Frank Leward: Memorials
Bampton to Frank
Bampton to Frank.
Woodbine Cottage, Rydal Water, September 3,1845.
Dear old Man,—Here I am, sitting down to scribble away to you at New Zealand in this perfect little abode where reposes the best of men, after years of hard work and endeavour to instil, sometimes without very satisfactory results, into the minds of little boys the rudiments of Latin Grammar; while all the time his heart was far away with Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and this his delectable cottage near Rydal Water. At any rate, he is now near the scenes of his various heroes' exploits. Wordsworth is still at the Mount, though Southey is gone, and so is Coleridge, but their memory haunts the place, and to our old friend renders it classic ground. Then there is Foxhow, not far off, where Arnold, greatest of schoolmasters, lived; and Miss Martineau, prophetess of infidelity, is near at hand. The memory of the one assures him schoolmastering is the noblest work to which a man could have devoted his life; the other tries to certify his still wavering unbelief that no faith is better than the highest faith of all. As to the prophetess, I cannot help loving her, she is so nice and sensible, and so good, despite her infidelity. I don't suppose she page 136will ever really persuade the human race that annihilation is to be preferred to immortality, nor that she herself, after her good kind virtuous life will not one day be received into some quasi-paradise.
Now to return to history. My last letter was so taken up with New Zealand and the New Zealand Co. debates, I had no time to tell you anything about myself. In Easter term last I was called to the Bar. This was achieved by entering in procession with about twenty other happy students about to be immortalised, into the awful ante-chamber of the Benchers. This ante-chamber for ordinary mortals one would have thought to be a chamber, and so it is, but not for the Benchers; to them, even with its Grinling Gibbons incomparable artist carved mantel-piece, it is only an ante-chamber. There we mustered. The kind old gentleman before mentioned placed us, in gowns, white ties, and bands, in due position, and said, "As you stand now you will take precedence at the Bar. "He then made a short speech, and concluded thus, "As you are now out of my hands, I bid you farewell, and hope you may all be successful," and so left us to that higher state of existence just about to dawn upon us, while he returned to deal again with poor ordinary students. Dear old man, in my three years of studentship I had got very fond of him, as all students, barristers, and even benchers are at the Inner Temple. His great boast is that he knew several Lord Chancellors when they were students. No one quite knows how long he has been here nor how old he is; one thing is certain, that he will last as long as the old Hall does—perfect page 137specimen of the old-fashioned gentle official without pride or jealousy of those above him as he is without fear or reproach, mindful always of doing his work in the best way possible and in a way that will make all he has to do with as happy as he can.
But I am keeping the mighty potentates awaiting, and procrastinating on the threshold of the new life about to dawn upon us. Though for that matter they can afford to wait, "For they he like gods beside their nectar." At length we filed into their sanctum, a splendid apartment, profusely lit by wax tapers; ancient plate shone on the table, fruits rich and rare piled themselves up on crystal dishes, luscious and other wines went round. We were introduced to the assembled gods and stood mute round the festive conclave, "like ghosts come to trouble joy." The treasurer or head bencher for the year made a neat speech; we were asked by the head butler what wine we would take. The wise amongst us said Madeira, and it was Madeira. Then as we stood, glass in hand, our senior, who had obtained a prize, after I may add a longer period of reading than I had, made our reply, and very well till at the end he thus concluded, "And when you are rotting in your graves, perhaps we shall be sitting in your places." This unfortunate peroration caused a slight murmur of disapproval from the gods. Some turned round and looked with astonishment at the audacious young man who had thus dared to remind them of that which many of them would fain forget, and it threw a dustified mustified air over the whole transaction. I who stood next the culprit could hardly re- page 138strain a smile, and a gentle titter ran through the standing array of neophites.
