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“ But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them with a bombast circumstance
“ Nonsuiting” is known to the learned to be the most disreputable and mortifying mode of being beaten: it indicates that the action is wholly unfounded on the plaintiff's own showing, or that there is a fatal defect in the manner in which his case has been got up: insomuch that Mr. Chitty, the great special pleader, used to give this advice to young barristers practising at nisi prius :—“ Always avoid your attorney when nonsuited, for till he has a little time for reflection, however much you may abuse the Judge, he will think that the nonsuit was all your fault.”
In the next scene Shakespeare gives us very distinct proof that he was acquainted with Admiralty law, as well as with the procedure of Westminster Hall. Describing the feat of the Moor in carrying off Desdemona against her father's consent, which might either make or mar his fortune, according as the act might be sanctioned or nullified, Iago observes
“Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack :
the trope indicating that there would be a suit in the High Court of Admiralty to determine the validity of the capture.
Then follows, in Act 1. Sc. 3, the trial of Othello before the Senate, as if he had been indicted on Stat. 33 Hen. VII. C. 8, for practising “conjuration, witchcraft, enchantment, and sorcery, to provoke to unlawful love." Brabantio, the prosecutor, says
“She is abused, stol'n from me, and corrupted
The presiding Judge at first seems alarmingly to favour the prosecutor, saying
Duke. Whoe'er he be that in this foul proceeding
The Moor, although acting as his own counsel, makes a noble and skilful defence, directly meeting the statutable misdemeanour with which he is charged,—and referring pointedly to the very words of the indictment and the Act of Parliament:
“I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver
Having fully opened his case, showing that he had used no forbidden arts, and having explained the course which he had lawfully pursued, he says in conclusion :
“ This only is the witchcraft I have used :
Here comes the lady- let her witness it."
He then examines the witness, and is honourably acquitted.
Again, the application to Othello to forgive Cassio is made to assume the shape of a juridical proceeding. Thus Desdemona concludes her address to Cassio, assuring him of her zeal as his Solicitor :
“I'll intermingle every thing he does
With Cassio's suit : Therefore be merry, Cassio;
The subsequent part of the same scene shows that Shakespeare was well acquainted with all courts, low as
Who has a breast so pure
Antony and Cleopatra.
In ‘Julius Cæsar' I could not find a single instance of a Roman being made to talk like an English lawyer; but in · Antony and Cleopatra' (Act i. Sc. 4) Lepidus, in trying to palliate the bad qualities and misdeeds of Antony, uses the language of a conveyancer's chambers in Lincoln's Inn :
“His faults, in him, seem as the spots of heaven,
That is to say, they are taken by descent, not by purchase.*
* So in the Second Part of Henry IV.,' Act iv. Sc. 4, the King, who had usurped the crown, says to the Prince of Wales
for what in me was purchas'd Falls upon thee in a more fairer sort.
i.e. I took by purchase, you will take by descent.
Lay gents (viz., all except lawyers) understand by “purchase” buying for a sum of money, called the price; but lawyers consider that “purchase” is opposed to descent—that all things come to the owner either by descent or by purchase, and that whatever does not come through operation of law by descent is purchased, although it may be the free gift of a donor. Thus, if land be devised by will to A. in fee, he takes by purchase, or to B. for life, remainder to A. and his heirs, B. being a stranger to A., A. takes by purchase ; but upon the death of A., his eldest son would take by descent.
English lawyers sometimes use these terms metaphorically, like LEPIDUS. Thus a Law Lord who has suffered much from hereditary gout, although very temperate in his habits, says, “I take it by descent, not by purchase.” Again, Lord Chancellor Eldon, a very bad shot, having insisted on going out quite alone to shoot, and boasted of the heavy bag of game which he had brought home, Lord Stowell, insinuating that he had filled it with game bought from a poacher, used to say, “My brother takes his game—not by descent, but bypurchase ;"—this being a pendant to another joke Lord Stowell was fond of—“My brother, the Chancellor, in vacation goes out with his gun to kill—time.”