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Shall we not, when the intention, and design, and meaning of the interdict is thoroughly understood, think it the most excessive impudence, or the most extraordinary folly, to haggle about a verbal mistake? and not only to pass over, but even to desert and betray the real merits of the case, and the common advantage of all the citizens? [51] Is this doubtful, that there is not such an abundance of words,—I will not say in our language, which is confessedly poor, but not in any other language either,—as to enable every imaginable thing and circumstance to be expressed by its own fixed end appropriate name? Is it doubtful that we have no need of words when the matter, for the sake of which words were first invented, is thoroughly understood? What law, what resolution of the senate, what edict of a magistrate, what treaty, or covenant, (to return to men's private affairs,) what will, what judicial decision, what bond, what formula of bargain or agreement cannot be invalidated and torn to pieces, if we choose to bend facts to words, and leave out of the question the intention, and design, and authority of those who wrote them? [52] In truth, even our familiar and daily discourse will cease to have any coherence, if we are to spend all our time in word catching. Lastly, there will be no such thing at all as any domestic rule, if we grant this to our slaves, that they are to obey the letter of our commands, and not attend to what may be gathered from the spirit of our expressions. Must I produce instances of all these things? Do not different examples in each separate glass occur to every one of you, which may be a proof that right does not depend only on the strict words of the law, but that words are meant to be subservient to the intentions and purposes of men? [53] In a most elegant and fluent manner did Lucius Crassus, by far the most eloquent of all men, a little before we came into the forum, defend this opinion in a trial before the centumviri; 1and with great ease, too, though that very sagacious man, Quintus Mucius, was arguing against him, did he prove to every one that Marcus Curius, who had been left a certain person's heir in the case of the death of a posthumous son who was expected, ought to be the heir, though the son was not dead, never, in fact, having been born. What? was this case sufficiently provided for by the terms of the will? Certainly not. What was the thing, then, that influenced the judges? The intention; and if it could be understood though we were silent, we should not employ words at all: because it could not, words have been invented, not to hinder people's intentions, but to point them out.

1 The origin, constitution, and powers of the centumviri are exceedingly obscure; they were judges, but they differed from other judges in being a definite body or collegium. According to Festus three centumviri were chosen out of each tribe, so that their actual number must have been a hundred and five. Their powers were probably limited to Rome, and at all events to Italy. It appears that they had cognisance of both civil and criminal matters. It was the practice to set up a spear in the place where the centumviri were sitting, and accordingly the word hasta or hasta centumviralis, is sometimes used as equivalent to judicium centumvirale. Vide Smith, Dict. Ant. p. 212, v. Centumviri.

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