affecting is the caſe of a ſuperior judge, if without any ſkill in the laws he will boldly venture to decide a queſtion, upon which the welfare and ſubſiſtence of whole families may depend! where the chance of his judging right, or wrong, is barely equal; and where, if he chances to judge wrong, he does an injury of the moſt alarming nature, an injury without poſſibility of redreſs!
Yet, vaſt as this truſt is, it can no where be ſo properly repoſed as in the noble hands where our excellent conſtitution has placed it: and therefore placed it, becauſe, from the independence of their fortune and the dignity of their ſtation, they are preſumed to employ that leiſure which is the conſequence of both, in attaining a more extenſive knowlege of the laws than perſons of inferior rank: and becauſe the founders of our polity relied upon that delicacy of ſentiment, ſo peculiar to noble birth; which, as on the one hand it will prevent either intereſt or affection from interfering in queſtions of right, ſo on the other it will bind a peer in honour, an obligation which the law eſteems equal to another’s oath, to be maſter of thoſe points upon which it is his birthright to decide.
The Roman pandects will furniſh us with a piece of hiſtory not unapplicable to our preſent purpoſe. Servius Sulpicius, a gentleman of the patrician order, and a celebrated orator, had occaſion to take the opinion of Quintus Mutius Scaevola, the oracle of the Roman law; but for want of ſome knowlege in that ſcience, could not ſo much as underſtand even the technical terms, which his friend was obliged to make uſe of. Upon which Mutius Scaevola could not forbear to upbraid him with this memorable reproof, “that it was a ſhame for a patrician, a nobleman, and an orator of cauſes, to be ignorant of that law in which he was ſo peculiarly concerned.” This reproach made ſo deep an impreſſion on Sulpicius, that he immediately applied himſelf to the ſtudy of the law; wherein he arrived to that pro-
- Ff. 1. 2. 2. §. 43. Turpe eſſe patricio, et nobili, et cauſas oranti, jus in quo verſaretur ignorare.