LEGAL AND PARLIAMENTARY
55. The Law Terms are an essentially Christian institution. Among the Romans the dispensation of justice took place daily, except during the Saturnalia, throughout the year; but after the establishment of Christianity this was prohibited by canonical authority, so that the festivals of the Church might be duly observed. Advent and Christmas gave rise to the winter vacation; Lent and Easter the spring; Pentecost the next; and haytime and harvest the long vacation between Midsummer and Michaelmas (see 6). Each term received its denomination from the festival immediately preceding its commencement; thus we have Hilary, Easter, Holy Trinity, and Michaelmas Terms. On one of the days in each term the courts do not sit at all, viz., Candlemas Day, Ascension Day, Midsummer Day, and All Saints' Day. The excuse for these holidays was in Catholic times purely religious; but after the Reformation they were turned to account as Reunion, or "Grand Days," at the Inns of Court. At the Universities these days are styled "Gaudy Days."
56. The Long Vacation in the English Law Courts has remained unaltered since the reign of William the Conqueror. The practical foresight of the Normans carefully adapted the suspension of litigation of all kinds to the season of the vintage, so that witnesses might not be drawn away from their wine-making employment; and the same period was fixed in this country after the Norman Conquest (see 57).
57. An ancient custom lately revived in Catholic legal circles in London is the Messe Rouge, or Mass of the Holy Ghost, at the reassembling of the Law Courts after the Long Vacation. This Mass is attended by all the Roman Catholic judges and barristers, in the church of St. Anselm and Cecilia, otherwise the Sardinian Chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields. As in France, where it has never been suffered to die out, it is called the "Messe Rouge," from the colour of the vestments worn by the officiating priests. The object of the Mass is to invoke the Divine blessing upon the work about to be undertaken; and it is especially offered up in honour of the Holy Ghost, so that the Spirit may give them wisdom. Masses of the Holy Ghost are all distinguished by the wearing of red vestments, in allusion to the fiery tongues which descended upon the heads of the Apostles on Whit Sunday.
58. The origin of the Lawyer's Wig and Gown is traceable to that period of our history when the study and practice of the law were strictly confined to the clergy. The gown is a relic of the cassock, the bands of those still worn by Catholic priests abroad, and the wig of the coif, or close hood, which when the restriction was removed in the time of the Plantagenets, was adopted by the lay lawyers as a compromise between the clerical tonsure and the capuchin, or hood with a long tail, generally worn by males. At first the coif was made of fine linen, but subsequently the material was changed to silk. The coif is still the distinguishing mark of a sergeant-at-law, though it has dwindled down to an insignificant black patch on the top of his legal wig. The attachment of this patch to his wig by the Lord Chancellor forms part of the ceremonial of the creation of a sergeant-at-law at the present day.
59. The legal terms John Doe and Richard Roe, which previous to the year 1852 appeared in every process of ejectment in place of the names of the real parties, came into existence during the reign of Edward III., in consequence of that provision of Magna Charta which calls for the production of witnesses at every criminal trial. The fictitious names of "John Doe, plaintiff, and Richard Roe, defendant," were therefore inserted because they originally appeared as those of alleged witnesses. By the Act which abolished them on October 24th, 1852, it was ordered that every writ of ejectment should contain the actual names of the persons in possession of the property claimed, as well a a description of the property "with reasonable certainty."
60. The Lawyer's Fee of Six-and-Eightpence was fixed at the time when money was reckoned by pounds, marks, and nobles, instead of pounds, shillings, and pence. A mark was a silver coin, value thirteen and fourpence, but a noble, though worth only six-and-eightpence, or the third of a pound, was composed of the noble metal, gold.
61. Barristers' Bags are of two kinds, red and blue. but the former only may be taken into court; the latter must be left in the robing-room. Here we have another instance of the representative character of red as a royal colour. As a rule only a "silk," or Queen's counsel may carry a red bag (see ).
