This is the Court of Chancery, which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire, which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard, which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man’s acquaintance, which gives to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right, which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope, so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart, that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give—who does not often give—the warning, “Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!”
This tidy 115-word sentence—and I had to read it over to convince myself that it is indeed just one sentence—comes, as I’m sure many of you suspected, from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it; if you are a lawyer or law professor and have not read it, I am afraid I have to insist that you do so. Shakespeare may have written “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” but it’s not at all clear, in context, that he really meant it, even figuratively. Dickens meant it. Bleak House‘s description of a legal system gone amok is truly chilling—instead of just declaring that we should kill all the lawyers, he makes the reader want to kill all the lawyers. [Figuratively speaking, of course] And his descriptions of life in London in the mid-1800s are extraordinary, positively … Dickensian.