Category Archives: General Rambles

‘Convulsing the court’: laughter and litigation?

A few years ago, I wrote a paper about reports, in the medieval Year Books, of humour, jokes, laughter and levity in court.[i] Although I have never had ambitions to ‘do comedy’ myself (probably a good thing, as those who have been subjected to my attempts to liven up Land Law teaching will attest) I do find humour fascinating as well as enjoyable. Maybe it began when, as an impressionable and angsty teenager learning French, I came across a line in a Georges Brassens song, Le Vieux Léon, about people masking their sadness with jokes and laughter – some old friends, broken-heartedly (le coeur serré)  following a coffin, laughing and joking around so as to pretend not to be crying ( en rigolant, pour faire semblant de ne pas pleurer). It has stayed with me all these years, along with the idea of the use of humour and laughter for various purposes other than pure enjoyment. Additional layers were added to this interest, once I got involved with research in law and history, and saw the references to laughter and smiles and jokes and so on in the Year Books, and suggestions in various translations that certain passages were intended to be humorous. Out of that came the humour paper, which allowed me to work through various ideas about the use of humour in court – real or imagined. There are examples of ‘clubby’ humour (strengthening bonds between the members of the common law legal profession, perhaps by picking on outsiders of some sort), and of slightly bullying humour (judges being rude about those pleading before them) as well as occasional obvious and rather charming delight in words and word-play, and perhaps genuine smiles and laughter.

Perhaps that paper should have got it out of my system, but I do still find myself looking out for, and noting examples of humour in court, wherever they come up.  Recently, I have found myself drawn to reports of humour in court from a very different time and source: journalistic reports of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Those of us lucky enough to have a university affiliation can often get access to extensive databases of newspapers, but everyone with a computer and internet connection can look at the fabulous Welsh Newspaper Archive to get a flavour of these reports.

The headline (see how on-theme I am …) is that it is not at all uncommon to see reports which note laughter or ‘humorous’ exchanges or remarks in court, occasionally also the court being ‘convulsed’ at the hilarity of it all.[ii] Very few of them would strike a modern reader as being particularly funny, and some certainly make me annoyed or uncomfortable on behalf of the butt of the jokes. Still, there is some interest here, both in terms of what might have been going on in court (we cannot, surely, assume that the reports are complete nonsense) and also in terms of the ideas and attitudes which are reflected in the reports, and the reporting, of such instances.

Some such reports might be categorised as the humour of sycophancy – with both the conversation in court (assuming it happened) and the fact of reporting giving a judge a chance to display his marvellous wit. We might see this in a report from the Evening Express of 29th November 1906 in which we are told of the humorous remarks of Darling J, in an aside  about the letters sent to him by ‘lunatics’.[iii] The stage direction ‘Laughter’ is included six times in a short report in playscript form (shades of the Year Books …). It was just as well that a story from 1898 was headed ‘A Funny Judge’, because the reported exchanges between judge (here, Kekewich J) and lawyers, about getting married, were … not obviously amusing.[iv]

At other times, the apparently humorous exchanges recorded involve interactions with non-lawyers, very often people of a lower social status than lawyers. Sometimes, there is an attempt to show judges getting on with their inferiors, as in some judge-cabby banter in a case of 1897,[v] and the ‘banter with recidivist’ reports, which makes the whole process  seem a bit cosy, and the judge a good sort.[vi] More often, we are generally being encouraged to laugh at these lowly laypersons. There was the ‘big rough man’ who dropped himself right in it by saying he had stolen a broom, innocently. Ho ho – working class people are stupid![vii] And they lack taste – like the silly woman who thought Brighton, Broadstairs and Southend were ‘fashionable resorts’ – how we laughed![viii] There was the man who couldn’t say ‘sciatica’ Hahaha!; and another exasperated at being unable to find a tenancy.[ix] Women, surprise, surprise, are another group of ‘others’ regularly mocked. There is gender-based humour in a situation in which a judge has to deal with allegedly defective corsets, in a civil case. The very idea! Cue much blushing from the ladies, and laughter.[x] Poking fun and ‘tittering’ at a defendant’s incongruous name (a Newport man, William John Heaven, who had been convicted of being D & D and assaulting a constable) certainly seems very unprofessional and inappropriate.[xi]

The most protracted account of ‘banter’ is in an earlier report of a low level land case in Ireland, with much literary and other pontificating, between lawyers and a witness, with the judge laughing too, during the discussion of wigs and phrenology and all sorts. I am not sure how much of it to believe.[xii] Possibly the weakest joke I have seen is from a QC sitting in judgment in 1898, in Clerkenwell County Court – examining a party who said he was a journeyman, HHJ Edge QC asked where the man was going [Groan!]

