Friday, September 07, 2007

Gulliver's Travels

I've been debating whether or not I should post this, and have decided that I will. Let me preface it by saying that there are many, many really great lawyers, I have known several great God-fearing lawyers, and I am of the strong opinion that we need many more Christian lawyers and would in fact encourage Christians to go into law. That being said, here is a passage from Gulliver's Travels (published in 1726), that, if nothing else, I think hits home the fact that there is nothing new under the sun. Gulliver is talking to his houyhnhnm master about law in Britain:

I assured his honour, that law was a science wherein I had not much conversed, further than by employing advocates, in vain, upon some injustices that had been done me. However, I would give him all the satisfaction I was able.

I said there was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves.

For example, if my neighbour hath a mind to my cow, he hireth a lawyer to prove that he ought to have my cow from me. I must then hire another to defend my right; it being against all rules of law that any man should be allowed to speak for himself. Now in this case, I who am the true owner, lie under two great disadvantages. First, my lawyer being practised almost from his cradle in defending falshood; is quite out of his element when he would be an advocate for justice, which as an office unnatural, he always attempts with great aukwardness, if not with ill-will. The second disadvantage is, that my lawyer must proceed with great caution: or else, he will be reprimanded by the judges, and abhorred by his brethren, as one who would lessen the practice of the law. And therefore, I have but two methods to preserve my cow. The first is, to gain over my adversary's lawyer with a double fee; who will then betray his client, by insinuating that he hath justice on his side. The second way is, for my lawyer to make my cause appear as unjust as he can; by allowing the cow to belong to my adversary; and this, if it be skilfully done, will certainly bespeak the favour of the bench.

Now, your honour is to know, that these judges are persons appointed to decide all controversies of property, as well as for the tryal of criminals; and picked out from the most dextrous lawyers, who are grown old or lazy: and having been byassed all their lives against truth and equity, lie under such a fatal necessity of favouring fraud, perjury and oppression; that I have known some of them to have refused a large bribe from the side where justice lay, rather than injure the faculty, by doing any thing unbecoming their nature or their office.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.

In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent and tedious in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose. For instance, in the case already mentioned: they never desire to know what claim or title my adversary hath to my cow; but whether the said cow were red or black; her horns long or short; whether she were milked at home or abroad; what diseases she is subject to, and the like. After which, they consult precedents, adjourn the cause, from time to time, and in ten, twenty, or thirty years come to an issue.

It is likewise to be observed, that this society hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falshood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field, left me by my ancestors for six generations, belong to me, or to a stranger three hundred miles off.

In the tryal of persons accused for crimes against the State, the method is much more short and commendable: the judge first sends to sound the disposition of those in power; after which he can easily hang or save the criminal, strictly preserving all the forms of law.

Here my master interposing, said it was a pity, that creatures endowed with such prodigious abilities of mind as these lawyers, by the description I gave of them must certainly be, were not rather encouraged to be instructors of others in wisdom and knowledge. In answer to which, I assured his honour, that in all points out of their own trade, they were usually the most ignorant and stupid generation among us, the most despicable in common conversation, avowed enemies to all knowledge and learning; and equally disposed to pervert the general reason of mankind, in every other subject of discourse, as in that of their own profession.


Anonymous Alice said...

Wow. What an eloquent, cutting indictment. Just as - I won't say true, but descriptive - explanation today as then.

But I must ask: Swift turned his pen on all comers. Didn't he have some uncomplimentary things to say about doctors?

5:18 PM  
Blogger Chris Emlyn said...

Perhaps in some of his other writings. The only negative thing said about doctors in Gulliver's Travels (Gulliver himself was a surgeon) that I picked up on is in the third portion where Swift ridicules the science of his time by describing an academic center in which researchers pursue useless goals such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers and converting human waste back into its former components. Also in the center was a physician who thought he could cure "cholick" by either injecting or suctioning out air from the GI tract with a bellows. He didn't actually cure any patients, but did kill a dog he was experimenting on.

8:38 PM  

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