Awful oaths of eternal fidelity to the Queen then followed, and others more awful in their stern denunciation of the Pope, and having sufficiently sworn against that ancient enemy of England we were bowed out, the gods appearing not sorry to be rid of us and especially of that harbinger of woe, who like the death's-head at Egyptian banquets had bid them remember even they must die. How many of those good old god-like souls will be sipping their wine there that day forty years hence? how many of us will be really sitting in their places ?
Thus I became a full-fledged barrister, and next morning with wig and gown and bands already sometime previously procured, proceeded to Westminster Hall, whose noble tribunals I ceased not to attend till the courts went to London. To London I followed them with ease, on Circuit with more difficulty. However, I was, on the motion of the leader, made a member of the mess of the old Northern Circuit, and joined at York.
At my first appearance at the Court in York Castle I had some sort of expectation that a frantic attorney might rush at me, as I entered, with a big brief, which, upon opening, just as the case was called on, should disclose a long course of systematic fraud and persecution by the other side against my new but unfortunate client, whom I by splendid eloquence, attracting the eyes of the court and of England fascinating the judge on the bench and the ladies in the gallery should wonder- page 139fully vindicate, and at the same time draw down upon myself glory honour wealth and renown. I was disappointed. On entering the court I found four learned gentlemen engaged in actual work, seventy or eighty barristers looking on all in the same plight and I daresay with the same hopes and many with the same expectations as myself. Through my stay of three weeks at York the same four gentlemen monopolised nearly the whole civil business of the assizes. It was Mr. C—— and Junior A——for the plaintiff, Mr. D—— and Junior B—— for the defendant in one case, Mr. D—— and Junior A—— for the plaintiff and Mr. C—— with Junior B—— for the defendant in the next. And so on, turn and turn about for days and days. To make the changes quite complete in one big case, the biggest at the assizes, Mr. C—— and Mr. D—— with Juniors A and B—— were all engaged for the plaintiff. One would have supposed in any other walk of life that here at any rate there would have been a chance for some glowing intellect of which there were many doubtless looking on in forced idleness quite as capable of doing as Mr. C—— or Mr. D—— or Juniors A or B—— and ready to enter the lists on the other side but no, two very big wigs, Mr. Attorney-General and Mr. Solicitor-General, were both brought down specially from London with enormous fees for the defendant. Certainly a learned sergeant and another Junior were with them, but they were dumb before the great men and never opened their lips. And by some strange rule, we who had thus been done out of our rights, our only opportunity of showing what was in us, page 140and we all know we could have done better than either Attorney or Solicitor-General if we could only have got the chance of showing it, we had to invite them both to our mess and laugh at their jokes afterwards.
This mess is not an unpleasant part of Circuit. We dine in the large public rooms and have a very tolerably good dinner. We have our own cellar where has been stored up for many years the wine of the Northern Circuit, and we bring our own butler with us. The senior Queen's Counsel or serjeant present takes the head of the table, and the junior barrister who is called the recorder, sits at the other end. A good deal of mirth and jollity generally prevails. Various bar offences, breaches of bar etiquette, and such like, have different penalties. These offences are tried and the penalties adjudged at what is called a circuit court, and which is generally held on the first or second day of the assizes immediately after dinner. The recorder prosecutes. If the unfortunate man against whom a charge is brought is condemned a fine of one guinea is the usual penalty inflicted; if however he defends himself successfully his friends are so delighted at his acquittal that they are apt publicly to congratulate him on it, a congratulation costs two guineas. All the fines go to the wine fund. Any act of puffery or quasi puffery is indictable, thus leaving your wig at a barber's shop to be done up where it may possibly be seen by a passing attorney is gross puffery. Travelling in a public conveyance is an almost capital offence, so is entering an assize town before the judge. To get a red bag from a Queen's Counsel to get married to get page 141any appointment, all these are matters for congratulation.
