The History of Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXX

The Knights of the Temple

Colleges, schools, and inns of courts still have some respect for antiquity, and maintain a great number of the customs and institutions of our ancestors, with which those persons who do not particularly regard their forefathers, or perhaps are not very well acquainted with them; have long since done away. A well-ordained workhouse or prison si much better provided with the appliances of health, comfort, and cleanliness, than a respectable Foundation School a venerable College, or a learned Inn. In the latter place of residence men are contented to sleep in dingy closets, and to pay for the sitting-room and the cupboard which is their dormitory, the price of a good villa and garden in the suburbs, or of a roomy house in the neglected squares of the town. The poorest mechanic in Spitalfields has a cistern and an unbounded suppy of water at his command; but the gentlemen of the inns of court, and the gentlemen of the universities, have their supply of this cosmetic fetched in jugs by laundresses and bedmakers, and live in abodes which were erected long before the custom of cleanliness and decency obtained among us. There are individuals still alive who sneer at the people and speak of them with epithets of scorn. Gentlemen, there can be but little doubt that your ancestors were the Great Unwashed: and in the Temple especially, it is pretty certain, that only under the greatest difficulties and restrictions the virtue which has been pronounced to be next to godliness could have been practised at all.

Old Grump, of the Norfolk Circuit, who had lived for more than thirty years in the chambers under those occupied by Warrington and Pendennis, and who used to be awakened by the roaring of the shower-baths which those gentlemen had erected in their apartments — a part of the contents of which occasionally trickled through the roof into Mr. Grump’s room — declared that the practice was an absurd, newfangled, dandified folly, and daily cursed the laundress who slopped the staircase by which he had to pass. Grump, now much more than half a century old, had indeed never used the luxury in question. He had done without water very well, and so had our fathers before him. Of all those knights and baronets, lords and gentlemen, bearing arms, whose escutcheons are painted upon the walls of the famous hall of the Upper Temple, was there no philanthropist good-natured enough to devise a set of Hummums for the benefit of the lawyers, his fellows and successors? The Temple historian makes no mention of such a scheme. There is Pump Court and Fountain Court, with their hydraulic apparatus, but one never heard of a bencher disporting in the fountain; and can’t but think how many a counsel learned in the law of old days might have benefited by the pump.

Nevertheless, those venerable Inns which have the Lamb and Flag and the Winged Horse for their ensigns, have attractions for persons who inhabit them, and a share of rough comforts and freedom which men always remember with pleasure. I don’t know whether the student of law permits himself the refreshment of enthusiasm, or indulges in poetical reminiscences as he passes by historical chambers, and says, “Yonder Eldon lived — upon this site Coke mused upon Littleton — here Chitty toiled — here Barnewall and Alderson joined in their famous labours — here Byles composed his great work upon bills, and Smith compiled his immortal leading cases — here Gustavus still toils, with Solomon to aid him:” but the man of letters can’t but love the place which has been inhabited by so many of his brethren, or peopled by their creations as real to us at this day as the authors whose children they were — and Sir Roger de Coverley walking in the Temple Garden, and discoursing with Mr. Spectator about the beauties in hoops and patches who are sauntering over the grass, is just as lively a figure to me as old Samuel Johnson rolling through the fog with the Scotch gentleman at his heels on their way to Dr. Goldsmith’s chambers in Brick Court; or Harry Fielding, with inked ruffles and a wet towel round his head, dashing off articles at midnight for the Covent Garden Journal, while the printer’s boy is asleep in the passage.

