Unintentional Haiku Spoken in a Courtroom 241 Years Ago


When I discovered that the court proceedings of the Old Bailey were available online, naturally I had to see whether they contained any haiku. The archive is too huge to put into Haiku Detector all at once, so I just checked the ‘on this day in…’ link whenever I had time. The most haiku-rich I’ve seen so far was from a wounding case on 8 September 1773, which, now that I think about it, should not have appeared as an ‘on this day…’ link yet. I had to clean up the text a little first, to remove all the Q.s and speakers’ names. Here are some of the 55 haiku that were left.

These ones sound like some kind of metaphor for the fiddly final steps towards achieving goals, and the monsters that might demotivate us from climbing toward those goals, but which are secretly part of ourselves:

How far is it from
the upper step of the stairs
to the door itself?

Upon the landing.
Was the door within view of
you at that time?   Yes.

The General must
have seen you coming up two
or three steps at least?

How far had you got
up stairs before you saw Hyde?
Did you hear Hyde’s voice?

Who else was with you
there?  I cannot remember
any one but me.

Where did you wait while
Hyde went into the house?   At
the top of the street.

The world’s simplest riddle:

Yes. Where did you go
when you came into the house?
Into the entry.

And some more intriguing questions:

After Lee struck me:
the knife dropped upon the ground.
Was it by a blow?

Had he no blow with
the butt end of a pistol?
Not that I know of.

You say you knew the
General very well; do
you think he knew you?

When you came back what
part of the family did
you find below stairs?

In what condition
was the door when he fired
the second pistol?

What did he tell him?
That a parcel of fellows
were below with sticks.

Did you observe the
hole in the door case that was
made by the pistol?

Did you look through the
door to see the direction
the ball had taken?

Was the General
upon his legs or not? He
was upon his legs.

Some which sound like bloody massacres until you get to the last line:

I believe this is
the knife you was cutting the
bread and butter with.

Was James in the room
with you while you was cutting
the bread and butter?

Finally, a few which sound a bit dirty (or so I am told) if you have that kind of mind:

Mr. Hyde knocked out
the prime, and let down the cock;
it was cocked and primed.

The charge is drawn and
it appears to be loaded
with a brace of balls.

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