Page images
PDF
EPUB

little of those who do not lean upon capital ; the merchant has no great respect except for the results of trade; the mechanic is envious of one who is not obliged to toil with his hands. So, from all these classes, there is a continual undercurrent of chaffing of the professional men. They are only tolerated because and when they are indispensable. The clergyman is called in to scare away the terrors of sickness and death; the physician is summoned to cure the pains and ills of life; the lawyer is retained to rescue estates, to make wills, to defend against criminal accusations. Quite in proportion to the carelessness and indifference, or the hostility and envy, with which the learned men have been regarded, are the slavishness of the dependence and the implicitness of trust which are shown when the learned men become necessary or convenient. A man who is or imagines himself dying forgets the sport he has made of the clergyman's long face, sober dress, solemn ways, set speech, and quarrels with other sectarians, and has him in at once to pray over him. Even if he has neglected and scoffed at him all his life, he is pretty sure to want him toward the last. So, when a man has the gout or the stomach-ache, he forgets what he has merrily said about calomel and high dilutions, the fatality of medical councils, the appropriateness of the doctor's heading the funeral procession, and the like, and shrieks for the doctor in a roaring hurry. And so when a man wants a contract or á will drawn, or to sue, or to defend a suit, or to get rid of his wife, or to prevent his wife's getting rid of him, or to rescue his own estate, or to capture somebody else's, he retains legal counsel, and forgets all about his long speeches and long bills, his wig and his gown, and his green bag, his willingness to serve the first paying comer, and his zeal, which, like the affliction of the hired mourner in the East, is at the service of his client without much regard to his deserts. Men must have somebody to laugh at and abuse, and they do not always restrict themselves to the learned professions in this regard. There are certain tradespeople who serve a like purpose; as for example, undertakers and plumbers, who are avoided as much as possible, but who must be sent for in a hurry when the waterpipes burst, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain.

The Law and the Lawyer have oftener been the subject of animadversion and ridicule on the stage than any other class and profession. Perhaps they have not suffered more abuse in general literature than the clergy, but the rascally attorney has always been a favorite character in the drama. Perhaps the playwrights, themselves originally an ostracised class, desired to bring down a powerful class to their own level. The lawyer is better game than the physician, for it requires the wit of a Molière to make any thing of the latter; but the lawyer comes in play so handily that the vulgar playwright, supplemented by a vulgar actor, never fails to bring down the house by caricaturing an attorney. It must be admitted that a virtuous attorney would be of little interest on the stage. He is nothing but a lay-figure, even in Hogarth's “Marriage à la Mode.” We are all familiar with the conventional attorney of the ephemeral modern drama. We must not waste our time over him. But we will review the more respectable dramatists, and their method of portraying our subject.

In like manner I shall not try to keep abreast with the absurdities which the crowd of modern light novelists and magazine-writers have endeavored to make pass for law. There are, however,

, occasional writings of this sort clever enough to deserve a passing allusion without warranting an

a

extended quotation or commentary. For example, the most graphic account of the deliberations of a jury on which there are eleven obstinate men, that has ever come under my notice, is to be found in a story in “The Century” magazine for November, 1881, entitled “Eli.” The queer characters constituting the jury are admirably depicted; and the various arguments which the eleven brought to bear upon the one are narrated with a knowledge of human nature that led me for a moment to suspect that the author is a lawyer, or has sat on a "hung” jury. Especially amusing is the device of the eleven to worry out the one by allowing ten to sleep, and another to argue with him, by turns, all night. But after all, this fine image with head of gold has feet of clay. What is the evidence upon which the eleven are so ready to convict the prisoner of robbery? The offence charged is the robbery of a bank-vault, the lock of which is found broken, but which experts say was first unlocked. Only two persons have keys, – the president, and the prisoner (who had recently taken the cashier's place, and performed his duties in his absence for a short time). On the night of the robbery, the prisoner, who was a fisherman, was seen at one

.

o'clock coming across the fields from the direction of the bank, with a large wicker basket slung over his shoulders. He said he had been eelspearing. The president swore that he himself did not rob the bank. This is all the implicating testimony reported. None of the plunder traced to the prisoner, no sudden affluence, no suspicious conduct, no confession or significant admission. The prisoner proved a good reputation. This was the evidence on which eleven men proposed to convict their reputable townsman! On such a case a jury might possibly disagree, but it would be eleven to one the other way. Really, the gifted author should have taken legal counsel before he wrote this clever story, just as Bulwer did before he wrote “Night and Morning."

Two other recent writers of fiction in magazine serials have tried their hands at depicting courtscenes : namely, Miss Woolson, in “Anne,” in

Harper's;” and Mr. Howells, in “A Modern Instance,” in “The Century." Mr. Howells is cautious enough, however, not to describe a trial, but contents himself with opening a default in a divorce

a case. The rascally plaintiff — husband, of course

runs away, and institutes a suit in Indiana of course, although it might as well have been in

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »