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scape, as to convert the journey from a wearisome toil to an attractive pleasure. For. almost a century the Commentaries have been the first book of the student of law; and whatever criticisms have been or may be made upon their learning or accuracy, the fact is that no lawyer fails to make them a part of his course of study sooner or later."
Previous to his call to the bar, Blackstone had removed from Pembroke to All Souls, and in June, 1744, had become a fellow of the latter college. In 1745, he graduated Bachelor of Civil Law, and on November 28, 1746, he was called to the bar.
After his admission to the bar he was destined to undergo a long and trying novitiate. He was little known in Westminster Hall. As an advocate he was not a success. He had neither a graceful delivery; nor good flow of words; nor powerful friends —so necessary in those days. From 1746 to 1760 he only reports himself to have been engaged in two cases, and those are so unimportant that they are mentioned in no other report book.
Blackstone attempted to improve this period of professional idleness by broader studies; but, at the same time, hope so long deferred made his heart sick, and it was noticed that though from his call to the bar until Michaelmas term, 1750, he regularly attended the Court of King's Bench and took notes of cases, his diligence relaxed, and latterly he noted only the cases concerning the universities, in whose affairs he was always deeply interested. This interest caused him to spend much time at Oxford, and he was elected bursar of his college, in which position he rendered great service. In May, 1749, as a small reward for these services, he was appointed steward of their manors; and in the same year he was elected Recorder of the Borough of Wallingford, in Berkshire. On the 26th of April, 1750, he was made Doctor of Civil Law, and thereby became a member of the convocation.
It was about the year 1750 that Blackstone first began to plan his lectures on the Laws of England. Despairing of success at the bar he determined to confine himself to his fellowship and an academical life, continuing the practice of his profession as provincial counsel. In Michaelmas term, 1753, he delivered his first course at Oxford, which was numerously attended. Nor did the interest flag. In 1754 he found it worth while, from the number attending, to publish his Analysis of the Laws of England, for the use of his hearers.
In July, 1755, he was appointed to another office, that of a delegate of the Clarendon Press. Here again he rendered valuable services. In 1757 he was elected into Queen's College.
Mr. Viner having bequeathed to the University of Oxford a considerable sum of money and the copyright of his Abridgment of Law, for the purpose of founding a professorship of Common Law, Blackstone was, on October 20th, 1758. unanimously elected first Vinerian professor. On the 2oth of that month he delivered his introductory lecture on the study of law. His lectures soon became celebrated throughout the Kingdom, and he was requested to read them to the Prince of Wales, but declined the honor.
In 1756 he resumed his attendance at Westminster, showing himself in court at each Michaelmas and Hilary term, doubtless for the purpose of making himself known, but he does not record that he was engaged in any cause.
In June, 1759, he resigned his offices of Assessor in the ViceChancellor's Court and Steward of All Souls' manors, and came to reside in the Temple. But it does not seem that he ever acquired much celebrity as an advocate. His principal practice was as chamber counsel, and in that capacity he commanded the notice and regard of bench and bar, being invited by Lord Chief Justice Willes and Mr. Justice Bathurst to take the coif, which he declined.
In 1761 he was offered, but declined, the appointment of Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland. In March of the same year he was returned to Parliament for Hindon, and became a King's counsel. In May he was married to Sarah Clitherow, daughter of James Clitherow. This vacated the fellowship at All Souls, and in July he was appointed Principal of New Inn Hall. In 1762 he collected and published several of his pieces under the title of "Law Tracts." In 1763 he was appointed Solicitor General to the Queen, and elected Bencher in the Middle Temple. In 1765 appeared the first volume of the Commentaries—twelve years after the first delivery of his lectures, and the other three volumes appeared in the course of the four succeeding years. In 1766 he resigned the Vinerian professorship and also the Principality of New Inn Hall. In 1768 he was elected to Parliament for the Borough of Westbury, and his part in the debates relative to the election of John Wilkes drew upon him the caustic sarcasms of Junius.
In 1770 he was offered the Solicitor Generalship. He declined this, but accepted the position of a Judge of the Common Pleas. He exchanged places, however, with Mr. Justice Yates, taking that gentleman's seat as Judge of the King's Bench and receiving the honor of Knighthood. On Sir Joseph Yates' death shortly after, Blackstone again became a Judge of the Common Pleas. Here he maintained the high reputation he had previously acquired by his performance of his duties on the bench. Several of his judgments are very elaborate and upon difficult and important questions, and they display to great advantage his ability and research. During Blackstone's time the Court of Common Pleas differed in opinion upon two cases only. In both he dissented, and in both he was sustained by the King's Bench and the House of Lords.
Shortly after his marriage he purchased a villa, called Priory Place, near Wallingford, and became one of the most active and public spirited of citizens. He was associated with John Howard in his efforts for prison reform, and in conjunction with him exerted himself to procure an act of Parliament for the establishment of Penitentiary Houses near London, in which they were successful. He also indulged in literary labors to some extent.
He was not, however, long permitted to enjoy this life of quiet usefulness and honor. Sedentary habits, never conducive to health, worked their natural results upon him, and after a short illness, he died, February 14th, 1780, and was buried in St. Peter's Church, Wallingford.
Probably no man has so thoroughly perpetuated his name in legal history. How great was his work we may conjecture, when we remember that, after the lapse of more than a century, the Commentaries is still the only book that is with entire confidence placed in the hands of the beginner. However, as said James Clithcrow: "His professional abilities need not be dwelt upon. They will be universally acknowledged and admired as long as his works shall be read, or, in other words, as long as the Municipal laws of this country shall remain an object of study and practice."
OP THE study, NATURE AND EXTENT OF THE LAWS OF ENGLAND,
Sec. 1. On The Study Of The Law. Sec. 2. The Nature Of
Laws In General. Sec. 3. The Growth And Foundation
Of The Laws Of England. Sec. 4. The Countries
Subject To Those Laws.
Section one is an address read by Sir William Blackstone at the opening of the Vinerian lectures at Oxford, October 25th, 1758, he having been elected first Vinerian professor the 20th of October previous. It was addressed "to the Vice-Chancellor and the gentlemen of the University." Its general subject is "The Study of the Laws of England." The following are the main heads of the discussion:
1. The general utility of the study of the English common law appears from considering the peculiar situation of, I. Gentlemen of Fortune; II. The Nobility; III. Persons in Liberal Professions.
2. The causes of its neglect were chiefly the revival of the study of the Roman laws in the twelfth century, their adoption by the clergy and universities and the illiberal jealousy that subsisted between the patrons and students of each.
3. The establishment of the Courts of Common Pleas at Westminster preserved the common law and promoted its study in that neighborhood exclusive of the two universities.
4. But the universities are now the most eligible places for laying the foundations of this as of every other liberal accomplishment; by tracing out the principles and grounds of the law, even to their original elements.
OF THE NATURE OF LAWS IN GENERAL.
Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action; and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.
But laws, in their more confined sense, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct; that is, the precepts by which man, a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.