« AnteriorContinuar »
As for the Court of Honour of which I am here speaking, I intend to sit myself in it as president, with several men of honour on my right hand, and women of virtue on my left, as my assistants. The first place of the bench I have given to an old Tangereen captain with a wooden leg. The second is a gentleman of a long twisted periwig without a curl in it, a muff with very little hair upon it, and a threadbare coat with new buttons, being a person of great worth, and second brother to a man of quality. The third is a gentleman usher, extremely well read in romances, and grandson to one of the greatest wits in Germany, who was some time master of the ceremonies to the Duke of Wolfembuttel.
As for those who sit further on my right hand, as it is usual in public courts, they are such as will fill up the number of faces upon the bench, and serve rather for ornament than use.
The chief upon my left hand are, an old maiden lady, that preserves some of the best blood of England in her veins.
A Welsh woman of a little stature, but high spirit.
An old prude that has censured every marriage for these thirty years, and is lately wedded to a young rake.
Having thus furnished my bench, I shall establish correspondencies with the Horse-guards, and the veterans of Chelsea College; the former to furnish me with twelve men of honour, as often as I shall have occasion for a grand jury, and the latter with as many good men and true for a petty jury.
As for the women of virtue, it will not be difficult for me to find them about midnight at crimp and basset.
Having given this public notice of my court, I must further add, that I intend to open it on this day seven-night, being Monday the twentieth instant; and do hereby invite all such as have suffered injuries and affronts, that are not to be redressed by the common laws of this land, whether they be short bows, cold salutations, supercilious looks, unreturned smiles, distant behaviour, or forced familiarity; as also all such as have been aggrieved by any ambiguous expression, accidental justle, or unkind repartee; likewise all such as have been defrauded of their right to the wall, tricked out of the upper end of the table, or have been suf
fered to place themselves in their own wrong on the backseat of the coach: these, and all of these, I do, as is abovesaid, invite to bring in their several cases and complaints, in which they shall be relieved with all imaginable expedition.
I am very sensible, that the office I have now taken upon me will engage me in the disquisition of many weighty points that daily perplex the youth of the British nation, and therefore I have already discussed several of them for my future use; as, How far a man may brandish his cane in the telling a story, without insulting his hearer? What degree of contradiction amounts to the lie? How a man should resent another's staring and cocking a hat in his face? If asking pardon is an atonement for treading upon one's toes? Whether a man may put up a box on the ear received from a stranger in the dark? Or, whether a man of honour may take a blow of his wife? with several other subtilties of the like nature.
For my direction in the duties of my office, I have furnished myself with a certain astrological pair of scales which I have contrived for this purpose. În one of them I lay the injuries, in the other the reparations. The first are represented by little weights made of a metal resembling iron, and the other in gold. These are not only lighter than the weights made use of in Avoirdupois, but also than such as are used in Troy weight. The heaviest of those that represent the injuries, amount to but a scruple; and decrease by so many sub-divisions, that there are several imperceptible weights which cannot be seen without the help of a very fine microscope. I might acquaint my reader, that these scales were made under the influence of the sun when he was in Libra, and describe many signatures on the weights both of injury and reparation: but as this would look rather to proceed from an ostentation of my own art than any care for the public, I shall pass it over in silence.
No. 253. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1710.
Pietate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem
From my own Apartment, November 20. Extract of the Journal of the Court of Honour, 1710. Diae Lunæ vicesimo Novembris, horâ nonâ antemeridianá.
THE Court being sat, an oath prepared by the Censor was administered to the assistants on his right hand, who were all sworn upon their honour. The women on his left hand took the same oath upon their reputation. Twelve gentlemen of the Horse-guards were impanelled, having unanimously chosen Mr. Alexander Truncheon, who is their right-hand man in the troop, for their foreman in the jury. Mr. Truncheon immediately drew his sword, and holding it with the point towards his own body, presented it to the Censor. Bickerstaffe received it, and after having surveyed the breadth of the blade, and the sharpness of the point, with more than ordinary attention, returned it to the foreman, in a very graceful manner. The rest of the jury, upon the delivery of the sword to their foreman, drew all of them together as one man, and saluted the bench with such an air, as signified the most resigned submission to those who commanded them, and the greatest magnanimity to execute what they should command.
