I’ve come across the following passage in Chapter 1 of Bleak House by Charles Dickens:

On such an afternoon the various solicitors in the cause, some two or three of whom have inherited it from their fathers, who made a fortune by it, ought to be—as are they not?—ranged in a line, in a long matted well (but you might look in vain for truth at the bottom of it) between the registrar's red table and the silk gowns, with bills, cross-bills, answers, rejoinders, injunctions, affidavits, issues, references to masters, masters' reports, mountains of costly nonsense, piled before them.

Excerpt From Bleak House Charles Dickens

A couple of questions:

  1. What does a ‘long matted well’ mean here? Was Dickens using an actual well as a metaphor or is ‘well’ used to mean ‘the place in a law court where the clerks and ushers sit?’ (My interpretation is that the solicitors are so numerous and close together as to give an appearance of being ‘matted’ and that the ‘well’ is used metaphorically to highlight the length (depth?) of the line of solicitors.)
  2. Do the ‘silk gowns’ refer to the gowns that the Chancery judges would be wearing?
  • Looking in the Lexico dictionary, we find two of the definitions of well are: 3 An enclosed space in the middle of a building, giving room for stairs or an elevator, or to allow light or ventilation. 3.1 British The place in a court of law where the clerks and ushers sit. ‘Other copies of which are available in the well of the court for any member of the public who wishes to read it.’
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 6 '20 at 13:50
  • 1
    On the other hand, Dickens is definitely playing on the two meanings of well when he says you might look in vain for truth at the bottom of it.
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 6 '20 at 16:17
  • @PeterShor I just came across this question on the unanswered list. Your comments together with the fact that QCs (senior lawyers in the UK) are referred to as "silks" should be enough to answer this - would you like to write up an answer?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 14 at 21:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.