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INFLUENCE OF THE PULPIT AND THE BAR.
DELIVERED AT NEW HAVEN,
The Phi Beta Kappa Society, of Yale College,
AT THEIR ANNIVERSARY MEETING,
JULY 30, 1851,
By DANIEL LORD, LL.D.
S. S. CHATTFRTON, PRINTER, 136 WATER STREET,
One door above Pine St.
To DANIEL LORD, ESQUIRE:
Dear Sir,--At a Meeting of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, held on the evening of July 30th, the subscribers were appointed a Committee to present to you the thanks of the Society for your Oration delivered to them on that occasion, and to request a copy for the press. We beg leave to assure you, sir, that a compliance with this request would afford high gratification to your brethren
of the Phi Beta Kappa.
Very truly and respectfully yours,
Yale College, EDWARD STRONG.
July 31, 1851.
O R A T I O N
Gentlemen of the Society,
and Respected Friends.
No educated man, looking back in his maturer years to the institutions from which he derived his habits of learning and means of knowledge, can withhold the expression of his gratitude. He feels it a duty which he owes to these institutions to answer every call which they fitly make, whether to exhibit the effects of' their training, or to manifest to the associates of his studies a filial and fraternal devotion. It is a loyal homage, our act of allegiance to the sovereignty of learning.
In obedience to such sentiments the members of this society have annually presented to their brethren and the friends of learning a willing tribute.
To select an appropriate topic on these occasions is not indeed easy. Should a topic of learning be selected, who does not see, that in the presence of the very learned he can hope to communicate nothing which they do not already know? Should some topic or polite letters be presented, who would not feel that he was walking into the very province of cultivated criticism? Should a subject purely professional be thought of, the exclusiveness of its application, and the limit of its interest render it forbidding.
Still, in the aspect of a learned and polite assembly, there is a cheering encouragement. Here is the disposition to be, pleased, the intelligence to appreciate a kind or generous motive, and above all, the moderated judgment, always the companion of knowledge.
Thus encouraged, you are now presented with a brief view of "The influence of the pulpit and the bar out of their professional spheres." It is general in its interest,--brings before you the traits of two bodies of educated men, most influential,--with whom we are most constantly and intimately connected, and whose influence, although really tending the same way, is not always thought to be
co-incident. It brings you to the view of what is venerable in office, profound in learning, sound in the wisdom of life, and lofty in intellectual, social, and political elevation.
In every social organization, enjoying a moderate liberty, the opinions of the community govern it. They promote or hinder its general welfare, its advancement or delay in learning, refinement and morals. Those who control the formation and progress of opinions are really the rulers of the community,--are its nobles and princes. It is not the magistrate with the lictors and fasces, nor the soldier with arms and standards, it is not they by whom the overt acts of power are exhibited, who really govern. Theirs is only a delegated power. They act according to the course which the opinions of the community point out. They are but the weapons--at most, the hands, the arms. The opinions, the thoughts and feelings of the community are the understanding, the heart, the will from which weapon, hand and arm take their direction and derive their force.
In forming the opinions of the intelligent community of our country, the clergy and the bar are manifestly the most powerful, constant, and direct in their agency. It is their duty to acquire knowledge, to be learned. To use it in the directing and persuading of others, is their especial office. The learned professors of medicine yield not to these their brethren in the duty of knowledge. They do indeed cultivate a wide field, full of the action of great and mysterious causes, they acquire a knowledge fitted to enlarge the understanding, elevate the heart and enrich the soul. But theirs is not the office of persuading or instructing the masses. This falls to other hands. While , therefore, in now considering the operation on society of their educated brethren, we pass them by, it is with no light esteem of their vocation, no depreciation of the eminence of their pursuits, no undervaluing of the excellence of their qualities.
