, and for the most part was trod under foot. The entertainment the nobility had out of this was, after they had tossed away the dishes, a view of the crowd in confusion, wallowing one over another, and contending for a dirty share of it."

It would, however, be unfair to the ancient exercises of case-putting' and 'mooting' not to bear in mind that by habituating successful barristers to take personal interest in the professional capabilities of students, they helped to maintain a salutary intercourse betwixt the younger and older members of the profession. So long as 'moots' lasted, it was the fashion with eminent counsel to accost students in Westminster Hall, and gossip with them about legal matters. In Charles II.'s time, such eminent barristers as Sir Geoffrey Palmer daily gave practical hints and valuable suggestions to students who

[ocr errors]

courted their favor; and accurate legal scholars, such as old 'Index Waller,' would, under judicious treatment, exhibit their learning to boys ambitious of following in their steps. Chief Justice Saunders, during the days of his pre-eminence at the bar, never walked through Westminster Hall without a train of lads at his heels. «Ι have seen him," says Roger North, "for hours and halfhours together, before the court sat, stand at the bar, with an audience of students over against him, putting of cases, and debating so as suited their capacities, and encouraged their industry. And so in the Temple, he seldom moved without a parcel of youths hanging about him, and he merry and jesting with them.”

Long after 'moots' had fallen into disuse, their influence in this respect was visible in the readiness of wigged veterans to extend a kindly and useful patronage to students. Even so late as the close of the last century, great black-letter lawyers used to accost students in Westminster Hall, and give them fair words, in a manner that would be misunderstood in the present day. Sergeant Hill—whose reputation for recondite legal erudition, resembled that of Index Waller,' or Maynard, in the seven: teenth century—once accosted John Scott, as the latter, in his student days, was crossing Westminster Hall. “Pray, young gentleman," said the black-letter lawyer, “ do you think herbage and pannage rateable to the poor's rate?” “Sir," answered the future Lord Eldon, with a courteous bow to the lawyer, whom he knew only by sight, “I cannot presume to give any opinion, inexperienced and unlearned as I am, to a person of your great knowledge, and high character in the profession." “Upon my word,” replied the sergeant, eyeing the young man with unaffected delight, "you are a pretty sensible young gentleman; I don't often meet with such. If I had asked Mr. Burgess, a young man upon our circuit, the

« PreviousContinue »