62. Punctuation is a thing unknown in legal documents, because a "point" may have the effect of giving a sentence a totally different meaning from that intended.
63. An I O U should not be dated, because by dating it, it becomes barred by the Statute of Limitations after six years.
64. It was George the Third who first called the warriors of the law The Devil's Own. When the Temple Company of Militia was paraded before the king he asked the commander what his men were in private life. "They are all lawyers," was the reply. "All lawyers!" cried his majesty. "Then," he added, "we'll call them 'The Devil's Own'." And "The Devil's Own" they have since remained.
65. The notion that the two Sheriffs of the City of London are also conjointly Sheriff of the County of Middlesex is very widespread, but this is a great mistake. It probably originated in the circumstance that a charter of King John, relative to both the City of London and the County of Middlesex, contains the word "Sheriffs," while another of Henry I., which relates to the County of Middlesex only, mentions but one Sheriff.
66. The Judge's Scarlet Robes are worn only in the Criminal Courts, where he represents the Sovereign (see 5, 30). In the Nisi Prius Courts he appears in his judicial undress, or violet gown, because he sits there merely to adjust the law between civilians.
67. Gloves are not worn on the Bench because, like priests, to whom the wearing of gloves is also prohibited, they are to perform their duties "with clean hands."
68. White Gloves are presented by the Sheriffs to the judges in the Criminal Courts at what is called A Maiden Assize, by which is meant an Assize where there are no capital charges; because they are the emblems of innocence. The original signification of the term was an Assize at which no criminal received sentence of death. The same custom obtains in a Magistrate's Court when there are no prisoners to try (see 210).
69. Refusing to plead was formerly punished in a very cruel and barbarous manner. The prisoner who obstinately "stood mute" when placed upon his trial was pressed to death. This was because, theoretically, as long as he refused to plead the civil authority had no power to act at all; and practically, because it is one of the fundamental principles of English Law that every person charged with any crime whatsoever, shall plead in his own defence. Instances are not wanting where a prisoner charged with high treason has preferred death in this manner to pleading, so as to preserve his estates to his children.
70. The State Robes of the English judges, from the Lord Chancellor downwards, are lined with Ermine, because the animal whose fur it is has always been regarded as the emblem of purity.
71. The seat reserved for the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords is a large sack of wool covered with red cloth, and officially denominated The Woolsack. This is supposed to constantly remind him of the great importance of the woollen manufacture of England.
72. The Speaker of the House of Commons is the first commoner in the land. Though he takes no part in the debates, it is a mistake to imagine that his voice is never heard. As the representative of the Sovereign in the Lower House of Legislature he presides over the debates, puts the question, maintains order, and gives a casting vote when the numbers on both sides are equal; while it is through him alone that the Commons have access to the throne. When two or more members rise to address the House, the rule is for the one who is first observed by the Speaker to be allowed precedence. The necessity for such a rule was first experienced on November 26th, 1640, when several members rose and began to speak at the same time. At last the House decided for Mr. White to speak, and ever afterwards no member attempted to address the House except at the invitation of the Speaker. Hence the expression "To Catch the Speaker's Eye."
73. The Mace, which is of Oriental origin, was anciently a spiked metal club hung at the saddle-bow of a mounted warrior prior to the introduction of swords. Afterwards, when the sword formed the personal armament of every horseman engaged in battle, the use of the mace was restricted to kings, princes, and a few privileged nobles. Finally, the king resigned that weapon into the hands of the valiant knight whom he appointed to be his Champion (see 6), and as the Champion always preceded him on State occasions, the mace that he bore came to be regarded as the insignia of royalty, When the time arrived that the royal champion was no longer needed except at coronations, the mace assumed an ornamental form. The spikes disappeared the article itself was composed of massive silvergilt, and its head was adorned with a crown symbolical of royal dignity. This is why the mace is borne before the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker, representatives of the Sovereign in the House of Lords and the House of Commons respectively. Likewise the mace lying on the table in front of these high legal functionaries signifies that matters of State are being discussed. In the absence of the Speaker, that is to say, when the House of Commons goes into committee, the mace is put away under the table. As the representative of the Sovereign in the City, the Lord Mayor has his mace-bearer also. So, too, has the Pope.