It is our purpose to avoid treating the clergyman professionally, as a preacher of the Gospel; and not to discuss the advocate, as a winner or causes or a minister of private controversies; we take each out of his professional circle and propose to notice his influence on society as an educated man, under the peculiar traits and influences which grow out of his particular pursuits. We propose to examine this influence on political opinions, to inquire into some of its operations on popular delusions, to mark its bearings on the general intelligence of the people, and to look at the relations of these professions to literature and science. It would be unfair to compare the two professions as antagonist, or to treat them in any way of contrast. Both of them are bodies of light and heat, in their several orbits diffusing brightness and a genial warmth, separately indeed, yet not without harmonious conjunction. Nor are we to present only the individuals who stand as the few illustrious superiors or their body; we are to take the ordinary model of each profession, embracing the traits which are in a greater or less degree general and common.
In commencing this examination, we properly refer ourselves to the modes by which the two professions acquire the knowledge called for in their peculiar offices.
It is true or both, that they seek such knowledge, not by observation, nor by experiment, nor by mere meditation, as do those who walk in the ways of physical and mathematical science. Such knowledge the possessor feels himself able to prove by repeating the meditation, by trying the experiment; it gives him the idea of an intrinsic power, tending to a high self-esteem. But, the men
whom we are considering acquire their principles from historic and traditionary sources.--Both must modestly sit down in patience to receive the thoughts of their superiors in power, in intelligence, in rank, and in the scale of being.
They both seek knowledge from antiquity; both begin by listening to the teachings of other intelligences; and the knowledge of each is a derived, and, therefore, should be a modest knowledge. The pulpit scholar enters upon, as he continues his pursuit of knowledge, by listening to the oracles of Eternal Truth, truth antient as the everlasting hills, broad and deep as the unfathomed ocean. He walks in the company of saints and martyrs. He waits upon the men of antient days as well as of modern times. The knowledge he seeks is the knowledge of God; and the knowledge he seeks of man is chiefly that whereby he is related to eternity. He seeks less the knowledge of man as operated on or affected by man and by his material and temporal interests. He of the bar also begins with seeking to know what his superiors, what princes, rulers, governors, oracles to him, have declared and established. In this pursuit he needs to take into his hands the lights of Justice, Public Policy, and discriminating Truth. If he may not aspire to walk with saints and martyrs, yet he seeks converse with antient and modern philosophers and sages. He asks the teachings of the historic muse. The knowledge he seeks is of the relation of man to man, of man's public necessities, his private interests and relations, his prevailing passions. This knowledge must be begun and continually rectified by a wisdom higher than his own experience, and written down for his guidance by the wise of antecedent generations. Without historic experience, to him all will be dark.
The pulpit and the bar, therefore, so far as they come up to the measure of their callings, must be learned, learned in a derived, a historic and traditionary knowledge, and therefore, a knowledge teaching moderation and submission.
But there is this difference between them, growing out of' the character of their pursuits and the subjects of their studies. While to the pulpit scholar there is an ultimate certainty which must be supposed in the oracles of God, yet, in the interpreting and understanding of them, he is subject to all the diversities which can spring from the passions, the prejudices and the darkness to which the fall of man has subjected his mind and his heart; and in this diversity of understanding and interpretation, there is on earth no final judge or interpreter. The lawyer also, if not in his early studies, yet in his progressive pursuit and use of knowledge, falls in with great opposition of opinions, prompted by opposing passions and interests. But to him there is the living Judge and Legislator; to him, there is an ultimate and not distant appeal; a voice to be invoked with power to rule the strife ;--which makes that to be law which it decides, whatever may have been his previous doubts and speculations. His controversies, therefore, are necessarily transitory, his speculations necessarily become practical and are tested; there is a decision to be had; and his controversies are conducted as those which must end in a submitting to another's judgment. The contests of the bar, therefore, never can be internecine wars. But with the clergy, not only is there no common arbiter, but in addition, there is a sacred subject. The voice they hear, or think they hear, is the voice of God, and they may not misinterpret it. Seeking then to know it according to their best and most instructed knowledge, if they still differ from one another, that difference is irreconcilable and earth has no judge to utter a decision. The contention, too, is not as to human but divine truths. Hence comes a tendency to unyielding dogmatism, interminable strife; and is it too much to say that the unyielding character of the clergy has shown itself in almost every age?
