Chapter 1 In Chancery

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellorsitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. Asmuch mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired3 fromthe face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet aMegalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling4 like an elephantinelizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots,making a soft black drizzle5, with flakes6 of soot7 in it as big asfull-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, forthe death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire8. Horses,scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers,jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of illtemper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens ofthousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and slidingsince the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new depositsto the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those pointstenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

  Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aitsand meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among thetiers of shipping9 and the waterside pollutions of a great (anddirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes10, fog on the Kentish heights.

  Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out onthe yards and hovering11 in the rigging of great ships; fog droopingon the gunwales of barges12 and small boats. Fog in the eyes andthroats of ancient Greenwich pensioners13, wheezing14 by the firesidesof their wards15; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe ofthe wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinchingthe toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck.

  Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into anether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in aballoon and hanging in the misty16 clouds.

  Gas looming17 through the fog in divers19 places in the streets, muchas the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom18 byhusbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hoursbefore their time--as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggardand unwilling20 look.

  The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense21 fog is densest22, and themuddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction,appropriate ornament23 for the threshold of a leaden-headed oldcorporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's InnHall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellorin his High Court of Chancery.

  Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud andmire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering conditionwhich this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary24 sinners,holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

  On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor1 ought to besitting her--as here he is--with a foggy glory round his head,softly fenced in with crimson25 cloth and curtains, addressed by alarge advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and aninterminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation tothe lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog. On suchan afternoon some score of members of the High Court of Chancerybar ought to be--as here they are--mistily engaged in one of theten thousand stages of an endless cause, tripping one another up onslippery precedents26, groping knee-deep in technicalities, runningtheir goat-hair and horsehair warded27 heads against walls of wordsand making a pretence28 of equity29 with serious faces, as playersmight. On such an afternoon the various solicitors30 in the cause,some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, whomade a fortune by it, ought to be--as are they not?--ranged in aline, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for truthat the bottom of it) between the registrar31's red table and the silkgowns, with bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions,affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters' reports,mountains of costly32 nonsense, piled before them. Well may thecourt be dim, with wasting candles here and there; well may the foghang heavy in it, as if it would never get out; well may thestained-glass windows lose their colour and admit no light of dayinto the place; well may the uninitiated from the streets, who peepin through the glass panes33 in the door, be deterred34 from entranceby its owlish aspect and by the drawl, languidly echoing to theroof from the padded dais where the Lord High Chancellor looks intothe lantern that has no light in it and where the attendant wigsare all stuck in a fog-bank! This is the Court of Chancery, whichhas its decaying houses and its blighted36 lands in every shire,which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead inevery churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshodheels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the roundof every man's acquaintance, which gives to monied might the meansabundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances,patience, courage, hope, so overthrows37 the brain and breaks theheart, that there is not an honourable38 man among its practitionerswho would not give--who does not often give--the warning, "Sufferany wrong that can be done you rather than come here!"Who happen to be in the Lord Chancellor's court this murkyafternoon besides the Lord Chancellor, the counsel in the cause,two or three counsel who are never in any cause, and the well ofsolicitors before mentioned? There is the registrar below thejudge, in wig35 and gown; and there are two or three maces, or petty-bags, or privy39 purses, or whatever they may be, in legal courtsuits. These are all yawning, for no crumb40 of amusement ever fallsfrom Jarndyce and Jarndyce (the cause in hand), which was squeezeddry years upon years ago. The short-hand writers, the reporters ofthe court, and the reporters of the newspapers invariably decampwith the rest of the regulars when Jarndyce and Jarndyce comes on.

  Their places are a blank. Standing41 on a seat at the side of thehall, the better to peer into the curtained sanctuary42, is a littlemad old woman in a squeezed bonnet43 who is always in court, from itssitting to its rising, and always expecting some incomprehensiblejudgment to be given in her favour. Some say she really is, orwas, a party to a suit, but no one knows for certain because no onecares. She carries some small litter in a reticule which she callsher documents, principally consisting of paper matches and drylavender. A sallow prisoner has come up, in custody44, for the half-dozenth time to make a personal application "to purge45 himself ofhis contempt," which, being a solitary46 surviving executor who hasfallen into a state of conglomeration47 about accounts of which it isnot pretended that he had ever any knowledge, he is not at alllikely ever to do. In the meantime his prospects48 in life areended. Another ruined suitor, who periodically appears fromShropshire and breaks out into efforts to address the Chancellor atthe close of the day's business and who can by no means be made tounderstand that the Chancellor is legally ignorant of his existenceafter making it desolate49 for a quarter of a century, plants himselfin a good place and keeps an eye on the judge, ready to call out"My Lord!" in a voice of sonorous50 complaint on the instant of hisrising. A few lawyers' clerks and others who know this suitor bysight linger on the chance of his furnishing some fun andenlivening the dismal51 weather a little.

  Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, incourse of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows whatit means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has beenobserved that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for fiveminutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all thepremises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause;innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable oldpeople have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriouslyfound themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce withoutknowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary52 hatredswith the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant53 who was promiseda new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settledhas grown up, possessed54 himself of a real horse, and trotted55 awayinto the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothersand grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors2 has come in andgone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformedinto mere56 bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces leftupon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew hisbrains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce andJarndyce still drags its dreary57 length before the court,perennially hopeless.

  Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the onlygood that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but itis a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had areference out of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody orother, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been saidabout it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers in select port-wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been inthe habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last LordChancellor handled it neatly58, when, correcting Mr. Blowers, theeminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when thesky rained potatoes, he observed, "or when we get through Jarndyceand Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers"--a pleasantry that particularly tickledthe maces, bags, and purses.

  How many people out of the suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretchedforth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt59 would be a verywide question. From the master upon whose impaling60 files reams ofdusty warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed61 intomany shapes, down to the copying-clerk in the Six Clerks' Officewho has copied his tens of thousands of Chancery folio-pages underthat eternal heading, no man's nature has been made better by it.

  In trickery, evasion62, procrastination63, spoliation, botheration,under false pretences64 of all sorts, there are influences that cannever come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept thewretched suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr.

  Chizzle, Mizzle, or otherwise was particularly engaged and hadappointments until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist andshuffle into themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiverin the cause has acquired a goodly sum of money by it but hasacquired too a distrust of his own mother and a contempt for hisown kind. Chizzle, Mizzle, and otherwise have lapsed65 into a habitof vaguely66 promising67 themselves that they will look into thatoutstanding little matter and see what can be done for Drizzle--whowas not well used--when Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out ofthe office. Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties havebeen sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who havecontemplated its history from the outermost68 circle of such evilhave been insensibly tempted69 into a loose way of letting bad thingsalone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if theworld go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to goright.

  Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits theLord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

  "Mr. Tangle70," says the Lord High Chancellor, latterly somethingrestless under the eloquence71 of that learned gentleman.

  "Mlud," says Mr. Tangle. Mr. Tangle knows more of Jarndyce andJarndyce than anybody. He is famous for it--supposed never to haveread anything else since he left school.

  "Have you nearly concluded your argument?""Mlud, no--variety of points--feel it my duty tsubmit--ludship," isthe reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.

  "Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?" saysthe Chancellor with a slight smile.

  Eighteen of Mr. Tangle's learned friends, each armed with a littlesummary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers ina pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteenplaces of obscurity.

  "We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight," says theChancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs,a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really willcome to a settlement one of these days.

  The Chancellor rises; the bar rises; the prisoner is broughtforward in a hurry; the man from Shropshire cries, "My lord!"Maces, bags, and purses indignantly proclaim silence and frown atthe man from Shropshire.

  "In reference," proceeds the Chancellor, still on Jarndyce andJarndyce, "to the young girl--""Begludship's pardon--boy," says Mr. Tangle prematurely72. "Inreference," proceeds the Chancellor with extra distinctness, "tothe young girl and boy, the two young people"--Mr. Tangle crushed--"whom I directed to be in attendance to-day and who are now in myprivate room, I will see them and satisfy myself as to theexpediency of making the order for their residing with theiruncle."Mr. Tangle on his legs again. "Begludship's pardon--dead.""With their"--Chancellor looking through his double eyeglass at thepapers on his desk--"grandfather.""Begludship's pardon--victim of rash action--brains."Suddenly a very little counsel with a terrific bass73 voice arises,fully inflated74, in the back settlements of the fog, and says, "Willyour lordship allow me? I appear for him. He is a cousin, severaltimes removed. I am not at the moment prepared to inform the courtin what exact remove he is a cousin, but he IS a cousin.

  Leaving this address (delivered like a sepulchral75 message) ringingin the rafters of the roof, the very little counsel drops, and thefog knows him no more. Everybody looks for him. Nobody can seehim.

  "I will speak with both the young people," says the Chancelloranew, "and satisfy myself on the subject of their residing withtheir cousin. I will mention the matter to-morrow morning when Itake my seat."The Chancellor is about to bow to the bar when the prisoner ispresented. Nothing can possibly come of the prisoner'sconglomeration but his being sent back to prison, which is soondone. The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative76 "Mylord!" but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterouslyvanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of bluebags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off byclerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents;the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice77 it hascommitted and all the misery78 it has caused could only be locked upwith it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre--why somuch the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce andJarndyce!