THE LONDON LAW COURTS.
WHEN we, who are non-litigants and non-expectants, who are interested in no devised estates, and are parties to no suits in law, chance, in cursorily glancing at the almanac, to come upon such expressions as "Easter Term begins," "Michaelmas Term ends," and so on, we are apt to pass them without a thought, heedless of the tremendous import of these simple of our fellow countrymen. In this case it is emphatically true that ignorance is bliss; and he may count himself happy indeed, in comparison with the victims of the law's uncertainty an delay, to whom the opening and the shutting of the temples of judicature is a matter of personal indifference.
But to lawyers and litigants the advent of term time is the opening of an active and adventurous campaign, in which honour and emolument are to be won, and in which all who are qualified for the strife are eager and anxious to take a share. The outward and visible phenomena of term-time in London are various, and will hardly escape altogether the notice of the dullest observer. If a reading man, he will mark the appearance of the law reports in the columns of the morning paper on his breakfast-table, which will be continued during the whole of the sittings of the several courts, and put him in possession, if he likes, of the facts and special peculiarities of each individual case. And if he avoid the newspapers, and be but the idlest peripatetic upon town, he shall not walk far with out coming in contact with evidence of another kind, which is always most liberally bestowed in the high-ways and bye-ways bordering on the arenas of justice. This evidetice appears in the shape of a tall figure enveloped in a flowing black gown, whose head is crowned, and enlarged to three times its natural size, by curly spoils ravished from the tail of the Banbury horse; whose feet are cased in the neatest of shining pumps, And on whose breast depend a couple of clerical looking bands of the finest cambric. During "term," this apparition meets you in the oddest places; now it is seen in a state of calm dignity, munching consecutive buns and sandwiches at the counter of the confectioner ; now it is hastily lunching at the bar of a neighbouring tavern; and anon it is seen, in a bath of perspiration, under that nightmare of a wig, plunging desperately through the ocean of wheels and rampant horses that flanks the embouchure of Chancery Lane, and diving headlong out of sight into the gaping maw of the Temple over the way. Wait patiently for a little while, and you will see it emerge again, bearing this time a ponderous violet-coloured bag, crammed to bursting, in one hand, and a bundle of sealed parchments in the other, and followed closely in the rear by a distracted clerk, or perhaps two, loaded with foolscap documents tied with red tape. But this apparition is by no means a solitary one; you see him as often in groups as in the individual, and oftener if you look in the right place; a whole cataract of them will pour from a side-door in one of the tall building's of "the Inn;" or, in the pleasant shady walks that characterise and adorn the legal enclosures of London, you will find them in strolling bands, discussing, it may be, some moot point in equity, and enlightening each other by the exchange of mutual sagacity. For these men are the incarnations of legal wisdom and experience, who are destined to handle the machinery of the law, and to expedite (or to frustrate, as it may happen), the decrees of even-handed justice.
The plenteous presence of legal functionaries in their professional costume being always an indication that the courts are sitting, we shall amuse ourselves with a stroll into one or two of them, just to see what is going on. The oldest of the English law courts is entitled to the preference and therefore we betake ourselves to Westminster Hall. The oldest case upon record was tried in Westminster about eight hundred years ago, when the Abbot of Peterborough was cited before the Conqueror, in the year 1069. For the next two centuries the law courts were held wherever the sovereign happened to be resident, but in the reign of Henry III they were permanently fixed at Westminster. For details of some of the remarkable trials and events of which this spot has been the scene, we refer the reader to a series of papers, entitled "Echoes of Westminster Hall," in Vol. V. of the "Leisure Hour."
As we enter Palace Yard, a few of the white wigged gownsmen are straggling into the huge hall, followed here and there by an inky satellite or an anxious client; others, bag-laden and busy, are coming forth and driving hastily off to town. We find Westminster Hall quiet, and compara tively deserted, save by a band of policemen drawn up in a double rank. The House of Commons is prorogued, and the customary crowd of constituents and expectants has disappeared. Almost every person who comes in, disappears also at one of the doors on the right. We follow the general example, and mounting a few steps, and pushing open a couple of doors, one within the other, and which are made to move noiselessly on their hinges, find ourselves in the presence of an old woman sitting at an apple-stall, supplemented with a collection of stale gingerbread and sweet-stuff, and close by the side of a roaring fire large enough to roast it baron of beef. This is the lobby of the Queen's Bench Court, and the huge fire, it is plain, is for the purpose of warming the court itself, which, by a proper disposition of the doors and drapery, can be made to receive as much of the heat as is desirable. The apple and bun-stall, which is probably welcome enough to the exhausted litigants and listeners, is at the present day all that is left of the famous array of shops which at a former period formed one of the chef attractions of Westminster Hall, and made it a fashionable promenade.
