Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 25.djvu/31

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\\.i-. his perception in taking cogni/ance of the principles, or his ability to retain them. Once fixed, the impression was there fore\ It is true, as Mr. Wirt observed, that genius must have material* to work on. No man, how magnificently soever endowed, can possibly be a safe, much less a great, lawyer, who does not understand the j and law of his case. But some men may understand them much more readily than others. There are labor-saving minds, as well as labor-saving machines, and that of Mr. Prentiss was one of them. In youth he had devoted himself with intense application to legal studies, and had mastered, as few men have done, the elements of the law, and much of its text-book learning. So acute and re- tentive an observer must, too especially in the freshness and novelty of his first years of practice ' have absorbed ' no little law as it floated through the courthouse, or was distilled from the bench and bar.

" But more especially it should be noted that Mr. Prentiss, until the fruition of his fame, was a laborious man, even in the tapestring sense. While the world was spreading the wild tales of his youth, his deviations, though conspicuous enough while they lasted, were only occasional, and at long intervals, the intervening time being occupied in abstemious application to his studies. Doubtless, too. the supposed obstacles in the way of his success, were greatly exag- gerated, the vulgar having a great proneness to magnify the frailties of great men, and to lionize genius by making it independent for its splendid achievements of all external aids.

" In the examination of witnesses he was thought particularly to excel. He wasted no time by irrelevant questions. He seemed to weigh every question before he put it, and see clearly its bearing upon every part of the case. The facts were brought out in natural and simple order. He examined as few witnesses and elicited as few facts as he could safely get along with. In this way he avoided the danger of discrepancy, and kept his mind undiverted from the con- trolling points of the case. The jury were left unwearied and uncon- fused, and saw, before the argument, the bearing of the testimony.

' ' He avoided, too, the miserable error into which so many lawyers fall of making every possible point of a case, and pressing all with equal force and confidence, thereby prejudicing the mind of the court and making the jury believe that the trial of a cause is but running a jockey race.

"In arguing a cause of much public interest, he got all the bene- fit of the sympathy and feeling of the bystanders. He would some-