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34. Law; Parents!! Grrrr!!
Johnson: "Why, Sir, I am a man
of the world. I live in
the world, and I take in some degree, the colour of the world as
it moves along. Your father is a Judge in a remote part of the
island, and all his notions are taken from the old world.
Besides, Sir, there must always be a struggle between a father
and son, while one aims at power and the other at independence."
I [Boswell] said, I was afraid my father would force me to be a
lawyer. Johnson: "Sir, you need not be afraid of his
forcing you to be a laborious practising lawyer; that is not in
his power. For the proverb says, 'One man may lead a horse to
the water, but twenty cannot make him drink.' He may be
displeased that you are not what he wishes you to be; but that
displeasure will not go far. If he insists only on your having
as much law is necessary for a man of property, and then
endeavours to get you into Parliament, he is quite in the
I mentioned that a gay friend had advised me against being a
lawyer, because I should be excelled by plodding blockheads.
Johnson: "Why, Sir, in the formulary and statutory part
a plodding blockhead may excel; but in the ingenious and
rational part of it a plodding blockhead can never excel."
Boswell: "But what do you think of supporting a cause
which you know to be bad?" Johnson: "Sir, you do not
know it to be good or bad until the judge determines it. I have
said that you are to state facts fairly; so that your thinking,
or what you call knowing, a cause to be bad, must be from
reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments to be weak
and inconclusive. But, Sir, that is not enough. An argument
which does not convince yourself, may convince the Judge to which
you urge it; and if it does convince him, why, then, Sir, you
are wrong and he is right. It is his business to judge; and you
are not to be confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad,
but to say all you can for your client, and then hear the Judge's
opinion." Boswell: "But, Sir, does not affecting a warmth
when you have no warmth, and appearing to be clearly of one
opinion, when you are in reality of another opinion, does not
such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some
danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in
the intercourse with friends?" Johnson: "Why no, Sir.
Everybody knows you are paid for affecting warmth for your
client; and it is, therefore, properly no dissimulation: the
moment you come from the bar you resume your usual behaviour.
Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the bar into the
common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for
tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble on his hands when
he should walk on his feet."
88. Law; Ouch!!!
...much enquiry having been made concerning a gentleman, who had
quitted a company where Johnson was, and no information being
obtained; at last Johnson observed, that 'he did not care to
speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the
gentleman was an attorney'.
"As to precedents, to be sure they will increase in course of
time; but the more precedents there are, the less occasion is
there for law; that is to say, the less occasion is there for
"Sir, it is wrong to stir up law-suits; but when once it is
certain that a law-suit is to go on, there is nothing wrong in a
lawyer's endeavouring that he shall have the benefit, rather than
"The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human
experience for the benefit of the public."
256. Justice; Law
He talked of going to Streatham that night. Taylor:
"You'll be robbed if you do; or you must shoot a highwayman.
Now I would rather be robbed than do that; I would not shoot a
highwayman." Johnson: "But I would rather shoot him in
the instant when he is attempting to rob me, than afterwards
swear against him at the Old-Bailey, to take away his life, after
he has robbed me. I am surer I am in the right in the once case
than in the other. I may be mistaken as to the man, when I
swear: I cannot be mistaken, if I shoot him in the act.
Besides, we feel less reluctance to take away a man's life, when
we are heated by the injury, than to do it at a distance of time
by an oath, after we have cooled." Boswell: "So, Sir,
you would rather act from the motive of private passion, than
that of publick advantage." Johnson: "Nay, Sir, when I
shoot the highwayman I act from both." Boswell: "Very
well, very well. --There is no catching him." Johnson:
"At the same time, one does not know what to say. For perhaps
one may, a year after, hang himself from uneasiness for having
shot a man. Few minds are fit to be trusted with so great a
thing." Boswell: "Then, Sir, you would not shoot him?"
Johnson: "But I might be vexed afterwards for that
"This you must enlarge on, when speaking to the Committee. You
must not argue there as if you were arguing in the schools;
close reasoning will not fix their attention; you must say the
same thing over and over again, in different words. If you say
it but once, they miss it in a moment of inattention. It is
unjust, Sir, to censure lawyers for multiplying words when they
argue; it is often necessary for them to multiply
"Sir, a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of
the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his
opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice
or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.
Consider, sir; what is the purpose of the courts of justice? It
is, that every man may have his cause fairly tried, by men
appointed to try causes. A lawyer is not to tell what he knows
to be a false deed; but he is not to usurp the province of the
jury and of the judge, and determine what shall be the effect of
evidence -- what shall be the result of legal argument. As it
rarely happens that is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers are a
class of the community, who, by study and experience, have
acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying
to the points of issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to
do for his client all that his client might fairly do for
himself, if he could. If, by a superiority of attention, of
knowledge, of skill, and a better method of communication, he has
the advantage of his adversary, it is an advantage to which he is
entitled. There must always be some advantage, on one side or
the other; and it is better that advantage should be had by
talents, than by chance. If lawyers were to undertake no causes
till they were sure they were just, a man might be precluded
altogether from a trial of his claim, though, were it judicially
examined, it might be a very just claim."
Boswell: Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides
Of 'Polyphilus': "...he soon discovered, by considering the
fortunes of lawyers, that preferment was not to be got by
acuteness, learning, and eloquence."
Johnson: Rambler #19 (May 22, 1750)
1,570. Battle of the Sexes; Law
"Nature has given women so much power that the law has very
wisely given them little."
Johnson: Letter to Dr. Taylor
"There ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey."
1,862. Government; Justice; Law
"To embarrass justice by multiplicity of laws, or to hazard it by
confidence in judges, seem to be the opposite rocks on which all
civil institutions have been wrecked, and between which
legislative wisdom has never yet found an open passage."
Johnson: The King of Prussia (1756)