Passing through the ventilating lobby, which is just now at a temperature of about eighty degrees, and feeling our way through the screening drapery, we are in the Court of Queen's Bench, so called from the ancient custom of holding courts before the monarch in person. The court is a single chamber, some forty feet square, and about as many in height. On this gloomy wintry day, it appears but dimly lighted from a domed circular lantern in the roof. It is crowded with people to an inconvenient extent, and it is no easy matter to obtain even a glimpse ; but, after a little waiting, a sudden vacancy elevates us to a high seat in the rear, which is the best point of view. Notwithstanding the crowd, the nearest possible approach to silence prevails; and if at any time there be heard a hum of voices or a shuffling of feet, it is quelled in a moment by an admonitory " hush --sh--sh," which, :passing rapidly round, subsides into stillness. It would seem that when annoyances of this hind do occur, they originate much more frequently among the professionals in wigs and gowns than among the spectators.
Under a carved canopy, and in front of the royal arms, raised upon, a kind of dais, sit four judges. Their costume differs materially from that of the legal brotherhood already described ; and though a foreigner might fairly stigmatie it as barbarous, it is yet imposing, striking, and . in a degree dig nified. It consists of the white wig aforementioned, but considerably amplified by two side appendages that rest upon the shoulders—and of a scarlet gown most redundant in material, and disposed in ample folds, the whole being bounteously broidered with ermine. The judge who speaks most frequently, and with a deliberate kind of hesitation which seems about to falter, but never does, is Lord Campbell; the one at his right is Chief Justice Coleridge, and the two at his left are Chief Justices Wigfitman and Erie. Each of the judges has a small separate writing-desk before him. Below them are seated a number of professionals, in official costume, taking notes at a long table. Again below them, in a kind of pit, are a rank of non-professionals on a bench, whom we take to be clients, witnesses, or persons interested in the causes expected to come on. In front of these is another long table, well supplied with writing materials, over which a round number of large white heads are stooping and peering on the documents which grow into existence beneath their fingers. In front of them, and facing the judges, are several consecutive rows of seats filled with the lawyers, advocates, barristers, and so on, who are concerned, or supposed to be concerned, in the several questions which have to be adjudicated. Behind these, in rows rising one above another, are the seats allotted to the public ; and these, as well as those set apart for the legal gentlemen, are all crammed to overflowing.
The spectators manifest, by the attention they bestow, the interest they really take in the case which is going forward. It is a libel case, and the counsel for the plaintiff, who interlards every period with "mylud," and " yerludship," is zealously endeavouring to impress the bench with a sense of the profound injury his client has received at the hands, or rather the lips, of the libeller. But his lordship is not very penetrable to the counsel's arguments. He interrupts him in the middle of a rather windy piece of rhetoric, and questions him as to certain admissions which the plaintiff had made to a witness who is present on his own side. These cannot be denied, and they constitute, in his lordship's opinion, a justification of the terms complained of as libellous; and in two or three words, which we fail to catch, the case is dismissed; the counsel bags his papers and vanishes, while the next case is called on.
Whatever takes place, there is not the slightest demonstration on the part of the spectators. Their singular gravity strikes us, and we cannot help speculating on the somewhat peculiar expression which characterises the majority of the faces present. Were we disposed to theorise on the matter, we should set down the greater part of the audience as old litigants, who in days past had won or lost some cause whose decision has determined the course of their destiny, and who, from having at a former period lived so long in an atmosphere of excitement, cannot now live without it. How else is the fact explainable that there are men, in no way interested in the causes tried, whose punctuality in attendance exceeds that of the judge himself, and who are never known to be absent during a single day or a single hour while the court is open?
