Monday, March 19, 2012

Clouds of Witness ch 4 cont

Returning to Riddlesdale, Lord Peter found a new visitor seated at the tea-table. At Peter's entry he rose into towering height, and extended a shapely, expressive hand that would have made an actor's fortune. He was not an actor, but he found this hand useful, nevertheless, in the exploitation of dramatic moments. His magnificent build and the mobility of his head and mask were impressive; his features were flawless; his eyes ruthless. The Dowager Duchess had once remarked: “Sir Impey Biggs is the handsomest man in England, and no woman will ever care twopence for him.”
In England, the smallest coin was called a pence. Two pence was run rogether when spoaking as “twopence”, or more usually, “tuppence.”

He was, in fact, thirty-eight, and a bachelor, and was celebrated for his rhetoric and his suave but pitiless dissection of hostile witnesses. The breeding of canaries was his unexpected hobby, and besides their song he could appreciate no music but revue airs.
A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches. In other words, Impey Biggs is not a fan of classical music or opera.

He answered Wimsey's greeting in his beautiful, resonant, and exquisitely controlled voice. Tragic irony, cutting contempt, or a savage indignation were the emotions by which Sir Impey Biggs swayed court and jury; he prosecuted murderers of the innocent, defended in actions for criminal libel, and, moving others, was himself as stone. Wimsey expressed himself delighted to see him in a voice, by contrast, more husky and hesitant even than usual.

“You just come from Jerry?” he asked. “Fresh toast, please, Fleming. How is he? Enjoyin' it? I never knew a fellow like Jerry for gettin' the least possible out of any situation. I'd rather like the experience myself, you know; only I'd hate bein' shut up and watchin' the other idiots bunglin' my case. No reflection on Murbles and you, Biggs. I mean myself—I mean the man who'd be me if I was Jerry. You follow me?”

“I was just saying to Sir Impey,” said the Duchess, “that he really must make Gerald say what he was doing in the garden at three in the morning. If only I'd been at Riddlesdale none of this would have happened. Of course, we all know that he wasn't doing any harm, but we can't expect the jurymen to understand that. The lower orders are so prejudiced. It is absurd of Gerald not to realize that he must speak out. He has no consideration.”
The Duchess (Gerald’s wife, not his and Peter’s mother, who would be the Dowager Duchess) is referring to the lower social orders – anyone who does not have a title behind their name - servants, tradesmen and businessmen.

“I am doing my very best to persuade him, Duchess,” said Sir Impey, “but you must have patience. Lawyers enjoy a little mystery, you know. Why, if everybody came forward and told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth straight out, we should all retire to the workhouse.”
“The truth..the truth” is the form of the oath given by people who are to testify at a trial in sworn testimony.

Sworn testimony is evidence given by a witness who has made a commitment to tell the truth. If the witness is later found to have lied whilst bound by the commitment, they can often be charged with the crime of perjury. The types of commitment can include oaths, affirmations and promises which are explained in more detail below. The exact wording of the commitments vary from country to country.

In England and Wales a workhouse, colloquially known as a spike, was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. The earliest known use of the term dates from 1631, in an account by the mayor of Abingdon reporting that "wee haue erected wthn our borough a workehouse to sett poore people to worke".

The origins of the workhouse can be traced to the Poor Law Act of 1388, which attempted to address the labour shortages following the Black Death in England by restricting the movement of labourers, and ultimately led to the state becoming responsible for the support of the poor. But mass unemployment following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the introduction of new technology to replace agricultural workers in particular, and a series of bad harvests, meant that by the early 1830s the established system of poor relief was proving to be unsustainable. The New Poor Law of 1834 attempted to reverse the economic trend by discouraging the provision of relief to anyone who refused to enter a workhouse. Some Poor Law authorities hoped to run workhouses at a profit by utilising the free labour of their inmates, who generally lacked the skills or motivation to compete in the open market. Most were employed on tasks such as breaking stones, bone crushing to produce fertilizer, or picking oakum using a large metal nail known as a spike, perhaps the origin of the workhouse's nickname.

Life in a workhouse was intended to be harsh, to deter the able-bodied poor and to ensure that only the truly destitute would apply. But in areas such as the provision of free medical care and education for children, neither of which was available to the poor in England living outside workhouses until the early 20th century, workhouse inmates were advantaged over the general population, a dilemma that the Poor Law authorities never managed to reconcile.

As the 19th century wore on workhouses increasingly became refuges for the elderly, infirm and sick rather than the able-bodied poor, and in 1929 legislation was passed to allow local authorities to take over workhouse infirmaries as municipal hospitals. Although workhouses were formally abolished by the same legislation in 1930, many continued under their new appellation of Public Assistance Institutions under the control of local authorities. It was not until the National Assistance Act of 1948 that the last vestiges of the Poor Law disappeared, and with them the workhouses

“Captain Cathcart's death is very mysterious,” said the Duchess, “though when I think of the things that have come out about him it really seems quite providential, as far as my sister-in-law is concerned.”

“I s'pose you couldn't get 'em to bring it in 'Death by the Visitation of God,' could you, Biggs?” suggested Lord Peter. “Sort of judgment for wantin' to marry into our family, what?”

“I have known less reasonable verdicts,” returned Biggs drily. “It's wonderful what you can suggest to a jury if you try. I remember once at the Liverpool Assizes——”
The Courts of Assize, or assizes, were periodic criminal courts held around England and Wales until 1972, when together with the Quarter Sessions they were abolished by the Courts Act 1971 and replaced by a single permanent Crown Court. The assizes heard the most serious cases, which were committed to it by the Quarter Sessions (local county courts held four times a year), while the more minor offences were dealt with summarily by Justices of the Peace in petty sessions (also known as Magistrates' Courts).

The word assize refers to the sittings or sessions (Old French assises) of the judges, known as "justices of assize", who were judges of the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice who travelled across the seven circuits of England and Wales on commissions of "oyer and terminer", setting up court and summoning juries at the various Assize Towns.

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