The practical effect of this difference has been to render the bar the more practical counsellors of society on its general interests; while at times, the clergy, it must be acknowledged, by their unyielding, uncompromising firmness, have produced glorious men who have made their age illustrious. The pulpit and the bar have also, and that not seldom, united their influence for the establishment of order, law and religion. The practical spirit of the one has established what the uncompromising determination of the other had demanded for civil and religious Liberty. Scotland, Switzerland, England, and our own country, each present their historic records, and of this truth are immortal witnesses.
This difference does not cease to disclose itself. In our own days, the abstract principle of human freedom, while it has been treated by the bar as a principle to be admitted only in subordination to the existence of organized states, to public leagues, to the general welfare and to the decisions of high tribunals, has by the pulpit, to some extent at least, been dealt with as a matter known by the light of Heaven and declared by the voice of God; and no sense of human fallibility, no listening to the teachings of history, no consideration of what is practicable or impracticable persuades to a pause or leads to a submission.
Nevertheless, this unyielding adherence by the pulpit to its opinions, imparts to it as a body great influence. Force and permanency always attract popular admiration. The cataract which has poured down its floods from the first of days, the mountain which has lifted up its peak forever, always overpower, by a sense of their sublimity. Boldness in announcing opinions, and firmness in adhering to them, not only operate as marks of sincerity and proofs of truth, but carry along the sympathies of men; especially, is this true of the larger masses who feel the more as they think the less. These are the traits always exhibited by the formers and leaders or sects, and to these do such leaders greatly owe their power. As far as they are exhibited by the pulpit, it is always powerful.
On the other hand, the bar lose much of their just influence from the manner in which their profession exhibits them, as not speaking their own sincere convictions. The nature of their profession submits them, as it is supposed, to the maintaining of propositions which they do not believe. Their mental powers and efforts are supposed to be venal; their advocating or opposing of opinions is deemed matter of accident and purchase; and the influence to which the useful talents of the bar justly entitle them is thus diminished. Yet in fact and in truth it is not so, that the opinions of the bar, are less sincerely expressed or entertained, or are less firmly adhered to than those of any other class. In every struggle of a public or political character, for liberty, for order, for good government, and, indeed, for religion in its freedom, the bar have been firm and active, often pledging and never failing to redeem the pledge of fortune, life and honors.
It is not difficult to show that this is an unjust prejudice and not a true judgment. All questions not resting on demonstration, like those of the mathematical and some in the physical sciences, depend on a balancing of arguments, a weighing of probabilities, a comparing of considerations of' contrary tendencies. To decide these questions truly, the arguments, the probabilities, the considerations on each side must be fully presented; and the more fully, the more forcibly, the more is a just conclusion aided. Now in this presentation, a wise division of labor, if not a necessity for equalizing the mental powers on each behalf, has dictated the forensic discussion, the committing of the argumentation on each side to different minds, as conducive to greater completeness. The supposition on which this mode of discussion proceeds is, that the views favoring each side are to be presented by each party separately. This is the understood basis of the discussion. It deceives no one. It calls for no falsification of principles, for no perversion of reasoning. It simply demands the statement of those true principles and views, modes of reasoning and authoritative precedents which conduct to one of the opposite conclusions; that the opposing considerations are not produced by the same person does not render those which are produced insincere; since it is the very rule of the discussion that they are to be produced by another. And it will be found, so far from deadening the sentiments of truth and fairness among the bar, that to state untruly a fact, a principle or a precedent, is by them held as unprofessional, as in fact, it is dishonourable and immoral.
Besides, the open representative character of tho bar, personating their clients almost as in the drama, relieves this subject from even an apparent insincerity. Their persuasions are presented as those of the party; they are to be weighed as such, so are received and considered according to their intrinsic force and not to the personal consideration of the advocate. So long, therefore, as all difficult social and moral questions have two sides to be looked at, have truths on each side to be weighed; so long as the division of the labour of discussion, like every other division of labour, shall lead to greater perfection, so long will the forensic labors of the bar be intrinsically free from dishonour or just impeachment. Truth, although simple, is not always easy to be discovered. Justice is still oftener concealed in dark recesses. It is a noble and elevating office of the bar to seek for both, although by divided and diverging paths.
The position of educated men, in the pulpit and at the bar, and their common interest in progress of the State, necessarily throw into their hands great political influence. The fact of such influence in these bodies is manifest in every country.
The propriety of exercising this influence is fully conceded to the bar, to the Pulpit it is reluctantly admitted. The fitness of each for such influence, and the propriety of its exercise is worthy of some remark. The interference of the bar in all political questions is not only admitted as their right but almost imposed on them as a pressing duty. Yet it is by no means evident that their professional studies and habits, without many additions, qualify them to be either politicians or statesmen--politicians or statesmen, characters differing--not necessarily nor of course one or the same. The politician is he, who shrewdly anticipates a popular sentiment, takes the head of a popular movement, perhaps leads a deception of the people or affects a sympathy with popular impressions and feeling. For these functions, the accurate learning, the slow and cautious wisdom and doubting steps of the lawyer, chiefly practised in carrying out exact rules and settled principles of policy and justice are not necessary, if indeed they are fitting preparations. The statesman looks at the history, the capacity, the wants and temper of a people, selects ends and devises means for the advancement of the state. Aiming at effects rather as important than immediate, he looks to the progress of institutions and their more distant as well as nearer change. His proper work, even when his views are conservative, is creative. For these functions also, the lawyer is not necessarily qualified by his merely professional acquirements. It is not his to originate, it is rather his to follow, to execute. His nice attention to particulars, his habitual deference to precedent and to established rule, his necessary coolness of examination and discussion, neither qualify him for the passionate influence of the politician nor for the more permanent government of the statesman. Doubtless his knowledge of laws and their spirit, of men and their passions, does in a measure prepare him for the initiative of such careers. But he needs far more to ensure him a successful course. Would he become the politician, he must drop much or his pursuit of precise truth and justice, and yield himself more to wholesale passion, must study to wield prejudice, and to lead ignorance rather than to enlighten it. Would he become a statesman, he perhaps must cease some of his deference for that which is established, look less for immediate results, and treat principles of policy and justice in a wider and more original aspect. Let him not rashly rush into the conflicts of the political arena with no other than his professional armor.
The fitness of the pulpit for political influence is far less conceded than the fact of its exercise is certain. To the men of the pulpit it is not granted, as it is to the bar, to enter into the political strifes of the day. The sacred duties and the peaceful nature of their venerable office forbid it, without evident degradation. Yet the discussion of the general principles of civil policy cannot, without great injustice to them and loss to the state, be denied them. Not only are they citizens and subjects, with a common interest in the public welfare, but it is also their special office to bring man
continually to a consideration of his duties to the Supreme Lawgiver, and thus to lay the foundations and build the edifice of private and public virtue on the basis of eternal truth and infinite obligation. Without a reference to his obligations to God, he who meddles with civil government interferes dangerously. It is within the proper and acknowledged office of the clergy to discuss the principles which should govern public men and rulers as well as private men and subjects. To strike out the influence of the clergy from politics as a system of general principles would be, without an offence, to pluck out a right eye and to cut off a right arm. The decalogue itself, except the first and last of its commandments, is a system of social rules primarily and expressly having reference to outward conduct, and to a people about being organized into a state? They are in fact the principles essential to the existence of a state and civil government; in their breadth and length they embrace the principles of general politics. These are, therefore, plainly within the province of pulpit discussion. It is to a great extent from the pulpit that statesman, orator, and lawyer, all derive their clearest and strongest impressions of policy, humanity, truth, and justice.
It is true that the seclusion of the clergy from the more active participation in the movements of the state, leaves them sometimes to be carried away by an abstract principle to extravagant consequences, without being checked by practical experience. They are more apt to consider themselves as holding to a higher law, and perhaps to be too little mindful of civil duty and subjection. There is indeed a higher law, a law anterior to the formation of codes and constitutions; to carry out which higher law, they are formed; in submission to which, the laws of man are altered and improved. To persuade to the conformity of the law of the state to this higher law, which embraces the original principles of justice and policy, is within the noble functions of the pulpit. But can it ever consistently counsel a resistance by the subject to laws which the common sovereignty has enacted, on the idea of contravening the higher law? This question, once dividing both clergy and people, in the doctrines of passive submission on the one hand, and practical anarchy on the other, formed an epoch in the history both of the pulpit and the bar, and will probably never cease its stirring interest. Even in our own days and times of free government, this question still stirs the hearts and passions of men, and, connecting it with our subject, there are those with us who now advocate resistance, and some of them, too, from the sacred pulpit.
