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Charles Dickens > Bleak House > Preface

Bleak House


A Chancery judge once had the kindness to inform me, as one of a
company of some hundred and fifty men and women not labouring under
any suspicions of lunacy, that the Court of Chancery, though the
shining subject of much popular prejudice (at which point I thought
the judge's eye had a cast in my direction), was almost immaculate.
There had been, he admitted, a trivial blemish or so in its rate of
progress, but this was exaggerated and had been entirely owing to
the "parsimony of the public," which guilty public, it appeared,
had been until lately bent in the most determined manner on by no
means enlarging the number of Chancery judges appointed--I believe
by Richard the Second, but any other king will do as well.

This seemed to me too profound a joke to be inserted in the body of
this book or I should have restored it to Conversation Kenge or to
Mr. Vholes, with one or other of whom I think it must have
originated. In such mouths I might have coupled it with an apt
quotation from one of Shakespeare's sonnets:

"My nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed!"

But as it is wholesome that the parsimonious public should know
what has been doing, and still is doing, in this connexion, I
mention here that everything set forth in these pages concerning
the Court of Chancery is substantially true, and within the truth.
The case of Gridley is in no essential altered from one of actual
occurrence, made public by a disinterested person who was
professionally acquainted with the whole of the monstrous wrong
from beginning to end. At the present moment (August, 1853) there
is a suit before the court which was commenced nearly twenty years
ago, in which from thirty to forty counsel have been known to
appear at one time, in which costs have been incurred to the amount
of seventy thousand pounds, which is A FRIENDLY SUIT, and which is
(I am assured) no nearer to its termination now than when it was
begun. There is another well-known suit in Chancery, not yet
decided, which was commenced before the close of the last century
and in which more than double the amount of seventy thousand pounds
has been swallowed up in costs. If I wanted other authorities for
Jarndyce and Jarndyce, I could rain them on these pages, to the
shame of--a parsimonious public.

There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark.
The possibility of what is called spontaneous combustion has been
denied since the death of Mr. Krook; and my good friend Mr. Lewes
(quite mistaken, as he soon found, in supposing the thing to have
been abandoned by all authorities) published some ingenious letters
to me at the time when that event was chronicled, arguing that
spontaneous combustion could not possibly be. I have no need to
observe that I do not wilfully or negligently mislead my readers
and that before I wrote that description I took pains to
investigate the subject. There are about thirty cases on record,
of which the most famous, that of the Countess Cornelia de Baudi
Cesenate, was minutely investigated and described by Giuseppe
Bianchini, a prebendary of Verona, otherwise distinguished in
letters, who published an account of it at Verona in 1731, which he
afterwards republished at Rome. The appearances, beyond all
rational doubt, observed in that case are the appearances observed
in Mr. Krook's case. The next most famous instance happened at
Rheims six years earlier, and the historian in that case is Le Cat,
one of the most renowned surgeons produced by France. The subject
was a woman, whose husband was ignorantly convicted of having
murdered her; but on solemn appeal to a higher court, he was
acquitted because it was shown upon the evidence that she had died
the death of which this name of spontaneous combustion is given. I
do not think it necessary to add to these notable facts, and that
general reference to the authorities which will be found at page
30, vol. ii.,* the recorded opinions and experiences of
distinguished medical professors, French, English, and Scotch, in
more modern days, contenting myself with observing that I shall not
abandon the facts until there shall have been a considerable
spontaneous combustion of the testimony on which human occurrences
are usually received.

In Bleak House I have purposely dwelt upon the romantic side of
familiar things.


* Another case, very clearly described by a dentist, occurred at
the town of Columbus, in the United States of America, quite
recently. The subject was a German who kept a liquor-shop aud was
an inveterate drunkard.

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