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Life at the Victorian Bar was hard - but it was also colourful. It was peopled with characters who. were larger than life and who gained a reputation in the courtroom for passion and histrionics, and outside the courtroom for double standards in sex and politics.
There was the lawyer-MP forced to flee the country for fraud; the judge with three illegitimate children who thundered against the low morals of the time; the Attorney General prosecuted for fixing an election; and the vast crowd of hangers-on, pickpockets, thieves, whores and rapscallions who brought colour to the courts of law.
]. R. Lewis traces how it was in those courts, in all their squalor and low life, and examines the ironies and the failures, the sensations and the injustices in many of the cases that were heard before them. Famous names run through the account: the unsolved Bravo crime, the Madeleine Smith affair, the story of the Tichborne Claimant - but all are recounted from a different point of view, that of the lawyer, and what these cases meant for the great names of the day.
At a time when the law was a greater form of entertainment even than it is today the picture is presented of the Victorian lawyer in court and in pursuit of his pleasures; scandals suppressed and skeletons locked away are now revealed, often for the first time, by the research that has gone into this account of a time, now far distant, when lachrymose appeals to heaven were the common stock in trade of all barristers, when counsel could go racing with villains, when hearings were conducted in the evenings before a bench of inebriated judges, and when the line between success at the Bar and a criminal future was narrow.