Friday, February 20, 2009

Swift on lawyers

Scott Horton has a great lecture of his posted on his blog, but I'm afraid he gets Gulliver's Travels a bit askew:
At one point the king of Brobdingnag tells his visitor about lawyers and their usefulness. The best lawyers are those who can show that black is white as he says, “laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them.”
It's a correct quotation, but Horton should've remembered that the Brobdingnagian culture is generally admirable in Swift's eyes. The quotation actually comes from the king's summary of what Gulliver's been descrbing of English culture:
His Majesty in another Audience was at the Pains to recapitulate the Sum of all I had spoken, compared the Questions he made with the Answers I had given; then taking me into his Hands, and stroaking me gently, delivered himself in these Words, which I shall never forget nor the Manner he spoke them in: My little Friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable Panegyric upon your Country: You have clearly proved that Ignorance, Idleness, and Vice may be sometimes the only Ingredients for qualifying a Legislator: That Laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose Interest and Abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them.
Brobdingnag's honor is thus redressed.

UPDATE: Horton revises his text. Hurrah for Brobdingnag!

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