If we could but get the history of a single day as it passed in any one of those four-storied houses in the dingy court where our friends Pen and Warrington dwelt, some Temple Asmodeus might furnish us with a queer volume. There may be a great parliamentary counsel on the ground floor, who drives off to Belgravia at dinner-time, when his clerk, too, becomes a gentleman, and goes away to entertain his friends, and to take his pleasure. But a short time since he was hungry and briefless in some garret of the Inn; lived by stealthy literature; hoped, and waited, and sickened, and no clients came; exhausted his own means and his friends’ kindness; had to remonstrate humbly with duns, and to implore the patience of poor creditors. Ruin seemed to be staring him in the face, when, behold, a turn of the wheel of fortune, and the lucky wretch in possession of one of those prodigious prizes which are sometimes drawn in the great lottery of the Bar. Many a better lawyer than himself does not make a fifth part of the income of his clerk, who, a few months since, could scarcely get credit for blacking for his master’s unpaid boots. On the first floor, perhaps, you will have a venerable man whose name is famous, who has lived for half a century in the Inn, whose brains are full of books, and whose shelves are stored with classical and legal lore. He has lived alone all these fifty years, alone and for himself, amassing learning, and compiling a fortune. He comes home now at night alone from the club, where he has been dining freely, to the lonely chambers where he lives a godless old recluse. When he dies, his Inn will erect a tablet to his honour, and his heirs burn a part of his library. Would you like to have such a prospect for your old age, to store up learning and money, and end so? But we must not linger too long by Mr. Doomsday’s door. Worthy Mr. Grump lives over him, who is also an ancient inhabitant of the Inn, and who, when Doomsday comes home to read Catullus, is sitting down with three steady seniors of his standing, to a steady rubber at whist, after a dinner at which they have consumed their three steady bottles of Port. You may see the old boys asleep at the Temple Church of a Sunday. Attorneys seldom trouble them, and they have small fortunes of their own. On the other side of the third landing, where Pen and Warrington live, till long after midnight, sits Mr. Paley, who took the highest honours, and who is a fellow of his college, who will sit and read and note cases until two o’clock in the morning; who will rise at seven and be at the pleader’s chambers as soon as they are open, where he will work until an hour before dinner-time; who will come home from Hall and read and note cases again until dawn next day, when perhaps Mr. Arthur Pendennis and his friend Mr. Warrington are returning from some of their wild expeditions. How differently employed Mr. Paley has been! He has not been throwing himself away: he has only been bringing a great intellect laboriously down to the comprehension of a mean subject, and in his fierce grasp of that, resolutely excluding from his mind all higher thoughts, all better things, all the wisdom of philosophers and historians, all the thoughts of poets; all wit, fancy, reflection, art, love, truth altogether — so that he may master that enormous legend of the law, which he proposes to gain his livelihood by expounding. Warrington and Paley had been competitors for university honours in former days, and had run each other hard; and everybody said now that the former was wasting his time and energies, whilst all people praised Paley for his industry. There may be doubts, however, as to which was using his time best. The one could afford time to think, and the other never could. The one could have sympathies and do kindnesses; and the other must needs be always selfish. He could not cultivate a friendship or do a charity, or admire a work of genius, or kindle at the sight of beauty or the sound of a sweet song — he had no time, and no eyes for anything but his law-books. All was dark outside his reading-lamp. Love, and Nature, and Art (which is the expression of our praise and sense of the beautiful world of God) were shut out from him. And as he turned off his lonely lamp at night, he never thought but that he had spent the day profitably, and went to sleep alike thankless and remorseless. But he shuddered when he met his old companion Warrington on the stairs, and shunned him as one that was doomed to perdition.

It may have been the sight of that cadaverous ambition and self-complacent meanness, which showed itself in Paley’s yellow face, and twinkled in his narrow eyes, or it may have been a natural appetite for pleasure and joviality, of which it must be confessed Mr. Pen was exceedingly fond, which deterred that luckless youth from pursuing his designs upon the Bench or the Woolsack with the ardour, or rather steadiness, which is requisite in gentlemen who would climb to those seats of honour. He enjoyed the Temple life with a great deal of relish: his worthy relatives thought he was reading as became a regular student; and his uncle wrote home congratulatory letters to the kind widow at Fairoaks, announcing that the lad had sown his wild oats, and was becoming quite steady. The truth is, that it was a new sort of excitement to Pen, the life in which he was now engaged, and having given up some of the dandified pretensions, and fine-gentleman airs which he had contracted among his aristocratic college acquaintances, of whom he now saw but little, the rough pleasures and amusements of a London bachelor were very novel and agreeable to him, and he enjoyed them all. Time was he would have envied the dandies their fine horses in Rotten Row, but he was contented now to walk in the Park and look at them. He was too young to succeed in London society without a better name and a larger fortune than he had, and too lazy to get on without these adjuncts. Old Pendennis fondly thought he was busied with law because he neglected the social advantages presented to him, and, having been at half a dozen balls and evening parties, retreated before their dulness and sameness; and whenever anybody made inquiries of the worthy Major about his nephew the old gentleman said the young rascal was reformed, and could not be got away from his books. But the Major would have been almost as much horrified as Mr. Paley was, had he known what was Mr. Pen’s real course of life, and how much pleasure entered into his law studies.