Particularly jarring across the years is the inclusion of ‘humorous’ reports when the subject matter of the case would seem to the modern reader to be anything but funny. Mental illness or alcoholism,[xiii] deafness,[xiv] domestic cruelty,[xv] child support,[xvi] the death of a child,[xvii] The one which seems hardest to understand (both in terms of goings-on in the case, and in reporting) is the report concerning an inquest in Southwark in 1899.[xviii] The newspaper report sets the scene of a mother attending the inquest, and being examined by the coroner about ‘her deceased child’. The coroner mocked her for the length of the girl’s name, and a juror joined in, causing laughter. Men teasing and laughing at the mother of a recently deceased daughter. Certainly challenges my abilities to understand the people of the past.

Those, then are a few thoughts on this fascinating (if not entertaining as such) subject. I expect I will be back to it from time to time, as I find further examples. At the moment I am wondering when this sort of reporting came to an end – because, dreadful as they are at times, modern British tabloids do not have such reports. When did the new solemnity start? Not even something like the Wagatha Christie trial generated reports of hilarity in court. It would be very interesting to pinpoint that change.

I would like to end with what seems to be a much more pleasant account of the matter of laughter, from a case in 1904. The Weekly Mail of 17th December 1904 reported a case in a London police court, before a magistrate, Plowden. An unnamed ‘young man’ was up before the magistrate for ‘disorderly conduct’ – a vague category of offence, but apparently not one that Plowden considered sufficiently wide to embrace loud laughter and ‘larking’ with a young woman in Ladbroke Grove. The constable who had arrested the defendant thought that this amounted to disorder because it took place at 1.30 and in a ‘respectable neighbourhood’. Plowden asked the fairly deep question of whether a neighbourhood could be altered by laughter, and proceeded to tease the constable about whether or not he ever laughed (OK, I expect there is some pleb-bashing going on there … the constable is likely to have been at a lower social position than the magistrate). It did end rather nicely, with the magistrate saying to the prisoner, as he discharged him …

‘Laugh as long as you can in this world!’

 

GS

8/10/2022

[i] ‘Et Subridet etc.’: smiles, laughter and levity in the medieval Year Books — University of Bristol

[ii] See this from 1915.

[iii]Lunatics’ Letters to Judges

[iv] Evening Express 17th November 1898

For more of Kekewich J’s humorous adventures, see this from 1897.

[v] This.

[vi] See, e.g. this one from 1910.

[vii] 1898.

[viii] 1908 – and I do wonder how this played with a Welsh readership. Did they like to hear about London lawyers being snotty about British resorts?

[ix] 1900.

[x] 1899.

[xi] See this from 1910.

[xii] 1852.

[xiii] 1903.

[xiv] 1909.

[xv] See, e.g. ‘A Collier’s Appetite’, Evening Express, 8th September 1900 and this from 1909. An assault allegation from 1900. And this, in which laughter is directed against married women in an especially pointed way.

[xvi] 1908.

[xvii] Evening Express, 13th September, 1899.

[xviii] ‘A Study in Nomenclature’, Evening Express, 13th September, 1899.

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Slick advertising copy

Can only apologise for this .. absolutely no legal-historical justification, nor academic merit, just a collection of adverts from old newspapers (Welsh Newspaper Archive – thank you!) which made me smile for one reason or another. There is something utterly charming about the clumsy earnestness of a lot of late 19th-early 20th C advertising, and somehow that is intensified in papers from well outside London and its orbit.

First off, here is a rather scary lingerie/scaffolding ad from 1918 … definitely no suggestion of comfort …

Still with clothing, this one from 1910 has all sorts going on … I like the slick ‘for the million and the millionaire’ line, and the name of the shop – they definitely had a brand strategy. And the concept of a ‘holiday suit’ is rather interesting …

And this one from 1908 speaks for itself (snigger …)

Smiled at the clumsy chirpiness of a couple of ads from the Cambrian in 1907: first, we have the classic advert non sequitur, pushing toffees

and then a bouncing bit of alliteration to encourage us in the direction of ‘bile beans’ (mmmm!)

