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The Common Law of England in the early periods of our history provided but very scantily for the rude and scattered population of the country in regard to their social exigencies, and though the expansive powers of modern jurisprudence extend the principles of that law very far to meet the demands of the civilized state of this densely-peopled nation, still those principles must be maintained generally upon the basis of their original foundations. The highway must be kept in repair, so that the line of road must be preserved, but the common law did not provide for its being paved or swept or scavengered. “If the road be miry,” said the old judge, “the traveller must pluck up his hose and put on his boots."
But no indictment would lie against the parish.
In process of time the Crown was empowered to issue commissions to form great sewers to drain large districts, but no provision was made for the smaller, but not less important, drainage which separate and individual dwelling-houses required for the comfort and the health of the inmates and the neighbourhood. Again, though in the Court of the Leet, many of the minor nuisances which exist where men congregate together in their dwellings were the subjects of investigation and penalty, the process was tedious and the results seldom very efficacious.
As civilization advanced, and population increased, it became necessary that special legislation should be resorted to for the supply of greater powers for extending the means of improving the external condition of towns, or regulating the conduct of persons in their out-of-door life, and repressing the nuisances and petty annoyances by which careless or ill-regulated persons molest, injure, or inconvenience their neighbours or the public. But until very lately no general measure applicable to the whole of the nation was passed by the legislature. Where the inhabitants of any town, or populous parish, found themselves suffering under the grievances above adverted to, or were desirous of improving the general state of their district for their mutual benefit, or of extending its attractions for visitors, they applied to parliament to make a special law for them. In their application they sought for all the special authorities which they considered their own peculiar condition then required. The demand was conceded as necessary or reasonable, though where private rights and interests were interfered with, contests took place with varying success to prevent their destruction, or to secure adequate compensation. For a century and a half will be found in the annals of parliament a long series of the local and private Acts of the character and for the purposes thus described. Of course they have been most numerous during the present century, and, making all allowance for the variations rendered necessary by local circumstances,