Bigamy or No Bigamy?, by Samuel Warren
of a Barrister, and Confessions of an Attorney
The firm of Flint and Sharp enjoyed,
whether deservedly or not, when I was connected with it, as it still does, a
high reputation for keen practice and shrewd business-management. This kind of
professional fame is usually far more profitable than the drum-and-trumpet
variety of the same article; or at least we found it so; and often, from blush
of morn to far later than dewy eve—which natural phenomena, by the way, were
only emblematically observed by me during thirty busy years in the
extinguishment of the street lamps at dawn, and their re-illumination at
dusk—did I and my partner incessantly pursue our golden avocations; deferring
what are usually esteemed the pleasures of life—its banquets, music, flowers,
and lettered ease—till the toil, and heat, and hurry of the day were past, and a
calm, luminous evening, unclouded by care or anxiety, had arrived. This conduct
may or may not have been wise; but at all events it daily increased the
connection and transactions of the firm, and ultimately anchored us both very
comfortably in the three per cents; and this too, I am bold to say, not without
our having effected some good in our generation. This boast of mine the
following passage in the life of a distinguished client—known, I am quite sure,
by reputation to most of the readers of these papers, whom our character for
practical sagacity and professional shrewdness brought us—will, I think, be
admitted in some degree to substantiate.
Our connection was a mercantile rather than an aristocratic one,
and my surprise was therefore considerable, when, on looking through the
office-blinds to ascertain what vehicle it was that had driven so rapidly up to
the door, I observed a handsomely-appointed carriage with a coronet emblazoned
on the panels, out of which a tall footman was handing a lady attired in deep
but elegant mourning, and closely veiled. I instantly withdrew to my private
room, and desired that the lady should be immediately admitted. Greatly was my
surprise increased when the graceful and still youthful visitor withdrew her
veil, and disclosed the features of the Countess of Seyton, upon whose mild,
luminous beauty, as rendered by the engraving from Sir Thomas Lawrence's
picture, I had so frequently gazed with admiration. That rare and touching
beauty was clouded now; and an intense expression of anxiety, fear—almost
terror—gleamed from out the troubled depths of her fine dark eyes.
"The Countess of Seyton!" I half-involuntarily exclaimed, as
with my very best bow I handed her ladyship a chair.
"Yes; and you are a partner of this celebrated firm, are you
I bowed again still more profoundly to this compliment, and
modestly admitted that I was the Sharp of the firm her ladyship was pleased to
"Then, Mr. Sharp, I have to consult you professionally upon a
matter of the utmost—the most vital importance to me and mine." Her ladyship
then, with some confusion of manner, as if she did not know whether what she was
doing was in accordance with strict etiquette or not, placed a Bank of England
note, by way of retainer, before me. I put it back, explaining what the usage
really was, and the countess replaced it in her purse.
"We shall he proud to render your ladyship any assistance in our
power," I said; "but I understood the Messrs. Jackson enjoyed the confidence of
the house of Seyton?"
"Precisely. They are, so to speak, the hereditary solicitors of
the family more than of any individual member of it; and therefore, though
highly respectable persons, unfit to advise me in this particular matter.
Besides," she added with increasing tremor and hesitation, "to deal with, and if
possible foil, the individual by whom I am persecuted, requires an agent of
keener sagacity than either of those gentlemen can boast of; sharper, more
resolute men; more—you understand what I mean?"
"Perfectly, madam; and allow me to suggest that it is probable
our interview may be a somewhat prolonged one—your ladyship's carriage, which
may attract attention, should be at once dismissed. The office of the family
solicitors is, you are aware, not far off; and as we could not explain to them
the reason which induces your ladyship to honor us with your confidence, it will
be as well to avoid any chance of inquiry."
Lady Seyton acquiesced in my suggestion: the carriage was
ordered home, and Mr. Flint entering just at the time, we both listened with
earnestness and anxiety to her communication. It is needless to repeat verbatim
the somewhat prolix, exclamative narration of the countess; the essential facts
were as follows:—
The Countess of Seyton, previous to her first marriage, was Miss
Clara Hayley, second daughter of the Reverend John Hayley, the rector of a
parish in Devonshire. She married, when only nineteen years of age, a Captain
Gosford. Her husband was ten years older than herself, and, as she discovered
after marriage, was cursed with a morose and churlish temper and disposition.
Previous to her acquaintance with Gosford, she had been intimate with, almost
betrothed to, Mr. Arthur Kingston, a young gentleman connected with the peerage,
and at that time heir-apparent to the great expectancies and actual poverty of
his father, Sir Arthur Kingston. The haughty baronet, the instant he was made
aware of the nature of his son's intimacy with the rector's daughter, packed the
young man off to the continent on his travels. The Reverend John Hayley and his
beautiful Clara were as proud as the baronet, and extremely indignant that it
should be thought either of them wished to entrap or delude Arthur Kingston into
an unequal or ineligible marriage. This feeling of pride and resentment aided
the success of Mr. Gosford's suit, and Clara Hayley, like many other rash, high-notioned
young ladies, doomed herself to misery, in order to show the world, and Mr.
Arthur Kingston and his proud father especially, that she had a spirit. The
union was a most unhappy one. One child only, which died in its infancy, was
born to them; and after being united somewhat more than two years, a separation,
vehemently insisted on by the wife's father, took place, and the
unhappily-wedded daughter returned to her parent's roof. Mr. Gosford—he had some
time before sold out of the army—traveled about the country in search of
amusement, and latterly of health, (for his unhappy cankerous temper at last
affected and broke down his never very robust physical constitution),
accompanied for the twelvemonth preceding his death by a young man belonging to
the medical profession, of the name of Chilton. Mr. and Mrs. Gosford had been
separated a few days less than three years when the husband died, at the village
of Swords in Ireland, and not far distant from Dublin. The intelligence was
first conveyed to the widow by a paragraph in the "Freeman's Journal," a Dublin
newspaper; and by the following post a letter arrived from Mr. Chilton,
inclosing a ring which the deceased had requested should be sent to his wife,
and a note, dictated just previous to his death-hour, in which he expressed
regret for the past, and admitted that he alone had been to blame for the
unhappy separation. A copy of his will, made nearly a twelvemonth previously,
was also forwarded, by which he bequeathed his property, amounting to about
three hundred pounds per annum, to a distant relative then residing in New
Holland. By a memorandum of a subsequent date, Mr. Chilton was to have all the
money and other personals he might die in actual possession of, after defraying
the necessary funeral expenses. This will, Mr. Chilton stated, the deceased
gentleman had expressed a wish in his last moments to alter, but death had been
too sudden for him to be able to give effect to that good, but too long-delayed
It cannot be supposed that the long-before practically widowed
wife grieved much at the final breaking of the chain which bound her to so
ungenial a mate; but as Lady Seyton was entirely silent upon the subject, our
supposition can only rest upon the fact, that Arthur Kingston—who had some time
previously, in consequence of the death of the Earl of Seyton and his only son,
an always-weakly child, preceded a few months by that of his own father, the
baronet, succeeded to the earldom and estates—hastened home, on seeing the
announcement of Gosford's death in the Dublin paper, from the continent, where
he had continued to reside since his compelled-departure six years before; and
soon afterwards found his way into Devonshire, and so successfully pressed the
renewed offer of his hand, that the wedding took place slightly within six
months after the decease of Mr. Gosford. Life passed brilliantly and happily
with the earl and countess—to whom three children (a boy and two girls) were
born—till about five months previous to the present time, when the earl, from
being caught, when out riding, in a drenching shower of rain, was attacked by
fever, and after an acute illness of only two or three days' duration, expired.
The present earl was at the time just turned of five years of age.
This blow, we comprehended from the sudden tears which filled
the beautiful eyes of the countess as she spoke of the earl's decease, was a
severe one. Still, the grief of widowhood must have been greatly assuaged by
love for her children, and not inconsiderably, after a while, we may be sure, by
the brilliant position in which she was left—as, in addition to being splendidly
jointured, she was appointed by her husband's will sole guardian of the young
lord, her son.
A terrible reverse awaited her. She was sitting with her father
the rector, and her still unmarried sister, Jane Hayley, in the drawing-room of
Seyton House, when a note was brought to her, signed Edward Chilton, the writer
of which demanded an immediate and private interview, on, he alleged, the most
important business. Lady Seyton remembered the name, and immediately acceded to
the man's request. He announced in a brusque, insolent tone and manner, that Mr.
Gosford had not died at the time his death was announced to her, having then
only fallen into a state of syncope, from which he had unexpectedly recovered,
and had lived six months longer. "The truth is," added Chilton, "that, chancing
the other day to be looking over a 'peerage,' I noticed for the first time the
date of your marriage with the late Earl of Seyton, and I have now to inform you
that it took place precisely eight days previous to Mr. Gosford's death; that it
was consequently no marriage at all; and that your son is no more Earl of Seyton
than I am."
This dreadful announcement, as one might expect, completely
overcame the countess. She fainted, but not till she had heard and comprehended
Chilton's hurried injunctions to secrecy and silence. He rang the bell for
assistance, and then left the house. The mental agony of Lady Seyton on
recovering consciousness was terrible, and she with great difficulty succeeded
in concealing its cause from her anxious and wondering relatives. Another
interview with Chilton appeared to confirm the truth of his story beyond doubt
or question. He produced a formally-drawn-up document, signed by one Pierce
Cunningham, grave-digger of Swords, which set forth that Charles Gosford was
buried on the 26th of June, 1832, and that the inscription on his tombstone set
forth that he had died June 23d of that year. Also a written averment of Patrick
Mullins of Dublin, that he had lettered the stone at the head of the grave of
Charles Gosford in Swords burying-ground in 1832, and that its date was, as
stated by Pierce Cunningham, June 23, 1832.
"Have you copies of those documents?" asked Mr. Flint.
"Yes: I have brought them with me," the countess replied, and
handed them to Mr. Flint. "In my terror and extremity," continued her ladyship,
"and unguided by counsel—for, till now I have not dared to speak upon the
subject to any person—I have given this Chilton, at various times, large sums of
money—but he is insatiable; and only yesterday—I cannot repeat his audacious
proposal—you will find it in this note."
"Marriage!" exclaimed Mr. Flint with a burst. He had read the
note over my shoulder. "The scoundrel!"
My worthy partner was rather excited. The truth was he had a
Clara of his own at home—a dead sister's child—very pretty, just about
marriageable, and a good deal resembling, as he told me afterwards, our new and
"I would die a thousand deaths rather," resumed Lady Seyton, in
a low, tremulous voice, as she let fall her veil. "Can there," she added in a
still fainter voice, "be anything done—anything"—
"That depends entirely," interrupted Mr. Flint, "upon whether
this fine story is or is not a fabrication, got up for the purpose of extorting
money. It seems to me, I must say, amazingly like one."
"Do you really think so?" exclaimed the lady with joyful
vehemence. The notion that Chilton was perhaps imposing on her credulity and
fears seemed not to have struck her before.
"What do you think, Sharp?" said my partner.
I hesitated to give an opinion, as I did not share in the hope
entertained by Flint. Detection was so certain, that I doubted if so cunning a
person as Chilton appeared to be would have ventured on a fraud so severely
punishable. "Suppose," I said, avoiding an answer, "as this note appoints an
interview at three o'clock to-day at Seyton House, we meet him there instead of
your ladyship? A little talk with the fellow might be serviceable."
Lady Seyton eagerly agreed to this proposal; and it was arranged
that we should be at Seyton House half an hour before the appointed time, in
readiness for the gentleman. Lady Seyton left in a hackney-coach, somewhat
relieved, I thought, by having confided the oppressive secret to us, and with a
nascent hope slightly flushing her pale, dejected countenance.
The firm of Flint and Sharp had then a long conference together,
during which the lady's statement and Mr. Chilton's documents were, the reader
may be sure, very minutely conned over, analyzed, and commented upon. Finally,
it was resolved that, if the approaching interview, the manner of which we
agreed upon, did not prove satisfactory, Mr. Flint should immediately proceed to
Ireland, and personally ascertain the truth or falsehood of the facts alleged by
"Mr. Chilton is announced," said Lady Seyton, hurriedly entering
the library in Grosvenor Square, where Mr. Flint and myself were seated. "I need
not be present, I think you said?" she added, in great tremor.
"Certainly not, madam," I replied. "We shall do better alone."
She retired instantly. Flint rose and stationed himself close by
the door. Presently a sounding, confident step was heard along the passage, the
library door swung back on its noiseless hinges, and in stalked a man of
apparently about thirty-five years of age, tall, genteel, and soldier-looking.
He started back on seeing me, recognizing, I perceived, my vocation, at a
"How is this?" he exclaimed. "I expected"—
"The Countess of Seyton. True; but her ladyship has deputed me
to confer with you on the business mentioned in your note."
"I shall have nothing to say to you," he replied abruptly, and
turned to leave the room. Mr. Flint had shut, and was standing with his back to
"You can't go," he said, in his coolest manner. "The police are
"The police! What the devil do you mean?" cried Chilton,
angrily; but, spite of his assurance, visibly trembling beneath Flint's
searching, half-sneering look.
"Nothing very remarkable," replied that gentleman, "or unusual
in our profession. Come, sit down; we are lawyers; you are a man of business, we
know. I dare say we shall soon understand each other."
Mr. Chilton sat down, and moodily awaited what was next to come.
"You are aware," said Mr. Flint, "that you have rendered
yourself liable to transportation?"
"What"' exclaimed Chilton, flashing crimson, and starting to his
"To transportation," continued my imperturbable partner, "for
seven, ten, fourteen years, or for life, at the discretion of the judge; but,
considering the frequency of the crime of late, I should say there is a strong
probability that you will be a lifer!"
"What devil's gibberish is this?" exclaimed Chilton, frightened,
but still fierce. "I can prove everything I have said. Mr. Gosford, I tell you"—
"Well, well," interrupted Mr. Flint; "put it in that light, how
you please; turn it which way you will; it's like the key in Blue Beard, which,
I dare say, you have read of; rub it out on one side, and up it comes on the
other. Say, by way of argument, that you have not obtained money by
unfounded threats—a crime which the law holds tantamount to highway robbery. You
have in that case obtained money for compromising a felony—that of polygamy. An
awful position, my good sir, choose which you will."
Utterly chop-fallen was the lately triumphant man; but he
"I care not," he at length said. "Punish me you may; but the
pride of this sham countess and the sham earl will be brought low. And I tell
you once for all," he added, rising at the same time, and speaking in ringing,
wrathful tones, "that I defy you, and will either be handsomely remunerated for
silence, or I will at once inform the Honorable James Kingston that he is the
true Earl of Seyton."
"And I tell you," retorted Flint, "that if you attempt to
leave this room, I will give you into custody at once, and transport you,
whatever may be the consequence to others. Come, come, let us have no more
nonsense or bluster. We have strong reasons for believing that the story by
which you have been extorting money, is a fabrication. If it be so, rely upon it
we shall detect and punish you. Your only safe course is to make a clean breast
of it whilst there is yet time. Out with it, man, at once, and you shall go
Scot-free; nay, have a few score pounds more—say a hundred. Be wise in time, I
Chilton hesitated; his white lips quivered. There was
something to reveal.
"I cannot," he muttered, after a considerable pause. "There is
nothing to disclose."
"You will not! Then your fate be on your own head. I have done
It was now my turn. "Come, come," I said, "it is useless urging
this man further. How much do you expect? The insolent proposal contained in
your note is, you well know, out of the question. How much money
do you expect for keeping this wretched affair secret? State your terms at
"A thousand per annum," was the reply, "and the first year
"Modest, upon my word! But I suppose we must comply." I wrote
out an agreement. "Will you sign this?"
He ran it over. "Yes; Lady Seyton, as she calls herself, will
take care it never sees the light."
I withdrew, and in two or three minutes returned with a check.
"Her ladyship has no present cash at the bankers," I said, "and is obliged to
post-date this check twelve days."
The rascal grumbled a good deal; but as there was no help for
it, he took the security, signed the agreement, and walked off.
"A sweet nut that for the devil to crack," observed Mr. Flint,
looking savagely after him. "I am in hopes we shall trounce him yet, bravely as
he carries it. The check of course is not payable to order or bearer"
"Certainly not; and before twelve days are past, you will have
returned from Ireland. The agreement may be, I thought, of use with Cunningham
or Mullins. If they have been conspiring together, they will scarcely admire the
light in which you can place the arrangement, as affording proof that he means
to keep the lion's share of the reward to himself."
"Exactly. At all events we shall get at the truth, whatever it
The same evening Mr. Flint started for Dublin viâ
I received in due course a letter from him dated the day after
his arrival there. It was anything but a satisfactory one. The date on the
grave-stone had been truly represented, and Mullins who erected it was a highly
respectable man. Flint had also seen the grave-digger, but could make nothing
out of him. There was no regular register of deaths kept in Swords except that
belonging to Cunningham; and the minister who buried Gosford, and who lived at
that time in Dublin, had been dead some time. This was disheartening and
melancholy enough; and, as if to give our unfortunate client the
coup-de-grace, Mr. Jackson, junior, marched into the office just after I had
read it, to say that, having been referred by Lady Seyton to us for
explanations, with respect to a statement made by a Mr. Edward Chilton to the
Honorable James Kingston, for whom they, the Messrs. Jackson, were now acting,
by which it appeared that the said Honorable James Kingston was, in fact, the
true Earl of Seyton, he, Mr. Jackson, junior, would be happy to hear what I had
to say upon the subject! It needed but this. Chilton had, as I feared he would,
after finding we had been consulted, sold his secret, doubtless advantageously,
to the heir-at-law. There was still, however, a chance that something favorable
might turn up, and, as I had no notion of throwing that chance away, I
carelessly replied that we had reason to believe Chilton's story was a malicious
fabrication, and that we should of course throw on them the onus of judicial
proof that Gosford was still alive when the late earl's marriage was solemnized.
Finally, however, to please Mr. Jackson, who professed to be very anxious, for
the lady's sake, to avoid unnecessary éclat, and to arrange the affair as
quietly as possible, I agreed to meet him at Lady Seyton's in four days from
that time, and hear the evidence upon which he relied. This could not at all
events render our position worse; and it was, meanwhile, agreed that the matter
should be kept as far as possible profoundly secret.
Three days passed without any further tidings from Mr. Flint,
and I vehemently feared that his journey had proved a fruitless one, when, on
the evening previous to the day appointed for the conference at Seyton House, a
hackney-coach drove rapidly up to the office door, and out popped Mr. Flint,
followed by two strangers, whom he very watchfully escorted into the house.
"Mr. Patrick Mullins and Mr. Pierce Cunningham," said Flint as
he shook hands with me in a way which, in conjunction with the merry sparkle of
his eyes, and the boisterous tone of his voice, assured me all was right. "Mr.
Pierce Cunningham will sleep here to-night," he added; "so Collins had better
engage a bed out."
Cunningham, an ill-looking lout of a fellow, muttered, that he
chose "to sleep at a tavern."
"Not if I know it, my fine fellow," rejoined Mr. Flint. "You
mean well, I dare say; but I cannot lose sight of you for all that. You either
sleep here or at a station-house."
The man stared with surprise and alarm; but knowing refusal or
resistance to be hopeless, sullenly assented to the arrangement, and withdrew to
the room appointed for him, vigilantly guarded. For Mr. Mullins we engaged a bed
at a neighboring tavern.
Mr. Flint's mission had been skillfully and successfully
accomplished. He was convinced, by the sullen confusion of manner manifested by
Cunningham, that some villainous agency had been at work, and he again waited on
Mullins, the stone-cutter. "Who gave you the order for the grave-stone?" he
asked. Mr. Mullins referred to his book, and answered that he received it by
letter. "Had he got that letter?" "Very likely," he replied, "as he seldom
destroyed business papers of any kind." "A search was instituted, and finally
this letter," said Mr. Flint, "worth an earl's coronet, torn and dirty as it is,
turned up." This invaluable document, which bore the London postdate of June 23,
1832, ran as follows:—
"Anglesea Hotel, Haymarket, London, June 23, 1832.
"Sir—Please to erect a plain tomb-stone at the head of Charles
Gosford, Esquire's grave, who died a few month's since at Swords, aged
thirty-two years. This is all that need be inscribed upon it. You are referred
to Mr. Guinness of Sackville Street, Dublin, for payment. Your obedient servant,
"You see," continued Flint, "the fellow had inadvertently left
out the date of Gosford's death, merely stating it occurred a few months
previously; and Mullins concluded that, in entering the order in his day-book,
he must have somehow or other confounded the date of the letter with that of
Gosford's decease. Armed with this precious discovery, I again sought
Cunningham, and by dint of promises and threats, at last got the truth out of
the rascal. It was this:—Chilton, who returned to this country from the Cape,
where he had resided for three years previously, about two months ago, having
some business to settle in Dublin, went over there, and one day visited Swords,
read the inscription on Charles Gosford's grave-stone, and immediately sought
out the grave-digger, and asked him if he had any record of that gentleman's
burial. Cunningham said he had, and produced his book, by which it appeared that
it took place December 24, 1831. "That cannot be," remarked Chilton, and he
referred to the head-stone. Cunningham said he had noticed the mistake a few
days after it was erected; but thinking it of no consequence, and never having,
that he knew of, seen Mr. Mullins since, he had said, and indeed thought,
nothing about it. To conclude the story—Chilton ultimately, by payment of ten
pounds down, and liberal promises for the future, prevailed upon the
grave-digger to lend himself to the infamous device the sight of the grave-stone
had suggested to his fertile, unscrupulous brain."
This was indeed a glorious success and the firm of Flint and
Sharp drank the Countess of Seyton's health that evening with great enthusiasm,
and gleefully "thought of the morrow."
We found the drawing-room of Seyton House occupied by the
Honorable James Kingston, his solicitors, the Messrs. Jackson, Lady Seyton, and
her father and sister, to whom she had at length disclosed the source of her
disquietude. The children were leaving the apartment as we entered it, and the
grief-dimmed eyes of the countess rested sadly upon her bright-eyed boy as he
slowly withdrew with his sisters. That look changed to one of wild surprise as
it encountered Mr. Flint's shining, good-humored countenance. I was more
composed and reserved than my partner, though feeling as vividly as he did the
satisfaction of being able not only to dispel Lady Seyton's anguish, but to
extinguish the exultation, and trample on the hopes, of the Honorable James
Kingston, a stiff, grave, middle-aged piece of hypocritical propriety, who was
surveying from out the corners of his affectedly-unobservant eyes the furniture
and decorations of the splendid apartment, and hugging himself with the thought
that all that was his! Business was immediately proceeded with. Chilton was
called in. He repeated his former story verbatim, and with much fluency and
confidence. He then placed in the hands of Jackson, senior, the vouchers signed
by Cunningham and Mullins. The transient light faded from Lady Seyton's
countenance as she turned despairingly, almost accusingly, towards us.
"What answer have you to make to this gentleman's statement,
thus corroborated?" demanded Jackson, senior.
"Quite a remarkable one," replied Mr. Flint, as he rang the
bell. "Desire the gentlemen in the library to step up," he added to the footman
who answered the summons. In about three minutes in marched Cunningham and
Mullins, followed by two police-officers. An irrepressible exclamation of terror
escaped Chilton, which was immediately echoed by Mr. Flint's direction to the
police, as he pointed towards the trembling caitiff: "That is your man—secure
A storm of exclamations, questions, remonstrances, instantly
broke forth, and it was several minutes before attention could be obtained for
the statements of our two Irish witnesses and the reading of the happily-found
letter. The effect of the evidence adduced was decisive, electrical. Lady Seyton,
as its full significance flashed upon her, screamed with convulsive joy, and I
thought must have fainted from excess of emotion. The Rev. John Hayley returned
audible thanks to God in a voice quivering with rapture, and Miss Hayley ran out
of the apartment, and presently returned with the children, who were immediately
half-smothered with their mother's ecstatic kisses. All was for a few minutes
bewilderment, joy, rapture! Flint persisted to his dying day, that Lady Seyton
threw her arms round his neck, and kissed his bald old forehead. This, however,
I cannot personally vouch for, as my attention was engaged at the moment by the
adverse claimant, the Honorable James Kingston, who exhibited one of the most
irresistibly comic, wo-begone, lackadaisical aspects it is possible to conceive.
He made a hurried and most undignified exit, and was immediately followed by the
discomfited "family" solicitors. Chilton was conveyed to a station-house, and
the next day was fully committed for trial. He was convicted at the next
sessions, and sentenced to seven years' transportation; and the "celebrated"
firm of Flint and Sharp, derived considerable lustre, and more profit, from this
successful stroke of professional dexterity.