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July 08 , 2009

A Book About Lawyers


A law-student of the present day finds it difficult to realize the brightness and domestic decency which characterized the Inns of Court in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Under existing circumstances, women of character and social position avoid the gardens and terraces of Gray's Inn and the Temple. Attended by men, or protected by circumstances that guard them from impertinence and scandal, gentlewomen can without discomfort pass and repass the walls of our legal colleges; but in most cases a lady enters them under conditions that announce even to casual passers the object of her visit. In her carriage, during the later hours of the day, a barrister's wife may drive down the Middle Temple Lane, or through the gate of Lincoln's Inn, and wait in King's Bench Walk or New Square, until her husband, putting aside clients and papers, joins her for the homeward drive. But even thus placed, sitting in her carriage and guarded by servants, she usually prefers to fence off inquisitive eyes by a bonnet-veil, or the blinds of her carriage-windows. On Sunday, the wives and daughters of gentle families brighten the dingy passages of the Temple, and the sombre courts of Lincoln's Inn: for the musical services of the grand church and little chapel, are amongst the religious entertainments of the town. To those choral celebrations ladies go, just as they are accustomed to enter any metropolitan church; and after service they can take a turn in the gardens of either Society, without drawing upon themselves unpleasant attention. So also, unattended by men, ladies are permitted to inspect the floral exhibitions with which Mr. Broome, the Temple gardener, annually entertains London sightseers. But, save on these and a few similar occasions and conditions, gentlewomen avoid an Inn of Court as they would a barrack-yard, unless they have secured the special attendance of at least one member of the society. The escort of a barrister or student, alters the case. What barrister, young or old, cannot recall mirthful eyes that, with quick shyness, have turned away from his momentary notice, as in answer to the rustling of silk, or stirred by sympathetic consciousness of women's noiseless presence, he has raised his face from a volume of reports, and seen two or three timorous girls peering through the golden haze of a London morning, into the library of his Inn? What man, thus drawn away for thirty seconds from prosaic toil, has not in that half minute remembered the faces of happy rural homes,—has not recalled old days when his young pulses beat cordial welcome to similar intruders upon the stillness of the Bodleian, or the tranquil seclusion of Trinity library? What occupant of dreary chambers in the Temple, reading this page, cannot look back to a bright day, when young, beautiful, and pure as sanctity, Lilian, or Kate, or Olive, entered his room radiant with smiles, delicate in attire, and musical with gleesome gossip about country neighbors, and the life of a joyous home
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