Bleak House HTML version

1. In Chancery
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn
Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had
but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.
Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of
soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for
the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed
to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general
infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of
thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke
(if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at
those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog
down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside
pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish
heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and
hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small
boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the
firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful
skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his
shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the
parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon
and hanging in the misty clouds.
Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from
the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops
lighted two hours before their time--as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and
unwilling look.
The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are
muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the
threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in
Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High
Court of Chancery.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to
assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery,
most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.
On such an afternoon, if ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting her--as here
he is--with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains,