VERDICT AFTERWARDS.

Aaron Haspel of God of the Machine is on a quest, and I’m here to hold his coat, cheer him on, and offer the services of my variegated readership. His latest post begins:

“Sentence first — verdict afterwards,” says the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland; and the trial of the Knave of Hearts has justly remained the literary standard for injustice, since the book’s publication in 1869.
Being an idiot, I thought the expression originated with Lewis Carroll, until last night. I was reading Macaulay 1830 essay on Lord Byron, and ran across the following passage, on Byron’s failed marriage: “True Jedwood justice was dealt out to him. First came the execution, then the investigation, and last of all, or rather not at all, the accusation.” The term “Jedwood justice,” also new to me, implied that the concept is proverbial, and led to a slightly earlier citation, in 1828, from Walter Scott’s Fair Maid of Perth: “Jedwood justice — hang in haste and try at leisure.”

He traces it back, in the form of “Lydford Law,” to “the early 17th century poet William Browne“:

I oft have heard of Lydford Law,
How in the morn they hang and draw,
And sit in judgment after:
At first I wondered at it much;
But since, I find the reason such,
As it deserves no laughter…

But there the trail runs cold: “My patchy scholarship, abetted by some desultory Googling, can take me no further. Can my readers supply earlier citations, in English or another language?” Aaron and I await any enlightenment you can provide.

Comments

  1. Check out this hit on Google Print, particularly pages 11-13, which explain the likely history of the phrase ‘Lydford Law,’ against an apparently once popular theory:
    http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC04598024&id=wWyln_upNPcC&pg=PA11&vq=lydford&dq=%22Lydford+Law%22#PPA13,M1
    Page 379 of the next link claims that the phrase has been traced to the 14th century:
    http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00318200&id=dXsLAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA378&lpg=RA1-PA378&dq=%22Lydford+Law%22#PRA1-PA379,M1
    In the notes on p. 396 the reader is directed to ‘Perambulation of Dartmoor’ by S. Rowe. The earlier edition found on Google doesn’t seem to offer this information:
    http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC38633384&id=zDwJAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA12-PA197&vq=lydford&dq=Perambulation+of+Dartmoor#PRA13-PA286,M1
    The Penny Cyclopedia does cite a 14th century reference, but one that seems at odds with the sentiment behind the phrase:
    http://books.google.com/books?vid=0lkhqfYXBwrTtpv1&id=nh7nG9BaZJQC&pg=RA2-PA213&lpg=RA2-PA213&dq=%22Lydford+Law%22+date:0-1850&as_brr=1
    Commons complained that prisoners were kept too long and were too well treated.
    Finally, this snippet view shows Lydford Law as synonomous with a number of other terms including Jedburgh Justice, suspiciously similar to Jedwood Justice. These must be the same thing, together with Jeddart Justice.
    Go have a field day with Google Print.

  2. My mind immediately supplied “Jedburgh justice”, and a little Googling leads us to Brewer, who mentions “Cupar justice” and “Abingdon law”.
    Clearly these all fall under the same rubric: market towns that were given powers of summary justice to deal with thieves, in order to bypass the slow and cumbrous processes of the common law. The Beggar’s Litany, “From Hell, Hull, and Halifax / Good Lord deliver us” is a reminiscence of when both Hull and Halifax had such local powers: the Halifax Gibbet was employed for doing execution on such thieves.
    So what we have here is not literally “sentence first, verdict afterwards”, but rather a sharp summary procedure that caught, convicted, and executed thieves “hand-havand or back-bearand” all on the same day.

  3. I looked at Brewer too, but after all, Aaron already did that.
    The OED has some examples, but not early enough.

  4. The proverbial phrase in Scotland is “Jeddart Justice”; Jeddart is the burgh of Jedburgh; Jedwood or Jedwood Forest is the neighbourhood.
    The preface to Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12742) has this explanation: “Against other offenders, measures, equally arbitrary, were without hesitation pursued. Numbers of border riders were executed, without even the formality of a trial; and it is even said, that, in mockery of justice, assizes were held upon them after they had suffered. For these acts of tyranny, see Johnston, p. 374, 414, 39, 93. The memory of Dunbar’s legal proceedings at Jedburgh, are preserved in the proverbial phrase, Jeddart Justice, which signifies, trial after execution. By this rigour though sternly and unconscientiously exercised the border marauders were, in the course of years, either reclaimed or exterminated….” That was in about 1607; but the phrase goes back to at least 1529, when Johnnie Armstrong was executed without trial by King James V.
    There is an article “Jeddart justice: an enquiry into its origin” in the 1904 volume of the Hawick Archaeological Society Transactions, but I don’t have that to hand.
    I think it is fair to say that none of the equivalent English phrases noted above have any real currency; ‘Jeddart justice’ is however well understood by Scots.

