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ART. IV.-1. Cowen's Reports. Vol. vii. Albany, 1828. 2. Wendell's Reports. Vols. ii. and xiv. Albany, 1829, 1837. 3. New York Reports. Vols. xv., xx., xxiii., xxiv., xxv. New
York, 1858, 1863. 4. Howard's Reports. Vol. x. Boston, 1851. 5. Howard's Reports. Vol. xix. Washington, 1857. 6. Debates, New York State Convention. Albany, 1846. 7. Forrest Divorce Case. 2 vols. New York, 1863.
WHEN the legal profession maintains its rightful character, it is worthy of the highest honor; and that distinction is freely accorded to it in every civilized country. To show that this is founded in reason and justice, needs no elaborate arguments. None possess more knowledge than lawyers who are properly qualified for their calling ; none understand human nature better, and but few can reason so well; in short, an advocate worthy of the name, is a veritable philosopher. It matters little how he attains this standard, None value the classic languages as a means of acquiring knowledge more highly than we; but we do not hold that they are the only means, or that the mind cannot be well trained, and the intellect developed and invigorated, without them. We value them chiefly for the aid they afford in securing those results, for although they cost much time in their study they save much more in other respects. Thus, if we meet two men whose minds are equally well stored and cultivated, one acquainted with the classic languages, the other only with the vernacular, we do not hesitate to conclude that the latter has labored harder than the former, and is entitled to more credit for having surmounted serious obstacles. The natural inference is that if he had the advantages of the former he would attain to greater emi
We make these remarks in reply to those who maintain that the legal profession in America cannot boast as many great names as that of any of the principal countries of Europe, because in the former the study of the classic languages is insisted on as a necessary qualification, whereas in the latter the student need learn no more Latin or Greek than merely the technical expressions used in the profession. That this allegation has considerable weight we cannot deny, since it does not follow that if one or two, or half a dozen, are capable of triumphing over disadvantages, the generality can do so. We are by no means certain, however, that this is the chief cause of certain characteristics of the New York bar, which none denounce or deplore more than leading members of the profession ; yet we cannot overlook the influence of the classics in producing studious habits; and there never was a good advocate yet who was not studious. This brings us to the great difficulty of the present day, namely, that nine-tenths of our large army of lawyers never study in any proper sense of the term. Whatever is the cause of this is also the cause of the degeneracy complained of. To this we are to attribute the large proportion of the profession who devote themselves to the lowest unprofessional drudgery. But our object on the present occasion is to show how eminence is attained; not to point out abuses which unhappily are too obvious.
The high esteem enjoyed by lawyers, as we have said, is not that novelty which it is generally supposed to be. Whereever a high degree of civilization has existed, the profession of an advocate has been highly honorable and profitable. If we regard Demosthenes as a representative of the Athenian bar, and Cicero as a representative of the Roman bar, as we are bound to do, what opinion must we form of the state of the profession in each country? That both practised as lawyers in the modern sense of the expression, is beyond question. No people had a finer or more complete system of laws than the Athenians; and next to them in that distinction were the Romans. Both conferred the highest honors on their lawyers; hence it was that the opposition of Demosthenes to Philip was deemed more powerful than that of an army with the most formidable military weapons, and that Cicero was made consul.
On the downfall of the Roman empire jurisprudence suffered like every other science ; during the dark ages the Greek or Roman system was scarcely known. It revived gradually with the revival of letters. Until the latter were cultivated to some extent, the lawyers were ignorant; as learning improved so did the lawyers. Hence the common mistake that the benighted ancients had no trained advocates like those we have at the present day.
The country that can boast the first organization of a legal profession after the downfall of Rome is France. There are satisfactory reasons for this. Even while Rome was mistress of the world, Gaul furnished her many of her best lawyers ; so that she received the title of the nurse of advocates (nutricula causidicorum). Nor did she furnish lawyers to the Romans alone. “Eloquent Gaul," says Juvenal, "has taught the Britons to become pleaders :"
“Gallia causidicos docuit facanda Britannos."* And what the Gauls did for ancient Britain as well as for Rome, their kinsmen the Normans did for modern England. Any respectable English history will tell us that the law language of England was Norman-French for centuries, from the time of William the Conqueror to that of Edward III. For the greater part of this long period the majority of the lawyers and nearly all the judges were French. Even after the statute of Edward against the further use of the French as the law language of the country, the lawyers continued tu use it in taking their notes, and in their public reports, for nearly a century. And be it remembered that the technical language substituted for the Norman-French, and which was in use for four centuries, was the law Latin, a dialect formed by the same people; that is, the latter was quite as much Celtic as the former. Thus it is that, let us look in what direction we may, we shall find ourselves much more indebted to the Celts, especially in all matters pertaining to jurisprudence and eloquence, than most of us would be willing to admit; although there is no good reason why any of us should deny the fact. Even the Magna Charta was the work of the Norman barons and Norman clergy.