It is not difficult to discriminate those persons interested in the question at issue from these old stagers. The latter form a class who, for the most part, have never in their lives before been in a court of justice at all. They cannot settle down comfortably in a seat ; or, if they do so for a moment, they are up and off at a tangent, as some sudden thought strikes them, either to cool their fever with a bout at the apple-stall, or to write a note at one of the desks in the rear, of which there is always one or more available, and thus to inform their counsel as to some vital point forgotten till that very moment, or perhaps then for the first time imagined. Then they are seen tiptoeing out under some sudden and secret impetus, and bustling in again in a breathless state ; and not unfrequently will they be found pale, exhausted, and resigned as martyrs in some retired corner, ready to accept either fate - to rejoice in success, or to submit to defeat, so that they be only released from the pangs of suspense.
Leaving the Court of Queen's Bench, and elbowing through a throng of customers blockading the apple-stall, we enter at the second side door in Westminster Hall, and find ourselves in the Exchequer Court. The Exchequer Court exercises functions extra-judicial, and keeps up the observance of certain traditionary customs and rites which are worth mention in this place. Thus, it regulates the election of Sheriffs. On the morrow of St. Martin's, November 12, a privy Council is held to receive the report of the judges, of the persons eligible in the several counties to serve as sheriff. On the bench sits the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his figured silk gown trimmed with gold ; next are the members of the Privy Council, the Lord Chancellor, and Judges of the Queen's Bench and Common Pleas ; below sit the Judges and Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and on the left the Remembrancer of the Court. The judges report the names of three persons eligible for sheriff in each county, when excuses for exemption may be pleaded. The list being considered by the Privy Council, the names are finally determined on the approval of her Majesty in council, which is done by her Majesty pricking through the names approved on a long sheet of paper called the Sheriffs' Roll. The Sheriffs of London and Middlesex are, however, chosen by the Livery, but are presented on the morrow of the Feast of St. Michael, in the Court of Exchequer, accompanied by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, when the Recorder introduces the Sheriffs and details their family history, and the Cursitor Baron signifies the sovereign's approval; the writs and appearances are read, recorded, and filed, and the sheriffs and senior under-sheriffs take the oaths, and the late sheriffs present their accounts. The Crier of the Court then makes proclamation for one who does homage for the Sheriffs of London to "stand forth and do his duty;" then the senior alderman below the chair rises, the usher of the court hands him a bill-hook, and holds in both hands a small bundle of sticks, which the alderman cuts asunder, and then cuts another bundle with a hatchet. Similar proclamation is then made for the Sheriff of Middlesex, when the alderman counts six horse shoes lying upon the table, and sixty one horse-shoes lying upon the table, and sixty one hob-nails handed in a tray; and the numbers are declared twice. The sticks are thin peeled twigs, tied in a bundle at each end (of course with red tape); the horse-shoes are of large size, and very old ; the hob-nails are supplied fresh every year. By the first ceremony the alderman does suit and service for the tenants of a manor in Shropshire, the chopping of sticks betokening the custom of the tenants supplying their lord with fuel. The counting of the horse-shoes and nails is another suit and service of the owners of a forge in St. Cement Danes, Strand, which formerly belonged to the City, but no longer exists; while, as to the manor in Shropshire, even a century ago no one knew where the lands were situated, nor did the city receive any rents or profits from them. It is in the Court of Exchequer that, on the 9th of November, the oaths are administered to the new Lord Mayor : at the same time the late Lord Mayor renders his accounts, and the Recorder invites the Barons to the banquet at Guildhall.
The chamber in which the Exchequer Court sits differs very little from that of the Queen's Bench, save that it wants the refectory antechamber and its shrivelled Pomona, and that, though of equal size, its interior is less pretentious on the score of architectural display. It is equally thronged with professionals and spectators, and the same resspectful silence is in keeping with the same obscurity that pervades the place. Baron South is to-day the deciding judge, and the case which the counsel at the moment is elaborately explaining is one of considertible interest to the tax-paying community. The plaintiff is lessee of a brick-field, which he rents for the purpose of digging the clay and burning the bricks. The assessors of the income-tax have levied upon him the full tax upon the land and the produce of his industry in working it, and he claims a deduction against his landlord in respect of the tax he has paid, on the ground that the landlord derives not only rent, but a royalty on the bricks, and sundry other advantages. The question is a complicated one, is mixed up with a good many stiff covenants and a deal of stiffer clay, and even after all the arguments are gone through, pro and con, the decision, like the plaintiff's instruments of trade, sticks in the mud. The judge, who is wisely given to deliberation, will not pronounce without carefully weighing the matter, and therefore he informs the parties to the suit that he will "take time to consider."
From the Exchequer Court we pass to the next, which is the Court of Common Pleas. This is held in a smaller apartment, and one of much more humble appearance. The lawyers monopolise the whole of the sitting accommodation there is, and the public, who want to see and hear, have to crawl over the high wainscotting in the rear, and catch what they can of the proceedings. The case which is going on is of no great importance, being simply a question of railway charges for the carriage of goods, and consequently the auditors not immediately interested are few ; and of those who stroll in, the major part soon stroll out again in search of more exciting entertainment elsewhere.
We may as well state here, that the Court of Exchequer, of Queen's Bench, and of Common Pleas, are also, for the convenience of citizens, held at the Guildhall, in the city, during four specified days of each term.
The above are all the courts of law which we find sitting at Westminster to-day ; so we transfer ourselves to Lincoln's Inn, and to the Court of Chancery, which sits in a chamber under that picturesque little cupola that peeps out among the trees, and forms such a pleasant object in the view from Lincoln's Inn Fields. The Court of Chancery and its puzzling maze of professional purlieus have been with us a favourite lounge any time these twenty years. It is the best locality for observing the physiology of legal life, from the acts and deeds of the Lord Chancellor himself, down to the mad doings of the law students, and of the grand army of quill-drivers enlisted under the inky banners of the law stationers. Here, in times past, we have watched the. restless face of Brougham, and listened to his terse and vigorous language, while day after day, and week after week, he got through an amount of work that startled the lawyers out of their old routine.
But to return to the Court. The present Lord Chancellor is on the bench as we enter, and a case of almost general importance is under debate. The villanies of a wholesale swindler, who at this moment is on his way to exile, have defrauded a railway company to the amount of nearly a quarter of a million. The holders of preference shares, conceiving themselves secured by their guarantee, have refused to bear any proportion of the loss, and, suing the company for their dividends, have obtained from the Vice-Chancellor a verdict in their favour. From that decision the company have appealed, and the merits of the question are again under discussion. How the decision will finally rest is not at this moment apparent ; there are a good many anxious faces visible in the ranks of spectators ; and it is by no means improbable that among them are persons whose income for the next year is dependent upon the fiat of the judge, and who may be hurled into poverty and want by the reversal of the late decree. On the other hand, if the decree is established, the suffering, though individually less, will be more widely diffused, and a still greater number will be stinted in their means and embarrassed in circumstances. Such are the contingencies of one man's villany.
We leave this matter in debate, and proceeding down Chancery Lane, and entering a quiet close on the left-hand side, find admission to the Rolls Court. Here the attendance is small, there being but little accommodation beyond a bare bench for the public. The Master of the Rolls sits alone without any state, and the Attorney-General is also present, engaged in the cause. The question is one concerning the validity of a will; and as we enter, the depositions of certain witnesses, bearing upon the sanity or non-sanity of the testator, are being read over. The matter will not come to a decision today. Already the shades of evening are beginning to close upon the proceedings ; it is too dark to make out the identity of the statue which stands in a niche in the wall over the head of the Master. The white wigs of the counsel below bob up and down in the gloom, while the faces beneath them have resolved into shadow; we hear the monotonous voice of the advocate as he reads doggedly on ; and then there is a low murmur of voices, a rustling of garments, a crunching of legal paper, and the iterated " thud" of the swinging door, as, one after another, the audience depart in silence from the spot. We take these demonstrations as warnings of dismissal, and, thinking we have had enough of the law courts for one day, make our escape before the general break-up.
We shall return to the subject, however, and pay another visit to other quarters before long.
CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT.
IT is this court, which stands in the Old Bailey, and is only separated from the gloomy prison of Newgate by a broad court called the Press Yard, which presents from time to time subjects of profoundest interest to the Londoner. The court-house was destroyed by fire at the time of the No Popery riots, instigated by Lord George Gordon, in the year 1780, but was rebuilt and enlarged at the begin ning of the present century. It now contains several separate judicial chambers, and under its roof, in times of pressure of business, as many as six trials are sometimes proceeding at once. It is to the Old Court, however, situated to the left of' the entrance from the street, that the greatest interest attaches, because it is here that those memorable trials have taken place which have made the annals of the Old Bailey famous in the classics of crime. This Old Court is a hall of no architectural pretensions, about forty feet square, and tolerably well lighted and ventilated. Opposite the entrance is the raised seat of the judges, extending along one whole side of the apartment. Near the centre is the chief seat, with a canopy overhead, surmounted by the royal arms, and showing beneath it a gilded sword upon the crimson draped wall. Fronting the bench, and close to the entrance, is the dock for the prisoners, in which they stand on a raised platform with wainscoted bulwarks. The prisoners are not brought to this dock from the street and through the assembled crowds, but pass into it through an underground stone passage which connects the Old Court with the prison of Newgate. In front of the prisoner, on the broad hand-rail on which he leans, are scattered a number of sprigs of the rue plant - not to remind him, as simple people have supposed, of his rueful condition, but as an antidote to the danger of infection which the court is supposed to incur from his presence after confinement in unwholesome cells. This practice is about a century old, and owes its origin to the deadly jail-fever which, in 1750, killed Baron Clarke, Sir Thomas Abney, Sir S. Pennant, then Lord Mayor of London, and a number of the mem hers both of the bar and the jury.
To the left of the dock is the witness-box, and to the left of that the jury-box - an arrangement which enables the jury, as well as the judges on the bench, to see at one glance the faces both of the witnesses and the prisoners. The counsel have their seats round a table in the centre below, and to the right of the table are rows of raised seats for the accommodation of spectators, and a few benches, supposed by a fiction of the law to be free to the public, though in practice the reverse is the case. The accommodation: really provided for the public is a gallery with rows of benches above the head of the prisoner, and in front of the bench of judges, admission to which is obtainable only on payment of a fee.
We will look in now upon this Old Court while a trial is going on. The crowd around the outer portals, and the pushing and struggling for entrance, would warn us, if we did not know it al ready, that an affair of more than usual interest is going forward. We elbow through the crowd and make for the lower door, but there the policemen in attendance only shake their heads at all demands for admission, and refuse to, pass a single additional person who cannot show that his presence is required within. We mount the stairs leading to the gallery, where numbers more are clustered round the doom, waiting their time to take the places of such of those within, who, under the pressure of the heat or that of hunger and thirst, shall choose to vacate them. Half an hour's patience, and an oblation of current coin, at length procure us the privilege of attempting to force a way in. We happen to arrive at the fag end of a long life-and-death trial, which has lasted two days, and at the moment when the doom of the prisoner, which no man doubts, is already impending. There he stands in the dock a young man, almost a boy, in the morning of life, who has deliberately premeditated and in cold blood committed the foulest murder, for the mere mercenary profit of the bloody deed. You would think, as he gazes round the court with an air of apparent unconcern upon the dense mass of faces all turned towards him, that he imagined himself the subject of sympathy, or even of admiration, rather than of disgust and horror, so buoyant and self-confident is the expression of his face. But a closer scrutiny shows you that he is acting a part - that that nonchalant bearing is put on - that dismay is gathering at his heart - and that the moment is not far distant when all that futile and assumed bravado will suddenly collapse and disappear. Already, though his glance is still defiant, the muscles of his mouth are not under his control, but are seen to twitch and quiver convulsively ; his hand wanders mechanically among the twigs of rue, and, without his volition or consciousness, his fingers are rending then into fragments ; and the restlessness of his whole frame testifies to that of his perturbed spirit. He is a foreigner, and ignorant of our laws ; and to the last moment he buoys himself up with some latent hope, which perhaps may be the secret of his seeming audacity. At the -very last minute, when all other pleas have failed him, he claims exemption from capital punishment on the ground that he is a minor and cannot be executed. The judge calmly tells him that such a plea, however it might tell in his own country, is of no avail in an English court of justice ; and in that response the unhappy man appears for the first time to recognise the certainty of his fate. We need not dwell upon the scene ; the sentence is pronounced by the judge amidst a deathlike stillness, and the prisoner is withdrawn, disappearing from the world of men, to look upon it but once more at that last hour, in the presence of ten thousand witnesses.
