« PreviousContinue »
London season. Gradually hours became later; but under the Tudors the ordinary dinner hour for gentlepeople was somewhere about eleven A. M., and their usual time for supping was between five P. M. and six p. M., tradesmen, merchants and farmers dining and supping at later hours than their social superiors. "With us," says Hall the chronicler," the nobility, gentry, and students, do ordinarily go to dinner at eleven before noon, and to supper at five, or between five and six, at afternoon. The merchants dine and sup seldom before twelve at noon and six at night. The husbandmen also dine at high noon as they call it, and sup at seven or eight; but out of term in our universities the scholars dine at ten." Thus whilst the idlers of society made haste to eat and drink, the workers postponed the pleasures of the table until they had made a good morning's work. In the days of morning dinners and afternoon suppers, the law-courts used to be at the height of their daily business at an hour when Templars of the present generation have seldom risen from bed. Chancellors were accustomed to commence their daily sittings in Westminster at seven a. M. in summer, and at eight a. M. in winter months. Lord Keeper Williams, who endeavored to atone for want of law by extraordinarily assiduous attention to the duties of his office, used indeed to open his winter sittings by candlelight between six and seven o'clock.
Many were the costly banquets of which successive Chancellors invited the nobility, the judges, and the bar, to partake at old York House; but of all the holders of the Great Seal who exercised pompous hospitality in that picturesque palace, Francis Bacon was the most liberal, gracious, and delightful entertainer. Where is the student of English history who has not often endeavored to imagine the scene when Ben Jonson sat amongst the honored guests of
"England's high Chancellor, the destin'd heir,
and little prescient of the coming storm, spoke of his host as one
"Whose even thread the Fates spin round and full,
Out of their choicest and their whitest wool."
Even at the present day lawyers have reason to be grateful to Bacon for the promptitude with which, on taking possession of the Marble Chair, he revived the ancient usages of earlier holders of the seal, and set an example of courteous hospitality to the bar, which no subsequent Chancellor has been able to disregard without loss of respect and prestige. Though a short attack of gout qualified the new pleasure of his elevation-an attack attributed by the sufferer to his removal "from a field air to a Thames air," i. e., from Gray's Inn to the south side of the Strand-Lord Keeper Bacon lost no time in summoning the judges and most eminent barristers to his table; and though the gravity of his indisposition, or the dignity of his office, forbade him to join in the feast, he sat and spoke pleasantly with them when the dishes had been removed. "Yesterday," he wrote to Buckingham, "which was my weary day, I bid all the judges to dinner, which was not used to be, and entertained them in a private withdrawing chamber with the learned counsel. When the feast was past I came amongst them and sat me down at the end of the table, and prayed them to think I was one of them, and but a foreman.” Nor let us, whilst recalling Bacon's bounteous hospitalities, fail in justice to his great rival, Sir Edward Cokewho, though he usually held himself aloof from frivolous amusements, and cared but little for expensive repasts, would with a liberal hand place lordly dishes before lordly guests; and of whom it is recorded in the Apophtheg
mes,' that when any great visitor dropped in upon him for pot-luck without notice he was wont to say, Sir, since you sent me no notice of your coming, you must dine with me; but if I had known of it in due time I would have dined with you."
From such great men as Lord Nottingham and Lord Guildford, who successively kept high state in Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, to fat puisnes occupying snug houses in close proximity to the Inns of Court, and lower downwards to leaders of the bar and juniors sleeping as well as working in chambers, the Restoration lawyers were conspicuous promoters of the hilarity which was one of the most prominent and least offensive characteristics of Charles II.'s London. Lord Nottingham's sumptuous hospitalities were the more creditable, because he voluntarily relinquished his claim to £4000 per annum, which the royal bounty had assigned him as a fund to be expended in official entertainments. Similar praise cannot be awarded to Lord Guildford; but justice compels the admission that, notwithstanding his love of money, he maintained the prestige of his place, so far as a hospitable table and profuse domestic expenditure could support it.
Contrasting strongly with the lawyers of this period, who copied in miniature the impressive state of Clarendon's princely establishments, were the jovial, catch-singing, three-bottle lawyers-who preferred drunkenness to pomp; an oaken table, surrounded by jolly fellows, to ante-rooms crowded with obsequious courtiers ; a hunting song with a brave chorus to the less stormy diversion of polite conversation. Of these free-living lawyers, George Jeffreys was a conspicuous leader. Not averse to display, and not incapable of shining in refined society, this notorious man loved good cheer and jolly companions beyond all other sources of excitement; and during his
tenure of the seals, he was never more happy than when he was presiding over a company of sharp-witted menabout-town whom he had invited to indulge in wild talk and choice wine at his mansion that overlooked the lawns, the water, and the trees of St. James's Park. On such occasions his lordship's most valued boon companion was Mountfort, the comedian, whom he had taken from the stage and made a permanent officer of the Duke Street household. Whether the actor was required to discharge any graver functions in the Chancellor's establishment is unknown; but we have Sir John Reresby's testimony that the clever mimic and brilliant libertine was employed to amuse his lordship's guests by ridiculing the personal and mental peculiarities of the judges and most eminent barristers. "I dined," records Sir John, "with the Lord Chancellor, where the Lord Mayor of London was a guest, and some other gentlemen. His lordship having, according to custom, drunk deep at dinner, called for one Mountfort, a gentleman of his, who had been a comedian, an excellent mimic; and to divert the company, as he was pleased to term it, he made him plead before him in a feigned cause, during which he aped the judges, and all the great lawyers of the age, in tone of voice and in action and gesture of body, to the very great ridicule, not only of the lawyers, but of the law itself, which to me did not seem altogether prudent in a man in his lofty station in the law; diverting it certainly was, but prudent in the Lord Chancellor I shall never think it." The fun of Mountfort's imitations was often heightened by the presence of the persons whom they held up to derision-some of whom would see and express natural displeasure at the affront; whilst others, quite unconscious of their own peculiarities, joined loudly in the laughter that was directed against themselves.
As pet buffoon of the tories about town, Mountfort
was followed, at a considerable distance of time, by Estcourt-an actor who united wit and fine humor with irresistible powers of mimicry; and who contrived to acquire the respect and affectionate regard of many of those famous Whigs whom it was alike his pleasure and his business to render ridiculous. In the Spectator Steele paid him a tribute of cordial admiration; and Cibber, noticing the marvellous fidelity of his imitations, has recorded, "This man was so amazing and extraordinary a mimic, that no man or woman, from the coquette to the privy counsellor, ever moved or spoke before him, but he could carry their voice, look, mien, and motion instantly into another company. I have heard him make long harangues, and form various arguments, even in the manner of thinking of an eminent pleader at the bar, with every the least article and singularity of his utterance so perfectly imitated, that he was the very alter ipse, scarce to be distinguished from the original.”
With the exception of Kenyon and Eldon, and one or two less conspicuous instances of judicial penuriousness, the judges of the Georgian period were hospitable entertainers. Chief Justice Lee, who died in 1754, gained credit for an adequate knowledge of law by the sumptuousness and frequency of the dinners with which he regaled his brothers of the bench and learned counsellors. Chief Justice Mansfield's habitual temperance and comparative indifference to the pleasures of the table did not cause him to be neglectful of hospitable duties. Notwithstanding the cold formality of Lord Hardwicke's entertainments, and the charges of niggardliness preferred against Lady Hardwicke's domestic system by Opposition satirists, Philip Yorke used to entertain the chiefs of his profession with pomp, if not with affability. Thurlow entertained a somewhat too limited circle of friends with English fare and a superabundance of choice