Since it is thus evident that under one name or another the Gauls have in all ages exercised a powerful influence on our jurisprudence, it will not be irrelevant to take a rapid glance at the rise and progress of the profession in France, especially as the principal subject of our present article belongs to that race, and is distinguished by several of the leading traits-foibles, perhaps, as well as virtues--for which all respectable historians, from Cæsar to Thierry, readily give them credit. The earliest public documents of any importance we find in the archives of France are the capitularies of Charlemagne, which sbow that there were lawyers of no mean pretensions even at that early age; and we find them possessing names identical with those discharging similar duties in ancient Rome, namely, causidici clamalores, jurisconsulti tutores, actores, &c. Advocates (avocats) practised regularly at
all the courts so early as the beginning of the thirteenth century; and Beaumanoir, who gives us their history, informs us that the judges were empowered by law to exclude from their tribunals all
who did not possess the prescribed amount of talent and learning.* It was, however, a power which they seldom had to exercise, for the reason that the clergy, who had then nearly all the learning to themselves, were the only persons empowered to act as advocates. That this had a salutary effect on the administration of the law, in England as well as in France, is admitted even by the most violent of the Huguenot writers. But the Church thought it did not do so well for the cause of religion, and accordingly the Council of Lateran interdicted all priests from taking part in any judicial proceedings before lay tribunals. Not long after it was found necessary to promulgate an ordinance requiring lawyers to be courteous, truthful, and disinterested ; and none were admitted to plead until they swore that they woulă "conduct themselves as prescribed. This was scarcely a month in operation when a similar ordinance was passed in England; and it was soon after followed by yet another in both countries, which enjoined that no lawyer should abandon a case, in which he had engaged to plead, on account of his not receiving as large a fee as he required. So much had the profession improved at the close of the fourteenth century, that its members belonged almost exclusively to the nobility; and it constituted an order from which were recruited all the principal offices of the kingdom, parliamentary as well as judicial. The careful student of English history need not be informed that it was not long after when lawyers began to obtain similar positions in England ; and hence it was that men like Bacon began to turn their attention to the law; and that, since his time, the bench and the bar have been adorned by such jurists as Blackstone, Lyttleton, Coke, Eldon, Mansfield, &c., &c.
We see even from these few passing remarks what a noble prestige is that of the legal profession. It is because so few appreciate it in this light that so few attain eminence. The large majority devote themselves to the law with no higher motive than to secure a livelihood. Nor can we blame them for this on reflection, since it requires genius to grasp the subject in all its bearings. One may be a useful lawyer without being able to comprehend how brilliant are
• An ordinance promulgated by Philippe le Bel, in 1299, contained these words to that effect: Ad patrocenandum non recepiatis.
the results which talent, ability, and perseverance are sure to accomplish in the profession; or if he can comprehend it, he may be conscious that he himself lacks the necessary qualifications. If we see one who is capable of realizing what the profession really is, but feels himself surrounded by a thousand difficulties, and yet has the courage not only to aim at eminence, but to persist in seeking it, through evil report and good report, in defiance of all opposition, we are perfectly justified in predicting that he will ultimately succeed; and when he does so he enables us to learn a useful and valuable lesson.
It is for the latter reason that we have chosen as the subject of our present article, Mr. Charles O'Conor, whom we regard not only as the most distinguished representative of this class now living, but also as the most distinguished representative of the New York bar. We address ourselves to this subject as we do to a book or an author, to a system of government or to the country to which it belongs—for the purpose of learning from it whatever we can for the gratification of our readers. We do not speak of him as a personal friend ; nay, we can scarcely do so as an acquaintance, since we have never had an interview with him in public or private but once. Nor have we ever sought to avail ourselves of his legal knowledge ; and we trust we shall have as little need for it in the future as we have had in the past. These re.narks we think it fair to make, although our readers are aware that it is not our habit to make living men, however distinguished, the subjects of papers in the body of our journal. The only other living jurist on whom we have written an elaborate paper is Lord Brougham, ex-High Chancellor of England, and even this was contributed to another periodical at the request of its editor. Those who know us need not be informed that the political opinions of Mr. O'Conor have had no influence in attracting us. None disagree with him more than we on the subject of slavery. We hold his views upon it as radically wrong, not to use any harsher expression. But we are not of those who find no merit in any one who is opposed to their own cherished opinions. Besides, it is not as a politician we mean to consider O'Conor, but as an advocate; if we did otherwise we should do him injustice, for he cannot be regarded as a politician; he has never been one to any further extent than to give expression to his opinions like other citizens, when called upon by his friends to do so. In one point of view this sim