The disappearance of the doomed prisoner operates as a signal for the clearance of the gallery, and that proceeding, in this instance at least, is accompanied with very little ceremony. Everybody is thirsting for a breath of air, and the rush down stairs of the whole mass in a body, carries us along with it.
In the New Court, trials of less importance - robberies, felonies, forgeries, and misdemeanors - are going on, and, lists of these being exhibited on placards in the hall, the crowds are gathering round them to see what else, in the shape of excitement, offers for their choice. The Criminal Court, as may be easily conceived, is a source of constant interest and attraction to a certain class of the population, and therefore the public, so far as they represent it, are never absent from the trials. As the court sits every month, these lovers of justice doing judgment are sometimes gratified with the spectacle of very summary work. Thus, it has been known that a criminal, who has committed an offence one day, has been apprehended the next day, committed the third day, and tried and sen tenced on the fourth day. Such examples of despatch of business are, of course, but rare :things; and we cannot help thinking that if they were the rule, instead of the exception; such despatch would tend greatly to the decrease of crime.
Connected with the old Bailey trials are the Old Bailey dinners. These take place every day the court sits, and in.the room above that in which we have seen the murderer condemned to death. The dinners are given by the sheriffs to the judges and aldermen, the recorder, common sergeant, city pleaders, and a few visitors. Marrow puddings and rump steaks are invariably part of the fare. Two dinners, each a duplicate of the other, are served each day—one at three, the other at five o'clock. Thus, the judges can relieve each other, and there is no truth in the ghastly sarcasm which says that wretches are hanged in a hurry lest the dinner should grow cold. The cost of these daily dinners, which is something considerable, is defrayed by the sheriffs.
THE BANKRUPTCY AND INSOLVENCY COURTS.
THE Bankruptcy Court is a large and handsome building in Basinghall Street. The court-rooms, of which there are five, are situated on the first floor, and are reached by flights of stairs ranged round a central quadrangle. The spectacles one meets with in this court are not of the most exhilarating kind. The place is a sort of purgatory, through which a number of unfortunate victims victims as often to their own folly and extravagance as to un foreseen calamities have to be hoisted, shoved, squeezed, ground, or propelled by some means or other, in order that they may be liberated from the bondage of debt, and left free to begin the world again. But for some such revivifying machinery as is here available to those who stand in need of it, multitudes of men of business, whose worst faults have been those of heedlessness and inexperience, would be consigned by failure to permanent and irretrievable ruin. On the other hand, there can be no question but that this court is often much and grossly abused, and that many a cunning knave has succeeded in making it the instrument of his own roguery. The most stringent application of the law will not prevent this, in the cases of men of abandoned character.
On entering the court while business is pending, you are in the region of long faces, and glum, scowling looks. The only exceptions are the white wigged lawyers, who show a matter-of-fact, don't care style of face, and who, up to their eyes in documents of various sorts, take the business remarkably easy, as though impressed with the comfortable fact, that even though the estate may not pay sixpence in the pound for the creditors, it will at any rate pay them. Their coolness offers a contrast to that of the irritated opposing creditor, who is at this moment holding forth, and who cannot help exploding now and then. There, or the other side, stands the bankrupt, who has come up for his certificate if he can get it, and is trembling in his shoes for fear of being check-mated. The creditor, in his wrath, impugns the balance-sheet, declares the best part of it a hoax and half insinuates that the bankrupt has been making a purse. His uncourtly heat and vehennence only serve to damage his cause: the presiding commissioner does not see the force of his argument, or the truth of his charge, and mildly calls him to order. In the end the charge is found unsupported by evidence; what appeared suspicious on the part of the bankrupt is cleared up or explained away and finally, he is awarded a certificate of the first class, to the immense disgust of the hostile creditor, and to his own ardent rejoicing, and also, as at least it appears to us, to his surprise.
In another room we find the bankrupt in a different predicament. He has been in a large way of business, employing hundreds of men under him, and having suddenly failed at a critical period when discounts were high, had avowedly consigned his affairs into the hands of his assignees for the benefit of a rather numerous list of creditors. The white washizhg process was going on swimmingly, with every prospect of a first-class certificate in quick time, when all at once a scrutinizing creditor makes the discovery that the bankrupt has omitted from his account some considerable amount of debts due to him in a neighbouring country, and has, since his last examination, been secretly collecting them for his private behoof. This fatal discovery bursts on the guilty man at the moment when his triumph is all but complete ; and you may see, by his perturbed and livid countenance, that the charge it involves is but too well founded, and that he has nothing to urge in his vindication. There will be no further talk of a certificate ; the falsifier will be sent back, and in all probability will be drained to the last farthing, and deserted by his last friend if he do not escape and seek refuge from the reproach of his fellows in the fate of an exile.