A bit of verse is always nice – we can see a fine example in this bread ad from 1906:

 

The extra layer in some of the adverts is the provision of either a full translation, or else just a line of Welsh. Somebody was probably very satisfied with this, in a tea advert of 1906 – this was ‘the best (tea) under the sun’, for example …

 

Could go on and on, but we’ll end with my favourite, a cracker from 1908 – a ‘Wenglish’ classic –  ‘What about Knickers?; Well, indeed. What about them? Sadly it is not your actual underwear – or presumably not, since there is mention of cord and tweed. I mean, no doubt the people of the early 20th C were tougher than the likes of us, but I don’t think even they would want smalls made of tweed. I am assuming that it’s some sort of trouserage.

GS

23/9/2022 (and later updates)

‘Poetry in the Dock!’ in the dock

As a dabbler in poetry as well as a legal historian (I know – as if I could not be any less cool …), this one grabbed me as a bit of a sad incident. (It is in the Welsh newspaper archive, though the story is from England).

The date, 1910; the location, Yorkshire. A certain Benjamin H. Swaffield was in court on a D & D (drunk and disorderly) charge. The newspaper reports spell out clearly the particulars of neither the drunkenness nor the disorderliness – all that we are told is that he was allegedly found reciting poetry, and that the alleged recitation was ‘for butchers’ (no doubt there is something snobby going on here – butchers? Poetry? How very incongruous!). Swaffield denies that he had opened his mouth, but the prosecution included, and we are treated to, a couple of the lines allegedly declaimed:

‘He sells one kind only, and that’s delicious

It would not make a king feel vicious.’

Found guilty, the court would have none of the prisoner’s pleading for another chance, or claim to have been converted (from drink? From poetry? To Christianity?). Down he was sent for a month (though at least without hard labour).

Somebody was probably quite pleased with finding this oddity, and with the grand title ‘Poetry in the Dock!’. It struck me, though, as both harsh and poignant. And rather an interesting indication that, if we want to think about legal control of public expression, we would do well to think not just of the usually-headline-grabbing offences and mechanisms (defamation laws, laws on sedition of various sorts, obscenity laws etc.) but of this low-level ridicule and sousing of what seems to have been the humble attempting to put thoughts about their own world into poetry – however clumsily.

I was also struck by the thought that, had he had a way of getting a foot in the door, B.H. Swaffield might well have made a decent living as an advertising copywriter. After all, his competition in 1910 was not exactly bardic (see this fine ad.

– bet that got them flocking in!)

 

GS

19/9/2022

 

Photo by Jonathan Taylor on Unsplash

What the catafalque

Well, I meant to leave the whole royal death well alone (even though it is obviously legal history adjacent), but goat has been got by the coverage of ‘the queue’, and the idea that it is only those who perform in particular ways who are ‘part of history’. It feels important to challenge that, to disagree both with the prevailing narrative of this event (we are all in it together, Blitz spirit , etc. etc.) and also with the idea that history is predominantly about monarchs and battles, and with acts rather than omissions or choices not to act. This chimed in with a tweet this morning by an eminent history professor, and I am afraid I was tipped over into limericking (yes, that is a verb …).

 

The Lying in State

News bulletins beat a tattoo

of a long loyal royalist queue

but they don’t choose to say

vast crowds stayed well away

And that that’s part of history too.

 

GS

16/9/2022

Photo by Nathan Mcgregor on Unsplash

Lady Lawyers in the Press

For some decades before the reluctant acceptance of the first women into the legal profession in England and Wales,[i] the issue of whether or not this step should be taken was aired in many venues. The Welsh Newspaper Archive provides some interesting insights. Most of them are not particularly Welsh – and the stories are copied from national (English) and international publications. Nevertheless, it is interesting to imagine the newspaper readers of Pembrokeshire, Monmouth, Cardiff or Rhyl digesting these views and comments over their morning bara brith, laverbread etc. etc.

They were invited to consider the early efforts  of women in England and Wales to be accepted as lawyers, and the comparative success of women elsewhere in this area. There is certainly some interest in ‘firsts’ and early female lawyers. Thus reports of the 1870s-1910s mention women (or, more often, ‘ladies’) becoming, or working as, lawyers in  France, Belgium, Ro[u]mania, Switzerland, Scotland, Italy, Netherlands, Russia[ii], Spain,  Illinois, California, New York, Idaho, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Ontario,  Australia, New Zealand, Japan.

