Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and other profitable tales/Upright Judges

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UPRIGHT judges I have indeed seen," said Jean Marteau. "It was in a picture. I had gone to Belgium to escape from an inquisitive magistrate, who insisted that I had conspired with anarchists. I did not know my accomplices and my accomplices did not know me. But that presented no difficulty to the magistrate. Nothing embarrassed him. Though he was perpetually weighing evidence his sense of values remained undeveloped. His persistence terrified me. I went to Belgium and stopped at Antwerp, where I became a grocer's assistant. In the picture gallery one Sunday I saw two upright judges in a painting by Mabuse. They are of a type now extinct. I mean the type of peripatetic judges who used to travel at a jog-trot on their ambling nags. Foot soldiers, armed with lances and partisans form their escort. Bearded and hairy, these two judges, like the kings in old Flemish bibles, wear an eccentric yet magnificent headdress suggestive at once of a nightcap and a diadem. Their brocaded robes are richly adorned. The old master has succeeded in imparting to them a grave, calm and gentle air. Their horses are as mild and calm as they. Nevertheless these two judges differed both in character and in point of view. You can see that at once. One holds a paper in his hand and with his finger points to the text. The other, his left hand on the pommel of his saddle, is raising his right with more benevolence than authority. Between thumb and forefinger he appears to be holding an impalpable powder. And the hand thus carefully posed for this gesture suggests an intellect cautious and subtle. They are upright both of them, but obviously the first adheres to the letter, the second to the spirit. Leaning against the rail which separates them from the public, I listened to their talk. Said the first judge:

"I hold to the written word. The first law was written on stone as a sign that it would last as long as the world."

The other judge made answer:

"Every law is out of date as soon as it is written. For the hand of the scribe is slow, the mind of man is nimble and his destiny is uncertain."

Then these two excellent old men pursued their sententious discussion:

First judge. The law is stable.

Second judge. The law is never fixed.

First judge. Coming forth from God it is immutable.

Serond judge. Proceeding naturally from society it is dependent upon the changing conditions of this life.

First judge. It is the will of God, which changeth not.

Second judge. It is the will of man which changeth ever.

First judge. It was before man and is superior to him.

Second judge. It is of man, infirm as he, and like unto him capable of perfection.

First judge. Judge, open thy book and read what is written therein. For it is God who dictated to such as believed in Him: Sic locutus est patribus nostris, Abraham et semini ejus in sæcula.

Second judge. That which is written by the dead will be erased by the living. Were it not so, the will of those who have passed away would impose itself upon those who yet survive; and the dead would be the living and the living the dead.

First judge. To laws prescribed by the dead the living owe obedience. The quick and the dead are contemporary before God. Moses and Cyrus, Cæsar, Justinian and the Emperor of Almaine yet reign over us. For in the sight of the Eternal One we are their contemporaries.

Second judge. The living owe obedience to the laws prescribed by the living. For our instruction in that which is permitted and that which is forbidden Zoroaster and Numa Pompilius rank below the cobbler of Saint Gudule.

First judge. The first laws were revealed to us by the Infinite Wisdom. The best laws are those which are nearest to that source.

Second judge. Do you not see that every day new laws are made and that Constitutions and codes differ according to time and place?

First judge. New laws proceed from those that are ancient. They are the young branches of the same tree nourished by the same sap.

Second judge. From the ancient tree of the law there is distilled a bitter juice. Ceaselessly is the axe laid unto that tree.

First judge. It is not for the judge to inquire whether the laws are just, since they must necessarily be so. He has only to administer them justly.

Second judge. It is for us to inquire whether the law that we administer be just or unjust, because if we discover it to be unjust, it is possible for us to introduce some modification into the application we are forced to make of it.

First judge. The criticism of laws is not compatible with the respect we owe to them.

Second judge. If we do not recognize the severity of the law how can we temper it?

First judge. We are judges, not legislators or philosophers.

Second judge. We are men.

First judge. A man is incapable of judging men. A judge, when he goes to the seat of justice, puts off his humanity. He assumes divinity and no longer tastes either joy or sorrow.

Second judge. When justice is not dispensed with sympathy it becomes the cruellest injustice.

First judge. Justice is perfect when it is literal.

Second judge. When justice is not spiritual it is absurd.

First judge. The principle of laws is divine and the consequences which flow from them are no less divine. But even if law were not wholly of God, if it were wholly of man, it would still be necessary to administer it according to the letter. For the letter is fixed, the spirit is fleeting.

Second judge. Law is wholly of man. It was born foolish and cruel in the early glimmerings of human reason. But were it of divine essence, it should be followed according to the spirit not according to the letter, for the letter is dead and the spirit is living.

Having thus conversed, the two upright judges dismounted and with their escort approached the Tribunal, whither they must go, in order to render unto each man his due. Their horses, tied to a stake, under a great elm, conversed together. The first judge's horse spoke first:

"When horses inherit the earth," he said (and the earth will doubtless belong to them one day, for the horse is obviously the ultimate end and the final object of creation), "when the earth is the horse's and we are free to act as we will, we will live under laws like men and we will take delight in imprisoning, hanging and breaking on the wheel our fellow creatures. We will be moral beings. It shall be proved by the prisons, the gibbets and the strappados which shall be erected in our towns. There shall be legislative horses. What do you think, Roussin?"

Roussin, who was the second judge's steed, replied that in his opinion the horse was the king of creation and he confidently hoped that sooner or later his kingdom would come.

"And when we have built towns, Blanchet," he added, "we must, as you say, establish a system of police in them. In those days I would have the laws of horses equine, that is favourable to horses and for the equine weal."

"What do you mean by that, Roussin?" asked Blanchet.

"My meaning is the natural one. I demand that the law shall secure for each his share of corn and his place in the stable, and that each be permitted to love as he will during the season. For there is a time for everything. In short I would have the laws of horses in conformity with nature."

"I hope," replied Blanchet, "that the ideas of our legislators will be more elevated than yours, Blanchet. They will make laws according as they are inspired by that celestial horse who has created all horses. He is all good since he is all powerful. Power and goodness are his attributes. He fore-ordained his creatures to endure the bit, to drag at the halter, to feel the spur and to die beneath the whip. You talk of love, comrade; he ordained that many of us should be made geldings. It is his command. The laws must maintain this worshipful behest.

"But are you quite sure, my friend," inquired Roussin, "that these evils proceed from the celestial horse that has created us, and not merely from man his inferior creation?"

"Men are the ministers and the angels of the celestial horse," replied Blanchet. "His will is manifest in everything that happens. His will is good. Since he wishes us ill, it must be that ill is good. If therefore the law is to do us good it must make us suffer. And in the Empire of horses we shall be constrained and tortured in every way, by means of edicts, decrees, sentences, judgments and ordinances in order to please the heavenly horse."

"Roussin," added Blanchet, "you must have the head of an ass not to understand that the horse was brought into the world to suffer, and that if he does not suffer he fails to fulfil his destiny and that from happy horses the heavenly horse turns away his face."