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Page 202


The courts are great institutions. We always take
our hats off in a court-room, partly from reverence for
the law, partly from respect for the custom of the place,
and partly from fear of having it knocked from our own
poll by the pole of a constable. What a dignity —
awful and sublime — seems embodied in the justice, who
figures in the reports as the alphabetical and familiar
“J.” We hear him addressed as “yer honor,” and the
spirit prostrates itself before the exponent of stern justice,
while fancy draws an imaginary sword and a pair
of huge scales in his hand — the latter of which are to
be used in weighing the exactest awards, and the former
to cut off from the side on which the surplusage remains,
as a butcher would divide a piece of beef, or a
grocer would divide a cheese. We cannot divest ourselves
of the idea that we have seen his honor eating a
hearty dinner at Parker's, and laughing like he 'd die at
a funny joke, and telling many himself with infinite
gusto, and “dipping his nose in the Gascon wine” with
stupendous relish, as though he were an excellent judge
of such things. The judicial ermine becomes, in the
light of reality, a genteel black coat, made by Armington,
and the sword and scales fade away like mystic
things seen in dreams. What a subject for contemplation
is the jury, — that “palladium of our liberty,” as some
one has called it, — which stands between the law and
trembling rascality, in dignified impartiality, to listen to
the evidence, the pleadings, and the charge, and remember
enough of the combined stupidity — if they are
capable of remembering it — to say which side shall
win. We love to look upon those devoted conscripts
of the state, with their minds made up to one point


Page 203
before they begin — that they are bored. The sheriff's
wand and the sword, that fearful implement, ready to
impale any one who may transgress, are fearful things
to contemplate; and we turn to listen to the oath so
solemnly administered to the trembling witnesses, who
hold up their right hands and bow when the sound of
the clerk's voice has ceased, just as if they had understood
what he said. But a spectacle sublime as is to be
met with in court is the examination of witnesses in
order to arrive at the truth of a case. Had this not
been so faithfully described in the report of the case of
Bardell vs. Pickwick, it would be well to speak of it at
this time. Of course, every one who goes on the stand
is a conspirator on one side or the other, and is disposed
— so great is the depravity of the human heart —
to lie; hence it is necessary for counsellors, who are
dear lovers of the truth, to browbeat and harass them
by a thousand impertinent questions, in order to worry
the scoundrels into truthfulness by making what they
say sound as little like the truth as possible. A man
goes upon the stand with an idea that he is, like Hamlet,
indifferent honest, but leaves it with a strong impression
that he combines in himself the qualities of all the
great liars that ever lived, from Ananias to Munchausen,
has robbed a grave-yard, passed counterfeit money, spent
ten years in state-prison, and deserves to go there again!
Great is justice, and her courts are sacred. We take
our shoes off, figuratively, in reverence, and move out,
shutting the door quickly, lest any of the atmosphere of
the precinct be displaced by the obtrusion of unsanctified