Remarks to: Middle Temple for my Bench Call on 4 February 2023. Honorary Benchers are required to make a short speech, no shorter than three minutes and no longer than four. A bit of interesting history & legend therein, though perhaps a bit of lost accuracy along the way.
Master Treasurers, Masters of the Bench, dear guests,
With American, Irish, Italian, and German roots, it truly is an honour to begin a treasured affiliation with the most colonially tolerant of the Inns. Six of the 55 signatories of the Declaration of Independence were benchers here, and seven signatories to the US Constitution. By way of biographical background, my career has been a decade of science, a decade of finance, and a quarter century doing science & finance together from rockets and missiles to laser maps and MRI, and from accountancy to banking to insurance to trading.
When Sheriff at the Old Bailey I couldn’t resist playing my bagpipes in the Grand Hall. Moving from one distinguished building to another, tonight I shall meet the strict definition of a gentleman: a man who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.
Traditions such as tonight matter. I was relieved to learn from our Under Treasurer that, like the ravens and the Tower with their legend of the fall of the Kingdom, the bats are back in Middle Temple with the legend of the rule of law in the land. If you look closely, you can see the bats up there, black against the hammerbeam roof.
May I now turn to the science of metre and the requirement that all honorary benchers recite some verse. A fellow Honorary Bencher tonight, the Rt Hon The Lord Mayor Nicholas Lyons, has a penchant for Yeats – “Irish poets, learn your trade, sing whatever is well made” – but American-tinged accents are better suited to Middle English. I am indebted to medievalist Robert Pay, one of my guests this evening, for familiarizing me with this Chaucerian couplet about our bats, or battes, in Middle English:
Whan[ne] that the Middle Temple battes full fly (flee) out (oot),
Than[ne] doth the swete (sway’te) justice of En-ge-lond fall in dout (doot),
Rummaging in the Bodleian, Robert unearthed a second 14th century couplet about the bats from shortly after Middle Temple’s founding. For palaeographers, the manuscript, in early Anglicana script, is referenced as MS Ashmole 61. It’s from a collection of poetry and folklore owned by Sir John Fortescue.
Whan[ne] that the Middle Temple battes do quit (queet),
Than[ne] lieth the swete (sway’te) justice of En-ge-lond full in the sh…
Though Fortescue strictly hailed from Lincoln’s Inn, the importance to constitutional law of his De laudibus legum Angliae leads me to invoke his principle that, “It is better that the guilty escape than that the innocent be punished.” Fortescue might advise me to take fright (freet) and sit (seet).
May I express again my delight at the honour of joining this august community. I look forward to learning much from all of you. Thank you.
And my sincere thanks to Robert Pay and Dr Ryan Perry for their assistance.
For more ‘cod’ history, but this time about beef…