Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1706/Wit in Court
Keen and cutting words, or even trifling incivilities, indulged in at the expense of counsel, have sometimes met with swift retribution. Plunket was once engaged in a case, when, towards the end of the afternoon, it became a question whether the court should proceed or adjourn till the next day. Plunket expressed his willingness to go on if the jury would "set." "Sit, sir, sit," said the presiding judge, "not 'set;' hens set." "I thank you, my lord," said Plunket The case proceeded, and presently the judge had occasion to observe that if that were the case, he feared the action would not "lay." "Lie, my lord, lie," exclaimed the barrister, "not lay; hens lay." — "If you don't stop your coughing, sir," said a testy and irritable judge, "I'll fine you a hundred pounds." "I'll give your lordship two hundred if you can stop it for me," was the ready reply. — Curran was once addressing a jury, when the judge, who was thought to be antagonistic to his client, intimated his dissent from the arguments advanced by a shake of his head. "I see, gentlemen," said Curran, "I see the motion of his lordship's head. Persons unacquainted with his lordship would be apt to think this implied a difference of opinion, but be assured, gentlemen, this is not the case. When you know his lordship as well as I do, it will be unnecessary to tell you that when he shakes his head there really is nothing in it." On another occasion Curran was pleading before Fitzgibbon, the Irish chancellor, with whom he was on terms of anything but friendship. The chancellor, with the distinct purpose, as it would seem, of insulting the advocate, brought with him on to the bench a large Newfoundland dog, to which he devoted a great deal of his attention while Curran was addressing a very elaborate argument to him. At a very material point in the speech the judge turned quite away, and seemed to be wholly engrossed with his dog. Curran ceased to speak. "Go on, go on, Mr. Curran," said the chancellor. "Oh, I beg a thousand pardons, my lords," said the witty barrister, "I really was under the impression that your lordships were in consultation." But perhaps the most crushing rejoinder ever flung back in return for an insult from the bench was that which this same advocate hurled at Judge Robinson. Judge Robinson is described as a man of sour and cynical disposition, who had been raised to the bench — so, at least, it was commonly believed — simply because he had written in favor of the government of his day a number of pamphlets remarkable for nothing but their servile and rancorous scurrility. At a time when Curran was only just rising into notice, and while he was yet a poor and struggling man, this judge ventured upon a sneering joke, which, small though it was, but for Curran's ready wit and scathing eloquence, might have done him irreparable injury. Speaking of some opinion of counsel on the opposite side, Curran said he had consulted all his books and could not find a single case in which the principle in dispute was thus established. "That may be, Mr. Curran," sneered the judge; "but I suspect your law library is rather limited." Curran eyed the heartless toady for a moment, and then broke forth with this noble retaliation: "It is very true, my lord, that I am poor, and this circumstance has certainly rather curtailed my library. My books are not numerous, but they are select, and I hope have been perused with proper dispositions. I have prepared myself for this high profession rather by the study of a few good books than by the composition of a great many bad ones. I am not ashamed of my poverty, but I should be ashamed of my wealth if I could stoop to acquire it by servility and corruption. If I rise not to rank, I shall at least be honest; and should I ever cease to be so, many an example shows me that an ill-acquired elevation, by making me the more conspicuous, would only make me the more universally and notoriously contemptible."
From The Leisure Hour.
WIT IN COURT.