Frank Leward: Memorials
Bampton to Frank
Bampton to Frank.
Pump Court, Temple, May 23,1843.
Dear old Frank,—I have been reading so hard ever since you left, I was obliged to give up all letter-writing. You will be glad to hear I was successful, and got, a first page 99in classics. I did not attempt anything else. I shall not go in for a fellowship, because I know if I got one, the attractions of Oxford are so great I should be tempted to live there, and gradually become a musty old don. Besides, I am not sure I could conscientiously subscribe all the Articles. You know I used to wish to take Holy Orders, but I find I cannot honestly do so, although I can remain in our beloved Church loyally as a layman. Under these circumstances, I resolved some time since to go to the Bar, and I began to eat dinners accordingly at the Inner Temple a year ago while I was still at Oxford. I have now two years of reading and eating dinners to do, and then I shall be ready to be called to the Bar.
It was a dreadful trial to me to take the cold plunge and come away from Oxford. I am not reconciled to London yet. The life is so different. In Oxford I knew every one; all I met seemed to be friends, and trusted friends. I knew every stone in her beautiful streets and colleges, every tree in her gardens, every blade of grass in her meadows. Here I am a stranger amongst strangers. People seem to eye me with distrust; and London's dirty streets and smoky air strike dismay into my very soul. I believe the Temple is the nearest approach that can be found in London to the quiet of Oxford. We have at least gardens, some trees and a fountain, but yet it is so different. When we have dined in our snug little hall, for a moment, sitting over our port wine, I can almost fancy myself back at Oriel; but as soon as dinner is over, instead of the merry wines or musical page 100evenings, we get lost in the rush and roar of Fleet Street, Chancery Lane or the Strand, and one's individuality is involved in the surging crowd.
The Temple dinners are curious assemblies. At the high table sit the benchers, just as the dons do at Oxford; at the left hand side down the Hall is a table for the barristers, where sit a few old men who have failed in life, and who come to get a cheap dinner and wine for nothing, and tell curious old stories of forty years ago, when, they say, there really were great men at the bar. Down the right-hand side are the students tables, where I dine, a perfect contrast to the old barristers. It is all noise and fun there, and few reflect that they may one day be sitting at the other table, white-haired old men, disappointed with life and everything else. How few among us I often think, will ever rise to any eminence in our profession; how many will give it up in despair.
We dine in sets of four, or messes as they are called. On the first night of dining, having first got two barristers to certify that you are sufficiently respectable to become a member of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple and paid fees, no small sum, you knock at a curiously carved old oak door, bearing the date 1575, and go to a kind-looking old gentleman sitting at a desk in a sort of lobby. Lots of students and a few barristers are knocking and entering, and putting on gowns, which they are assisted to do by an old porter. The kind-looking old gentleman takes your name, and the name of the other students, and as it is your first dinner, demands seven shillings for page 101a bottle of wine. When all the students are in, he takes you up the Hall, and introduces you to a mess not yet made up, unless you have your own party, as I had, and puts down your bottle of wine. Other students are looking out for their friends to make up their messes, and there is some noise and confusion. It is necessary to be in before grace is said, or your dinner does not count for keeping the Term. Then some benchers enter by a side door, the head butler bangs a book upon the table, and the senior bencher, or if there are no benchers, the senior barrister, and he is generally very senior, says grace, and dinner begins—a solid, too solid dinner. The students get a thick potent soup one day, and a thick solid fish the other, never both. Then a solid heavy joint, and an equally solid heavy pudding, and then an excellent cheese. This substantial fare is washed down by unlimited Temple beer brewed in the Temple and truly delicious. Besides this the Honourable Society presents a bottle of either port or sherry. So you see on your first night you get as much beer as you like, and more wine than you can drink.
It was not so elegant a repast as some of the little dinners we used to have at Oxford, and I felt almost as if I had got back to Upton again; yet it was not unpleasant. It is the height of ignorance to begin to drink your wine until all four glasses are filled. The wine captain, that is the one who happens to be one of the first two in the mess, with his back to the Hall and not to the wall, fills his glass and passes the bottle to the man opposite, who is called the captain of the mess, who page 102passes it to his right-hand neighbour, who in his turn passes it to the one opposite to him. Then the captain of the mess bows to the wine captain, then both captains bow diagonally and then laterally, and then, having all bowed to one another, you may begin to drink your wine. These are some of the rules of the Temple handed down from immemorial ages, and said to be a remnant of Knight-Templar times. Many other peculiar forms of ritual are observed of which it would be curious to trace the origin.
