October 27, 1831
There is undoubtedly a limit to the exertions of an advocate for his client. He has a right, it is his bounden duty, to do every thing which his client might honestly do, and to do it with all the effect which any exercise of skill, talent, or knowledge of his own may be able to produce. But the advocate has no right, nor is it his duty, to do that for his client which his client in foro conscientiae has no right to do for himself; as, for a gross example, to put in evidence a forged deed or will, knowing it to be so forged. As to mere confounding of witnesses by skilful cross-examination, I own I am not disposed to be very strict. The whole thing is perfectly well understood on all hands, and it is little more in general than a sort of cudgel-playing between the counsel and the witness, in which, I speak with submission to you, I think I have seen the witness have the best of it as often as his assailant. It is of the utmost importance in the administration of justice that knowledge and intellectual power should be as far as possible equalized between the crown and the prisoner, or plaintiff and defendant. Hence especially arises the necessity for an order of advocates,—men whose duty it ought to be to know what the law allows and disallows; but whose interests should be wholly indifferent as to the persons or characters of their clients. If a certain latitude in examining witnesses is, as experience seems to have shown, a necessary mean towards the evisceration of the truth of matters of fact, I have no doubt, as a moralist, in saying, that such latitude within the bounds, now existing is justifiable. We must be content with a certain quantum in this life, especially in matters of public cognizance; the necessities of society demand it; we must not be righteous overmuch, or wise overmuch; and, as an old father says, in what vein may there not be a plethora, when the Scripture tells us that there may under circumstances be too much of virtue and of wisdom?
Still I think that, upon the whole, the advocate is placed in a position unfavourable to his moral being, and, indeed, to his intellect also, in its higher powers. Therefore I would recommend an advocate to devote a part of his leisure time to some study of the metaphysics of the mind, or metaphysics of theology; something, I mean, which shall call forth all his powers, and centre his wishes in the investigation of truth alone, without reference to a side to be supported. No studies give such a power of distinguishing as metaphysical, and in their natural and unperverted tendency they are ennobling and exalting. Some such studies are wanted to counteract the operation of legal studies and practice, which sharpen, indeed, but, like a grinding-stone, narrow whilst they sharpen.
From Table Talk, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (and Henry Nelson Coleridge).