The Temple's Gallery Of Ghosts From Dickens
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Temple is crowded with the ghosts of fiction. Here were the neglected chambers, lumbered with heaps and parcels of books, where Tom, Pinch was set to work by Mr. Fips, and where old Martin Chuzzlewit revealed himself in due time, and knocked Mr. Pecksniff into a corner. Here Mr. Mortimer Lightwood's dismal office-boy leaned out of a dismal window overlooking the dismal churchyard; and here Mortimer and Eugene were visited by Mr. Boffin offering a large reward for the conviction of the murderer of John Harmon; by that honest water-side character, Rogue Rider-hood, anxious to earn "a pot o' money" in the sweat of his brow by swearing away the life of Gaffer Hexam; by Bradley Headstone and Charley Hexam; by "Mr. Dolls," negotiating for "threepenn'orths of rum."
It was in Garden Court of The Temple, in the house nearest the river, that Pip, holding his lamp over the stairs one stormy night, saw the returned convict climbing up to his rooms to disclose the mystery of his Great Expectations. Close by the gateway from The Temple into Fleet Street, and adjoining the site of Temple Bar, is Child's ancient banking house, the original of Tellson's Bank in a "Tale of Two Cities." The demolition of Temple Bar made necessary some alterations in the bank, too; and when I was last there the front of the old building which so long defied time and change was boarded up.
Chancery Lane, opposite The Temple, running from Fleet Street to Holborn—a distance only a little greater than that between the Fifth and Sixth Avenues in New York—is the principal pathway through the "perplexed and troublous valley of the shadow of the law." At either end of it there are fresh green spots; but the lane itself is wholly given up to legal dust and darkness. Facing it, on the farther side of Holborn, in a position corresponding with that of The Temple at the Fleet Street extremity, is Gray's Inn, especially attractive to me on account of the long grassy enclosure within its innermost court, so smooth and bright and well-kept that I always stopt to gaze longingly at it through the railed barrier which shuts strangers out—as if here were a tennis lawn reserved for the exclusive use of frisky barristers.
At No. 2 Holborn Court, in Gray's Inn, David Copperfield, on his return from abroad near the end of the story, found the rooms of that rising young lawyer, Mr. Thomas Traddles. There was a great scuffling and scampering when David knocked at the door; for Traddles was at that moment playing puss-in-the-corner with Sophy and "the girls." Thavies' Inn, on the other side of Holborn, a little farther east, is no longer enclosed; it is only a little fragment of shabby street which starts, with mouth wide open, to run out of Holborn Circus, and stops short, after a few rods, without having got anywhere. The faded houses look as if they belonged to East Broadway; and in one of them lived Mrs. Jellyby. .
The buildings within the large enclosure of Lincoln's Inn are a strange mixture of aged dulness and new splendor; but the old houses and the old court-rooms seem to be without exception dark, stuffy, and inconvenient. Here were the chambers of Kenge and Carboy, and the dirty and disorderly offices of Sergeant Snubbin, counsel for the defendant in the suit of Bardell against Pickwick. Here the Lord Chancellor sat, in the heart of the fog, to hear the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
At the back of the Inn, in the shabby-genteel square called Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mr. Tulkinghorn was murdered in his rusty apartment. The story of "Bleak House" revolves about Lincoln's Inn. The whole neighborhood has an air of mystery and a scent like a stationer's shop. Always I found Mr. Guppy there, with a necktie much too smart for the rest of his clothes, and a bundle of documents tied with red tape. Jobling and young Smallweed sometimes stopt to talk with him. The doors of the crowded court-rooms opened now and then, and gentlemen in gowns and horsehair wigs came out to speak with clients who waited under the arches.
The climax of "Bleak House" is the pursuit of Lady Dedlock, and the finding of the fugitive, cold and dead, with one arm around a rail of the dark little graveyard where they buried the law-copyist, "Nemo," and where poor Jo, the crossing-sweeper, came at night and swept the stones as his last tribute to the friend who "was very good" to him. There are three striking descriptions of this place in the novel. "A hemmed-in churchyard, pestiferous and obscene—a beastly scrap of ground which a Turk would reject as a savage abomination, and a Kafir would shudder at. With houses looking on, on every side, save where a reeking little tunnel of a court gives access to the iron gate—with every villainy of life in action close on death, and every poisonous element of death in action close on life; here they lower our dear brother down a foot or two ; here sow him in corruption to be raised in corruption; an avenging ghost at many a sick-bedside; a shameful testimony to future ages how civilization and barbarism walked this boastful island together."
The exact situation of the graveyard is not de-fined in the novel; but it was evidently near Lincoln's Inn, and Mr. Winter told us, in one of his delightful London letters, that it was also near Drury Lane. So strangely hidden away is it among close and dirty houses that it was only after three long searches through all the courts thereabouts that I found the "reeking little tunnel," and twice I passed the entrance without observing it. Opening out of Drury Lane, at the back and side of the theater, is a network of narrow, flagged passages built up with tall houses. There are rag and waste-paper shops in this retreat, two or three dreadful little greengrocers' stalls, a pawnbroker's, a surprising number of cobblers, and in the core of the place, where the alley widens into the semblance of a dwarfed court, a nest of dealers in theatrical finery, dancing-shoes, pasteboard rounds of beef and cutlets, stage armor, and second-hand play-books. Between Marquis Court on the one hand, Russell Court on the other, and a miserable alley called Cross Court which connects them, is what appears at first sight to be a solid block of tenements. The graveyard is in the very heart of this populous block. The door of one of the houses stood open, and through a barred staircase window at the back of the entry I caught a glimpse of a patch of grass—a sight so strange in this part of London that I went around to the other side of the block to examine further.
There I found the "reeking little tunnel." It is merely a stone-paved passage about four feet wide through the ground floor of a tenement. House doors open into it. A lamp hangs over the entrance. A rusty iron gate closes it at the farther end. Here is the "pestiferous and obscene church-yard," completely hemmed in by the habitations of the living. Few of the graves are marked, and most of the tombstones remaining are set up on end against the walls of the houses. Perhaps a church stood there once, but there is none now. Tho burials are no longer permitted in this hideous spot, the people of the block, when they shut their doors at night, shut the dead in with them. The dishonoring of the old graves goes on briskly. Inside the gate lay various rubbish a woman's boot, a broken coal scuttle, the foot of a tin candlestick, fragments of paper, sticks, bones, straw—unmentionable abominations; and over the dismal scene a reeking, smoke-laden fog spread darkness and moisture.