Mr. Bickerstaffe, after having received the compliments on his right hand, cast his eye upon the left, where the whole female jury paid their respects by a low curtsey, and by laying their hands upon their mouths. Their fore-woman was a professed Platonist, that had spent much of her time in exhorting the sex to set a just value upon their persons, and to make the men know themselves.
There followed a profound silence, when at length, after some recollection, the Censor, who continued hitherto uncovered, put on his hat with great dignity; and after having composed the brims of it in a manner suitable to the gravity of his character, he gave the following charge, which was received with silence and attention, that being the only applause which he admits of, or is ever given in his presence.
"The nature of my office, and the solemnity of this occasion, requiring that I should open my first session with a speech, I shall cast what I have to say under two principal heads:
"Under the first, I shall endeavour to show the necessity and usefulness of this new-erected court; and under the second, I shall give a word of advice and instruction to every constituent part of it.
"As for the first, it is well observed by Phædrus, an heathen poet,
Nisi utile est quod facimus, frustra est gloria.
Which is the same, ladies, as if I should say, 'It would be of no reputation for me to be president of a court which is of no benefit to the public.' Now the advantages that may arise to the weal public from this institution will more plainly appear, if we consider what it suffers for the want of it. Are not our streets daily filled with wild pieces of justice and random penalties? Are not crimes undetermined, and reparations disproportioned? How often have we seen the lie punished by death, and the liar himself deciding his own cause; nay, not only acting the judge, but the executioner! Have we not known a box on the ear more severely accounted for than manslaughter? In these extrajudicial proceedings of mankind, an unmannerly jest is frequently as capital as a premeditated murder.
"But the most pernicious circumstance in this case is, that the man who suffers the injury must put himself upon the same foot of danger with him that gave it, before he can have his just revenge; so that the punishment is altogether accidental, and may fall as well upon the innocent as the guilty. I shall only mention a case which happens frequently among the more polite nations of the world, and which I the rather mention, because both sexes are concerned in it, and which therefore, you gentlemen and you ladies of the jury, will the rather take notice of; I mean that great and known case of cuckoldom. Supposing the person who has suffered insults in his dearer and better half; supposing, I say, this person should resent the injuries done to his tender wife; what is the reparation he may expect? Why, to be used worse than his poor lady, run through the body, and left breathless upon the bed of honour? What then, will you
on my right hand say, must the man do that is affronted? Must our sides be elbowed, our shins broken? Must the wall, or perhaps our mistress, be taken from us? May a man knit his forehead into a frown, toss up his arm, or pish at what we say; and must the villain live after it? Is there no redress for injured honour? Yes, gentlemen, that is the design of the judicature we have here established.
"A court of conscience, we very well know, was first instituted for the determining of several points of property that were too little and trivial for the cognizance of higher courts of justice. In the same manner, our court of honour is appointed for the examination of several niceties and punctilios that do not pass for wrongs in the eye of our common laws. But, notwithstanding no legislators of any nation have taken into consideration these little circumstances, they are such as often lead to crimes big enough for their inspection, though they come before them too late for their redress.
Besides, I appeal to you, ladies, [here Mr. Bickerstaffe turned to his left hand,] if these are not the little stings and thorns in life that make it more uneasy than its most substantial evils ? Confess ingenuously, did you never lose a morning's devotions, because you could not offer them up from the highest place of the pew? Have you not been in pain, even at a ball, because another has been taken out to dance before you? Do you love any of your friends so much as those that are below you? Or have you any favourites that walk on your right hand? You have answered me in your looks, I ask no more.
"I come now to the second part of my discourse, which obliges me to address myself in particular to the respective members of the court, in which I shall be very brief.
"As for you, gentlemen and ladies, my assistants and grand juries, I have made choice of you on my right hand, because I know you very jealous of your honour; and you on my left, because I know you very much concerned for the reputation of others; for which reason I expect great exactness and impartiality in your verdicts and judgments. I must in the next place address myself to you, gentlemen of the council: you all know, that I have not chosen you for your knowledge in the litigious parts of the law, but because you have all of you formerly fought duels, of which