Somewhere between a travel guide and a satirical victorian novel, Three Men in a Boat is a crafty piece of writing that takes the reader up the Thames river from London to Oxford with three men weary of the city but not quite adept at coping outside it’s bounds and a dog who at times seems more like a kidnap victim than a pet. Jerome, leads us up the river with a self deprecating narrator and his two pals, all of whom know exactly what they are doing but have no idea how to do it. The trip itself is laden with comedic tales, historical lessons, and sublime meditations on the beauties of nature. I found it a great read and highly reccomend it.
As for the law. It comes in a few different divisions. Probably the largest chunk could be looked at as Legal History. As the trip goes up the river the narrator points out numerous sights where Kings and Queens have inhabited. The first with real legal connotation is when he is at Runnymede where in 1215 Magna Carta was signed on Magna Carta Island in the middle of the Thames. He recounts the story as if he were there amongst the barons who were forcing the hand of the slippery King John. The narrator also notes that Magna Carta was “translated to the common people some four hundred and odd years later by on Oliver Cromwell, who had deeply studied it.” The trip then passes Old Windsor where, according to Jerome, Earl Godwin was “proved guilty by the justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King’s Brother.” Godwin apparently said that if he was guilty the bread that he put in his mouth would choke him, and it did. Finally they pass through Reading where Parliment would move to if there were a plague in London and the “Law followed suit” in 1625.
Property law is addressed in a scene where the trio are on the bank of the river and man comes up and asks whether they are trespassing. After a comical exchange they send him away and note that he was only after a bribe and the best way to handle these situations is to “offer your name and address, and leave the owner, if he really has anything to do with the matter, to summon you, and prove what damage you have done to his land by sitting down on a bit of it.” This interaction though leads to a short diatribe at the riparian land owner on the Thames who placards up no trespassing signs, and that this selfishness creates an urge in the narrator to hammer the placards down on their heads. It reminds me of that Tesla song. Of note here though, is that under common law there was no need for the owner to show damage only that the defendant had actually trespasses, so the party could have been held liable.
There is a smidgen of criminal law as George recounts a morning in which he got up too early and wandered about London. It raised the suspiscion of the police who escorted him back home. This scared him a great deal and he “pictured the trial, and his trying to explain the circumstances to the jury, and nobody believing him, and his being sentenced to twenty year’s penal servitude, and his mother dying of a broken heart.” Illustrating the coercive power of the police force to even disuade a person from legal activities. Poor George is later charged with playing the banjo badly in public. The evidence is clear and he is given a six month restraining order. Another run in with the police is suggested when lodging is hard to find. George thinks they could get a free nights lodging by assaulting a police officer, but there is the danger that they would only get hit back, so the thought is abandoned.
Mention of a will is made in which a Sarah Hill, left £1 to be divided amongst two boys and two girls who “had never been undutiful to their parents; who had never been known to swear or tell untruths, to steal or to break windows.” The narrator says that these types of children had been hard to come by and observes that this is alot to give up for 5 shillings a year. I agree.
Finally, there is a funny little moment where the Narrator recalls an attempt by Harris to sing the Judge’s song from Trial by Jury. The lines of which are “When I was young I served a term/ As office-boy to an Attorney’s firm.”