One poor gentleman a friend of mine who had notoriously devoted years of hard work to a particular and very important case in which a fair and rich widow was his client, and to whom my friend had been of signal service, but in whom it was rumoured he took more than a professional interest, was solemnly arraigned before this court for having thus taken advantage of his position. He defended himself with warmth, and refused to take the matter as a joke and showed how damaging such a charge even when meant only as a joke might be to him in many ways, so as he appeared to be in earnest he was acquitted. At the next circuit court he was indicted for not having taken advantage of so favourable an opportunity of gaining the lady's affections. To this, remembering his previous defence he had nothing to say and was fined in a penalty of double the amount he would have had to pay if he had pleaded guilty to the former charge.
After these dinners the grave bar often indulges in childish and innocent recreation, and not the greatest lawyer but the man with the best voice especially if he is clever at singing extemporaneous hits at his brother advocates becomes the hero of our postprandial amusements. I often notice the hardest worked are on these occasions the lightest hearted.
But dinners like assizes must come to an end at last. So after a pleasant three weeks I went to my uncle's, and thence found my way on here. Good old Saunders is in some ways a different person to what he used to page 142be. The free life and exercise among the hills, the greater opportunity of reading and seeing people other than schoolmasters has given his mind a larger horizon, and the getting away from schoolmastering and the sway of old Pott, who is likely I hear soon to go whither his name imports, has caused it to take a bound into heights I never suspected it was capable of. He is the most pleasant companion. We take tremendous walks. He knows every spot about here worth seeing either for its scenery or its interest in other ways. We have visited Gretta Hall where Coleridge lived for some time and set up a printing press, with which however he didn't print much, and where Southey lived and died, and Crosthwait Church where he lies buried. I have had long talks with. Wordsworth or rather listened to him talking as he walks about his garden and shows his terraces and the spots where such and such a poem was written, and views which inspired this or that poetic thought. He can talk of little but himself and his poems and I doubt if he often thinks about much else. Now and then he breaks out into strains which show he must have had, and perhaps on occasions still has, great conversational power. He is over seventy-five, and the most benevolent perfect-looking old gentleman I ever expect to see. He is full just now of a great tour through Yorkshire he is going to start on in a few days. It is astonishing what knowledge he shows about things in general when you can get him to talk of things other than himself, for he never seems to read and has hardly any books in his house. page 143Speaking of Wordsworth recalls to my mind the delicate De Quincey whom I should much have liked to meet here in the home of his happiest years, he is away now living at Edinburgh. You should read his charming sketch of Wordsworth's poetry just published in Tait's Magazine. Hartley Coleridge is still here living close at hand at the Nab Cottage lapped by the gentle wave of Rydal Water. I have been to see him several times, and I met him once at the Mount. We have long talks of Oxford and especially of Oriel of which for one short year he was a fellow, and they turned him out. Poor old drunken Hartley Coleridge much very much of a genius much indeed of a poet as weak as water against him all the world—has been sinning nearly all his life. I can't help thinking the sons of such a one as his father was should if necessary be taken care of by the State, just as it gives pensions to great conquerors and mighty chancellors not for their own lives only but to their children after them. My pleasure here has been clouded by the sad news I had from an old friend at Oriel that there is now no doubt Dr. Newman has decided to leave us. The decision of such a one is irrevocable. I have had a dread for some time it must come to this but now it has come it is a shock to one's faith in the old Church of England that I have endeavoured to stick to and stick up for so long. I know his desire and heart-rending earnest struggle all through the last three years to find some honest and firm ground on which he could stay within her fold amongst those friends in whose love he lives, and parting from whom he must feel as though he page 144was starting on a long weary journey in a foreign land, with none but strangers for companions with other ways and other thoughts and feelings different to those of the dear companions he must leave behind. His consolation is he knows he has striven with all the power of his logical mind and the fervour of his devoted soul to find the truth, and in his strong belief that in the new land whither he is bound there only this truth can be found, and that in going he fulfils the will of God.—Now fare thee well old friend, from yours
C. Augustin B.