The Green Bag
often far away, and a favorite occupation of his in the class in German Law was to draw on the margin of his book extrava gant likenesses of the highly respected legal authorities who happened to be under discussion, to the scandalized amusement of his neighbors. It seems that at Strassburg in particular the method of instruction was thoroughly denuded of interest and allowed no play for individuality, consisting as it did of little more than the literal memo rizing of such laws as would be practically useful, with minimum of historical study and The extremely professors scantwho appeal hadto the reason. young Goethe in charge had to deal with a mind so marvelously superior to that of the average youth that such tasks as kept his fellow-students straining every nerve to accomplish were not even difficult enough for him to keep him interested. And hence, when he waxes sarcastic at the expense of the univer sity institutions of his day, it is not fair to jump at once to the conclusion that the average young German of that gen eration was not fairly well taken care of. And even Goethe, in school or out of school, acquired such an interest in the legal side of affairs as shows itself in almost everything he wrote. One of the most amusing pages in his "Italian Journey" tells how, in the year 1786, he was an interested spectator at a trial in Venice — and it may be interpolated that like the New York ex-Assistant District Attorney Arthur Train in a very similar page dealing with another Italian trial, he comes to the conclusion that the Italian method of procedure is superior to that in his own country. The defendant in the case Goethe wit nessed was the wife of the Doge him self, which fact gave the republi can audience a peculiarly comfortable feeling of equality and universal sov
ereignty; but a circumstance that ap pealed to the poet particularly was the conduct of the old time-keeper with his hour-glass, which it was his duty to hold perpendicular while the attorney was speaking and horizontal during any other procedure, and which during cer tain rapid interpellations flashed up and down with the speed and sometimes the uncertainty of a game of "Simon says thumbs up." And he quotes appre ciatively a thoroughly foreign but genu inely clever thrust from one of the attorneys. The point at issue was the question whether a certain bequest was really the property of the testator at the time when it was given. The clerk, a miserable hireling in the shabbiest of clothing, read from the document: "I give, I bequeath —" "You!" shouted the lawyer, amid the delighted shrieks of the audience, "you wretched little starveling. What have you to give and bequeath?" Then he went on thoughtfully, "And you are just like this giver you are reading about. He was very ready too to give when he had not a lira in the world." Goethe won the first case he under took in his native city, but was rebuked by the presiding judge for the bitterness with which he attacked the plaintiff; which would seem to indicate that the law did not always bore him as sadly as he maintained. He records that on one occasion in the middle of his univer sity course, when he went to an elderly lawyer friend of his to ask his advice as to the expediency of dropping the law and majoring in the classical lan guages, the old gentleman assured him that the best way to the classics is through the law. However this may be, the young man found that one way at least to the position of the most emi nent of German writers, was through a Strassburg Doctorate of Jurisprudence.