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A Chancery judge once had the kindness to inform me, as one of a company of some
hundred and fifty men and women not labouring under any suspicions of lunacy, that
the Court of Chancery, though the shining subject of much popular prejudice (at which
point I thought the judge's eye had a cast in my direction), was almost immaculate.
There had been, he admitted, a trivial blemish or so in its rate of progress, but this was
exaggerated and had been entirely owing to the "parsimony of the public," which guilty
public, it appeared, had been until lately bent in the most determined manner on by no
means enlarging the number of Chancery judges appointed--I believe by Richard the
Second, but any other king will do as well.
This seemed to me too profound a joke to be inserted in the body of this book or I
should have restored it to Conversation Kenge or to Mr. Vholes, with one or other of
whom I think it must have originated. In such mouths I might have coupled it with an apt
quotation from one of Shakespeare's sonnets:
"My nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed!"
But as it is wholesome that the parsimonious public should know what has been doing,
and still is doing, in this connexion, I mention here that everything set forth in these
pages concerning the Court of Chancery is substantially true, and within the truth. The
case of Gridley is in no essential altered from one of actual occurrence, made public by
a disinterested person who was professionally acquainted with the whole of the
monstrous wrong from beginning to end. At the present moment (August, 1853) there is
a suit before the court which was commenced nearly twenty years ago, in which from
thirty to forty counsel have been known to appear at one time, in which costs have been
incurred to the amount of seventy thousand pounds, which is a friendly suit, and which
is (I am assured) no nearer to its termination now than when it was begun. There is
another well-known suit in Chancery, not yet decided, which was commenced before
the close of the last century and in which more than double the amount of seventy
thousand pounds has been swallowed up in costs. If I wanted other authorities for
Jarndyce and Jarndyce, I could rain them on these pages, to the shame of--a
parsimonious public.
There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark. The possibility of what is
called spontaneous combustion has been denied since the death of Mr. Krook; and my
good friend Mr. Lewes (quite mistaken, as he soon found, in supposing the thing to
have been abandoned by all authorities) published some ingenious letters to me at the
time when that event was chronicled, arguing that spontaneous combustion could not
possibly be. I have no need to observe that I do not wilfully or negligently mislead my
readers and that before I wrote that description I took pains to investigate the subject.