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THE ORATORY OF THE BAR.
That Bar oratory has a style of its own is evident from this, that, with rare exceptions, great orators of the Bar are not equally successful in the Legislature, and some are conspicuous failures. Probably this is due in part to the prejudice with which the speeches of Lawyers are received in the House of Commons. They are looked upon, with what justice I will not venture to affirm or deny, as place-hunters rather than patriots; as advocates speaking from
brief, more than as men pleading the cause which in their honest consciences they believe to be the truth and the right. If they speak well, they obtain little credit for it, for it is thought to be their business to speak; and if they speak indifferently, they are laughed at as men who do not know their business. A foregone conclusion thus taints the judgment. To achieve success, far greater ability and sagacity must be displayed by the Lawyer in the Legislature than would suffice to conduct a layman to fame and influence. But, if
prosper at the Bar, you must not suffer your aspirations after parliamentary honours to if you
your studies for a moment from the arts by which the success of the Advocate is to be attained.
In this, as in all its other departments, the Law is a jealous mistress, and you must serve her with all your soul and strength. She will not endure a divided allegiance, nor permit you to win other fame than that which she confers. If you resolve to make the Bar your business, as well as your profession, you will probably have to unlearn much, as certainly as you will require to learn a great deal. If you have cultivated oratory at Oxford, or Cambridge, or at any of the spouting clubs in London, almost certainly you will have acquired a style of speaking altogether unfitted for the Bar, and which you must discard with all possible speed, without hesitation and without reserve. The debating-club style is the worst you can bring into a court of justice, and exposes its exhibitor to certain humiliation and failure. It is the most fruitful cause of breaking down at the Bar, and when you see it still adhering to a man after six months of trial, you may look upon him as hopeless. Being thus fatal, your first and most earnest endeavours should be directed to learn if any of this style cleaves to you, and if so, you should strive laboriously to cast it off.
You will not better know yourself in this than in more important matters. Consult, therefore, a judicious friend, or,
have none, seek the counsel of a professional teacher of elocution. Prefer a friend, if he can be found, for his ears are likely to be more true than those of masters, who are themselves apt to fall into mannerisms almost as disagreeable as the faults they are invited to mend. Give your friend an opportunity to hear you speak at some time when you are to do so in earnest ; for a private recitation, made with express purpose to avoid a defect, would not be a sufficient test. If he should detect the slightest traces of the debating-club style—which I cannot describe, although you will recognise it in a moment—you should direct your efforts to its removal. Its principal features are grandiloquence, floweriness, phrase-making, poetising, word-picking and mouthing—all or some of them. To banish these, you must rather go to their opposites, and learn, by frequent practice, to speak with exceeding plainness and simplicity, clothing your thoughts in the common language of every-day life, and putting your sentences into the most un-essay-like form; in brief, bring down your oratory to talking, and from that basis start afresh, omitting no opportunity for practice, and, when practising, ever bearing in mind that your present object is to unlearn.
Having shifted more or less those evil habits, and become again a pupil, I will now give you a few hints as to what it will be necessary for you to learn.
In studying the art of oratory for the Bar, you must, in the first place, keep clearly before you the objects of it. Unlike most of the other forms of oratory, it is not a display of yourself—with the acquisition of fame as the primary purpose—but it is a duty which you have undertaken for the benefit of another, and your single thought should be—as I believe with most it is—the advantage of your client. Whatever will best promote his interests you are bound to do without a thought of display on your own part. The cause of your client is advanced only by persuading the jury and convincing the court. Therefore your business is to adopt precisely that style of speaking which will best persuade jurymen and convince judges, and this is not a style that finds favour in the debating club · or in the House of Commons.
Of each separately.
JURIES differ much in character, not merely in the various counties, in commercial or rural districts, in London and in the provinces, but even in the same locality, at the same assizes or sittings; and therefore your
first care should be to study the character of your jury. I am referring now to the common jury; the special jury will be separately considered hereafter.
If you have accustomed yourself to read the character in the face, you will probably make a shrewd guess of your men at a glance. But it must be confessed that the countenance sometimes deceives, and we are often surprised to find a sound judgment under a stolid front and an intelligent aspect concealing a shallow mind. Your
eye will give you a reading that will prove tolerably correct; but you should not rest upon that alone, but watch closely the twelve heads, when the case is launched, and especially when the witnesses are under examination. Then you will certainly discover who are the intelligent, who the impotent, who the sagacious, who the shallow, who the facile, who the obstinate. Knowing them, you know how to deal with them; you know who will lead the others, and therefore to whom you are mainly to address yourself; you learn whom you must endeavour to convince, whom to persuade, whom to bend to your will, and you must mould your speech to the measure of their capacities.
In the first place, it is essential that all of them should, if possible, understand what you are saying to them, and, as in a team, the slowest horse regulates the pace, so must you address yourself to the comprehension of the lowest intelligence among the twelve, and I need not say that with a common jury this is too often very low indeed. But do not mistake my meaning in this. When I tell you that you must speak for the ignorant, I do not contemplate vulgar thoughts, or lowlife phrases, but your own ideas put into plain language, and enforced by familiar illustrations. The besetting sin of Advocates is that of talking over the heads of the jury-addressing to them words that are as strange to their ears, and therefore as unintelligible to their minds, as any foreign tongue, and in throwing before them ideas comprehensible only to the cultivated intellect. I am perfectly conscious of the extreme difficulty of avoiding this error; how hard it is even to recognise the fact, that thoughts and words, which habit has made familiar to you, are incomprehensible to minds that have not enjoyed your training; how still more formidable is the task of translating, as you speak, the fine words that come naturally to your lips into the homely vernacular of the classes from whom the common juries are taken. But this is your business, and to this you must train yourself at any cost of time and labour, for it is a condition of success at the Common Law Bar, that will be excused only in rare and exceptional cases of extraordinary capacities securing sufficient business of the class that is addressed to Special Juries or to the Judge.
You will soon learn to know if you are making yourself to be understood by your jury, if you are holding not their ears only, but their minds. It is difficult to describe the signs of this : a certain steady gaze of attention and fixedness of feature, and commonly a slight bending forward of the head, are the usual outward manifestations. But more sure than these is that