Charles Dickens and Garrow

Was Garrow the model for the defence counsel, Mr Stryver, in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities? The question comes to mind because of a number of similarities between Garrow and Stryver as portrayed by the great novelist. In the first place the trial in which Mr Stryver is engaged takes place in the Old Bailey in 1780 close to the period of Garrow’s renown there in changing the face of criminal justice. It was the trial of Charles Darnay for treason for which the penalty if found guilty (as was generally expected) was to be hanged, beheaded and quartered.

As was usual at the Old Bailey, the Attorney-General made a forceful speech attacking the prisoner after which “a buzz arose in the court as if a cloud of great blue-flies were swarming about the prisoner, in anticipation of what he was soon to become”. The Solicitor-General then produced the prosecution’s first witness, a gentleman named John Barsad once a friend of Darnay’s but now a patriot keen to unmask him as a spy for the French.

In an uncanny resemblence to Garrow’s aggressive style of cross-examination, Mr Stryver went straight for ther jugular. In Dickens’ words, he asked Barsad if he had ever been a spy himself? No. What did he live upon? His property. Where was his property? He didn’t precisely remember where it was. What was it? No business of anybody’s. Had he inherited it? Yes, he had. From whom? Distant relation. Ever been in prison? Certainly not. Never in a debtors’ prison? Didn’t see what that had to do with it. Come, once again. Never. Yes. How many times? Two or three times. Not five or six? Perhaps. Of what profession? Gentleman. Ever been kicked? Might have been. Frequently? No. Ever kicked down-stairs? Decidedly not; once received a kick on the top of a staircase, and fell down-stairs of his own accord. Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? Something to that effect was said by the intoxicated liar who committed the assault, but it was not true. Swear it was not true? Positively. Ever live by cheating at play? Not more than other gentlemen do. Ever borrow money of the prisoner? Yes. Ever pay him? No. Sure he saw the prisoner with these lists (to be handed to the French enemy)? Certain. Knew no more about the lists? Had not procured them himself, for instance? No. Expect to get anything by this evidence? No. Not in regular government pay and employment, to lay traps? Oh dear no. Or to do anything? Oh dear no. Swear that? Over and over again. No motives but motives of sheer patriotism? None whatever.

The next prosecution witness was the prisoner’s servant, a Roger Cly. He testified that he had taken service with Darnay four years before and soon began to keep an eye on him. He had seen the lists in the drawer of the prisoner’s desk. He had not put them there first. He loved his country and couldn’t bear it and had given information against the prisoner. He had never been suspected of stealing a silver tea-pot; he had been maligned respecting a mustard-pot, but it turned out to be only a plated one. He had known the last witness seven or eight years; that was merely a co-incidence. He didn’t call it a particularly curious coincidence; most coincidences were curious. 

What is curious is how closely these cross-examinations actually follow those of Garrow in several of his cases. Garrow’s style can also be seen in Stryver’s final address to the jury (this was allowed in treason trials but not felony trials). He showed them how the patriot, Barsad, was a hired spy and traitor, an unblushing trafficker in blood, and one of the greatest scoundrels on earth since the accursed Judas -“which he certainly did look rather like”. And, how the virtuous servant, Cly, was his friend and partner, and was worthy to be; how the watchful eyes of those forgers and false swearers had rested on the prisoner as a victim.

All this was vintage Garrow and, as so often the case in Garrow’s real trials, the jury found the prisoner not guilty.

Dickens also follows Garrow’s career when Stryver aspires to give up practice in the Old Bailey and Assize courts in order to become a judge.

We shall never know with certainty but I submit that on the above evidence it is reasonable to assume that Dickens was aware of Garrow’s successful style and used it to good effect in The Tale of Two Cities.

2 Replies to “Charles Dickens and Garrow”

  1. RE: Charles Dickens and Garrow
    It’s almost a certainty that Dickens was familiar with Garrow, not only because of the law connection, but because of a literary/family one. Joseph Garrow, the nephew who was partially raised by William Garrow and family, was part of the English literary circle in Florence. His daughter Theodosia was childhood friends with Elizabeth Barrett (Browning) in Devon (they were both “child invalids”), and later met up with her again in Italy. Florence is also where she also met and later married into the Trollope family. Her husband Thomas Trollope writes about this in “What I Remember,” and credits Charles Dickens with introducing Joseph Garrow and family to the Trollopes. If Dickens was on familiar enough terms with Joseph Garrow to make an introduction for him, it is not difficult to believe the subject of J.G.’s childhood and eminent uncle would have been brought up.

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