  5. “Jedhart Justice” is the expression I know from my Border childhood, explained to me by my father as the proposition that it is wise to hang the rogues before their trial so that they can’t suborn the jury.

  6. “Jedhart Justice” is the expression I know from my Border childhood, explained to me by my father as the proposition that it is wise to hang the rogues before their trial so that they can’t suborn the jury.

  7. “Jedhart Justice” is the expression I know from my Border childhood, explained to me by my father as the proposition that it is wise to hang the rogues before their trial so that they can’t suborn the jury.

  8. And let’s not forget “Jedi justice”–!
    K. S.

  9. I’m glad you read GotM; especially that it provides me with [always pleasing] occasion to say “I told you, man!”
    I doubt there will be similar Russian expression to one discussed; simply because it was a natural state of affairs (with one possible exception of ancient Novgorod, I guess)
    OT: have you seen this post, and subsequently, the NYSun article it mentions? The post, obviously, needs some editing, but the idea is clear.
    What do you think of it?

  10. I entirely (and predictably) disagree with McWhorter about the desirability of massive language die-off, and I don’t think much of musings about the “richness of our language” and the importance of vocabulary for the precise expression of thought. It’s not that there isn’t a kernel of truth there, it’s that it’s usually pressed into service for a routine denunciation of kids today and their sloppy language use. Since older generations have been making the exact same complaint about younger generations for thousands of years, and since we somehow haven’t been reduced to grunting and pointing, I have to conclude there’s not much to it.

  11. I knew you would disagree with McWhorter; I can easily picture you feeling entirely on 7th heaven if by some magic you are to be dropped in the middle of Caucasus and listen to 450,000 its ethnicities speak at once.
    [remind me to buy Iskander’s “Chik’ stories” for you]
    As to being reduced to grunting and pointing – aren’t we? Except to 11.5 curse words used in various imaginative but finite combinations, that’s what a fashionable mode of expression among the young is. If fashionable is the word I want to use, Jeeves.
    Sorry for the off-topic, everyone.

  12. I knew you would disagree with McWhorter; I can easily picture you feeling entirely on 7th heaven if by some magic you are to be dropped in the middle of Caucasus and had to listen to 450,000 its ethnicities speak at once.
    [remind me to buy Iskander’s “Chik’s childhood” for you]
    As to being reduced to grunting and pointing – aren’t we? Except to 11.5 curse words used in various imaginative but finite combinations, that’s what a fashionable mode of expression among the young is. If fashionable is the word I want to use, Jeeves.
    Sorry for the off-topic, everyone.

  13. that’s what a fashionable mode of expression among the young is
    I wonder how many young people you have spoken to recently. I’m spending the holidays with my parents and my 14-year old sister whose friends seem to hang out at our house a lot. I used to have my doubts about the future of our language and especially my native dialect – I worried they would not survive the onslaught of English or the crappy media language. Having listened to those kids for more than a week, I no longer worry about that. Quite the contrary – I cannot help but marvel at what they’ve done to our language. And I am sorry to say that it seems that those who were entrusted with caring for the Slovak language – linguists and teachers – have become her worst enemies. To employ the metaphor used by the first commenter at the article you linked to, it’s time to throw out the proprietary code and go open source.

  14. Huh? What “our” language you talk about, bulbul?
    If Slovak – it might be your language but not mine.
    Where those wonder kids live – in Slovakia or abroad? If abroad, and they speak English as their second language, I would never believe they are capable of enriching Slovak without “the onslaught of English” or media influences. I have no idea what precisely is their contribution that you of such a high opinion; couldn’t be just normal youth slang, that come and go with each generation, could it?
    I listen to my son’s English, bulbul, – is that’s enough “open source” to you? He was a student at prestigious HS and now a junior at not less prestigious University; his friends I listen to less, naturally. He speaks English as a native New-Yorker. How long ago you heard typical American students (not linguistics department students, which is a negligible minority) speak among themselves, bulbul?
    Have a better year.

  15. John Emerson says:

    I, like, totally agree with Mr. Hat about the young people of today.
    I imagine that Bulbul’s “our” pointed to himself and other Slovak speakers”, not to everyone at LH.
    And Tatyana should also have a better year.

  16. Back to the justice thread —
    The theme puts me in mind of the classic precedent from Othello:
    “first, to be hanged, and then to confess…”

  17. McWhorter has a whole book (Doing Our Own Thing) decrying the alleged decline of (formal) language and music in America, where he complains that Americans despise their language, in contrast to, for example, Russians’ reverence for Russian.
    Applauding the massive language death still going on is egregious and provocative, but I have to agree with his assessment of the actual situation. Smaller languages continue to decline, almost none of the existing revival efforts will actually produce a living language, and it’s understandable that the speakers themselves prefer to shift to more useful languages. If the smallest languages are to survive, it will require new mechanisms.

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