Hoyt & Roberts, comps. Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations. 1922.


Ove son leggi,
Tremar non dee chi leggi non infranse.
Where there are laws, he who has not broken them need not tremble.
Alfieri—Virginia. II. 1.

Law is king of all.
Henry Alford—School of the Heart. Lesson 6.

Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them.
Anacharsis to Solon when writing his laws.

Law is a bottomless pit.
J. Arbuthnot—Title of a Pamphlet. (About 1700).

One of the Seven was wont to say: “That laws were like cobwebs; where the small flies were caught, and the great brake through.”
Bacon—Apothegms. No. 181.

All this is but a web of the wit; it can work nothing.
Bacon—Essays on Empire.

There was an ancient Roman lawyer, of great fame in the history of Roman jurisprudence, whom they called Cui Bono, from his having first introduced into judicial proceedings the argument, “What end or object could the party have had in the act with which he is accused.”
Burke—Impeachment of Warren Hastings.

I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people.
Burke—Speech on the Conciliation of America.

A good parson once said that where mystery begins religion ends. Cannot I say, as truly at least, of human laws, that where mystery begins, justice ends?
Burke—Vindication of Natural Society.

The law of England is the greatest grievance of the nation, very expensive and dilatory.
Bishop Burnet—History of His Own Times.

Our wrangling lawyers***are so litigious and busy here on earth, that I think they will plead their clients’ causes hereafter, some of them in hell.
Burton—Anatomy of Melancholy. Democritus to the Reader.

Your pettifoggers damn their souls,
To share with knaves in cheating fools.
Butler—Hudibras. Pt. II. Canto I. L. 515.

Is not the winding up witnesses,
And nicking, more than half the bus’ness?
For witnesses, like watches, go
Just as they’re set, too fast or slow;
And where in Conscience they’re strait-lac’d,
’Tis ten to one that side is cast.
Butler—Hudibras. Pt. II. Canto II. L. 359.

The law of heaven and earth is life for life.
Byron—The Curse of Minerva. St. 15.

Arms and laws do not flourish together.
Julius Cæsar. Plutarch—Life of Cæsar.

Who to himself is law, no law doth need,
Offends no law, and is a king indeed.
George Chapman—Bussy d’Ambois. Act II. Sc. 1.

Jus gentium.
The law of nations.
Cicero—De Officiis. III. 17.

For as the law is set over the magistrate, even so are the magistrates set over the people. And therefore, it may be truly said, “that the magistrate is a speaking law, and the law is a silent magistrate.”
Cicero—On the Laws. Bk. III. I.

Silent enim leges inter arma.
For the laws are dumb in the midst of arms.
Cicero—Pro Milone. IV.

After an existence of nearly twenty years of almost innocuous desuetude these laws are brought forth.
Grover Cleveland—Message. March 1, 1886.

Magna Charta is such a fellow that he will have no sovereign.
Sir Edward Coke—Debate in the Commons. May 17, 1628.

Reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason.***The law which is perfection of reason.
Sir Edward Coke—First Institute.

The gladsome light of jurisprudence.
Sir Edward Coke—First Institute.

According to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
Daniel. VI. 8.

Trial by jury itself, instead of being a security to persons who are accused, shall be a delusion, a mockery, and a snare.
Lord Denman—In his Judgment in O’Connell vs. the Queen. II. C. and F., 351. Sept. 4, 1894.

Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving—HOW NOT TO DO IT.
Dickens—Little Dorrit. Pt. I. Ch. X.

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, “the law is a ass, a idiot.”
Dickens—Oliver Twist. Ch. LI.

If it’s near dinner time, the foreman takes out his watch when the jury have retired and says: “Dear me, gentlemen, ten minutes to five, I declare! I dine at five, gentlemen.” “So do I,” says everybody else except two men who ought to have dined at three, and seem more than half disposed to stand out in consequence. The foreman smiles, and puts up his watch: “Well, gentlemen, what do we say? Plaintiff, defendant, gentlemen? I rather think so far as I am concerned, gentlemen—I say I rather think—but don’t let that influence you—I rather think the plaintiff’s the man.” Upon this two or three other men are sure to say they think so too—as of course they do; and then they get on very unanimously and comfortably.
Dickens—Pickwick Papers. Vol. II. Ch. VI.

I know’d what ’ud come o’ this here mode o’ doin’ business. Oh, Sammy, Sammy, vy worn’t there a alleybi!
Dickens—Pickwick Papers. Vol. II. Ch. VI.

When the judges shall be obliged to go armed, it will be time for the courts to be closed.
S. J. Field—When advised to arm himself. California. (1889).

Our human laws are but the copies, more or less imperfect, of the eternal laws, so far as we can read them.
Froude—Short Studies on Great Subjects. Calvinism.

Just laws are no restraint upon the freedom of the good, for the good man desires nothing which a just law will interfere with.
Froude—Short Studies on Great Subjects. Reciprocal Duties of State and Subject.

Whenever the offence inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigour of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.
Gibbon—The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ch. XIV. Vol. I.

Es erben sich Gesetz und Rechte
Wie eine ew’ge Krankheit fort.
All rights and laws are still transmitted,
Like an eternal sickness to the race.
Goethe—Faust. I. 4. 449.

Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.
Goldsmith—The Traveller. L. 386. Same in Vicar of Wakefield.

I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.
U. S. Grant—Inaugural Address. March 4, 1869.

A cloud of witnesses.
Hebrews. XII. 1.

Quid leges sine moribus
Vanæ proficiunt?
Of what use are laws, inoperative through public immorality?
Horace—Carmina. III. 24. 35.

To the law and to the testimony.
Isaiah. VIII. 20.

The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.
Samuel Johnson. Johnsoniana. Piozzi’s Anecdotes, 58.

Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas.
The verdict acquits the raven, but condemns the dove.
Juvenal—Satires. II. 63.

Ad quæstionem juris respondeant judices ad quæstionem facti respondeant juratores.
Let the judges answer to the question of law, and the jurors to the matter of the fact.
Law Maxim.

We must never assume that which is incapable of proof.
G. H. Lewes—The Physiology of Common Life. Ch. XIII.

Hominem improbum non accusari tutius est quam absolvi.
It is safer that a bad man should not be accused, than that he should be acquitted.
Livy—Annales. XXXIV. 4.

La charte sera désormais une vérité.
The charter will henceforth be a reality.
Louis Philippe.

And folks are beginning to think it looks odd,
To choke a poor scamp for the glory of God.
Lowell—A Fable for Critics. L. 492.

Perchè, cosi come i buoni costumi, per mantenersi, hanno bisogno delli leggi; cosi le leggi per ossevarsi, hanno bisogno de’ buoni costumi.
For as laws are necessary that good manners may be preserved, so there is need of good manners that laws may be maintained.
Machiavelli—Dei Discorsi. I. 18.

The law is a sort of hocus-pocus science, that smiles in yeer face while it picks yeer pocket: and the glorious uncertainty of it is of mair use to the professors than the justice of it.
Macklin—Love à la Mode. Act II. Sc. 1.

Nisi per legale judicium parum suorum.
Unless by the lawful judgment of their peers.
Magna Charta. Privilege of Barons of Parliament.

Certis***legibus omnia parent.
All things obey fixed laws.
Manilius—Astronomica. I. 479.

The law speaks too softly to be heard amidst the din of arms.
Caius Marius. When complaint was made of his granting the freedom of Rome to a thousand Camerians. In Plutarch’s Life of Caius Marius.

Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s.
Matthew. XXII. 21.

As the case stands.
Middleton—Old Law. Act II. Sc. 1.

Litigious terms, fat contentions, and flowing fees.
Milton—Prose Works. Vol. I. Of Education.

Le bruit des armes l’empeschoit d’entendre la voix des lois.
The clatter of arms drowns the voice of the law.
Montaigne—Essays. III. I.

There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.
Montaigne—Essays. Of Vanity.

Neque enim lex est æquior ulla,
Quam necis artifices arte perire sua.
Nor is there any law more just, than that he who has plotted death shall perish by his own plot.
Ovid—Ars Amatoria. I. 665.

Sunt superis sua jura.
The gods have their own laws.
Ovid—Metamorphoses. IX. 499.

Where law ends, there tyranny begins.
William Pitt (Earl of Chatham)—Case of Wilkes. Speech. Jan. 9, 1770. Last line.

Nescis tu quam meticulosa res sit ire ad judicem.
You little know what a ticklish thing it is to go to law.
Plautus—Mostellaria. V. 1. 52.