In reference to this exciting question, it may be fit even here to say that there is no higher law, there is nothing in the highest law, so high, so broad, so deep as the necessity of civil government. It is the only means of social existence and advancement. No law of conscience is higher than that of such submission as shall not subvert the existence of civil government: nothing is more clearly to be proved by the experience of history and by natural reason, nor more fully established by revelation. But, can civil government exist, when a subject under the idea of a higher law than that of the state, in his own view conflicting with the law of the state, shall set at nought or resist the state? If one may do this, plainly, every one may. If it may be done on one important occasion, plainly, it may on every such occasion, and the importance of the occasion will always rest in the judgement of the resisting citizen. This evidently puts an end, in principle, to civil government itself, brings men into anarchy, thrusts them back into barbarism, subjecting them finally to all the violence, selfishness and cruelty of a savage condition. The question then as to an obnoxious law is and always must be, shall it be submitted to or shall the principle of all-government be annihilated. How can the highest law, embracing as its highest principle the enjoining, of civil government on man, sanction resistance? When a law is made by the sovereign power, and until by changes in the purposes of such sovereign, its peaceful alteration can be effected, there seem to be but three alternatives, submission, revolution, and mere resistance. Revolution does not defeat nor deny the principle of civil government; it only seeks by force to change it: it does not deny its supremacy when changed. It can only be a duty when the evil is intolerable, and the power to carry out a change by force, exists. Then, and not before it is sanctioned by the higher law and a duty. But resistance, without the power of revolution, is the assertion of a right not to chan1ge one government but to defy any and all government. In vain will the higher law be searched to warrant so deadly a blow at all human happiness.
On the general influence, however, of both the pulpit and the bar on the political interests of society;--their training in learning, the character of their knowledge as derived, historic, traditionary knowledge, and their intellectual habits of life, lifting them above common and vulgar passions, render them as classes eminently conservative. And although both at times have headed revolutions, it has been in favor of some time-honored principle of Religion, Liberty or public Justice. Generally, with the modesty of knowledge, they distrust things untried, they truly but lightly esteem the arrogance of reforming ignorance and stand fast by plain truths and practicable principles. They are bulwarks to the sacredness of social ties, to the weighty sanctions of the civil law, to the inviolability of contracts and to the protection of every civil and social right!
The consideration of the influence of these professions does not permit our passing by the great field of public or popular delusions. In the masses of men, not excepting, many of the more instructed, there is a vast field for credulity and superstition. We have wondered at the delusions, in early and less enlightened ages, of magic, alchemy, witch-craft, and similar mysterious wonders: and in our own age, have we not mesmerism and spiritual knockings? Have we not the more imposing science of phrenology, (and may we venture to name them here) the new doctrines of medicine? In all ages and stages of civilization, from the medicine man of the North American Indian and the Obi Man of Africa to the patentee of the Balm of Gilead and the inventor of the syrup of Sarsaparilla, have we not the quack doctor? and how vast is the number of his patients! the hosts of his followers!
On this wide sea of human credulity, on the great and fertile waste of popular delusions, what has been in modern days the relative influence of these two professions? Is the pulpit always attentive to maintain its high position? Are not the names of men belonging to the educated and venerable clergy, sometimes found, strangely attached to certificates of miraculous appearances, of spiritual performances, of marvellous cures, of infallible medicines? Are their educated brethren of the bar, to the same extent, endorsers of similar paper? Grant that the great confidence in the sincerity and truth of the clergy makes it more desirable to secure their attestations, and thus exposes them to a greater pressure of solicitation and artifice, yet could such attestations be procured from men of similar position at the bar? And is it not worthy of enquiry why this difference should in any degree exist? May it not be found, at least in part, in the principle on which so much in the external evidences of revelation is supposed to depend, of confidence in testimony apparently unimpeachable? Is it not in a misapplication of this principle, that they sometimes, submit their minds to the belief of the extraordinary stories which they hear and eventually to a credulity which makes them an easy prey to error, as to things which they actually see? This is certainly an unfortunate application of a true principle. It leaves out of view not only the possibility of imposture upon those who relate, and of undiscovered error and falsehood in them, but also, the extent to which we ourselves are the subjects of mistake and deception. It also leaves out of view that many extraordinary things which we see are wonderful only from our own want of knowledge and capacity to understand and explain them. It is a wholesome discipline for this tendency to err, to attend the exhibitions, let us call them the lectures and philosophical experiments, of the professors of Legerdemain. Can one doubt who actually sees the eggs broken into the new hat and cooked in it? who sees the enormous sword actually swallowed? who sees the innumerable flags or flowers, or birds which the wonderful man before him takes out of the cuff of his coat and distributes with such unbounded munificence? Yet this gentleman honestly informs you that it is a deception by means of his art and wonderful dexterity. Had he not so told you and had he left you to account for it, could you on your principle, of believing that to be supernatural which you cannot explain, have failed to believe all this miraculous? In addition to extraordinary appearances directly owing to human art and dexterity, there are others from natural causes equally out of the reach of explanation, in consequence of our imperfect knowledge, and yet perfectly simple when the true key of their operation is discovered.
Practical wisdom cannot but adopt a resolute incredulity as to spiritual and extraordinary occurrences. This incredulity in no degree conflicts with the principles of the evidences of revelation. Let them be viewed in their combination, to which there never has been either an equality nor a resemblance; a concurrence the most unprecedented, of antient prophecy, cotemporary miracles the most stupendous, changes in the character and conduct of individuals, and on the face of human society, and above all, an emergency, single in all the lapse of ages, the verifying of the coming of the great Redeemer. No confidence in the evidences of revelation warrants any the least credulity. Respected brother, whosoever thou art, become not credulous because thou art Christian!
The influence of the pulpit and the bar on the general habits of thinking and acting in common life, and upon the common knowledge of the people, largely demands for both, respect and honor. Independently of the directly religious truth which is delivered, the common sense on common topics which falls from the pulpit and in its common intercourse, upon the young, and uneducated, and which is to them the germ of their common knowledge, is in amount beyond calculation. So too, the habits of thinking and of reasoning, which are so directly promoted by the discourses of the pulpit, are a benefit to society which it can scarcely repay. As to the bar, the knowledge of human nature, of the business of society, of the laws of the country, of the principles of justice, the investigation of truth, and of political science, which of necessity appear in the addresses of the bar to courts and juries, are an invaluable service. In the absence of any direct instruction, as parts of common education in our schools and seats of learning, it is from the addresses of the bar in their ordinary ministrations, diffusing this various knowledge among parties, witnesses, jurors, spectators, that almost all the popular knowledge on these subjects is derived. In this incidental diffusion of information, both professions discharge one of the duties growing out of the possession of knowledge, that of its free and generous diffusion.
What is the influence of these two powerful professions on the general reforming tendencies of the age? The great advances of the present age in the physical sciences and in their applications to the arts of life, the inventions of the electrical telegraph and daguerrotype, the new developements of steam navigation, the discoveries in geology, the disinterment of long buried cities, the interpretation of languages for centuries unknown, have produced a deep effect, in stimulating the expectations of men as to further attainments: they have filled all minds with new and restless activity. Man has thus been led to think that his present condition is in every way an infancy, and that to his coming manhood nothing will be impossible. He is tempted presumptuously to deem every existing thing worn out and unsuitable. If as to a further advance of knowledge in the material and physical sciences, these anticipations were warranted, is there any analogy for us to extend them to Religion and Jurisprudence ?
God is old--from eternity. By searching we cannot find him out beyond that knowledge which he has revealed. This revelation is no new thing, lately given and yet to be explored. Beginning with the early days of the creation it did at first shine like the morning light, grateful in its first few beams, full of promise, increasing and enlarging until the broad sun-light of the teaching of Christ. Till then progressive, it became perfect and complete. What new knowledge of God and of his relations to us now remains to be discovered? The old truths, the old principles of faith and duty) doubtless need new modes of exhibition to impress new forms of human thought. But still they must be taught as antient truths, the more effective and impressive because long acted on and antient.
Are new principles of Jurisprudence to be discovered? Is law to be so simplified as to cease to be a wide and deep sea of learning? Can it be made so plain, that in its knowledge all men may be equal?
There are no new principles of jurisprudence to be discovered. The interests of man, his passions, their deranging as well as their compensating effects on the general welfare and on private right are and will continue the same as they ever have been. No new traits of human nature remain to be discovered. The human mind from the earliest gathering of men into communities, has bent its best energies on the principles on which laws should rest and on which they should be administered. There is not in this department of human affairs any thing like a new principle of electricity to be investigated, nor a chemical effect of light, nor any old Babylon or Nineveh to be opened. No inscription in a forgotten tongue to be deciphered. The highest efforts of the human understanding have been long applied to jurisprudence, and its highest triumphs have been in the application of old principles and not in the invention of new. The principles of law are not open for discoveries: this is a continent not open to colonization. The changes in the forms of society and in its physical interests render a gradual change in the application of the principles needful and experience with careful eye and cautious hand, alone should slowly introduce it.
Is it indeed supposed, that the administration of so complicated a body of principles as those which form the law of a highly civilized state, can be made so plain and simple that all can equally understand and apply it? Vain hope! The subject is too wide and deep for any but a studious knowledge. While principles remain the same, the variety of the circumstances which call for their application, render it a labor of learned wisdom to determine which are the applicable principles. The changes of the law, especially those extensive changes which are designed to bring them into the common knowledge of all, have been always successful. In the laws, new inventions and radical changes will be found to have impaired and not improved the equity, the security, and the tranquility which are the great objects of jurisprudence.
In the relations of the pulpit and the bar to literature, the superiority of effective influence must be conceded to the former. The weekly discourses of the pulpit are studied literary compositions, are careful and persuasive orations. This necessity of constant composition for the purpose of convincing and persuading tends to a high degree of taste, and can scarcely fail to advance letters and form an elegant literature. The addresses of the pulpit are extensively spread abroad by the press, and are a noble contribution to letters; and although belonging to a particular, a religious literature, yet is that tasteful, argumentative and eloquent, and in its character popular.
The bar can scarcely be said to have a literature. Judicial opinions are almost its only exhibitions, and although these often show excellent literary merit, a style both clear and impressive, yet they form no part of our literature. In their character they are not popular but merely professional. The treatises of the bar, with whatever well digested learning they may abound, and however clear and elegant their style are still merely professional, and do not reach the body even of our educated scholars. The commentaries of the American commentator, as remarkable for a genial warmth of style as those of the great English commentator are for their pellucid clearness, although abounding in topics of general interest, and in political discussions, still are a professional book, seldom reaching the eye of the general reader. The eloquence of the bar, so far as by that we are led to expect a literary elegance, has no place in the literature of our country. It is always extemporaneous. It never is, as indeed it cannot be, exactly reported. It perishes with the exigency on which it is spent. If it leaves a remembrance of its effects, it leaves no means of a subsequent realizing of its literary merit. Besides, the intelligence of judges and juries forbids those appeals to passions, those arts of rhetoric, those displays of genius allied to poetry, which introduce eloquence into the class of the fine arts. Effective and important in persuasion as are the bar, they go down the stream of time, leaving no descriptive tablets along its shores to perpetuate their achievements.
