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respect to the particulars objected to by his “animadverters ;" “to retract or expunge from it what appeared to be really erroneous ; to amend or supply it when inaccurate or defective; to illustrate and explain it when obscure."
All, however, even Bentham, united in commending its literary excellence. Says he: “correct, elegant, unembarrassed, ornamented, the style is such as could scarce fail to recommend a work still more vicious in point of matter, to the multitude of readers.”
Fox, the statesman, of distinguished authority also as a critic, esteemed the style in which the Commentaries are written, the very best among English modern writers; always easy and intelligible, far more exact than Hume, and less studied and made up than Robertson; distinguished as much for simplicity and strength as that of any writer in the English language.*
Lord Mansfield expressed, in strong terms, his admiration of the manner in which Blackstone had executed his task. Having been requested to point out the books proper for the perusal of a student, he is said to have replied, “ till of late I could never, with any satisfaction to myself, answer that question ; but since the publication of Mr. Blackstone's Commentaries, I can never be at a loss. There your son will find analytical reasoning diffused in a pleasing and perspicuous style. There he may imbibe, imperceptibly, the first principles on which our excellent laws are founded; and there he may become acquainted with an uncouth, crabbed, author, Coke upon Lyttleton, who has disappointed and disheartened many a tyro, but who cannot fail to please in a modern dress.”+
In connection with his great work on bailments, Sir William Jones alludes to the Commentaries, as the most
• Trotter's Memoirs of Fox.
+ Halliday's Life of Mansfield, p. 89.
correct and beautiful outline that ever was exhibited of any human science.
The Commentator on American Law, also, placing Blackstone at the head of modern writers, adds this generous and beautiful tribute : “by the excellence of his arrangement, the variety of his learning, the justness of his taste, and the purity and elegance of his style, he communicated to those subjects which were harsh and forbidding in the pages of Coke, the attractions of a liberal science and the embellishments of a polite literature.”
We might add largely to these testimonials from the most eminent sources, but general opinion, among the discriminating, has long since confirmed the sentiment they embody. We introduce them here, rather, in order that, the student, at the outset, may have the fullest introduction to the author, whose great work he is to peruse, perhaps in connection with and aided by the following pages ; and to excite, in advance, his admiration for a masterpiece, that must tell upon his application to its pages, and will, therefore, be well and profitably bestowed.
It is the first book given into his hands upon the threshold of legal studies ; the grammar, from which he may derive the rudiments, to which he will constantly refer, as the rule and standard, his future acquisitions in legal lore. It is reported as the saying of a celebrated English judge, that every practitioner of the law should read yearly Blackstone's Commentaries; an observation to which the profession generally will assent. Upon their appearance, the Commentaries became, indeed, the lawyer's vade mecum; a position in which they have not been superseded. They not only held their ground, but have grown constantly in use and good repute, among men of the law, as the first and foremost of law books.
The Commentaries have affected a revolution in our
legal learning, at least as to the method of acquiring it. As a precedent, they have been abundantly followed in the style and construction of text-books, and elementary works generally. Indeed, through them,
“Grim visag'd laro hath smooth'd her wrinkled front.”
She is still “a jealous mistress," and exacts the greatest devotion in those who would addict themselves to her with success, but is no longer repulsive. Her service, wisely followed, with the more recent aids and appliances, is, compared with what it was when the Commentaries were projected, easy and pleasant. We are here again tempted to cite Blackstone's verse, as in point. In the “ Farewell to his Muse," he has prescience of a career (such as it then was), as follower of the law, which the student, now-a-days, cannot anticipate without gross exaggeration; even though ready to sacrifice as much for "fair justice.”
“ Then welcome business, welcome strife,
Welcome the cares, the thorns of life,
This volume, containing the most material parts of Blackstone's Commentaries, by way of question and answer, was intended, especially, to facilitate the student; but, it is hoped, will be found, also, of use to many outside of the profession.
The knowledge intended for practical, every day use, should be full and accurate. Cursory, even careful, perusal of its sources will not answer the purpose. What the practitioner reads of necessity, should penetrate his memory, 80 as to remain there a fixture. To that end, masters in all branches of learning counsel the mode of acquisition by question and answer, as well calculated to impress the mind lastingly with what is read; and each one's experience, as a student, doubtless, confirms the piece of advice as wise and judicious.
But, in the following pages, the questions not merely draw and fix attention to the text of the Commentaries, but are fully answered apart from that text; so that, taking together question and answer, the information conveyed is complete, without any reference to the immediate source from which each is derived.
Thus, this volume may be of use, as a source of information, briefly and accurately conveyed, upon most important topics, in the absence of the Commentaries themselves; particularly to those, outside of the profession, who have no time to attack elaborate or ponderous volumes, but read for general information as to the reason, policy and justice of the law, to which they are subject; which they are bound to know, in order to obey.
Certainly, an acquaintance with the general principles and maxims of law is of great importance, in every wellregulated community; and some general knowledge of the municipal law, especially, is of use in nearly all situations of life. Few, in any position, can discharge properly their duty, either to the public or themselves, without some degree of that knowledge.
To a self-governed people such information is of the greatest moment. In this country, every one who votes is, in some degree, virtually a legislator ; and is eligible to positions in which he would be one in fact. Apprenticeships are held necessary to almost every art and profession, but each man thinks himself born a legislator. It is selfevident, that for the duties of law-giver a knowledge of the laws is necessary; for, in the words of the Commentator, “how unbecoming must it appear in a member of the legislature, to vote for a new law who is utterly ignorant of the old! What kind of interpretation can he be enabled to give who is a stranger to the text upon which he comments !” The confusion, perplexity, and litigation, introduced by ill-judging and unlearned legislators, are greatly to be lamented, as the source of lasting injury to the community's best interests.
A word, as to the origin of this book. Some years since, Mr. Asa Kinne, of this city, published a work, much smaller than this, with a title nearly similar, consisting of questions and answers from Blackstone's Commentaries, intended especially for the use of students. With a second edition, it went out of print. But it had proved serviceable; and the demand for it, or a work of similar character, continues—as became evident to the publishers of this volume.
It was at first proposed to revise and re-publish Mr. Kinne's work, but, on trial, a suitable revision of it proved to be quite out of the question. It was concluded, therefore, to re-write the whole, and furnish a new work, embracing much additional matter; with the main feature, the method by questions and answers, fully preserved. As already stated, the following pages are not merely a book of reference, but each question is accompanied by its corresponding answer, full and complete without consulting the text of any other volume.
In short, it may be considered an independent CATECHISM, 1. e., form of instruction by means of questions and answers, in the principles of the Common and Statuta