A long morning’s reading, a walk in the park, a pull on the river, a stretch up the hill to Hampstead, and a modest tavern dinner; a bachelor night passed here or there, in joviality, not vice (for Arthur Pendennis admired women so heartily that he never could bear the society of any of them that were not, in his fancy at least, good and pure); a quiet evening at home, alone with a friend and a pipe or two, and a humble potation of British spirits, whereof Mrs. Flanagan, the laundress, invariably tested the quality; — these were our young gentleman’s pursuits, and it must be owned that his life was not unpleasant. In term-time, Mr. Pen showed a most praiseworthy regularity in performing one part of the law-student’s course of duty, and eating his dinners in Hall. Indeed, that Hall of the Upper Temple is a sight not uninteresting, and with the exception of some trifling improvements and anachronisms which have been introduced into the practice there, a man may sit down and fancy that he joins in a meal of the seventeenth century. The bar have their messes, the students their tables apart; the benchers sit at the high table on the raised platform surrounded by pictures of judges of the law and portraits of royal personages who have honoured its festivities with their presence and patronage. Pen looked about, on his first introduction, not a little amused with the scene which he witnessed. Among his comrades of the student class there were gentlemen of all ages, from sixty to seventeen; stout grey-headed attorneys who were proceeding to take the superior dignity — dandies and men — about town who wished for some reason to be barristers of seven years’ standing — swarthy, black-eyed natives of the Colonies, who came to be called here before they practised in their own islands — and many gentlemen of the Irish nation, who make a sojourn in Middle Temple Lane before they return to the green country of their birth. There were little squads of reading students who talked law all dinner-time; there were rowing men, whose discourse was of sculling matches, the Red House, Vauxhall and the Opera; there were others great in politics, and orators of the students’ debating clubs; with all of which sets, except the first, whose talk was an almost unknown and a quite uninteresting language to him, Mr. Pen made a gradual acquaintance, and had many points of sympathy.

The ancient and liberal Inn of the Upper Temple provides in its Hall, and for a most moderate price, an excellent wholesome dinner of soup, meat, tarts, and port wine or sherry, for the barristers and students who attend that place of refection. The parties are arranged in messes of four, each of which quartets has its piece of beef or leg of mutton, its sufficient apple-pie and its bottle of wine. But the honest habitues of the hall, amongst the lower rank of students, who have a taste for good living, have many harmless arts by which they improve their banquet, and innocent ‘dodges’ (if we may be permitted to use an excellent phrase that has become vernacular since the appearance of the last dictionaries) by which they strive to attain for themselves more delicate food than the common every-day roast meat of the students’ tables.

“Wait a bit,” said Mr. Lowton, one of these Temple gourmands. “Wait a bit,” said Mr. Lowton, tugging at Pen’s gown —“the side-tables are very full, and there’s only three benchers to eat ten dishes — if we wait, perhaps we shall get something from their table.” And Pen looked with some amusement, as did Mr. Lowton with eyes of fond desire, towards the benchers’ high table, where three old gentlemen were standing up before a dozen silver dish-covers, while the clerk was quavering out a grace.

Lowton was great in the conduct of the dinner. His aim was to manage so as to be the first, a captain of the mess, and to secure for himself the thirteenth glass of the bottle of port wine. Thus he would have the command of the joint on which he operated his favourite cuts, and made rapid dexterous appropriations of gravy, which amused Pen infinitely. Poor Jack Lowton! thy pleasures in life were very harmless; an eager epicure, thy desires did not go beyond eighteen pence.

Pen was somewhat older than many of his fellow-students, and there was that about his style and appearance, which, as we have said, was rather haughty and impertinent, that stamped him as a man of ton — very unlike those pale students who were talking law to one another, and those ferocious dandies, in rowing shirts and astonishing pins and waistcoats, who represented the idle part of the little community. The humble and good-natured Lowton had felt attracted by Pen’s superior looks and presence — and had made acquaintance with him at the mess by opening the conversation.

“This is boiled-beef day, I believe, sir,” said Lowton to Pen.

“Upon my word, sir, I’m not aware,” said Pen, hardly able to contain his laughter, but added, “I’m a stranger; this is my first term;” on which Lowton began to point out to him the notabilities in the Hall.

“That’s Boosey the bencher, the bald one sitting under the picture and aving soup; I wonder whether it’s turtle? They often ave turtle. Next is Balls, the King’s Counsel, and Swettenham — Hodge and Swettenham, you know. That’s old Grump, the senior of the bar; they say he’s dined here forty years. They often send ’em down their fish from the benchers to the senior table. Do you see those four fellows seated opposite us? Those are regular swells — tip-top fellows, I can tell you — Mr. Trail, the Bishop of Ealing’s son, Honourable Fred. Ringwood, Lord Cinqbar’s brother, you know. He’ll have a good place, I bet any money; and Bob Suckling, who’s always with him — a high fellow too. Ha! ha!” Here Lowton burst into a laugh,

“What is it?” said Pen, still amused.

“I say, I like to mess with those chaps,” Lowton said, winking his eye knowingly, and pouring out his glass of wine.

“And why?” asked Pen.

“Why! they don’t come down here to dine, you know, they only make believe to dine. They dine here, Law bless you! They go to some of the swell clubs, or else to some grand dinner-party. You see their names in the Morning Post at all the fine parties in London. Why, I bet anything that Ringwood has his cab, or Trail his Brougham (he’s a devil of a fellow, and makes the bishop’s money spin, I can tell you) at the corner of Essex Street at this minute. They dine! They won’t dine these two hours, I dare say.”

