Lincoln’s Inn Fields are bordered on the east side by Lincoln’s Inn, but I like better to approach the old squares by the brick gatehouse in Chancery Lane. It is the oldest part of Lincoln’s Inn, and a very fine example of Tudor brickwork. The Sir Thomas Lovel who built it in 1518 put his own arms over the gateway, never dreaming that when his name would mean nothing to the passer-by, the name of a bricklayer, one Ben Jonson who worked, with a trowel in one hand and a book in the other, at the adjoining buildings about a hundred years later, would need no coat of arms to preserve his memory. People like Mr. Muirhead, who see things in the light of cold reason, argue that in 1617 Jonson was forty-four and already famous, so he had probably laid down the trowel, =but I prefer to believe old Fuller, who said Ben Jonson helped in the building of the new structure in Lincoln’s Inn.
There are four of these old Inns of Court, that have lasted since the thirteenth century the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn. Few visitors to London go out of their way to stroll in their shady courtyards, but there are not many corners of London where you can so easily shake off the oppression of the blare of machinery and recapture the spirit of a time when the study of the law was not thought incompatible with many pleasanter, more frivolous things.
One old chronicler says: ” There is both in the Inns of Court and the Inns of Chancery, a sort of academy or gymnasium where they learn singing and all kinds of music, and such other accomplishments and diversions (which are called revels) as are suitable to their quality and usually practised at court. All vice is discouraged and banished. The greatest nobility of the kingdom often place their children in those Inns of Court-not so much as to make the law their study but to form their manners.”
I have no predilection for the legal profession, being, like most of my kind, filled with amazement at the lack of logic and the crass inconsequences that attend the administration of justice in any country. In fact I have a fellowfeeling for Peter the Great, who knew his own mind and had no herd opinions. When he was taken into Westminster Hall, he inquired who those busy people were in wigs and black gowns. He was answered, “They are lawyers.” :’Lawyers? ” said he, with a face of astonishment. ‘Why, I have but two in my whole dominions, and I believe I shall hang one of them the moment I get home.”
I suppose in no country in the world is the study and practice of the law surrounded with such debonair amenities as in London. Who would not be a lawyer, since that profession is the Open Sesame to shady gardens, lodgings in history-haunted rooms, and a prideful possession in such rare buildings as the Church of the Knights Templars ?
Lincoln’s Inn takes its name from a thirteenth century Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, who had a mansion in Chancery Lane near the first church of the Knights Templars. His arms are carved over the brick gateway, separated from those of the builder, Sir Thomas Lovel, by the royal arms of England. None of the existing old buildings are later than Tudor times.
The old Inn has had many illustrious members, lodgers and visitors. Oliver Cromwell used to come here to see Thurloe, his secretary of state, who lived at 24 Old Buildings, and there is the story of how he nearly killed a young clerk he found apparently asleep when he had been plotting with Thurloe to seize Prince Charles. Thurloe dissuaded him by passing a lighted candle before the young man’s eyes to prove he was really asleep, and the clerk lived to warn the prince, who when he became king paid several visits to Lincoln’s Inn. Both Pepys and Evelyn record his presence at the ” revels,” when learning was encouraged by indulgence in dancing. In the Admittance Book are the signatures of Charles IL, the Duke of York, Prince Rupert and the Duke of Monmouth, written in 1671.
Dr. John Donne and Sir Thomas More were both connected with Lincoln’s Inn. Dr. Donne laid the foundation-stone and preached the consecration sermon of the chapel that Inigo Jones designed in 1623, since so disastrously restored. It is built on arches, so you can walk about under the Gothic roof, as Pepys said he did ” by agreement ” on the 27th of June, 1663, but you will not see the six seventeenth-century windows, for they were shattered by an explosion in October, 1915.
Sir Thomas More has a more intimate connection with the Inn, for his father and grandfather held the office of butler and steward, and for their long and faithful services were rewarded by admission into the Society of Lincoln’s Inn and by the much-prized office of Reader.
The wonderful law library is now housed in the new red-brick hall, decorated with Watts’ fresco of ” The Lawgivers of the World,” but the old hall built about 400 years ago is still in use, though it, too, has suffered from the hands of the restorer.
Only the benchers and members of Lincoln’s Inn may use the elm-shaded gardens. They not only fulfil Pepys’ prophecy that they would be very pretty, but they had a useful war record, as a memorial tablet shows.
I am told that the Curfew is still rung at Lincoln’s Inn. At a quarter to nine each evening the chief porter climbs to the tower of the chapel and when the hour has struck he sounds the curfew fifty times. The bell used was brought from Cadiz by the Earl of Essex in 1596.