The domains of the material and natural sciences are fields untrodden by both of our two learned professions. The sacred studies and duties of the one and the urgent practical avocations of the other, forbid extensive devotion at the shrines of these sciences. Their relations to the physical sciences are chiefly those of admiration and encouragement. They deal with the hearts of men, with their intentions and pursuits, their interests and passions, their hopes and fears. Matter and its changes, organized and animated nature not rising to the intellectual and moral, they are obliged to leave to other minds and to men of other tastes. They stand aloof, by necessity from that field of enquiry, which its explorers in the present age have so eminently rendered a field of glory. The bar have no direct connexion with the material sciences, except in their applications to the useful arts. This connexion, growing out of the protection professedly given by law to the property of inventors calls for but a scanty knowledge, and that is derived more from the practical suggestions of experts in the arts than from scientific study.
The pulpit has relation specially to but few branches of natural and physical science. With Astronomy and Geology its relations have been most frequent, and with the latter, not the most friendly. Perhaps we may be permitted to regret this estrangement as owing to an unfounded jealousy. Between the great truths established by the books of nature and revelation there can, in the end, be no conflict. Nothing can exceed the plainness and force of proof attending the latter. Nothing is so much within our comprehension. Why then should a free and full knowledge of the former be viewed with jealousy? Imperfect knowledge, reasonings founded on insufficient basis, false generalizations upon too scanty particulars, may in this as in all other sciences foster presumption and lead to error. But the remedy for this is not a greater ignorance but a wider knowledge. And the more just expectation is, that the wonderful developments which a study of the earth, of the records of nature is daily exhibiting, will add more and more to the glory and brightness of revelation: and voices harmonious with it, will be heard alike from the inmost depths of the antient creation, and from the vast systems and the highest and most distant orbs of the material universe. Mysteries of nature now unrevealed, when open to the knowledge of man, although they may give a new meaning to the records of revelation, as they discover the facts under which they have been written, will never cease to make that revelation more and more worthy of our faith and obedience.
In taking leave of our subject, so imperfectly explored, we cannot omit an incidental allusion to the popular jealousy, which, unconsciously and unintentionally, does an honour both to the pulpit and the bar. It is always easy to start a popular outcry against the priests and the lawyers. And yet their whole life and the tendency of all their studies and pursuits is the public good--is, to preserve among men the principles of religious and political truth, to uphold law, order, and justice. Why then this jealousy? Is it not because of their possession of an influence and a power which cannot fail to be always felt, and which is too often, and with reason, feared by those who would wield society to visionary objects or selfish purposes. In the absence of settled artificial distinctions of rank, the people will nevertheless feel a jealousy of the superiority of those who are eminent. Wealth and intellectual power are among us the two competitors for distinction. The former not the less envied, is the more easily resisted; but the great and permanent influence of these two professions over the opinions of society, renders it easy, by pointing at it invidiously, to make them hated because feared. Yet these are but passing clouds of disfavour. The men of both professions come directly from the body of the people, from every rank of it; their interests are identified with those of the people at large; their services to the public welfare are too constant to be long misconceived; they must, as classes and in the wider periods of time, be recognised as a security, and an honor to the country. Their greater co-operation in the great purposes of social tranquillity and advancement would yet more increase their public service and honourable standing. It is worthy of their consideration, whether they are as closely associated as the near relations and common purposes of their professions would seem to require. The gentleman or the pulpit is too apt to avoid him of the bar, as perhaps too little scrupulous in his moral tastes, too secular in his pursuits, perhaps as deficient in religious principle. So, too, the man of controversies eyes askance his venerable brother, fearing to find him ascetic and impracticable, dreading his admonition, fearing his rebukes. But are not all these unfounded prejudices and misplaced apprehensions? Certainly the effects of separation, of isolation, will not improve either body nor add to its influence. It is one of the useful effects of the annual meetings of educated men, such as that which has now collected us, that they bring together these separated but not uncongenial bodies, and that they unite under the most pleasant auspices, in one general convention, educated men of every class and of every difference of pursuit.
As to the pulpit and the bar, they both draw their knowledge from the stores of antient learning, and therefore should be modest as well as wise. They are alike conservative in all their feelings and habits; are equally the natural opponents of delusion, disorder, insubordination, and misrule, the friends of law, government, and morals. On them jointly and inseparably society depends, and ever must greatly depend for the establishment, protection, and defence, of its internal principles, its social order and its national advancement.