Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

unto, while the sheep flies for defence in weather, he is sure to lose part of his fleece.

LORD Bacon.

Works, vol. i. p. 377.8. In proportion as we have deviated from the plain rule of our nature, and turned our reason against itself, in that proportion have we increased the follies and miseries of mankind.

The more deeply we penetrate into the labyrinth of art, the further we find ourselves from those ends for which we entered into it. This has happened in almost every species of artificial society, and in all times. We found, or we thought we found, an inconvenience in having every man the judge of his own cause. Therefore judges were set up, at first with discretionary powers. But it was soon found a miserable slavery to have our lives and properties precarious, and hanging upon the arbitrary determination of any one man or set of men.

We flew to laws as a remedy for this evil. · By these we persuaded ourselves we might know. wuh some certainty upon what ground we stood. But lo! differences arose upon the sense and interpretation of these laws. Thus we were brought back to our old incertitude. New laws were made to expound the old ; and new difficulties arose upon the new laws; as words multiplied, opportunities of cavilling upon them multiplied also. Then recourse was had to notes, comments, glosses, reports, responsa prudentum, learned readings. Eagle stood against Eagle : authority was set up against authority. Some were allured by the modern, others reverenced the

antient.

antient. The new were more enlightened, the old more venerable. Some adopted the comment, others stuck to the text. The confusion increased, the mist thickened, until it could be discovered no longer what was allowed or forbidden, what things were in property and what common.

In this uncertainty, (uncertain even to the professors, an Egyptian darkness to the rest of mankind) the contending parties felt themselves more eff at ally ruined by the delay than they could have been by che injustice of any

decision. Our inheritances are become a prize for disputation; and disputes and litigations are become an inheritance.

The professors of artificial law have always walked hand in hand with the professors of aruficial theology. As their end, in confoundiig the reason of man, and abridging his natural freedom, is exactly the saine, they have adjusted the means to that end in a way entirely similar. The divine thunders out his anathemas with more roise and terror against the breach of one of his positive in-, stitutions, or the neglect of some of his trivial forms, than against the neglect or breach of those ducies, and commandments of natural religion, which by these forms and institutions he pretends to enforce. The lawyer has his forms and his positive institu-tions too, and he adheres to them wich a veneracion altogether as religious. The worst cause cannot be so prejudicial to the litigant, as his advocate's or attorney's ignorance or neglect of these forins. Ą law-suit is like an ill managed dispute, in which the first object is soon out of sight, and the parties end upon a marter whoily foreign to that on which

they

[ocr errors]

they began. In a law-suit the question is, who has a right to a certain house or farın? And this question is daily determined, not upon the evidences of the right, but upon-the observance or neglect of some forms of words in use with the gentlemen of the robe, about which there is even amongst themselves such a disagreement, that the most experienced veterans in the profession can never be positively assured that they are not mistaken.

Let us expostulate with these learned sages, these priests of the sacred temple of justice. Are we judges of our own property? By no means. You then, who are initiated into the mysteries of the blindfold Goddess, inform ine whether I have a right to eat the bread I have earned by the hazard of my life or the sweat of my brow? The grave doctor answers me in the affirmative. The reverend serjeant replies in the negative. The learned barrister reasons upon one side and upon the other, and concludes nothing. What shall I do? An antagonist starts up and presses me hard. I enter the field, and retain these three persons to defend my cause. My cause, which two fariners from the plough could have decided in half an hour, takes the court twenty years. I am however at the end of my labour, and have in reward for all my toil and vexation, a judgment in my favour. But hold –a sagacious commander in the adversary's army has found a flaw in the proceeding. My triumph is turned into mourning. I have used or, instead of and, or some mistake, small in appearance, but dreadful in its consequences, and have the whole of my success quash

ed

ed in a writ of error. I remove my suit*; I shift from court to court; I fly from equity to law, and from law to equity; equal uncertainty attends ine every where : and a mistake, in which I had no share, decides at once upon my liberty and property, sending me from a court to a prison, and adjudging my family to beggary and famine. I am innocent, gentlemen, of the darkness ard uncertainty of your science. I never darkened it with absurd and contradictory notions, nor confounded it with chicane and sophistry. You have excluded me from any share in the conduct of my own cause ; the science was too deep for me ; I acknowledged it ; but it was too deep even for yourselves : you have made the way so intricate, that you are yourselves lost in it: you err, and you punish me for your errors.

The delay of the law, you will tell me, is a trite topic; and which of its abuses have not been too severely felt not to be often complained of? A man's property is to serve for the purposes of his support ; and therefore to delay a deterinination concerning that, is the worst injustice, because it cuts off the very end and purpose for which I applied to the judicature for relief. Quite contrary in case of a man's life, there the determi. nation can hardly be too much protracted. Mistakes in this case are as often fallen into as in

any other, and if the judgment is sudden, the mistakes are the most irretrievable of all others. Of this the gentlemen of the robe are themselves sensible, and they have brought it into a maxim. De morte

hominis

I

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

hominis nulla est cunctatio longa. But what could have induced them to reverse the rules, and to contradict that reason which dictated them, I am utterly unable to guess. A point concerning property, which ought, for the reasons I just mentioned, to be most speedily decided, frequently exercises the wit of successions of lawyers, for many generations. Multa virúm volvens durando se tula vincit. But the question concerning a man's life, that great question in which no delay ought to be counted tedious, is commonly determined in twenty-four hours at the utmost. It is not to be wondered at, that injustice and absurdity should be inseparable companions.

Ask of politicians the end for which laws were originally designed, and they will answer, that the laws were designed as a protection for the poor and weak, against the oppression of the rich and powerful. But surely no pretence can be so ridiculous; a man might as well tell me he has taken off my load, because he has changed the burtben. If the poor man is not able to support his suit, according to the vexatious and expensive manner established in civilized countries, has not the rich as great an advantage over him as the strong has over the weak in a state of nature ?

A good parson once said, that where mystery begins, religion ends. Cannot I say, as truly at least, of human laws, that where mystery begias, justice ends ? It is hard to say, whether the doctors of law or divinity have made the greater

advances in the lucrative business of mystery. The

lawyers,

« AnteriorContinuar »