Sketches by Boz HTML version

8. Doctors' Commons
Walking without any definite object through St. Paul's Churchyard, a little while ago, we
happened to turn down a street entitled 'Paul's-chain,' and keeping straight forward for a
few hundred yards, found ourself, as a natural consequence, in Doctors' Commons.
Now Doctors' Commons being familiar by name to everybody, as the place where they
grant marriage-licenses to love-sick couples, and divorces to unfaithful ones; register
the wills of people who have any property to leave, and punish hasty gentlemen who
call ladies by unpleasant names, we no sooner discovered that we were really within its
precincts, than we felt a laudable desire to become better acquainted therewith; and as
the first object of our curiosity was the Court, whose decrees can even unloose the
bonds of matrimony, we procured a direction to it; and bent our steps thither without
Crossing a quiet and shady court-yard, paved with stone, and frowned upon by old red
brick houses, on the doors of which were painted the names of sundry learned civilians,
we paused before a small, green-baized, brass-headed-nailed door, which yielding to
our gentle push, at once admitted us into an old quaint-looking apartment, with sunken
windows, and black carved wainscoting, at the upper end of which, seated on a raised
platform, of semicircular shape, were about a dozen solemn-looking gentlemen, in
crimson gowns and wigs.
At a more elevated desk in the centre, sat a very fat and red-faced gentleman, in
tortoise-shell spectacles, whose dignified appearance announced the judge; and round
a long green-baized table below, something like a billiard-table without the cushions and
pockets, were a number of very self-important-looking personages, in stiff neckcloths,
and black gowns with white fur collars, whom we at once set down as proctors. At the
lower end of the billiard-table was an individual in an arm-chair, and a wig, whom we
afterwards discovered to be the registrar; and seated behind a little desk, near the door,
were a respectable-looking man in black, of about twenty-stone weight or thereabouts,
and a fat-faced, smirking, civil-looking body, in a black gown, black kid gloves, knee
shorts, and silks, with a shirt-frill in his bosom, curls on his head, and a silver staff in his
hand, whom we had no difficulty in recognising as the officer of the Court. The latter,
indeed, speedily set our mind at rest upon this point, for, advancing to our elbow, and
opening a conversation forthwith, he had communicated to us, in less than five minutes,
that he was the apparitor, and the other the court-keeper; that this was the Arches
Court, and therefore the counsel wore red gowns, and the proctors fur collars; and that
when the other Courts sat there, they didn't wear red gowns or fur collars either; with
many other scraps of intelligence equally interesting. Besides these two officers, there