Borthwick, you remember him at Oriel, was with me and Truelove of S. John's; they had dined before, so we had a pleasant party and much talk and joke. I always get those two in my mess if I can manage it. The barristers have soup and fish, and the two top messes have two bottles of wine to each mess instead of one, which they seem to enjoy and always finish, while the benchers get all the luxuries the world can afford, and when they have finished them they retire to a sumptuous chamber, whose mantel-piece was carved by Grinling Gibbons, "that incomparable artist, "and there enjoy dessert and wine fit for the gods of Olympus. As for our mess we did not get through the fiery mixture which marked my advent to the first rung of the ladder which every student imagines will conduct him to the Lord High Chancellorship, Keeper of the Seals and Her Majesty's conscience, but the port was not bad, and as the evening light faded and left us there the last of the students, it was a scene and occasion I shall never forget. To enter a profession which may lead up to a position in the page 103world as high as any can lead to, for the first time to find oneself among the memories of so many departed great ones, some of whose portraits look down upon us, and whose coats-of-arms, many of ancient date, surround the walls of the old Hall, cannot but bring to the mind interesting and hopeful reflections though with them are thoughts not untinged with melancholy. I could not drive from my mind a dear regret at leaving Oxford and so many old friends of that happy period of my life when work itself was very happiness. Amongst those friends, dear old Frank, don't think I forgot you in your far-off new home beyond the waters, or failed to wish you, too, might have been here keeping terms, not perhaps with a view of making a living at the bar, as I shall have to try to do, but at any rate of qualifying yourself for being a Justice of the Peace as so many country gentlemen do.
But to return to our muttons which are not finished yet. Soon however the old book is banged on the table again grace is said the benchers retire to their wine, most of the students rush off to theatres or other places of amusement, throwing their gowns at the waiters, here called paniers, as they go out; the grey-haired old barristers grow merry once again over their wine, and we, a few students, are left sole possessors of the now quiet Hall. This Hall is not architecturally fine,—not to be compared to the Middle Temple Hall, built in Queen Elizabeth's time, where the Midsummer Nights' Dream was first enacted in the presence of Her Majesty and the greater majesty of Shakespeare, the most perfect specimen page 104I think of domestic architecture you can find in England,—but it is very comfortable.
So my initiation into the ancient mystery of the law concluded. Truelove and Borthwick had some engagement, and I wandered a little about the Temple and thought of Charles Lamb and his old benchers, of Dr. Johnson and his Goldy; then I strolled through the gardens and saw the heavy-laden barges going silently by with the tide down the river to their destination; and I looked at that river with astonishment when I remembered that this very same water had come from Oxford, and that it was there a clear joyful stream, but here so deeply stained with filth and dirt of all description. Often now when I look at it as I did on the first day I became a degenerate Templar, I cannot help a silent prayer in those quiet, almost deserted gardens, that I and those who have come up with me from our old Alma Mater may, through the defilements of the great world and the temptations and besetting sins of our profession, keep our consciences as pure and untarnished as they were when we were surrounded by the holier influence of our beloved Oxford.
But I almost forget I am writing to you of my first day in the Temple, and not, as I am now, a student actually working there. Well, old man, I went back to Oriel after eating my dinners, and as I told you, read hard and got a first. It was with a mingled feeling of pride and sorrow that I took leave of my old rooms and sold my things to a freshman—proud that I had succeeded, thankful to those from whom I had learnt so much, but with a very aching heart as I bid farewell to the old place, the old page 105staircase, the old quad, the old chapel. I then almost wished I could throw away ambition and go on living there as some of my best friends are going to do for many years, if not all their lives. Though the bar holds out great inducements, its prizes seemed small things to me if bought by years of dreary quibbling and dry reading of old musty precedents, narrowing the mind and limiting its charities; and if success is gained after years of struggling I fear it necessarily brings with it turmoil, envy, and jealousy. However, I made up my mind to it, so heart and soul I have gone in for it. I have a bedroom off S. James' Street, and I read from ten to five every day with a special pleader in Pump Court, one of the cleverest of his profession. It is impossible to explain to you what a special pleader is. As yet I am very new to the work, but I can already see it is a nice art, requiring a microscopic mind, and which like the art of logic as learnt at Oxford can be taught only by an expert and learnt by practice. At five I take a long walk, generally through the Park, and either dine out in the evening or at the club. Often I come back Templewards to very simple fare at the Mitre or the Cock and so to work again at law. One night in the week I go to a debating society, not quite so large or amusing as our old society, of which I became president, at Vincents, but composed of those who have more knowledge of life, more experience of the world. Sometimes I go to Cogers' Hall and hear the great unwashed spout liberty and revolution, and they sometimes carry me away with them, for I am becoming quite a Radical.page 106
I have not heard a word from your mother since you left, I must write to her for news of you, for of course you never write to me. I had a letter from old Saunders the other day saying he means to give up at the end of this half and retire to a cottage he has somewhere in the Lake district, and asking me to go and see him there. He says he is tired of school work, and since we have gone, he doesn't take so much interest in it as he used to do. I shall perhaps go to see him in the long vacation.
Now fare thee well old man. I have written this at sundry intervals, when business has been slack, when John Doe has for a short time ceased to harass his inveterate debtor and unsatisfactory tenant Robert Roe, and the casual ejector has grown more casual than ever and has forgotten to eject.—Your true friend and well-wisher in the setting forth,
C. Augustin Bampton.