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Commentaries on the Laws of Eng. to be, principally confulted, are
land. Books the firft and jecord; often exceedingly dark, doubtful in two volumes quarto. By Wil and intricate ; whill those on the liam Blackstone, Esq. Vinerian other hand, in which any degree Professor of Law, and Solicitor- of clearpess is to be found, owe it general to ber Majesty. The fecond chiefly to the will of the fovereign, edition. Oxford: printed at the being prepofterously adopted, as a Clarendon prefs.
measure of a subject's right.
Of these two evils, want of per. THE Royal prophet, speak- fpicuity, and want of a strict re
ing of the divine law, 'fays, gard to universal justice; the former that it was a light to the eyes of must be allowed to be the most tothe understanding, which imparted lerable, as it may be conquered by wisdom to the moft fimple. an extraordinary degree of appli
It were much to be wished, that cation in some of the members of what David thus said of the laws the community, while the aflo. of God, could, almoft with any ence consequent on security and allowance, be said úf the laws of created by it, will furnih others men; so that while the universal with the means, occasionally, to porjustice, and extensive principles, on chase their knowledge and advice. which they were founded, should The latter evil nothing can comenlighten and enlarge the under. pensate for, except the temporary ftanding of the wiseit, their com. hope of an extraordinary degree of prehensive clearness and perspicu. wisdom and goodness in the fove. ity should give immediate infor- reign; endowments little to be ex. mation and knowledge to the moft pected, and seldom to be found in fimple ; and that mankind should men, liable from their cradles to fear to break them, from a consci. imbibe the poison of Aattery, and oufness of their apparent and un- the intoxication of power. doubted equity, and a reverential It must not however be diffem-* sense of the benefits, which they bled, but that in the former case, continually imparted. Ifeven or- the necessity of such a tedious and dinary rulers, who are invested tiresome application, by one part with an authority merely judicial of the members of the community, and executive, pretend to claim to acquire a knowledge of the laws some resemblance to the Deity; in of their country, and the conse. the casual dispenfation of law; it quent loss of time and money, should, certainly be the part of which the others muft be at to pay grčat legislators of nations, to en. for the fruits of their labours, deavour to resemble him in the which, in fact, is to porchase the propermanent establishment of it, tection of those laws, are too apt to
It is unfortunate that few hu- weaken, and in time totally to wear man bodies of law, if any, can out of men' minds, that affection be said to possess perspicuity, to. and reverential awe, which we gether with a strict regard to uni. ought to bear towards the laws of versal justice. Those in which the our country. This habitual affecfalus populi is, -as it ought always 'tion and awe is infinitely prefer
able to the multiplicity of penal tutes, their digests, their abridgefactions, which are the reproachments, and their dictionaries, have of moft fyftems of laws.
all their use. But Mr. BlackIn this ficuation of things, we stone is the first who has treated muft owe 110 trivial obligation to the law of England as a liberal any gentleman of abilities equal science. His commentaries, beto the task, who will take the sides affording equal instruction, pains to remove any part of the are infinitely better calculated to obfcurity in which our fyftem of render that instruction agreeable. laws is involved, and thereby cont. His book may' vie with the purity tribute to render the whole more and elegance of the writers of the intelligible. . It will increase this - Roman laws in its best age. They obligation if we reflect, that the are not, therefore, the subjects of law bas been long looked on, as England only, or those that unthe most disagreeable of all ttu. derstand our language, that are dies; and of co dry, disgusting, likely to be benefitted by this heavy a nature, that fudents of work. It will probably be tranf. vivacity and genius were deter. lated into others of the Earopean red from entering upon it, and languages; and become a diffufiye those of a quite contrary caft were benefit, by bringing other nations looked upon as the fitteft to en- acquainted with the advantages of counter the great difficulties which a free conftitution. attended a science, which, how- Mr. Blackstone acquaints us, in ever excellent in its principles, his preface, that he gave private lay in such a ftate of rudeness and lectures on the laws of England disorder.
in the university of Oxford, beThese obligations we owe to fore Mr. Viner had left funds to Mr. Blackstone, who has entirely establish public ones; a circumeleared the law of England from stance greatly to his honour, as fo the rubbish in which it was bu. able a lawyer could not fail of ried.; and now shews it to the pub- employing his talents to much lic, in a clear, concise, and intel. greater advantage at the bar. ligible form. This matterly writer Upon the death of Mr. Viner, the has not confined himself to dif. university elected him first Vinecharge the tak of a mere juriscon- rian professor ; and as this election fult; he takes a wider range, and was an honour to the university ; unites the historian and politician so it was a happiness to the mewith the lawyer. He traces the mory of Mr. Viner, that they had firft eftablishment of our laws, de- such a man to elect. velopes the principles on which Mr. Blackstone introduces wltat they are grounded, examines their he more immediately calls his propriety and efficacy, and some commentaries or lectures, with times, points out wherein they may four sections. 'The first is on the be altered for the better.
study of the law, in which after It is not to be denied, but that mentioning many motives of a many law-writers have before private nature, for its being made wrote treatises, which were very inore or less part of almoft every". , much to the purpose; their insti. man's education, he very judici
ously with his person.
ously points out one of a more of England in general;, and the public confideration. After re. fourth treats of the countries lubs marking, that all gentlemen of ject to those laws: fortune are, in consequence of their What Mr. Blackstone seems property, liable to be called upon more properly so congder as big to establish the rights, to estimate commentaries, is divided into two the injuries, to weigh the accura. books; the first concerning the tions, and sometimes to dispose of rights or duties of persons che the lives of their fellow-fubjects, second concerning the rights of by serving upon juries : That in things, or those rights which this situation they have frequently man may acquire, in and to fach a right to decide, and that upon external things, as are unconnected their oath, questions of nice im. portance, in the solution of which The first book treats, in as many fome legal fkill is requisite ; espe. different chapters, of the follow cially where the law and the fact, ing, subjects.
ing subjects. Of the absolute as it often happens, are intimately rights of individuals; the parlia
: blended together; he pertinently ment; the king and his title; the adds: “And the genetal incapa. king's royal family; the council city, even of our bef juries, to belonging to the king; the king's do this with any tolerable proprie duties ; the king's prerogative; ty, has greatly debased their au- the king's revenue ;--subordinato thority; and has unavoidabiy magiftrates, the people, whether thrown more power into the hands aliens, denizens, or natives ; the of judges, to direct, control, and clergy ; the civil ftate; the milia even reverse their verdicts, than tary and maritime ftates; matters perhaps the conftitution intended." and servants; husband and wife This lection concludes with a cu- parent and child; guardian and rious history of the many struggles, ward ; corporations, between our and the Roman (com. The fecond book treats, in fo monly called by way of excel. many different chapters likewile, lence, the civil) laws, and the of property in general ; of real great victory lately gained by the property į and frit of corporeal former, by its being put, in conse- hereditaments; of incorporeal he. quence of Mr. Viner's will, upon reditaments; of the feodal syftems an equal footing with the latter in of the ancient English venures ; of one of our universities.
the modern English tenuses; of The second section of the in. freehold cftates of inheritance troduction is on the nature of of freeholds not of inheritance laws in general. In this section, of eftates less than freehold; of the British conftitution is proved estates upon condition of eftates to be the beft for the bulk of the in poffeflion, remainder, and repeople ; not only in spite, but ra- version; of citates in severaltyy ther in consequence, of the share joint tenancy, copatcenary, and of monarchical power residing in common; of the title to things the prince, and of aristocratical real in general ; of title by de lodged in the nobles.
scent; of title by purchase and "The third section is on the laws first, by escheat; of title by occu.
pancy: pancys of title by profcription; possession,' we feem afraid to look of title by forfeiture : of title by back to the means by which it alienation; of alienation by deed; was acquired, as if fearful of some of alienation by matter of record; defect in our title ; or 'at' beft we of alienation by special custom; reft satisfied with the decifion of of alienation by devise; of things the laws in our favour, without . perfonal; of property in things examining the reason or authority personal ; of title to things perfo. upon which those laws have been nal, by occupancy; of title by built. We think it enough that prerogative, and forfeiture : of our title is derived by the grant title by custom ; of title by fuc- of the former proprietor, by de. ceffion, marriage, and judgment; scent from our anceftors, or by of title by gift, grans, and con. the last will and teftament of the tract ; of title by bankruptcy; of dying owner; not caring to reteftament, and administration. Hect that (accurately and frictly - Thefe divifions will, we appre- speaking) there is no foundation hend, be found to be what the au. in nature or in natural law, why thor intended them, neither too a fet 'of words upon parchment large nor comprehenfive on the should convey the dominion of one hand, nor too trifling or mi. land ; why the son should have a nute on the other; both circum. right to exclude his fellow-creatures Itances equally productive of con. from a determinate spot of ground, fufion. It must be added, that because his father had done so beno book perhaps was ever publish- fore him ; or why the occupier of ed, that brought down the matter a particular field or of a jewel, of which it treated fo near the when lying on his death-bed and time of publication, without the no longer able to maintain poffef. affiftance of notes, as this does. fion, should be entitled to tell the
It now remains that we give rest of the world which of them fome specimens of the work. The thould enjoy it after him. These judicious and elegant account he enquiries, it must be owned, gives of the nature and origin of would be useless and even troubleproperty, is so curious, that we fome in common life. ¡ It is well need make no apology for infert. if the mass of mankind will obey ing it at length."
the laws when made, without “ There is Hothing which fo ge. fcrutinizing too nicely into the nerally Atrikes the imagination, reasons of making them. But and engages the affections of manwhen law is to be considered nos kind, as the right of property; or only as matter of practice, but althat fole and despotic dominion fo as a rational science, it cannot which one man claims and exer. be improper or useless to examine cises over the external things of more deeply the rudiments and the world in total exclusion of grounds of these positive conftitu. the right of any other individual tions of society. in the universe. Aud yet there In the beginning of the world, are very few that will give them. we are informed by holy writ, the selves the trouble to consider the all-bountiful creator gave to man original and foundation of this “ dominion over all the earth; and right. Pleased as we are with the " over the fire of the sea, and
" over the fowl of the air, and began to use it, acquired therein “ over every living thing that a kind of transient property, that “ moveth upon the earth." This lafted so long as he was ofing it, is the only irue and solid founda. and no longer: or, to speak with tion of man's dominion over exter- greater precision, the right of pof. nal things, whatever airy meta- . felion continued for the same rime physical notions may have been only that the act of poffeffion laftfarred by fanciful writers upon ed.' Thus the ground was in comthis subject. The earth therefore, mon, and no part of it was the and all things therein, are the ge- permanent property of any man in neral property of all mankind, ex- particular: yer whoever was in clufive of other beings, from the the occupation of any determinate immediate gift of the creator. spot of it, for reft, for shade, or And, while the earth continued the like, acquired for the time a bare of inhabitants, it is reasona- sort of ownership, from which ir ble to suppose, that all was in would have been unjust, and concommon among them, and that trary to the law of nature, to have every one took from the public driven him by force ; but the instock to his own use such ihings ftant that he quitted the use or ocas his immediate necesities re- cupation of it, another might seize quired.
it without injuftice. Thus also a · These general notions of peo- vine or other tree might be faid to perty were then sufficient to an- be in common, as all men were Twer all the purposes of human equally entitled to its produce ; life; and might perhaps still have and yet any, private individual answered them, "had it been pof- might gain the sole property of fible for mankind to have remain. the fruit, which he had gathered ed in a state of primaeval fimplici. for his own repaft. A doctrine ty: as may be collected from the well illuftrated by Cicero, who manners of many American na- compares the world to a great tions when first discovered by the 'theatre, which is common to the Europeans"; and from the ancient public, and yet the place which method of living among the first any man has taken is for the time Europeans themselves, if we may his own. credit either the memorials of But when mankind increased in them preserved in the golden age number, craft, and ambition,' it of the poets, or the uniform ac. became necessary to entertain coscounts given by historians of those ceptions of more permanent do. times, wherein " erant omnia com- minion'; and to appropriate to in“ munia et indivisa omnibus, veluti dividuals not the inimediate je “ unum cunétis patrimonium fèt.” only, but the very fubftance of the Not that this communion of goods thing to be used.' Oiherwise in. seems ever to have been applica- numerable tumults muft have a. ble, even in the earliest ag, s, to risen, and the good order of the aught but the substance of the world been continually broken and thing ; nor could be extended to disturbed, while a variety of per. the use of it. For, by the law of fons were striving who should ger nature and reason, he who firft the first occupation of the fame