The number of bankrupts whose cases come under consideration in this court is considerably over a thousand in the course of a year. A report of any number of such cases, it is to be feared, would furnish but a melancholy picture. It would be unfair, however, to form an estimate of the commercial morality of the country from evidence derived solely from such a source ; as well might a man fudge of the fruit of a garden from the unsound and worm-eaten blights which the summer-wind scatters from the boughs. Commerce is seen here inn the predicament of a patient under the surgeon's knife. The sound and healthy trader keeps aloof from this hospital of financial cripples, with whom, to say the truth, he is rarely much given to sympathize, though he has no objection to see them once more sound upon their legs. It is to effect this thorough restoration that the Bankruptcy Court exists - a discharge from this court being a discharge, not only as only to person, but as to future acquired property.
The Insolvent Debtors Court, which, to a peculiar but not the most select class, is one of the pet lions of London, is situated in Portugal Street, close to Lincoln's Inn Fields. All sorts of jocular legends and sarcasms are current concerning this central spot—the barristers who plead here, the attorneys who crowd here, and the luckless tribe who are brought up for exhibition here, in pursuance of their own request, yet against their wills. The court itself, which is, for the debtor in the grasp of the law, what the Bankruptcy Court is for the defalcating trader, is said to be the refuge of destitute "swells." What we note on entering the court while business is doing, is a lack of every thing agreeing with one's ideas of the dignity and majesty of justice, and a general aspect of wear and tear, not to say shabbiness, about the denizens of the place, and also of the place itself. The court room is small and inconveniently crowded, and it is with difficulty that we are able to edge in side ways and take post against the wall.
The object of general interest at the moment is a tall fellow, of middle age, in semi-rural garb, who, trickling with perspiration, and nearly dumb foundered with cross-questioning, bears on his face the expression of a wild animal at bay. He has claimed release from the debtor's prison, where he has been confined ; but he cannot account, or he will not account, for fifteen hundred pounds, of which he stood possessed nine months ago, and which, of course, his creditors are anxious to get sight of. He has had complicated doings with some small landed property down in the south ; he has bought and sold, mortgaged and redeemed, leased and released, borrowed and paid, and lent moneys, and has mingled together his transactions in such an inexplicable way, that neither he nor the lawyers can unravel the web. Then, there is, an aunt in the business, who is bedridden and unproduceable, and only speechable at rare intervals she is at the bottom of all the mystery, but she cannot throw any light upon it until she gets well, which won't be, according to appearances, until the nephew is safe out of prison, be that when it may. Meanwhile, the badgered debtor struggles in the, toils, and we, willing to escape from the spectacle of his shifts and doubles, and from the suffocation,. leave him to make the best he can of it.
In another apartment is another species of entertainment. The performer here is a young would-be gentleman, brought up from Whitecross Street on his own petition. Unlike the countryman, he is cool and self-possessed as a judge ; he evidently con siders himself an injured individual, suffering from the prejudices of society. What has he done that he should be incarcerated and deprived of the sweets of liberty? He has only contracted some few thousands of debt, without the prospect of liquidation. It is true that, out of his fifteen creditors, nine of them are tailors ; but what of that? how can a gentleman about town do without his tailor? and why should he incur rebuke, because he chose to distribute his patronage? If he has not paid/ their bills, he has at least paid the penalty of' default, by the detention he has already undergone. Such, so far as we can make it out, is the gist and essence of the plea on his behalf; but, unfortunately for him, it does not seem to have much weight with the commissioner, and he, in the end, sides with the creditors, who are in no hurry to let him out of their clutches. The Insolvent Court would furnish us with pictures of deeper shade and fair fouler hue than these ; but neither we nor our readers would derive any pleasure from contemplating them. We drop the subject; with the reminder, that a discharge from this court is only a discharge as to person, and not as to future acquired property.