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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Lawyer

By Joseph Story (1779–1845)

[Born in Marblehead, Mass., 1779. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1845. Inaugural Discourse at Harvard, 1829.—Miscellaneous Writings. 1835.]

THE PERFECT lawyer, like the perfect orator, must accomplish himself for his duties by familiarity with every study. It may be truly said that to him nothing, that concerns human nature or human art, is indifferent or useless. He should search the human heart, and explore to their sources the passions, and appetites, and feelings of mankind. He should watch the motions of the dark and malignant passions, as they silently approach the chambers of the soul in its first slumbers. He should catch the first warm rays of sympathy and benevolence, as they play around the character, and are reflected back from its varying lines. He should learn to detect the cunning arts of the hypocrite, who pours into the credulous and unwary ear his leperous distilment. He should for this purpose make the master-spirits of all ages pay contribution to his labors. He should walk abroad through nature, and elevate his thoughts, and warm his virtues, by a contemplation of her beauty, and magnificence, and harmony. He should examine well the precepts of religion, as the only solid basis of civil society; and gather from them, not only his duty, but his hopes; not merely his consolations, but his discipline and his glory. He should unlock all the treasures of history for illustration, and instruction, and admonition. He will thus see man as he has been, and thereby best know what he is. He will thus be taught to distrust theory, and cling to practical good; to rely more upon experience than reasoning; more upon institutions than laws; more upon checks to vice than upon motives to virtue. He will become more indulgent to human errors; more scrupulous in means, as well as in ends; more wise, more candid, more forgiving, more disinterested. If the melancholy infirmities of his race shall make him trust men less, he may yet learn to love man more.

Nor should he stop here. He must drink in the lessons and the spirit of philosophy. I do not mean that philosophy described by Milton, as

  • “A perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
  • Where no crude surfeit reigns;”
  • but that philosophy, which is conversant with men’s business and interests, with the policy and the welfare of nations; that philosophy which dwells not in vain imaginations and Platonic dreams, but which stoops to life, and enlarges the boundaries of human happiness; that philosophy which sits by us in the closet, cheers us by the fireside, walks with us in the fields and highways, kneels with us at the altars, and lights up the enduring flame of patriotism.