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The purpose of this collection is to bring together, from the whole field of legal literature, specimens of the best models of the various forms of discourse and composition in which the lawyer's work is embodied. The aim has been to select, as far as possible, topics of general interest and importance, and to present these topics through the medium of some great legal personality. Much will be made of style and form; but it must not be supposed that substance is thereby underrated. Knowledge and invention, or the power of supplying ideas, is the first and essential step in all discourse and composition. Without clearness of thought, there can be no precision of statement; and clearness, as Webster said, is the great power at the bar. These specimens are designed simply to indicate the best methods of making the thought most effective; to show discourse as a system of thought animated by a rational order and sequence of ideas, and to display the effect of skill and taste in expression.
The practical value of such studies will be obvious to every one who is at all familiar with practice in the courts. The amount of time wasted in unnecessary discussion is simply incalculable. Much of this is due to inadequate preparation and loose thinking. A large proportion results from what Justice Buller described as the “garrulity sometimes called eloquence,”—the habit of dwelling upon a strong point after its strength has been exhausted; or, as Samuel Dexter called it, “the talent for keeping the sound a-going after the sense has gone.” The bench is not without similar shortcomings. If Lord Bacon's plan to “cut off the tautologies and impertinences” of judicial opinions were now carried into effect, it would make short work of the mass of case law. Interminable opinions on questions of fact, elaborate restatement of well-settled principles, and the needless and mechanical citation of precedents are among the principal causes of the present deluge of reports. A closer study of the best models would bring about a better conception of intellectual reserve, a finer sense of proportion, and more wholesome mental habits of discrimination.