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what profit is it?' The other workman, who was wise, replied, “We have the profit of the reward which we receive for our labor.' It is the same in studying law. One man says, 'What does it profit me to study the law when I must forever continue it, or else forget what I have learned ?' But the other man replies, We shall be rewarded for the will that we display, even though we do
Rabbi Jochanan illustrates the same text with an apple depending from the ceiling. “The foolish man says, 'I cannot reach the fruit, it is too high'; but the wise man says, 'It may be readily obtained by placing one step upon another until thy arm is brought within reach of it.' The foolish man says, 'Only a wise man can study the entire law'; but the wise man replies, 'It is not incumbent on thee to acquire the whole.'”
When I first read these ancient passages, I wondered what these venerable Rabbis would think of the study of the law if they could rise from their long sleep of centuries and inspect one of our great law libraries.
The immense body of the law that he mentioned that was so difficult to learn in one short liftime consisted of the five books of Moses, a large part of which is merely historical, and such comments as had been made upon them by men distinguished for learning. But we have thousands of law books where these Rabbis had but one; and if all of these books should be destroyed by the torch of some modern Omar, still no one could hope to read any more than a small part of the law books that come forth daily from the teeming press, embracing annually something like 20,000 adjudicated cases, to say nothing of many text books, monographs, and other legal writing of various kinds. Tanthus, the master of Aesop, said, “I will undertake to drink up the sea, if you will give me time, but I will not promise to drink up all the rivers that run into it."
Had our mental faculties increased as books have multiplied, the situation would be more tolerable. But such is not the case. In respect of the things that were cultivated by the ancients, such as history, poetry, oratory, architecture and sculpture, they have left us much that we can hardly hope to rival, much less to surpass. The simple truth is, that though we have vastly extended the bounds of human knowledge, the human mind has made no corresponding improvement, and has perhaps lost something of its primitive vigor.
But if the ancients complained that art was long and life was short, we may well believe that they were not so profoundly impressed with a sense of utter helplessness in view of accessible knowledge as we are today, when almost any single department of learning would more than exhaust the labors of the longest life. The truth is, that our knowledge has far outrun our capacity for dealing with it. But if the law has expanded until no one can ever know more than a very small part of it, the same thing is true of most other sciences. At present, no one would pretend to know all about the science of mathematics, which consists of many separate departments more or less intimately related. The science of geology is made up of a number of allied sciences, none of which can be learned in less than a lifetime; and some of them have to be farther parcelled out in order to bring them within the grasp of individual effort. The same thing is true of medicine, chemistry and all other great sciences of modern times. But of all the branches of learning, none is more extensive or more complex than that of the law. Having its origin in the most remote times, it has gradually adapted itself in an imperfect manner, as all things human are imperfect, to all the wonderful complications of modern life. If, in the course of its development, it embodies the constant aspiration of men for an ideal system of justice, it nevertheless
bears within itself the marks of fortuitous social customs and conflicts and revolutions long past, and that otherwise have left little or no trace, but which, for the reasonable and proper understanding and interpretation of the law, must be faithfully remembered.
The vast extent and intricacy of the law ought not, however, to cool your ardor, or to paralyze your ambition. It may be that after forty or fifty years of the diligent study of the science to which you have devoted yourselves, you may have a more profound and abiding sense of ignorance than that by which you are oppressed tonight. In the writings of the Buddhists' religion, we are told that the last enemy we have to conquer is ignorance. Yes, that is the last foe, the one that meets us at our entrance upon life, that attends us at every step, in whose giant shadow we march to the grave, and against which we fight, if we fight at all, unprevailing. But such is one of the ineradicable evils of almost any intellectual career upon which you may enter; and it is worse than useless to complain of those limitations that are inseparable from life itself.
If you cannot reach perfection, you may, at least, overcome many difficulties; you can make yourself useful in your day and generation, and may, perchance, achieve distinction. In order to attain to any tolerable degree of success, it is required that you shall devote yourselves to a life of unrelenting study and labor; but all the rewards of an honorable ambition are before you. You will be brought to the highest test of your qualifications by men in your own calling, who are emulous of success and who may be as well or better equipped for the struggle than yourselves, and by the judges of courts, who will review at leisure the acts that you were compelled to perform on the spur of the moment. But it will not do to rely on the inspiration of the moment. It is the habit of doing that, that has led to the discomfiture and the failure of many lawyers who were distinguished for brilliancy. It is true that the law is not, and can never be made, an exact science; but, nevertheless, it has many fixed principles that are as inexorable as the law of gravitation itself; and if you do not know these, your peril in every emergency must be extreme; for though there are many ways of being wrong, there is only one way of being right, and the chances of accuracy in a random guess must be exceedingly remote.
Nor will it do to make a cover for our ignorance by saying that the law is so extensive that the most indefatigable students, after years of study, admit that any. thing like a tolerable acquaintance with its infinite ramifications is quite out of the question; for the same thing is true, as I have said, of all the branches of learning in which intelligent men contend for supremacy. Con
. sider how little we know of our native language, which we began to lisp in our earliest infancy. It is said to contain more than 150,000 words, to say nothing of a vast multitude of words that are sometimes used, though they are not fully naturalized in our tongue; and yet Shakespeare, who used more English words than any other writer, used no more than 15,000, while ordinary persons use only about 3,000 in the course of a lifetime. There is no part of the law a knowledge of which will not be valuable to you, but there is a large part of it for which you will never have any practical use. If you do not know all the law, you will not have to contend with anyone who knows it all by heart; for such
phenomenon does not exist in any of the five great continents or the islands of the world. The judge on the bench is presumed to know the law; he may look the embodiment of wisdom; and his learning may, indeed,
a greatly exceed your own; and yet, if you have duly consulted your books, you may know much more about the law of your case than he does.
One of the faculties that is of supreme importance alike to the practicing lawyer and judge is that of intelligent discrimination, which can only be acquired in its highest degree by long and patient study. The law, it is truly said, consists of a series of rules and exceptions ; and, while exceptions that have no rational foundation are to be frowned upon and rejected, nevertheless, great care is to be exercised in order to prevent the immolation of justice at the dictation of rules that are only intended for general use, and not for universal application. A keen sense of justice, a disciplined discrimination between what is right and what is wrong, a prudent regard for public utility, will enable you to confine general rules to their proper sphere of usefulness, without corrupting the logic or destroying the symmetry of jurisprudence. Man is not made for the law, but the law is made for man; and when it is so adjusted to human affairs as best to subserve the purposes of right, reason and justice, its highest utility as an instrument for the promotion of peace and for the advancement of civilization is best attained. On the other hand, when the law is found to consist in arbitrary and technical rules that are applied without a wise discretion, when it degenerates into empty forms and abounds in barren quibbles, it must soon fall into merited contempt. It is well enough to revere what is ancient; but all things change, and things that are no longer suited to present needs should be abandoned. Inconsiderable innovations involve many dangers that cannot be foreseen; yet, that can hardly be called an innovation that brings the known and fixed principles of the law more nearly into harmony with the daily needs of a social life that is always changing whether we wake or sleep. One of the most common of the mistakes of a young lawyer, and one into which older lawyers often fall, is in classifying cases that are under consideration, by their most striking fea