Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
LVIII. To Arrianus
SOMETIMES I miss Regulus in our courts. I cannot say I deplore his loss. The man, it must be owned, highly respected his profession, grew pale with study and anxiety over it, and used to write out his speeches though he could not get them by heart. There was a practice he had of painting round his right or left eye, and wearing a white patch over one side or the other of his forehead, according as he was to plead either for the plaintiff or defendant; of consulting the soothsayers upon the issue of an action; still, all this excessive superstition was really due to his extreme earnestness in his profession. And it was acceptable enough being concerned in the same cause with him, as he always obtained full indulgence in point of time, and never failed to get an audience together; for what could be more convenient than, under the protection of a liberty which you did not ask yourself, and all the odium of the arrangement resting with another, and before an audience which you had not the trouble of collecting, to speak on at your ease, and as long as you thought proper? Nevertheless Regulus did well in departing this life, though he would have done much better had he made his exit sooner. He might really have lived now without any danger to the public, in the reign of a prince under whom he would have had no opportunity of doing any harm. I need not scruple therefore, I think, to say I sometimes miss him: for since his death the custom has prevailed of not allowing, nor indeed of asking, more than an hour or two to plead in, and sometimes not above half that time. The truth is, or advocates take more pleasure in finishing a cause than in defending it; and our judges had rather rise from the bench than sit upon it: such is their indolence, and such their indifference to the honour of eloquence and the interest of justice! But are we wiser than our ancestors? are we more equitable than the laws which grant so many hours and days and adjournments to a case? were our forefathers slow of apprehension, and dull beyond measure? and are we clearer of speech, quicker in our conceptions, or more scrupulous in our decisions, because we get over our causes in fewer hours than they took days? O Regulus! it was by zeal in your profession that you secured an advantage which is but rarely given to the highest integrity. As for myself, whenever I sit upon the bench (which is much oftener than I appear at the bar), I always give the advocates as much time as they require: for I look upon it as highly presuming to pretend to guess, before a case is heard, what time it will require, and to set limits to an affair before one is acquainted with its extent; especially as the first and most sacred duty of a judge is patience, which constitutes an important part of justice. But this, it is objected, would give an opening to much superfluous matter: I grant it may; yet is it not better to hear too much than not to hear enough? Besides, how shall you know that what an advocate has farther to offer will be superfluous, until you have heard him? But this, and many other public abuses, will be best reserved for a conversation when we meet; for I know your affection to the commonwealth inclines you to wish that some means might be found out to check at least those grievances, which would now be very difficult absolutely to remove. But to return to affairs of private concern: I hope all goes well in your family; mine remains in its usual situation. The good which I enjoy grows more acceptable to me by its continuance; as habit renders me less sensible of the evils I suffer. Farewell.