Insult of the Week: may his head rot off

In chapter 15 of Bleak House, the narrator Esther Summerson and her guardian Mr. Jarndcye encounter Mr. Gridley, a passionate man from Shropshire, who is embroiled in a labyrinthine court case that has permanently soured his view of the legal system.  Although Esther (who is herself a ward in Chancery) and Mr. Jarndyce have not, in fact, asked for the details, they are given them anyway.

ballads of the bench - two lawyers talking
My case documents, let me show you them

The trouble started many years previously, over a very minor question about an inheritance:

…Seventeen people were made defendants to that simple suit! It first came on after two years. It was then stopped for another two years while the master (may his head rot off!) inquired whether I was my father’s son, about which there was no dispute at all with any mortal creature. He then found out that there were not defendants enough—remember, there were only seventeen as yet!—but that we must have another who had been left out and must begin all over again. The costs at that time—before the thing was begun!—were three times the legacy. My brother would have given up the legacy, and joyful, to escape more costs. My whole estate, left to me in that will of my father’s, has gone in costs. The suit, still undecided, has fallen into rack, and ruin, and despair, with everything else—and here I stand, this day!

Dickens’s view is clear.  If you can possibly avoid it, stay out of the courts!

ballads of the bench - lady in witness box
They say a woman who represents herself in court has a fool for a lawyer.  Well, with God as my witness, I am that fool!


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