Tuesday, September 20, 2011

James Wilson, On Law Itself

“By this time, you are at no loss to discover my sentiments concerning the studies which a lawyer ought to pursue, and the accomplishments which he ought to acquire. He ought to know men and societies of men, in every state and in every relation in which they can be placed: in every state and in every relation in which men or societies of men can be placed, he ought to know what appertains to justice—to comprehensive morality. From the fountains of justice, we have seen, the civil laws should spring. To that fountain, ever full and ever flowing, let the student of the law intrepidly ascend: he will then, with ease, with pleasure, and with certainty, follow the meandering courses of its numerous streams.”


“Law, studied and practised as a science founded in principle, is among the most delightful of occupations: followed as a trade depending merely upon precedent, it becomes and continues a drudgery, severe and insupportable. One, who follows it in this manner, lives in a state of continual distrust and alarm. To such a one, every thing new is something odious: for he has been taught to approve of things, not because they are proper or right, but because he has seen them before. To such a one, the least deviation from even the most unessential form, appears equally fatal with the greatest departure from the most important principles: for they agree in the only circumstance, by which he can distinguish either: they are not within the sphere of his practice. Tied to the centre of precedent, he treads, for life, the same dull, and small, and uniform circle around it, without daring to view or to enjoy a single object on either side.

“How very different is the situation of him, who ranges, not without rule, but without restraint, in the rich, the variegated, and the spacious fields of science! To his observation and research every thing is open: he is accustomed to examine and to compare the appearances and the realities of things; to contemplate their beauty, to investigate their utility, and to admire the wonderful harmony, with which beauty and utility coincide. To him an object is not dangerous because it is new: he measures it by the correct standard of his principles: he discovers what purposes it is fitted to answer, and what other purposes it is fitted to destroy: he learns when to use it, and when to lay the use of it aside. The discovery of one improvement leads him to the discovery of another: the discovery of that other leads him, in delightful progression, to another still.”

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