74. The Episcopalian Bench in the House of Lords had its origin long before the Reformation. It is quite true that in the year 1540 Henry VIII. gave the privilege to all those bishops who acknowledged his supremacy as head of the Church to rank as barons; but we know also that the dissolution of the monasteries deprived twenty-six abbots and two priors of their seats in the Upper House, thus reducing the peerage by one third. As a matter of fact, the abbots and priors of ancient times were placed on the same footing in relation to the Crown as the nobility, by right of the lands that they possessed. Being landowners, they had to render military service, and could be summoned to Parliament.
75. The Ladies' Gallery in the House of Commons does not appear to be a very enviable place to occupy from the male point of view on the opposite side of the House. Why the fair sex should be imprisoned in a cage-like apartment is a mystery to most people; but the explanation is this:--On one occasion, before a separate gallery for lady visitors was provided, one of the daughters of Eve marked her appreciation of an eloquent member's speech by throwing him a bouquet as he sat down. This was considered such an unparliamentary proceeding that the total exclusion of lady visitors was contemplated. Eventually it was decided to prevent a repetition of the occurrence by imprisoning the fair ones behind a "grille." Although the matter has been much agitated of late, unlikely that this detested obstruction will ever be removed.
76. The Light on the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament as a signal that the Commons are sitting is an old idea revived; it had its counterpart in the flag always displayed on the roof of a theatre in Shakespeare's day while the play was in progress. The Westminster light is not an electric light at all, as so many people fondly imagine, but old-fashioned gas. As long as the Speaker occupies the chair, it sends its rays across the metropolis; but the moment there is an affirmative response to the Speaker's question, "that the House do now adjourn," it vanishes. This excellent arrangement is due to the fact that a wire runs from the apparatus at the top of the tower to the Speaker's chair, behind which a man is stationed during the debates so as to be ready at any moment to switch off the light.
77. The City Representatives, on the assembling of every new parliament, wear scarlet gowns, and sit close to the right hand of the Speaker. This distinction emphasizes the importance of the Lord Mayor of London, who, as the representative of the Sovereign within the City, wears a scarlet robe of State (see 5, 73, 458).
78. To Move the Previous Question is a parliamentary subterfuge to ignore a question which one side of the House does not like to vote against, but which at the same time it has no desire to pass. As soon as the Speaker rises to put the original question to the vote, some member anticipates him by moving "that this question be now put," and if it is negatived there the matter ends, without any voting at all.
79. To move that a Bill be Read this Day Six Months is the Parliamentary method of burking it, because the House will not be sitting in six months' time.
80. A privy councillor is entitled to be addressed as The Right Honourable, even though he be a commoner. This is because he constitutes one of "The Lords of Her Majesty's Privy Council." The Lord Mayor of London is styled "The Right Honourable" in virtue of his rank as an earl.
81. The Ministerial Whitebait Dinner at Greenwich was instituted by Sir Robert Preston, a Scotch baronet and merchant prince, who some time represented Dover in Parliament. This baronet had what he called a "fishing cottage" at Dagenham Reach, in Essex, to which he was accustomed to repair in the spring with his particular friend, "Old George Rose," Secretary of the Treasury, in order to escape from the cares of his mercantile and parliamentary duties. One day, while these two worthies were enjoying themselves at this place, Mr. Rose threw out a hint that their mutual friend Mr. Pitt would much delight in the comfort of such a snug retreat. The premier was at once invited, and received with the utmost cordiality at the "fishing cottage." On taking his leave he readily accepted an invitation for the following year, Sir Robert engaging to remind him of it at the proper time. For several years in succession Mr. Pitt, always accompanied by Mr. Rose, enjoyed the hospitality of Sir Robert Preston at Dagenham Reach; but as the distance was great, and railways had not then come into existence, the genial host at length discerned that his coming and going could not fail to be somewhat inconvenient to the First Minister of the Crown. He therefore proposed that they should in future dine together at some place nearer London. Greenwich was mentioned as a convenient salle a manger, and this was agreed to. At their first meeting, however, the party was changed from a trio to a quartet, Mr. Pitt having requested that he might be allowed to introduce Lord Camden. It was not long before a fourth guest --Mr. Long, subsequently Lord Farnborough--was added to the little party. These were still the guests of Sir Robert Preston; but one by one other notables were invited, and at last Lord Camden proposed that as they were dining at a tavern, Sir Robert should be relieved of the expense. It was therefore agreed that each diner should bear his individual share of the cost, and on this plan the meetings were annually held until the death of Mr. Pitt. Sir Robert Preston was in the following year called upon to invite the several guests, the list of whom already included most of the cabinet ministers. It was then that the time of meeting was transferred to the end of the session. When Sir Robert died, the "fish dinner," as it was called, survived, and Lord Farnborough undertook to summon the guests from the list furnished to him by the private secretary of the late baronet, who had been in the habit of sending out the invitations privately. "No doubt eating and drinking," writes the author of a long and interesting letter on this subject in the "Times" for 1861, and of which the foregoing is an abstract, "are good for digestion, and a good digestion makes men calm and clearheaded, and calmness and a clear head promote logical reasoning, and logical reasoning aids the counsels of the nation, and reipublicae consilio the nation goes on to glory. So I suppose in one way or another the 'Ministerial Whitebait Dinner' conduces to the grandeur and prosperity of our beloved country." It may conveniently be added that Whitebait owes its name to its silvery whiteness, and the circumstance that it was at one time employed exclusively for baiting crab and lobster pots.
82. The custom of Wearing the Hat in Parliament is alluded to in an old work entitled, "Rules of Proceeding, etc., of the House of Commons." It is there stated that when a member speaks he must stand up in his place with his head uncovered, and address his remarks to the Speaker and not to a particular member. This presumes the existence of the custom of wearing the hat when not actually engaged in debate. There are reasons why a member should always have his hat close at hand, though he may not care to keep it on his head. As often as he hears his name mentioned in the speech of another member he is expected to raise his hat deferentially, as an acknowledgment, and if at the moment he should happen to have it in his hand, or lying in his lap, he must instantly pop it on his head so as to be able to raise it with due respect. Sometimes, in consequence of a slight irregularity, a point of order arises, and if, at such a time, a member wishes to address the Chair, he must speak without rising from his seat, and with his hat on. Again, at a particular stage in private business, when the royal assent has to be intimated by a privy councillor, this is done by raising his hat. The process of securing seats in the House, at the opening of the session, or of a new parliament by placing hats on them is familiar to every newspaper reader. On such an occasion a member generally comes down to the House an hour or two before the sitting with an extra hat, and sometimes an armful of hats, which he places on behalf of dilatory friends who might otherwise find on arriving all the best seats occupied.
83. When a Member of Parliament wishes to resign his seat, he applies for the Stewardship of The Chiltern Hundreds. Technically, he cannot resign, but the acceptance of an office under the Crown debars him from further representing his constituency. The Chiltern Hundreds are a range of chalk hills that separate Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and, traversing the middle of Buckinghamshire, extend as far as Henley in Oxfordshire. They comprise the Hundreds of Burnham, Desborough, and Stoke. Being at one time much infested with robbers, an officer of the Crown was appointed to protect them; but the office is now a sinecure, with a nominal pay. It is granted as a matter of course to a Member of Parliament who resigns his seat, and must be held by him until some other member who wishes to retire applies for it.