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efficient, by enabling the Chief Baron to give it his daily attention, as his sole business, an equally good Court of Appeal in Equity, embracing Irish appeals, could be formed; and if the occasional absence of some of the judges from the peculiar business of their own courts were found to create an inconvenient arrear of business, the expense of a second additional judge in equity would not be grudged by the country. The judgments given in those Courts might safely be made final, and all intermediate appeals excluded. If the Lord Chancellor, who is at present the only real representative of the House of Lords in matters of appeal, presided in both these Courts, the point of honor would be saved to their Lordships' House, and the esprit du corps of the legal profession would not be wounded. Scotch appeals would remain to be provided for; and as English lawyers (including English judges, with reverence be it said,) generally have but an imperfect acquaintance with the Roman law, which is the basis of Scottish jurisprudence, a better Court of Appeal for Scotland could be formed in Edinburgh than at Westminster.
There would be no complicated intricacy in the mechanism of this plan; it would at least have simplicity to recommend it, and, it is believed, it would prove efficacious.
The comprehensive system of Lord Langdale, it is feared, the public mind is not, at present, sufficiently enlarged to embrace; it is not capable of soaring to the lofty heights of his lordship's philosophy; but he will doubtless recollect that such changes as his clear vision contemplates never are, and perhaps never ought to be, admitted, until they have been perseveringly pressed upon attention, again and again, and the arguments on which they rest have become familiar to ordinary understandings. The process for effecting this is tiresome; but without it the desired end cannot be obtained: let us hope Lord Langdale will not weary in a good cause. A minister of justice, with functions somewhat analogous to those of the French minister of that department, but greatly modified, to make them harmonise with our freer constitution, might work an immense improvement both in our legislative and judicial proceedings.
THE following sheets contain the substance of a course of lectures on the Laws of England, which were read by the author in the University of OXFORD. His original plan took its rise in the year 1753; and, notwithstanding the novelty of such an attempt in this age and country, and the prejudices usually conceived against any innovations in the established mode of education, he had the satisfaction to find, and he acknowledges it with a mixture of pride and gratitude, that his endeavours were encouraged and patronised by those, both in the university and out of it, whose good opinion and esteem he was principally desirous to obtain.
The death of Mr. VINER in 1756, and his ample benefaction, to the university, for promoting the study of the law, produced about two years afterwards a regular and public establishment of what the author had privately undertaken. The knowledge of our laws and constitution was adopted as a liberal science by general academical authority: competent endowments were decreed for the support of a lecturer, and the perpetual encouragement of students; and the compiler of the ensuing Commentaries had the honour to be elected the first Vinerian professor.
In this situation he was led, both by duty and inclination, to investigate the elements of the law, and the grounds of our civil polity, with greater assiduity and attention than many have thought it necessary to do. And yet all, who of late years have attended the public administration of justice, must be sensible that a masterly acquaintance with the general spirit of laws and principles of universal jurisprudence, combined with an accurate knowledge of our own municipal constitutions, their original,
reason, and history, hath given a beauty and energy to many modern judicial decisions, with which our ancestors were wholly unacquainted. If, in the pursuit of these inquiries, the author hath been able to rectify any errors which either himself or others may have heretofore imbibed, his pains will be sufficiently answered and if in some points he is still mistaken, the candid and judicious reader will make due allowances for the difficulties of a search so new, so extensive, and so laborious.
Nov. 2, 1765.
NOTWITHSTANDING the diffidence expressed in the foregoing Preface, no sooner was the work completed, but many of its positions were vehemently attacked by zealots of all (even opposite) denominations, religious as well as civil; by some with a greater, by others with a less degree of acrimony. To such of these animadverters as have fallen within the author's notice, (for he doubts not but some have escaped it), he owes at least this obligation that they have occasioned him from time to time to revise his work, in respect to the particulars objected to; 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. But, where he thought the objections ill-founded, he hath left and shall leave the book to defend itself: being fully of opinion, that, if his principles be false and his doctrines unwarrantable, no apology from himself can make them right; if founded in truth and rectitude, no censure from others can make them wrong.
LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE was born on the 10th July, 1723, in Cheapside, in the parish of St. Michael le Querne, at the house of his father, Mr. Charles Blackstone, a silkman, and citizen and bowyer of London; who was the third son of Mr. John Blackstone, an eminent apothecary in Newgate Street, descended from a family of that name in the West of England, at or near Salisbury, and who died some months previous to the birth of William, the author of these justly esteemed Commentaries. His mother was Mary, eldest daughter of Lovelace Bigg, Esquire, of Chilton Foliot, in Wiltshire; she died before the learned commentator attained his twelfth year.
Sir William had three brothers, Charles, John, and Henry. John died an infant, Charles and Henry were educated at Winchester, under the care of their uncle Dr. Bigg, who was warden of that society, and were afterwards both fellows of New College, Oxford; Charles became a fellow of Winchester, and vicar of Wimering in Hampshire: Henry, after having practised physic some years, went into holy orders, and died in 1778, vicar of Adderbury in Oxfordshire, a living in the gift of New College.
The being early in life deprived of both parents proved, in its consequences, the reverse of misfortune to our author: to that circumstance probably he was indebted for his future advancement, and that high literary character and reputation in his profession, which he has left behind him; to that circumstance the public too is probably indebted for the benefit it has received, and will receive, as long as the law of England remains, from the labours of his pen. For, had his father lived, it is most likely, that the third son of a London tradesman, not of great affluence, would