Abbildungen der Seite


The Bar in England is a profession of considerable honour and great emolument. There are some of its members, though few in comparison to the whole body, who give place to none in liberality of mind, strength of intellect, and the possession of useful knowledge. Many individuals who have studied the law, and some who have been called to the Bar, having gained that knowledge of the institutes of their country which every English gentleman should possess, and acquired those habits of attention and diligence necessary in studying for the profession, have gone no further ; but, leaving it before they were imbued with its exclusive character, have ascended to eminence in pursuits, for which, had they become lawyers in practice, they could never have been qualified. It is of the practised lawyer only that I would at present speak, or of the class so considered by the bulk of the profession. It is curious, that though an individual may obtain great success at the Bar, he may be denominated a bad lawyer by the fraternity; and that those who are considered 'good lawyers' by their brethren, are often but little known in society. The gentlemen at the Bar allow, that the great object of a counsel is to obtain a verdict for his client, be he right or wrong, in any mode that the Court will allow; but they will deny the most successful advocates to be lawyers, if they be deficient in a knowledge of certain technicalities and black-letter reading. Yet are the Judges commonly chosen from the most successful advocates ; and when we find, that upon abstruse points of law no two lawyers will agree, (except they be Crown-lawyers giving an opinion for the Crown,) it may easily be believed that a 'good lawyer' in the view of the profession, is both a less clever and less useful man than a successful counsel. On the latter all the reputation of the Bar with society must rest. A good counsel may not make so good a Judge as he did a counsel ; but if he who has been most successful in his profession is to be deemed inferior to one who has neither genius nor eloquence, but simply a good memory to treasure up his readings, the qualifications required in lawyers must be in an inverse ratio to the impression which they produce in the world. To narrow and render more dry a study sufficiently so already in the eyes of all who are not of the initiated, is to inflict an injury upon the pursuit itself. _There is obscurity enough hanging round it out of its own limits. Except such men as Lord Erskine and a few others, whose names and talents have been connected with some extraneous incident or political event; or, like Brougham in the Senate, owing their force to a union of political and legal talent; the mere lawyer runs his career with little notice from the world, and his name mostly dies with him, except among his brethren of the Bar. Like Dives, he has all his good things in this life. lle is not ambitious of fame, but as a means of lucre. Gold is his stimulant, and fortune the reward of his exertions. Lord Mansfield, I think, it was, who kept a guinea in his hand when pleading a cause, at a time he did not expect to receive a fee. Without the habitual prompter of his eloquence, he feared he might not be successful. The artist, the poet, or the soldier, pursue the “ bubble reputation”- they can suffer and labour for a reward in reversion ; but the spirit of the lawyer flags if the glittering metal be not

constantly before his eyes; he is the lover of tangible things : crowns of immortality, or a glory that fills the whole earth, are nothing to him like the chink of a guinea ; and the sap that nourishes his eloquence, and makes it unfold itself to the edification of the Court that sits beneath its shade, must be liberally supplied by the hand of Mammon, or it will wither into silence. I do not wish to censure a due regard for the honourable profits of legal industry; but I believe that a love, almost a covetousness of gain, is a sin inherent in the lawyer. And as, whether qualified or not, he is always eager to climb into influence and power, the beneficial effect of this spirit may be justly a matter of question in many cases. It is, therefore, to be wished that a fondness for renown, something of that infirmity of noble minds, was a little more influential among lawyers-a little less care of self, and more regard for mankind. But the evil, perhaps, is inherent in the practice of law itself.

The narrow ideas and want of liberality of mind in the majority of legal men is the more singular, because their study appears well calculated to afford them a facility of detecting error generally, and of reasoning purely; so that truth ought to prevail among them over prejudice, reason over custom. But such is not the case in matters out of their legal practice. No men are such adorers of opinions and things as they are first impressed with them; none pin their faith so readily on habitual errors. They cannot be brought to regard the world as a great Court, in which testimony must be examined and cross-examined, and falsehood guarded against. They cannot apply their closet rules to things out of their business, but become as great dupes as those who are inferior to them in understanding, and have no test to guide them to what is right. This deficiency may be witnessed in most cases where a direct matter of law is not the subject, and may be detected in many speakers of the long-robe in the Senate, upon subjects which it is clear they do not understand, or, if they do, treat those who hear them very scurvily, by dealing out arguments of which any human being, possessing common sense, may detect the fallacy. They, perhaps, fancy that, as is customary in the profession, they must say something, whether it be to the purpose or not.

The habit of putting things in a wrong light, of using the most barefaced sophistry, and of perplexing in a Court, when a counsel feels the weakness of a cause, makes him suppose that the world may be treated in the same way, and that public opinion is as blind as an Exchequer jury. The difference between twelve men qualified only by estate to sit on a jury, and an indefinite number qualified by intellect to detect sophistical reasoning, is not considered. Every question is judged of by the custom in a Court of law, which is deemed the most perfect of earthly things, and is kept in mental view when the lawyer speaks on the bustings, or in the Senate.

The profession of the law, like the law itself, is full of strange anomalies. There is, for example, no introduction to any pursuit so liberal and worthy of commendation, nay, so completely what it should be, as that of the English lawyer. The phrase “eating his way to the bar," applied to the law-student being required to dine in Term-time in the hall of his Court, comprehends nearly all his duties. He is left entirely to himself: and the good effect of this is apparent. Taking the

lawyer merely as the lawyer, without regard to any thing unprofessional -taking into account also the plodding industry, extensive reading, and laborious application, necessary to attain a profound knowledge of our motley and endless chain of statutes, cases, &c. which good-will is alone able to conquer-no country can produce men more devoted to legal drudgery, or more deeply masters of their profession, than our own. So mighty is the mass of verbiage and detail the student has to wade through, that nothing could urge him on but a knowledge that ignorance cannot succeed, and that a firm determination to excel and a spirit of invincible perseverance will alone ensure success. He may, if he prefer it, and knowing the infallible consequence, wander about his Inn in idleness, or become the empty-headed man of fashion, and waste his hours at Long's or Stevens's; he may neglect law for the more noble and inspiring pursuits of genius, and the only penalty exacted is by himself from himself. He will be certain of remaining at the bottom, while less able but more diligent plodders rise above him to the very summit of the profession. If, therefore, he be called to the Bar, to which perhaps there is no obstacle, he will see life waste away, as hundreds do, without practice; for which he has no one to blame but himself-no sinister interference of power or interest keeps him back, and places less qualified persons over his head, as the naval or military aspirant too often witnesses, to his cost. Thus, while the lawyer is the precise, formal, straight-laced personage in himself, bigoted to every thing as it stands, stiff as is his own barbarous wig, grave and dry as the eternal tautology of his dusty parchments, his induction to the profession is the most free and unfettered of that into any pursuit whatever. This freedom of education, however, he makes up for in after-life, when he becomes the slave of custom, and resigns reason itself to the wisdom of his ancestors. He imagines that his profession is to be regarded by the world as above all others, and in proportion to the labour bestowed in its acquirement. He would have the study of law rank above all the higher arts and sciences, beyond the expanded views of the statesman, or the mighty contemplations of the philosopher; or rather, he would circumscribe these by his own. He is angry that few can be brought to think as he does about it; and is mortified if told, that except in an instance or two, depending upon the public interest involved in them, the world cares little or nothing about the most elaborate law-argument, or the most subtle piece of cross-questioning. He is for ever endeavouring to bring things into subservience to his own views. He measures every thing, as the proverb has it, by his own peck; and it is impossible to argue with him upon any topic, without his dragging into the argument something which “smells of the shop," or in the manner of the Court of King's Bench. His reasoning ends in the affirmative, that “whatever is is right,” in the political system of his notions, because he finds that custom or statute has in some age or other sanctioned all that he finds in it. His confidence in the minister of the day is only secondary to that which he has in the excellence of the laws of the Tudors and Stuarts, or of William the Conqueror and Henry VIII. Half his arguments, when examined by the rules of right reason, are like those of one of his profession, who,

not long ago, argued for the existence of witchcraft, because, if there had been no such thing as witchcraft, Acts of Parliament would not have been passed for its suppression. This incapacity of abstracting themselves wholly from their professional habits, vices, and modes of thinking, renders them bad politicians. The disposition of men's minds, natural right, the influence of the passions on communities, changes of time and circumstance, the effects of increasing knowledge on the social body, they cannot bring into their calculation. They deal in unities and fractional parts, but cannot calculate large sums; as in their speeches in Court they haggle and dwell upon points and flaws in an argument, but have no power of grasping the whole, and determining its merit at one glance. They are always half a century behind the rest of the world in mind, and carry into society with them the prejudices and rust of their grandsires. They will not agree that the principles which now and then make a great noise in the world, even in those who distinguish themselves from among their own body, are the very reverse of professional ones, and consist in an abandonment of all for which they stickle, keeping only the application and attention, which are merely adjuncts to their studies, and directing them to nobler and more liberal objects. In political life, the lawyer carries the trim. ming and shuffling of his court character. He takes one side or the other, or both, and is at no loss for arguments or excuses to justify his conduct, such as they are. A preponderating motive answering to a fee in Court, is the mainspring of re-action. Like Mr. Wynn, for example, they can argue in one session on one side of a question, and in another diametrically opposite, and find no difficulty in satisfying themselves of their perfect consistency. Mr. Plunket, who is so gifted a man, can suffer the spirit of the lawyer to overweigh his talents, and to dim the lustre of his fame, from allowing his professional habits to get uppermost on ticklish occasions. It is hardly fair, however, to class Mr. Plunket with the majority of lawyers, when the character of the mass only is under consideration ; for he is one of the few exceptions in the profession, (few in respect to their aggregate number,) who has been a shining light in his day- a little bedimmed perhaps at present, but to appear again with greater splendour when his indignant and unfortunate country shall give the nobler feelings of the man the ascendency over the habitual and vacillating ones of the lawyer. A confidence in their infallibility, and in their own integrity and disinterestedness, is another trait in the character of lawyers. Whether a judge of “ hard words and hanging" fame, or one with the honesty and mildness of a Bailey be mentioned, both are equally unimpeachable men. In this respect the esprit du corps reminds one of the maxim of “Honour among thieves," for they support each other to the utmost; their craft is infallible; and so excellent are the forms, practices, and rules of the profession, that they would fain bring all thought, religion, science, and government, under their guidance and control. They forget that law is simply but a sewer to carry off impurities, and prevent the overflow of wrong in society; but that it is an evil in our path, where we are in constant danger of bemiring ourselves, and that we only submit to it for the security of the general health ;--that it is a conventional servant only of the body politic.

Those impulses which move masses of people and produce events of great character, do not belong to law, which is merely a restraint upon evil-doers. The folly of former legislation has suffered it to trench on provinces which do not belong to it, as in its prohibitions of free trade, and its odious support of slavery. Laws purporting to be for the regulation of manufactures and trade, and the encouragement of industry, are injudicious obstacles to national prosperity. Our governors, therefore, do well to sweep away all such, and to keep laws within their proper sphere. Lawyers will oppose all this, as Lord Eldon does, though they knew nothing about it. It is enough that they imagine it to be their own ground, which they will not see contracted. Their fathers sanctioned similar absurdities, and they were all sages. They will not meet Messrs. Robinson and Canning on the merits of the general welfare, by calculations, facts before committees of the House in evidence, or on the broad basis of the common benefit of nations, but in the spirit of a sect. They deliver their opinions ex cathedra, and think the world bound by them. They oppose every amelioration in the state required by the changes of time ; insist on the continuance of the penal code, that stigma on the nation and on humanity; decry free opinion on religious subjects, that they may keep in use the word toleration in a country where more than two-thirds of the people are of the tolerated sects; and permit the unfortunate and perhaps innocent prisoner at the bar of justice to be sacrificed, because the allowing him counsel is contrary to legal precedent, though he cannot utter a word in his own defence; he may be gibbeted, but customary forms of law must not be broken!

The arguments often used by legal men on public questions are specious, unintelligible, or so devoid almost of common sense, that one might suppose they could not but note the deficiency afterwards, and feel for it

, were it not that the habit of saying something for a client when he has really no solid ground to stand upon in Court, becomes habitual, and is adopted on weak questions out of it. They undervalue the sense of a community, which they reduce to the level of the jury-box, and suppose the aggregate understanding of an empire may be insulted and brow-beat, or wheedled and cajoled, like Gloucestershire clodhoppers. In a late motion in Parliament, for example, a liberal and honour able member in the profession, whose eloquence and talent are confessed by most, and must have led him in triumph on the sound side of the argument, played off the bar-system in a weak case of defence of a friend, disregarding facts, and trying to support himself on mere moonshine. Among other things, it was in unshaken evidence, that the chief justice of a colony, who was, according to the honourable speaker, a perfect lawyer, had doffed his civilian's garb for a military one, to sit on a court martial ; that the court martial was illegal in itself, and therefore its proceedings vicious; that evidence received was illegal, and such as no British judge would allow; and that all these things would have been manifest to one not very deeply learned in the law; and, finally, that this individual signed a sentence of death on a man so illegally tried. What is the sum of the defence made for the person so arraigned, not in a confined Court, but in the Senate of a nation--in the hearing of an empire? Why, in substance, that he, the

« ZurückWeiter »