“But why should you like to mess with them, if they don’t eat any dinner?” Pen asked, still puzzled. “There’s plenty, isn’t there?”

“How green you are,” said Lowton. “Excuse me, but you are green. They don’t drink any wine, don’t you see, and a fellow gets the bottle to himself if he likes it when he messes with those three chaps. That’s why Corkoran got in with ’em.”

“Ah, Mr. Lowton, I see you are a sly fellow,” Pen said, delighted with his acquaintance: on which the other modestly replied, that he had lived in London the better part of his life, and of course had his eyes about him; and went on with his catalogue to Pen.

“There’s a lot of Irish here,” he said; “that Corkoran’s one, and I can’t say I like him. You see that handsome chap with the blue neck-cloth, and pink shirt, and yellow waistcoat, that’s another; that’s Molloy Maloney of Ballymaloney, and nephew to Major-General Sir Hector O’Dowd, he, he,” Lowton said, trying to imitate the Hibernian accent. “He’s always bragging about his uncle; and came into Hall in silver-striped trousers the day he had been presented. That other near him, with the long black hair, is a tremendous rebel. By Jove, sir, to hear him at the Forum it makes your blood freeze; and the next is an Irishman, too, Jack Finucane, reporter of a newspaper. They all stick together, those Irish. It’s your turn to fill your glass. What? you won’t have any port? Don’t like port with your dinner? Here’s your health.” And this worthy man found himself not the less attached to Pendennis because the latter disliked port wine at dinner.

It was while Pen was taking his share of one of these dinners with his acquaintance Lowton as the captain of his mess, that there came to join them a gentleman in a barrister’s gown, who could not find a seat, as it appeared, amongst the persons of his own degree, and who strode over the table and took his place on the bench where Pen sate. He was dressed in old clothes and a faded gown, which hung behind him, and he wore a shirt which, though clean, was extremely ragged, and very different to the magnificent pink raiment of Mr. Molloy Maloney, who occupied a commanding position in the next mess. In order to notify their appearance at dinner, it is the custom of the gentlemen who eat in the Upper Temple Hall to write down their names upon slips of paper, which are provided for that purpose, with a pencil for each mess. Lowton wrote his name first, then came Arthur Pendennis, and the next was that of the gentleman in the old clothes. He smiled when he saw Pen’s name, and looked at him. “We ought to know each other,” he said. “We’re both Boniface men; my name’s Warrington.”

“Are you St —— Warrington?” Pen said, delighted to see this hero.

Warrington laughed —“Stunning Warrington — yes,” he said, “I recollect you in your freshman’s term. But you appear to have quite cut me out.”

“The college talks about you still,” said Pen, who had a generous admiration for talent and pluck. “The bargeman you thrashed, Bill Simes, don’t you remember, wants you up again at Oxbridge. The Miss Notleys, the haberdashers ——”

“Hush!” said Warrington —“glad to make your acquaintance, Pendennis. Heard a good deal about you.”

The young men were friends immediately, and at once deep in college-talk. And Pen, who had been acting rather the fine gentleman on a previous day, when he pretended to Lowton that he could not drink port wine at dinner, seeing Warrington take his share with a great deal of gusto, did not scruple about helping himself any more, rather to the disappointment of honest Lowton. When the dinner was over, Warrington asked Arthur where he was going.

“I thought of going home to dress, and hear Grisi in Norma,” Pen said.

“Are you going to meet anybody there?” he asked.

Pen said, “No — only to hear the music,” of which he was fond.

“You had much better come home and smoke a pipe with me,” said Warrington — “a very short one. Come, I live close by in Lamb Court, and we’ll talk over Boniface and old times.”

They went away; Lowton sighed after them. He knew Warrington was a baronet’s son, and he looked up with simple reverence to all the aristocracy. Pen and Warrington became sworn friends from that night. Warrington’s cheerfulness and jovial temper, his good sense, his rough welcome, and his never-failing pipe of tobacco, charmed Pen, who found it more pleasant to dive into shilling taverns with him, than to dine in solitary state amongst the silent and polite frequenters of the Polyanthus.

Ere long Pen gave up the lodgings in St. James’s, to which he had migrated on quitting his hotel, and found it was much more economical to take up his abode with Warrington in Lamb Court, and furnish and occupy his friend’s vacant room there. For it must be said of Pen, that no man was more easily led than he to do a thing, when it was a novelty, or when he had a mind to it. And Pidgeon, the youth, and Flanagan, the laundress, divided their allegiance now between Warrington and Pen.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07