Of the ancient professions–law, medicine, and theology–law, with its private language, its proud practitioners, its high fees, and its dependence on procedure and detail, much of which has no obvious meaning to the lay public, has been the easiest target for satire. The rise in frequency and venom of the satire appears to have coincided, at least so far as the English-speaking world is concerned, with the rise in the use of English in the courts. Once the barrier of Latin and Law-French was lowered, the satirist, like the writer of do-it-yourself law manuals, felt qualified to attack this arcane world.
By the early 18th century, satire of the law was such a recognized and accepted genre that John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, was able to satirize contemporary English politics under the guise of satirizing an extravagant lawsuit. This pamphlet is the second in his series known as the History of John Bull.
Cover of John Arbuthnot’s Law is a bottomless pit, exemplify’d in the case of the Lord Strutt, John Bull, Nicholas Frog, and Lewis Baboon, who spent all they had in a lawsuit. Second edition. London: for John Morphew, 1712. Call number Bond B290.
Beginning of chapter one: The occasion of the law-suit.
A contemporary owner has added notes identifying the parties and concepts involved. The lawyer, “Hocus” (for “Hocus pocus”), is the great general, Marlborough, whose supposed political ambitions–or those of his dangerously capable duchess–were greatly resented.
Chapter two: How Bull and Frog grew jealous that the Lord Strutt intended to give all his custom to his grandfather, Lewis Baboon.
From Civil, Canon, and Common: Aspects of Legal History. An exhibition of books and manuscripts in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, 1996.
Alexandra Mason and James Helyar, editors