Non est princeps super leges, sed leges supra principem.
The prince is not above the laws, but the laws above the prince.
Pliny the Younger—Paneg. Traj. 65.

Curse on all laws but those which love has made.
Pope—Eloisa to Abelard. L. 74.

All, look up with reverential awe,
At crimes that ’scape, or triumph o’er the law.
Pope—Epilogue to Satire. Dialogue I. L. 167.

Mark what unvary’d laws preserve each state,
Laws wise as Nature, and as fixed as Fate.
Pope—Essay on Man. Ep. III. L. 189.

Piecemeal they win this acre first then, that,
Glean on, and gather up the whole estate.
Pope—Satires of Dr. Donne. Satire II. L. 91.

Once (says an Author; where, I need not say)
Two Trav’lers found an Oyster in their way;
Both fierce, both hungry; the dispute grew strong,
While Scale in hand Dame Justice pass’d along.
Before her each with clamour pleads the Laws.
Explain’d the matter, and would win the cause,
Dame Justice weighing long the doubtful Right,
Takes, open, swallows it, before their sight.
The cause of strife removed so rarely well,
“There take” (says Justice), “take ye each a shell.
We thrive at Westminster on Fools like you:
’Twas a fat oyster—live in peace—Adieu.”
Pope—Verbatim from Boileau.

Let us consider the reasons of the case. For nothing is law that is not reason.
Sir John Powell—Coggs vs. Bernard. 2 Ld. Raym. 911.

He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it.
Proverbs. XI. 15.

That very law which moulds a tear,
And bids it trickle from its source,
That law preserves the earth a sphere,
And guides the planets in their course.
Sam’l Rogers—On a Tear. St. 6.

La loi permet souvent ce que défend l’honneur.
The law often allows what honor forbids.
Saurin—Spartacus. III. 3.

Si judicas, cognosce; si regnas, jube.
If you judge, investigate; if you reign, command.
Seneca—Medea. CXCIV.

Qui statuit aliquid, parte inaudita altera,
Æquum licet statuerit, haud æquus fuerit.
He who decides a case without hearing the other side, though he decide justly, cannot be considered just.
Seneca—Medea. CXCIX.

Inertis est nescire, quid liceat sibi.
Id facere, laus est, quod decet; non, quod licet.
It is the act of the indolent not to know what he may lawfully do. It is praiseworthy to do what is becoming, and not merely what is lawful.
Seneca—Octavia. CCCCLIII.

There is a higher law than the Constitution.
W. H. Seward—Speech. March 11, 1850.

You who wear out a good wholesome forenoon in hearing a cause between an orange-wife and a fosset-seller; and then rejourn the controversy of three pence to a second day of audience.
Coriolanus. Act II. Sc. 1. L. 77.

He hath resisted law,
And therefore law shall scorn him further trial
Than the severity of the public power.
Coriolanus. Act III. Sc. 1. L. 267.

In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice;
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but ’tis not so above;
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell’d,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence.
Hamlet. Act III. Sc. 3. L. 57.

But is this law?
Ay, marry is ’t; crowner’s quest law.
Hamlet. Act V. Sc. 1. L. 23.

But, I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king? and resolution thus fobbed as it is with the rusty curb of old father antic the law?
Henry IV. Pt. I. Act I. Sc. 2. L. 65.

Faith, I have been a truant in the law,
And never yet could frame my will to it;
And therefore frame the law unto my will.
Henry VI. Pt. I. Act II. Sc. 4. L. 7.

But in these nice sharp quillets of the law,
Good faith, I am no wiser than a daw.
Henry VI. Pt. I. Act II. Sc. 4. L. 11.

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
Henry VI. Pt. II. Act IV. Sc. 2. L. 84.

Press not a falling man too far! ’tis virtue:
His faults lie open to the laws; let them,
Not you, correct him.
Henry VIII. Act III. Sc. 2. L. 333.

When law can do no right,
Let it be lawful that law bar no wrong.
King John. Act III. Sc. 1. L. 185.

’Tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer; you gave me nothing for ’t.
King Lear. Act I. Sc. 4. L. 142.

Bold of your worthiness, we single you
As our best-moving fair solicitor.
Love’s Labour’s Lost. Act II. Sc. 1. L. 28.

We have strict statutes and most biting laws.
Measure for Measure. Act I. Sc. 3. L. 19.

We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror.
Measure for Measure. Act II. Sc. 1. L. 1.

To offend, and judge, are distinct offices
And of opposed natures.
Merchant of Venice. Act II. Sc. 9. L. 61.

In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt
But, being season’d with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil?
Merchant of Venice. Act III. Sc. 2. L. 75.

It must not be; there is no power in Venice
Can alter a decree established:
’Twill be recorded for a precedent;
And many an error by the same example
Will rush into the state.
Merchant of Venice. Act IV. Sc. 1. L. 218.

The bloody book of law
You shall yourself read in the bitter letter
After your own sense.
Othello. Act I. Sc. 3. L. 67.

I am a subject,
And I challenge law: attorneys are denied me;
And therefore personally I lay my claim
To my inheritance of free descent.
Richard II. Act II. Sc. 3. L. 133.

Before I be convict by course of law,
To threaten me with death is most unlawful.
Richard III. Act I. Sc. 4. L. 192.

Do as adversaries do in law,
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.
Taming of the Shrew. Act I. Sc. 2. L. 278.

We are for law; he dies.
Timon of Athens. Act III. Sc. 5. L. 86.

They have been grand-jurymen since before Noah was a sailor.
Twelfth Night. Act III. Sc. 2. L. 16.

Still you keep o’ the windy side of the law.
Twelfth Night. Act III. Sc. 4. L. 181.

Laws are generally found to be nets of such a texture, as the little creep through, the great break through, and the middle-sized alone are entangled in.
Shenstone—On Politics.

When to raise the wind some lawyer tries,
Mysterious skins of parchment meet our eyes;
On speeds the smiling suit—
. . . . . .
Till stript—nonsuited—he is doomed to toss
In legal shipwreck, and redeemless loss,
Lucky, if like Ulysses, he can keep
His head above the waters of the deep.
Horace and James Smith—Rejected Addresses. Architectural Atoms. Trans. by Dr. B. T.

Men keep their engagements when it is an advantage to both parties not to break them.
Solon—Answer to Anacharsis. In Plutarch—Life of Solon.

Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
Swift—Essay on the Faculties of the Mind.

Bonis nocet quisquis pepercerit malis.
He hurts the good who spares the bad.

Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur.
The judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted.

Corruptissima republica, plurimæ leges.
The more corrupt the state, the more laws.
Tacitus—Annales. III. 27.

Rebus cunctis inest quidam velut orbis.
In all things there is a kind of law of cycles.
Tacitus—Annales. III. 55.

Initia magistratum nostrorum meliora, ferme finis inclinat.
Our magistrates discharge their duties best at the beginning; and fall off toward the end.
Tacitus—Annales. XV. 31.

A man must not go to law because the musician keeps false time with his foot.
Jeremy Taylor—Vol. VIII. P. 145. The Worthy Communicant. Chap. IV. Sect. IV. Quoted from Schott—Adagia. P. 351. Prov. E, Suida. Cent. II. 17.

Quod vos jus cogit, id voluntate impetret.
What the law insists upon, let it have of your own free will.
Terence—Adelphi. III. 4. 44.

Jus summum sæpe summa est malitia.
The strictest law sometimes becomes the severest injustice.
Terence—Heauton timoroumenos. IV. 5. 48.

The law is good, if a man use it lawfully.
I Timothy. I. 8.

No man e’er felt the halter draw,
With good opinion of the law.
John Trumbull—McFingal. Canto III. L. 489.

The Law: It has honored us, may we honor it.
Daniel Webster—Toast at the Charleston Bar Dinner. May 10, 1847.

The glorious uncertainty of law.
Toast of Wilbraham at a dinner of judges and counsel at Serjeants’ Inn Hall, 1756. Quoted by Mr. Sheridan in 1802.

And he that gives us in these days
New Lords may give us new laws.
George Wither—Contented Man’s Morrice.

And through the heat of conflict keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw.
Wordsworth—Character of a Happy Warrior. L. 53.

He it was that first gave to the law the air of a science. He found it a skeleton, and clothed it with life, colour, and complexion; he embraced the cold statue, and by his touch it grew into youth, health, and beauty.
Barry Yelverton (Lord Avonmore)—On Blackstone.