LEWIS AND LEWIS: The Life and Times of a Victorian Solicitor by John Juxon

LEWIS AND LEWIS: The Life and Times of a Victorian Solicitor

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A foreword by John (Rumpole of the Bailey) Mortimer raises hopes for grand period-courtroom entertainment, but Juxon's biography of super-solicitor Sir George Lewis (1833-1911) is only mildly diverting--despite a cast of clients and adversaries that includes Gilbert & Sullivan, Oscar Wilde, Charles Stewart Parnell. . . and the Prince of Wales. Son of a well-known criminal lawyer (the supposed model for Dickens' Mr. Jaggers in Great Expectations), young George quickly followed the Jewish-family footsteps, appearing regularly at police court. (An 1865 underworld-murder case brought a little fame: ""Never before or since has a man under sentence of death come into the witness box and testified against another man accused of the same crime."") But after his first wife's childbirth-death, Lewis married German-Jewish Elizabeth--and her ""boundless"" ambitions turned the Lewis home into a cultural/ political salon, helping to bring George an ever-classier clientele. Lewis advised the Prince about his involvements in a divorce case and the famous ""Baccarat Scandal"" (which probably won the Lewis knighthood); even more controversially, he once broke the rule of client-confidentiality to warn the Prince about a potential scandal. (""It would be easy to see Lewis as either a slavish courtier. . . or as the conscience of the Prince. The truth lay somewhere between the two."") He helped to clear Parnell's name; on the other hand, Oscar Wilde (a onetime protÉgÉ) foolishly didn't seek Lewis' advice--and suffered the consequences. Still, Lewis' greatest notoriety involved adultery and/or murder cases--especially those in which an almost-certainly-guilty murderer was acquitted due to the ruthless savvy of Lewis and his favorite barrister, Edward Clarke: the Dilke-Crawford imbroglio; the still-unsolved Bravo case; a blackmail suit involving an adultery-hotel; and the acquittal of the cold-blooded Staunton killers, thanks to ""a huge hot-air balloon of hysteria and false sentiment."" Juxon, alternating short case-vignettes with glimpses of Lewis' celebrity-dotted private life, does a competent, literate job here; but there's not enough style or drama (Lewis himself rarely appears in court) to make this more than a pleasant, sporadically intriguing grab-bag for Anglophiles.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1984
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin