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Chapter 10 The Speech for the Defence. An Argument that Cuts Both Ways

  • ALL was hushed as the first words of the famous orator rang out. The eyes o_he audience were fastened upon him. He began very simply and directly, wit_n air of conviction, but not the slightest trace of conceit. He made n_ttempt at eloquence, at pathos, or emotional phrases. He was like a ma_peaking in a circle of intimate and sympathetic friends. His voice was a fin_ne, sonorous and sympathetic, and there was something genuine and simple i_he very sound of it. But everyone realised at once that the speaker migh_uddenly rise to genuine pathos and "pierce the heart with untold power." Hi_anguage was perhaps more irregular than Ippolit Kirillovitch's, but he spok_ithout long phrases, and indeed, with more precision. One thing did no_lease the ladies: he kept bending forward, especially at the beginning of hi_peech, not exactly bowing, but as though he were about to dart at hi_isteners, bending his long spine in half, as though there were a spring i_he middle that enabled him to bend almost at right angles.
  • At the beginning of his speech he spoke rather disconnectedly, without system,
  • one may say, dealing with facts separately, though, at the end, these fact_ormed a whole. His speech might be divided into two parts, the firs_onsisting of criticism in refutation of the charge, sometimes malicious an_arcastic. But in the second half he suddenly changed his tone, and even hi_anner, and at once rose to pathos. The audience seemed on the lookout for it,
  • and quivered with enthusiasm.
  • He went straight to the point, and began by saying that although he practise_n Petersburg, he had more than once visited provincial towns to defen_risoners, of whose innocence he had a conviction or at least a preconceive_dea. "That is what has happened to me in the present case," he explained.
  • "From the very first accounts in the newspapers I was struck by somethin_hich strongly prepossessed me in the prisoner's favour. What interested m_ost was a fact which often occurs in legal practice, but rarely, I think, i_uch an extreme and peculiar form as in the present case. I ought to formulat_hat peculiarity only at the end of my speech, but I will do so at the ver_eginning, for it is my weakness to go to work directly, not keeping m_ffects in reserve and economising my material. That may be imprudent on m_art, but at least it's sincere. What I have in my mind is this: there is a_verwhelming chain of evidence against the prisoner, and at the same time no_ne fact that will stand criticism, if it is examined separately. As _ollowed the case more closely in the papers my idea was more and mor_onfirmed, and I suddenly received from the prisoner's relatives a request t_ndertake his defence. I at once hurried here, and here I became completel_onvinced. It was to break down this terrible chain of facts, and to show tha_ach piece of evidence taken separately was unproved and fantastic, that _ndertook the case."
  • So Fetyukovitch began.
  • "Gentlemen of the jury," he suddenly protested, "I am new to this district. _ave no preconceived ideas. The prisoner, a man of turbulent and unbridle_emper, has not insulted me. But he has insulted perhaps hundreds of person_n this town, and so prejudiced many people against him beforehand. Of cours_ recognise that the moral sentiment of local society is justly excite_gainst him. The prisoner is of turbulent and violent temper. Yet he wa_eceived in society here; he was even welcome in the family of my talente_riend, the prosecutor."
  • (N.B. At these words there were two or three laughs in the audience, quickl_uppressed, but noticed by all. All of us knew that the prosecutor receive_itya against his will, solely because he had somehow interested his wife- _ady of the highest virtue and moral worth, but fanciful, capricious, and fon_f opposing her husband, especially in trifles. Mitya's visits, however, ha_ot been frequent.)
  • "Nevertheless I venture to suggest," Fetyukovitch continued, "that in spite o_is independent mind and just character, my opponent may have formed _istaken prejudice against my unfortunate client. Oh, that is so natural; th_nfortunate man has only too well deserved such prejudice. Outraged morality,
  • and still more outraged taste, is often relentless. We have, in the talente_rosecutor's speech, heard a stern analysis of the prisoner's character an_onduct, and his severe critical attitude to the case was evident. And, what'_ore, he went into psychological subtleties into which he could not hav_ntered, if he had the least conscious and malicious prejudice against th_risoner. But there are things which are even worse, even more fatal in suc_ases, than the most malicious and consciously unfair attitude. It is worse i_e are carried away by the artistic instinct, by the desire to create, so t_peak, a romance, especially if God has endowed us with psychological insight.
  • Before I started on my way here, I was warned in Petersburg, and was mysel_ware, that I should find here a talented opponent whose psychological insigh_nd subtlety had gained him peculiar renown in legal circles of recent years.
  • But profound as psychology is, it's a knife that cuts both ways." (Laughte_mong the public.) "You will, of course, forgive me my comparison; I can'_oast of eloquence. But I will take as an example any point in th_rosecutor's speech.
  • "The prisoner, running away in the garden in the dark, climbed over the fence,
  • was seized by the servant, and knocked him down with a brass pestle. Then h_umped back into the garden and spent five minutes over the man, trying t_iscover whether he had killed him or not. And the prosecutor refuses t_elieve the prisoner's statement that he ran to old Grigory out of pity. 'No,'
  • he says, 'such sensibility is impossible at such a moment, that's unnatural;
  • he ran to find out whether the only witness of his crime was dead or alive,
  • and so showed that he had committed the murder, since he would not have ru_ack for any other reason.'
  • "Here you have psychology; but let us take the same method and apply it to th_ase the other way round, and our result will be no less probable. Th_urderer, we are told, leapt down to find out, as a precaution, whether th_itness was alive or not, yet he had left in his murdered father's study, a_he prosecutor himself argues, an amazing piece of evidence in the shape of _orn envelope, with an inscription that there had been three thousand rouble_n it. 'If he had carried that envelope away with him, no one in the worl_ould have known of that envelope and of the notes in it, and that the mone_ad been stolen by the prisoner.' Those are the prosecutor's own words. So o_ne side you see a complete absence of precaution, a man who has lost his hea_nd run away in a fright, leaving that clue on the floor, and two minute_ater, when he has killed another man, we are entitled to assume the mos_eartless and calculating foresight in him. But even admitting this was so, i_s psychological subtlety, I suppose, that discerns that under certai_ircumstances I become as bloodthirsty and keen-sighted as a Caucasian eagle,
  • while at the next I am as timid and blind as a mole. But if I am s_loodthirsty and cruelly calculating that when I kill a man I only run back t_ind out whether he is alive to witness against me, why should I spend fiv_inutes looking after my victim at the risk of encountering other witnesses?
  • Why soak my handkerchief, wiping the blood off his head so that it may b_vidence against me later? If he were so cold-hearted and calculating, why no_it the servant on the head again and again with the same pestle so as to kil_im outright and relieve himself of all anxiety about the witness?
  • "Again, though he ran to see whether the witness was alive, he left anothe_itness on the path, that brass pestle which he had taken from the two women,
  • and which they could always recognise afterwards as theirs, and prove that h_ad taken it from them. And it is not as though he had forgotten it on th_ath, dropped it through carelessness or haste, no, he had flung away hi_eapon, for it was found fifteen paces from where Grigory lay. Why did he d_o? just because he was grieved at having killed a man, an old servant; and h_lung away the pestle with a curse, as a murderous weapon. That's how it mus_ave been, what other reason could he have had for throwing it so far? And i_e was capable of feeling grief and pity at having killed a man, it shows tha_e was innocent of his father's murder. Had he murdered him, he would neve_ave run to another victim out of pity; then he would have felt differently;
  • his thoughts would have been centred on self-preservation. He would have ha_one to spare for pity, that is beyond doubt. On the contrary, he would hav_roken his skull instead of spending five minutes looking after him. There wa_oom for pity and good-feeling just because his conscience had been clear til_hen. Here we have a different psychology. I have purposely resorted to thi_ethod, gentlemen of the jury, to show that you can prove anything by it. I_ll depends on who makes use of it. Psychology lures even most serious peopl_nto romancing, and quite unconsciously. I am speaking of the abuse o_sychology, gentlemen."
  • Sounds of approval and laughter, at the expense of the prosecutor, were agai_udible in the court. I will not repeat the speech in detail; I will onl_uote some passages from it, some leading points.