 

Nobody will be surprised to hear that there is a fair sprinkling of anti-women feeling. There were, for example,  reports of some lovely, generous and in no way intellectually impoverished, sentiments from the Chief Justice of Australia in 1905, as the first woman barrister was admitted: ‘ladies entering the legal profession were … handicapped by nature and sex. Women were naturally more sympathetic than judicial, more emotional than logical. Besides, knowledge of the world was as essential to success at the Bar as knowledge of the law.’ A charmer, and I do like the idea that ‘the world’ is, by implication, the world of men.

As well as the predictable discriminatory nonsense, there are also some very stupid arguments – trivial reasons not to allow women to be lawyers. One 1897 writer was concerned that language would not cope with it: when the admission of women to the Paris bar was on the cards, he worried out loud that there was a problem about what to call them. Maître would not be appropriate, maîtresse would ‘grate’ and soeur would sound too much like a nun. {In the end, as fellow-fans of the marvellous Joséphine Karlsson from Engrenages/Spiral will know, they did the unthinkable and went with Maître, even if it did ‘unsex’ them – definitely not a problem for J. Karlsson …]

Oh and then there is ‘humour’ – the predictable misogynist nonsense applied to the idea of women lawyers. Somehow worse when it is thrown about in relation to a profession supposed to have rules about what constitutes evidence, isn’t it? So, they use their wiles to get ahead – up to and including marrying a client to keep him … They are evasive about their age.  Yawn. They are ridiculous and insist on having the last word. They talk too much! No, they really love talking. Really – they can talk a chap to sleep!  On the subject of talking too much, and thus needing to be shut up, I do find it rather telling that a 1910 report on the Divorce Commission, mentioning evidence from an eminent US lady lawyer, unnamed, about the reasons for rising divorce rates there, the report breaks off, effectively shutting her up mid-sentence, like this: ‘No longer would woman submit to the domination [Proceeding]’. Take that, you shrew! Absolutely no experience whatsoever of such treatment …

There is some more generous sentiment – e.g. approval for the hard work and perseverance of NZ first, Lucy Rebecca Benjamin, who got where she was through hard work, her family not being rich. There are positive accounts – some time afterwards – of US women lawyers. There is also what might be described as surprised approval at times. Some accounts note a woman lawyer’s appropriate conduct (such as acting with ‘due gravity’). There is certainly surprise in the account of a French ‘lady barrister’ making out ‘a good case for her client’ with a speech which was ‘both clever and practical’, and which ‘impressed’ the Court. And another French female advocate was described as ‘eloquent’, and having had a ‘triumph’ in getting her client acquitted – but the matter was surely only newsworthy because she was a woman, and thus this was surprising.[iii]

Some things phrased as praise are very much coming from a particular, narrow, view of gender appropriate behaviour. It is a positive, for example, that Myra Bradwell, Illinois legal pioneer, never allowed her lawyering ‘to conflict with the claims of her growing family.

And then there is the French story of the ‘captivating lady lawyer’ who ‘charms [an] impressionable jury’, which brings us to …

 

That’s all very well, but is she hot?

OK, they would not have said ‘hot’, but there is a fair amount of rather creepy and certainly belittling comment about the looks of the early female lawyers. Hard not to get pointlessly angry at it (at least in the sense that the writers in question are long gone – though maybe not, in the sense that some of these attitudes are still zombie-ing on today).

Early American female attorney, Miss Phoebe Couzins, received a particularly gushing description in 1870: she was young, ‘about 21, tall, well-formed and strikingly handsome’. And there was more. ‘Her hair of the raven hue [black – he means black] and her heavy eyebrows and lashes give force to a most intellectual face.’ The grim condescension and dreadful attempts at literary flourish continue – ‘She approached the stand with timid gracefulness that won all hearts before she said a word, and then assuming, apparently without design [oooh!] an exquisite pose, she opened her lips, and the sweet voice came ringing out like coins dropped down a many-fathomed well.’ [You what?] No need to record anything the poor woman actually said. Or if she really sounded like metal plinking and plopping into a well, possibly there was a bit of a communication issue. Do you know what, I think somebody rather fancied our Phoebe.

The ‘Roumanian’ pioneer, Mlle Bilbisco,  seeking admission to the French profession was described in 1890 as having ‘a magnificent pair of dark eyes and a wide but well-formed mouth’. But this focus on her physical attributes was absolutely not gratuitous, right, because that mouth ‘enable[d] her to throw her voice to a considerable distance’.

