THE LONDON TEMPLE has long stood like a wrinkle of age on the face of the city. Even as far back as the year 1764 -- the year with which this story begins -- it was regarded as a monument of London's antiquity. Then and for long afterwards -- in fact, until World War II destroyed a part of the immemorial pile -- it has stood as an indestructible symbol of the nation's great age and long history.
It then formed a shut-in world surrounded by a Chinese wall of its own. Architecturally it stood aside from the rest of London; it was governed by its own laws and used a legal language heard nowhere else. The English sunshine fell with a special sparseness in the courtyards and on the terraces, while dark walks which never saw the sun's rays led to secret enclosures. The sun-dials, tombstones, and terrace steps seemed to grow out of the earth on which they had reposed so long. Only the English sparrows and the English ivy, of the type which Americans know so well, suggested that life still renewed itself within this stone-and-mortar monument of the past.
For centuries the Temple has been identified with the institution of the law. Under a worldly Henry VIII it passed from religious to legal hands. Retaining its cloistral atmosphere, it became a monastery for barristers. By the skilful methods of their profession, the lawyers acquired the Temple property for practically nothing and converted it to their own use, with all its churchly privileges, special rights, and exemptions retained. The tenants in their black gowns and wigs seemed not so different from the religious Templars as might have been expected or perhaps desired. They received their clients in the ancient church, among the images of saints and Crusaders and stained-glass windows. Many a tough customer must have been surprised to find himself welcomed in these hallowed surroundings. A somewhat monklike atmosphere prevailed in the