The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“The program was the same, but the flatness I had expected in a show I had seen before was notably missing, and that annoyed me. I didn’t want Eisengrim to be as good as he was. I thought him dangerous and I grudged him the admiration the audience plainly felt for him. The show was very clever; I must admit that. It had real mystery, and beautiful girls very cleverly and tastefully displayed, and there was a quality of fantasy about it that I have never seen in any other magician’s performance, and very rarely in the theatre.

“Have you ever seen the Habima Players do The Dybbuk? I did, long ago, and this had something of that quality about it, as if you were looking into a stranger and more splendid world than the one you know — almost a solemn joy. But I had not lost my grievance, and the better The Soiree of Illusions was, the more I wanted to wreck it.

“I suppose the drink was getting to me more than I knew, and I muttered two or three times until people shushed me. When The Brazen Head of Friar Bacon came, and the borrowed objects had been identified, and Eisengrim was promising his answers to secret questions, I suddenly heard myself shouting, ‘Who killed Boy Staunton?’ and I found I was on my feet, and there was a sensation in the theatre. People were staring at me. There was a crash in one of the boxes, and I had the impression that someone had fallen and knocked over some chairs. The Head began to glow, and I heard the foreign voice saying something that seemed to begin, ‘He was killed by a gang . . .’ then something about ‘the woman he knew . . . the woman he did not know,’ but really I can’t be sure what I heard because I was dashing up the steps of the balcony as hard as I could go — they are very steep — and then pelting down two flights of stairs, though I don’t think anybody was chasing me. I rushed into the street, jumped into one of the taxis that had begun to collect at the door, and got back to my apartment, very much shaken.

“But it was as I was leaving the theatre in such a sweat that the absolute certainty came over me that I had to do something about myself. That is why I am here.”

“Yes, I see. I don’t think there can be any doubt that it was a wise decision. But in the letter from Dr. Tschudi he said something about your having put yourself through what you called ‘the usual examination.’ What did you mean?”

“Ah — well. I’m a lawyer, as you know.”

“Yes. Was it some sort of legal examination, then?”

“I am a thorough man. I think you might say a wholehearted man. I believe in the law.”

“And so — ?”

“You know what the law is, I suppose? The procedures of law are much discussed, and people know about lawyers and courts and prisons and punishment and all that sort of thing, but that is just the apparatus through which the law works. And it works in the cause of justice. Now, justice is the constant and perpetual wish to render to everyone his due. Every law student has to learn that. A surprising number of them seem to forget it, but I have not forgotten it.”

“Yes, I see. But what is ‘the usual examination’?”

“Oh, it’s just a rather personal thing.”

“Of course, but clearly it is an important personal thing. I should like to hear about it.”

“It is hard to describe.”

“Is it so complex, then?”

“I wouldn’t say it was complex, but I find it rather embarrassing.”


“To someone else it would probably seem to be a kind of game.”

“A game you play by yourself?”

“You might call it that, but it misrepresents what I do and the consequences of what I do.”

“Then you must be sure I do not misunderstand. Is this game a kind of fantasy?”

“No, no; it is very serious.”

“All real fantasy is serious. Only faked fantasy is not serious. That is why it is so wrong to impose faked fantasy on children. I shall not laugh at your fantasy. I promise. Now — please tell me what ‘the usual examination’ is.”

“Very well, then. It’s a way I have of looking at what I have done, or might do, to see what it is worth. I imagine a court, you see, all perfectly real and correct in every detail. I am the Judge, on the Bench. And I am the prosecuting lawyer, who presents whatever it is in the worst possible light — but within the rules of pleading. That means I may not express a purely personal opinion about the rights or wrongs of the case. But I am also the defence lawyer, and I put the best case I can for whatever is under examination — but again I mayn’t be personal and load the pleading. I can even call myself into the witness-box and examine and cross-examine myself. And in the end Mr. Justice Staunton must make up his mind and give a decision. And there is no appeal from that decision.”

“I see. A very complete fantasy.”

“I suppose you must call it that. But I assure you it is extremely serious to me. This case I am telling you about took several hours. I was charged with creating a disturbance in a public place while under the influence of liquor, and there were grave special circumstances — creating a scandal that would seriously embarrass the Staunton family, for one.”

“Surely that is a moral rather than a legal matter?”

“Not entirely. And anyhow, the law is, among other things, a codification of a very large part of public morality. It expresses the moral opinion of society on a great number of subjects. And in Mr. Justice Staunton’s court, morality carries great weight. It’s obvious.”

“Truly? What makes it obvious?”

“Oh, just a difference in the Royal Arms.”

“The Royal Arms?”

“Yes. Over the judge’s head, where they are always displayed.”

“And what is the difference? . . . Another of your pauses, Mr. Staunton. This must mean a great deal to you. Please describe the difference.”

“It”s nothing very much. Only that the animals are complete.”

“The animals?”

“The supporters, they are called. The Lion and the Unicorn.”

“And are they sometimes incomplete?”

“Almost always in Canada. They are shown without their privy parts. To be heraldically correct they should have distinct, rather saucy pizzles. But in Canada we geld everything, if we can, and dozens of times I have sat in court and looked at those pitifully deprived animals and thought how they exemplified our attitude toward justice. Everything that spoke of passion — and when you talk of passion you talk of morality in one way or another — was ruled out of order or disguised as something else. Only Reason was welcome. But in Mr. Justice Staunton’s court the Lion and the Unicorn are complete, because morality and passion get their due there.”

“I see. Well, how did the case go?”

“It hung, in the end, on the McNaghten Rule.”

“You must tell me what that is.”

“It is a formula for determining responsibility. It takes its name from a nineteenth-century murderer called McNaghten whose defence was insanity. He said he did it when he was not himself. This was the defence put forward for Staunton. The prosecution kept hammering away at Staunton to find out whether, when he shouted in the theatre, he fully understood the nature and quality of his act, and if he did, did he know it was wrong? The defence lawyer — Mr. David Staunton, a very eminent Q.C. — urged every possible extenuating circumstance: that the prisoner Staunton had been under severe stress for several days; that he had lost his father in a most grievous fashion, and that he had undergone severe psychological harassment because of that loss; that unusual responsibilities and burdens had been placed upon him; that his last hope of regaining the trust and approval of his late father had been crushed. But the prosecutor — Mr. David Staunton, Q.C., on behalf of the Crown — would not recognize any of that as exculpatory, and in the end he put the question that defence had been dreading all along. ‘If a policeman had been standing at your elbow, would you have acted as you did? If a policeman had been in the seat next to you, would you have shouted your scandalous question at the stage?’ And of course the prisoner Staunton broke down and wept and had to say, ‘No,’ and then, to all intents, the case was over. The Judge — Mr. Justice Staunton, known for his fairness but also for his sternness — didn’t even leave the Bench. He found the prisoner Staunton guilty, and the sentence was that he should seek psychiatric help at once.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson