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the faculties in unceasing play; and constantly applies research, ingenuity, and eloquence, to the actual business of life. A Court of Nisi Prius is a sort of epitome of human concerns, in which advocates are the representatives of the hopes and fears, the prejudices, the affections, and the hatreds of others, which stir their blood, yet do not endanger their fortune or their peace. The most important interests are committed to their discretion, and the most susceptible feelings to their forbearance. They enjoy a fearful latitude of sarcasm and invective, with an audience ready to admire their sallies, and reporters eager to circulate them through the land. Their professional dress, which might else be ludicrous, becomes formidable as the symbol of power; for, with it, they assume the privilege of denouncing their adversaries, confounding witnesses, and withstanding the judge. If the matter on which they expatiate is not often of a dignified nature or productive of large consequences, it is always of real importance; not a mere theme for display, or a parliamentary shadow. The men whom they address are usually open to receive impressions, either from declamation or reasoning, unlike other audiences who are guarded by system, by party, or by interest, against the access of conviction. They are not confined to rigid logic, or to scholastic sophistry, but may appeal to every prejudice, habit, and feeling, which can aid their cause or adorn their harangue; and possess a large store of popular topics always ready for use. They do not contend for distant objects, nor vainly seek to awaken an interest for futurity, but struggle for palpable results which immediately follow their exertions. They play an animating game for verdicts with the resources of others, in which success is full of pleasure, and defeat is rarely attended with personal disgrace or injury. This is their ordinary vocation; but they have, or seem to have, a chance of putting forth all the energies of their mind on some high issue; and of vindicating their moral courage, perchance by rescuing an innocent man from dishonour and the grave, or by standing, in a tumultuous season, between the frenzy of the people and the encroachments of their enemies, and protecting the constitutional rights of their fellows with the sacred weapons of the laws. What dream is more inspiring to a youth of sanguine temperament than that of conducting the defence of a
man prosecuted by the whole force of the state? He runs over in thought the hurried and feverish labour of preparation; the agitations of the heart quelled by the very magnitude of the endeavour and the peril; and imagines himself settled and bent up to his own part in the day of trial—the low tremulous beginning, the gradually strengthening assurance; the dawning recognition of sympathy excited in the men on whose lips the issue hangs; till the whole world of thought and feeling seems to open full of irresistible argument and happy illustrations; till his reasonings become steeped in passion; and he feels his cause and his triumph secure. To every enthusiastic boy, flattered by the prophecies of friends, such an event appears possible; and, in the contemplation, wealth, honour, and long life, seem things of little value. But the state of anticipation cannot last for ever. The day arrives, when the candidate for forensic opportunities and honours must assume the gown amidst the congratulations of his friends, and attempt to realize their wishes. The hour is, no doubt, happy, in spite of some intruding thoughts; its festivities are not less joyous, because they wear a colouring of solemnity; it is one more season of hope snatched from fate, inviting the mind to bright remembrance, and rich in the honest assurances of affections and sympathy. It passes, however, as rapidly as its predecessors, and the morrow sees the youth at Westminster, pressing a wig upon aching temples, and taking a fearsul survey of the awful bench where the judges sit, and the more awful benches crowded with competitors who have set out with as good hopes, who have been encouraged by as enthusiastic friends, and who have as valid claims to success as he. Now then, having allowed him to enjoy the foretastes of prosperity, let us investigate what are the probabilities that he will realize them. Are they, in any degree, proportioned to his intellectual powers and accomplishments? Is the possession of some share of the highest faculties of the mind, which has given him confidence, really in his favour? These questions we will try to solve. We may, perhaps, explain to the misjudging friends of some promising aspirant, who has not attained the eminence they expected, why their prophecies have been unfulfilled. They think that, with such powers as they know
him to possess, there must be some fault which they did not perceive; some want of industry, or perseverence; but there was probably none; and they may rather seek for the cause of failure in the delicacy of feeling which won their sympathy, or in the genius which they were accustomed to admire.
Men who take a cursory view of the profession are liable to forget how peculiarly it is situated in relation to those who distribute its business. These are not the people at large; not even the factitious assemblage called the public; not scholars, nor readers, nor thinkers, nor admiring audiences, nor sages of the law, but simply attorneys. In this class of men are, of course, comprised infinite varieties of knowledge and of worth; many men of sound learning and honourable character; many who are tolerably honest and decorously dull; some who are acute and knavish; and more who are knavish without being acute. Respectable as is the station of attorneys, they are, as a body, greatly inferior to the bar in education and endowments; and yet on their opinion, without appeal, the fate of the members of the profession depends. It can scarcely be matter of surprise that they do not always perceive, as by intuition, the accurate thinking, the delicate satire, the playful fancy, or the lucid eloquence, which have charmed a domestic circle, and obtained the applause of a college, even if these were exactly the qualities adapted to their purposes. They will never, indeed, continue to retain men who are obviously unequal to their duty; but they have a large portion of business to scatter, which numbers, greatly differing in real power, can do equally well; and some junior business, which hardly requires any talent at all. In some cases, therefore, they are virtually not only judges but patrons, who, by employing young men early, give them not merely fees, but courage, practice, and the means of becoming known to others. From this extraordinary position arises the necessity of the strictest etiquette in form, and the nicest honour in conduct, which strangers are apt to ridicule, but which alone can prevent the bar from being prostrated at the feet of an inferior class. But for that barrier of rule and personal behaviour, solicitors would be enabled to assume the language and manner of dictators; and no barrister could retain at once prosperity and self-respect, except the few, whose reputations for peculiar skill are so well established, as to render it indispensable to obtain their services. It is no small proof of the spirit and intelligence of the profession, as a body, that these qualities are able to preserve them in a station of apparent superiority to those on whom they virtually depend. They frequent the places of business; they follow the judges from town to town, and appear ready to undertake any side of any cause; they sit to be looked at, and chosen, day after day, and year after year; and yet by force of professional honour and gentlemanly accomplishments, and by these alone, they continue to be respected by the men who are to decide their destiny. But no rule of etiquette, however strict, and no feelings of delicacy, however nice and generous, can prevent a man, who has connexions among attorneys, from possessing a great advantage over his equals who have none. It is natural that his friends should think highly of him, and desire to assist him, and it would be absurd to expect that he should disappoint them by refusing their briefs, when conscious of ability to do them justice. Hence a youth, born and educated in the middle ranks of life, who is able to struggle to the bar, has often a far better chance of speedy success than a gentleman of rank and family. This consideration may lessen the wonder, so often expressed, at the number of men who have risen to eminence in the law from comparatively humble stations. Without industry and talent, they could have done little; but, perhaps, with both these they might have done less, if their early fame had not been nurtured by those to whom their success was a favourite object, and whose zeal afforded them at once opportunity and stimulus which to more elevated adventurers are wanting.
Let us now examine a little the kind of talent by which success at the bar will most probably be obtained; as, from want of attention to this point much disappointment frequently springs. We will first refer to the lower order of business—that by which a young man usually becomes known and then take a glance at the Court of Nisi Prius, as it affords scope to the powers of leaders. We pass over at present that class of men who begin to practice as spe
cial pleaders, and after acquiring reputation, are called late in life with a number of clients who have learned to value them as they deserve. These have chosen a safe and honourable course; but the general reader would find little to excite his interest in a view of their silent and laborious progress. We speak rather of the business of Criminal Courts and of Sessions, in which young men generally make first trial of their powers, and of the more trivial and showy order of causes which it may sometimes be their good or ill fortune to lead.
In this description of business, it must be obvious to every one that there is no scope for the higher powers and more elegant accomplishments of the mind. But it is not so obvious, though not less true, that these are often incumbrances in the way of the advocate. This will appear, if we glance at the kind of work he has to perform, the jury whom he is to influence, or the audience by whom he is surrounded. Even if the successful performance of his duty, without regard to appearances, be his only aim, he will often find it necessary to do something more painful than merely to lay aside his most refined tastes. To succeed with the jury, he must rectify his understanding to the level of theirs: to succeed with the audience, he must necessarily go still lower; because, although there are great common themes on which an advocate may raise almost any assembly to his own level, and there are occasions in which he may touch on universal sympathies, these rarely, if ever, arise in the beginning of his professional life. On those whom he has to impress, the fine allusion, the happy conceit, the graceful sophistry, which will naturally occur to his mind, would be worse than lost. But though he may abstain from these, how is he to find, on the inspiration of the instant, the matter which ought to supply their place? Can he, accustomed to enjoy the most selicitous turns of expression, the airiest wit, the keenest satire, think in a moment of a joke sufficiently broad and stale to set the jury box and the galleries in a roar! Has he an instinctive sense of what they will admire? If not, he is wrong to wonder that he makes less impression than others, who may be better able to sacrifice the refinements which he prizes, and ought not to grudge them the success which fairly and naturally follows their exertions.