In 1894, the sole Spanish lady lawyer who could be found, was noted ‘not only for her legal acumen, but for her great personal beauty’.

The aforementioned French captivating lady lawyer had ‘a slight feminine figure’, ‘of medium height, dark haired and dark-eyed. She has a silvery voice, and a befitting gravity of manner. … 26 … looks well in her robes … personal charm …’ And there is some treatment of her technique – ‘She has so effective a way of appeal to the sympathies that the judge … was heard to murmur “The stage has lost another Rachel in our new confre&re”. I have to say I like her bold line of argument, in defending a client up for homicide – the argument to the jury was, apparently ‘You have mothers and sisters of your own. Can you say in truth none of them has ever raised a hand against you in anger? My client’s hand had a knife in it, but that was her misfortune, not her crime.’ Hmmm. That might have required a bit of ‘sheer personal charm’ to persuade me.

 

And what did she wear?

The account of another early French female advocate was keen to tell us she was wearing an advocate’s gown [as opposed to? Can-can outfit]. This, perhaps, had a certain ‘wearing the trousers’ idea about it – because it was a case in which the woman was appearing with her husband, also an advocate as her junior, ‘playing second fiddle’: ‘unusual’ indeed, and probably in a rather disconcerting way.

Dress itself may be the story, as in an 1896 discussion of an American lawyer, who had spoken in court in her bonnet – her headgear being more important than her words – and the reported 1910 argument as to whether it was acceptable for a lady lawyer to wear a ‘hobble skirt’, (indeed a daft garment).

Inspiring art

There is reference to … er … art on the topic of women lawyers too. I have three exhibits for you:

  1. A 1906 ‘amusing sketch’, co-written by a woman, called ‘A 21st century trial’, imagining a female-dominated courtroom. Honestly, read it.
  2. I am taken with the idea of a courtroom drama told through the medium of silent film, as the clients of a Tonypandy cinema were treated to a  film called The Weaker Sex in 1917 – which featured a woman lawyer being … good. More – being better than the boys …. And saving the day … though also with a flavour of Standing By Her Man … Really want to see this now, but can’t seem to track it down…
  3. Words cannot describe the awfulness of an 1895 lawyer-lady lawyer romance story. Or I cannot. Read it if you are of a stronger constitution…. Here. Bleurgh!!!

 

28/8/2022

GS

 

[i] See, e.g., this site.

[ii] And see this one.

[iii] See also this one.

Image c/o wikimedia commons

Mediums in local media

OK so not really legal history, but …

I was looking through the ‘What’s On’ section of the local free newspaper, and found this intriguing opportunity:

Feels as if they forgot to keep communicating to us mere mortals at the end. Possibly the more advanced medium would be able to work out how to join the meeting other than by turning up (Zoom? Astral Plane?). Or could the mysterious ending conceal an invitation to those on THE OTHER SIDE????

GS

27/8/2022

Heavy humour – but, pants!

Idling a bit, I confess – I turned to a favourite internet source, the fabulous Welsh Newspaper Archive, in search of the weird and wonderful topics set for essay competitions and other writing competitions, and the search threw up the following example of extremely stodgy 19th C ‘humour’ ….

I am sure this appeared in many places, but I found it in the Cardiff Times, 8th June 1894.

Now just imagining the worthy citizens of Cardiff finding that highly amusing. Humour really doesn’t travel well through time, does it. Pants, and the transatlantic pant difference, however – never not funny.

GS

26/8/2022

Swinging Land Law

Just preparing Land Law teaching materials, and catching up with some things which passed me by while I was on study leave ….

Time marches on, and lecturers’ cultural references become rather ‘old hat’, but I am feeling better about my own, increasingly mystifying, references to Buffy and Miss Congeniality (a work of genius, I will hear no counter-argument), having seen this in an article by M. Dixon in a recent Conveyancer …

Down with the kids!

Dixon, ‘Equitable interests, actual occupation, land registration and a slice of feudalism’ Conv. 2021, 3. 239-44.

Don’t get me started on ‘feudalism’ …

GS 26/8/2022

‘If you’re going to write [legal] histories … you have to do the research’

Weird when what seemed to be disparate bits of life come together, isn’t it? Just happened to me when scrolling through Twitter. Context: off (Covid and travel chaos permitting) to the British Legal History Conference in Belfast next week, and the Irish Legal History Society is sending helpful suggestions as to touristy things which conference-goers might do. The latest was highlighting the fact that parts of the TV series ‘Game of Thrones‘ were filmed in Northern Ireland, and there is stuff to see. A comment was made about GoT not being legal history, and I was reminded of the fact that I did once do a bit of a LH analysis of it (based on the books, not the series, granted, but it counts …). Time to collect and stick them up again, I think.

So, here, here, here,  here, here, and here for your delectation, are my pontifications on the subject. Clearly I was living a fulfilling and happy life in 2014 …

Now wondering how to find a tie-in for my similar great works on Star Trek, The Vampire Diaries and Lord of the Rings … (would work if next BLHC were to be at the University of Mordor, I suppose …). And possibly a few more thoughts on Derry Girls leading up to the SLSA conference there next year?

GS

2/7/2022

[And the quote, if you are wondering, is, apparently from s.7 of the TV series, to Tarly, by Ebrose. Thank you internet. May have altered it for added topic-relevance).

Picture: adding general royal vibe – Photo by Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

Mr. Men and Little Mistresses?

While there is much attention on correct usage of gendered pronouns and cis- and trans- and so on, it is worth highlighting the fact that there are older word-disputes rumbling on, and some linguistic zombies which just seem to refuse to depart. Top of my list of terms which we could really jettison are the metaphorical use of ‘emasculate’ and the description of a woman as a ‘mistress’. The latter term has come up once again in relation to Carrie Symonds/Johnson, designating her role in relation to Boris Johnson in the period before their marriage, during his second marriage. The allegation about his attempt to secure a well-paid job for her in this period, if true, suggests dreadful behaviour, but it seems entirely unnecessary, and certainly inappropriate, to use ‘the m-word’ in this context.

Why do I have a problem with ‘mistresses’? Well, if it’s not obvious, it is a very sexist term. What do you call the male partner in this context? Probably ‘man’ or ‘lover’, I suppose, neither of which carries the same level of opprobrium. There is just no symmetry, and all sorts of unpleasant power-related implications. It suggests a past world in which there was an understanding that rich men would have a wife and ‘keep’ a mistress’, or indeed that an unmarried man might have a ‘mistress’; it focuses any condemnation on the woman involved, whatever may be the marital status matrix, and locus of infidelity, in the particular instance.

I have thought about the word, off and on, for years. No – relax – there is no great personal revelation about to appear. In the early part of my career as a legal academic, one of the predictable disputes in the annual meeting to go over the year’s exam papers was whether it was acceptable to use the term ‘mistress’ in problem questions about wills and inheritances. The usual view was that this should be avoided. There was a slight counter-argument, which was that, if we were setting up scenarios going back some time, and so importing some of the attitudes of a person whose views had been formed in an earlier age, it was not unrealistic to include a ‘storyline’ which involved a person with some considerable property (likely to be a man) ‘keeping a mistress’ at some point, ready to cause disputes with his wife and/or children when he died. Still, we generally thought it best to avoid the whole thing.

Nevertheless, students looking at cases would find quite a lot of mistresses, and I regret to say that, as with newspaper descriptions of Johnson’s relationships, ‘mistress’ is still encountered in judgments, in the 2020s. A five-minute search turned up what seem to be entirely avoidable usage of ‘mistress’ in Jackson v Song [2021] EWHC 1636 (Ch) and Ali v. Luton BC [2022] EWHC 132 (QB). I have no doubt that there are more. These recent comments are not quite up there with the suggestion of a man having ‘a secret bolt hole for his mistress’ found in HHJ David Cooke’s judgment in Downes v. Downes [2019] EWHC 491 (Ch) para. 60, but don’t seem at all necessary to the point being made, As I tell my land law students, legal practice and legal scholarship are all about words and their many shades of meaning: there are better and worse choices, and I am not convinced that there is ever any need to use ‘mistress’ in describing modern life and relationships.

If we go back to the Johnson/Symonds story, though, if I am not too impressed by the use of the m-word, there might also be problems with the usage by the Guardian amongst others of the description ‘his ‘now-wife‘. Deploying this in this context might seem to add a bit of a Whiggish twist to the whole thing – suggesting that hey were always going to be married, so let’s not concern ourselves with the little matter of infidelity and sneaking around at the (allegedly) critical time. Writing about recent history – complicated, isn’t it?

GS

20/6/2022

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash