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
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. There
are about thirty cases on record, of which the most famous, that of
the Countess Cornelia de Baudi Cesenate, was minutely investigated
and described by Giuseppe Bianchini, a prebendary of Verona,
otherwise distinguished in letters, who published an account of it at
Verona in 1731, which he afterwards republished at Rome. The
appearances, beyond all rational doubt, observed in that case are the
appearances observed in Mr. Krook's case. The next most famous
instance happened at Rheims six years earlier, and the historian in
that case is Le Cat, one of the most renowned surgeons produced by
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