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Cambridge, on the appointment of a successor, and lamented that at Oxford the civil law lectures and the opportunities of gaining legal knowledge through that channel were, when contrasted with the sister University, in the most degraded and unworthy situation, and expressed a wish that an able professor might be invited to fill the vacant seat. Though Dr. Jenner was the person thought of by the Duke, yet he asked Mr. Murray he could recommend him a gentleman who would fill it with greater ability. Mr. Murray shortly afterwards introduced and warmly recommended Mr. Blackstone to the Duke of Newcastle; who in order to ascertain the political bias of the new candidate, addressed him thus: “Sir, I can rely upon the judgment of your friend Mr. Murray, as to your giving law lectures in a style most beneficial to the students; and I dare say, I may safely rely on you, whenever any thing in the political hemisphere is agitated in the University, that you will exert yourself in our behalf.” The answer was, 6. Your Grace may be assured, that I will discharge my duty in giving law lectures to the best of my poor ability.”— “ Ay, ay,” replied his Grace, “ and your duty in the other branch too.”—Mr. Blackstone only bowed assent, and a few days afterwards Dr. Jenner was appointed the civil law professor.
The first years of a counsel's attendance on the Courts afford little matter worthy to be inserted in a narrative of this kind; and Mr. Blackstone, not possessing either a graceful delivery or a flow of elocution (both which he much wanted), nor having any powerful friends or connexions to recommend him, made his way very slowly, attracting little notice and still less practice: he, however, availed himself of the leisure thus left him in storing his mind with that knowledge of the law, which he has since communicated to the world, and contracted an acquaintance with several of the most eminent men in that profession, who saw, through the then intervening cloud, that great genius, which afterwards broke forth with so much splendour.
At Oxford, his active mind had more room to display itself, and, being elected into the office of bursar soon after he had taken his degree, and finding the muniments of the College in a confused state, he undertook a thorough search, and completed a new arrangement, from whence that Society reaped great advantage. He found, also, the method of keeping accounts, in use among the older Colleges, though very exact, yet tedious and complex; he, therefore, drew up a dissertation on the subject, in which he entered minutely into the theory, and elucidated every intricacy that might occur. A copy of this tract is still preserved for the benefit of his successors in the Bursarship.
But it was not merely the estates, muniments, and accounts of the College, in which he was so usefully employed during his residence in that Society. The Codrington Library had for many years remained an unfinished building. He hastened its completion, rectified several mistakes in the architecture, and formed a new arrangement of the books under their respective classes.
The Duke of Wharton, who had engaged himself by bond to defray the expense of building the apartments between the Library and Common Room, being obliged soon after to leave his country, and dying in very distressed circumstances, the discharge of this obligation was long despaired of. It happened, however, in a course of years, that his Grace's executors were enabled to pay his debts, and by the activity of Mr. Blackstone, the building was completed, and the College enabled to recover the whole benefaction.
In May, 1749, as a small reward for his services, and to give him further opportunities of advancing the interests of the College, he was appointed Steward of their Manors. And, in the same year, on the resignation of his uncle, Seymour Richmond, Esq., he was elected Recorder of the borough of Wallingford, in Berkshire, and received the King's approbation on the 30th of May.
The 26th of April, 1750, he commenced Doctor of Civil Law, and thereby became a member of the Convocation, which enabled him to extend his views, beyond the narrow circle of his own society, to the general benefit of the University at large.
The same year he published An Essay on Collateral Consanguinity, relative to the claim made by those who, by a pedigree, proved themselves of kin to the founder of All-Souls College, of being elected, in preference to all others, into that society.
Those claims became now so numerous, that the college, with reason, complained of being frequently precluded from making choice of the most ingenious and deserving candidates.
In this treatise, (his first publication), he endeavoured to prove, that, as the kindred to the founder, a popish ecclesiastic, could not but be collateral, the length of time elapsed since his death
must, according to the rules both of the civil and canon law, have extinguished consanguinity; or that the whole race of mankind were equally the founder's kinsmen.
This work, although it did not answer the end proposed, or convince the then Visitor, did the author great credit, and shewed he had read much, and well digested what he had read. And, most probably, the arguments contained in it had some weight with his Grace who succeeded to the see of Canterbury, and who, a few years afterwards, on application to him as Visitor of the College, formed a new regulation, which gave great satisfaction, limiting the number of founder's kin, whereby the inconvenience complained of was in a great measure removed, without anpihilating a claim founded on the express words of the college statutes. And it must be observed, that, in forming this new regulation, his Grace made choice of Mr. Justice Blackstone, as his common-law assessor, together with that eminent civilian, Dr. Hay, well knowing how much he was master of the subject then under consideration.
Having attended the Courts in Westminster-hall for seven years, and finding the profits of his profession very inadequate to the
expense, in the summer of the year 1753, he determined to retire to his fellowship and an academical life, still continuing the practice of his profession, as a provincial counsel. He had viously planned, what he now began to execute, his Lectures on the Laws of England; a work which has so justly signalized his name, and rewarded his labours.
In the ensuing Michaelmas Term he entered on his new province of reading these lectures; which, even at their commencement, such were the expectations formed from the acknowledged abilities of the lecturer, were attended by a very crowded class of young men of the first families, characters, and hopes.
In July, 1755, he was appointed one of the Delegates of the Clarendon Press. Upon his entering on the duties of this office, he discovered many abuses, which required correction; much mismanagement, which demanded new and important regulations. In order to obtain a thorough insight into the nature of both, he made himself master of the mechanical part of printing; and to promote and to complete a reform, he printed a letter on the subject, addressed to Dr. Randolph, at that time Vice-Chancellor.
This and his other endeavours produced the desired effect, and he had the pleasure of seeing, within the course of a year, the reform he had proposed carried into execution, much to the honour, as well as the emolument of the University, and the satisfaction of all its friends. While engaged in these pursuits, he drew up a small tract relative to the management of the University press. This he left for the use of his successors in that office; and it was held in high esteem, and regarded by them as the ground-work, not only of the improvements then made, but of those also which were in contemplation.
About a year before this he published An Analysis of the Laws of England, as a guide to those gentlemen who attended his lectures, on their first introduction to that study; in which he reduced that intricate science to a clear method, intelligible to the youngest student.
On the death of Dr. Coxed, Warden of Winchester, in the year 1757, he was elected, by the surviving visitors of Michel's new foundation in Queen's College, into that body. This situation afforded fresh matter for his active genius to exercise itself in; and it was chiefly by his means, that this donation, which had been for some years matter of contention only, became a very valuable acquisition to the College, as well as an ornament to the University, by completing that handsome pile of building towards the High-street, which, for many years, had been little better than a confused heap of ruins.
The engrafting a new set of fellows and scholars into an old established society, was not an easy task, and here the difficulty had increased, from the many unsuccessful attempts previously made, all of which had terminated in disputes between the members of the old, and the visitors of the new foundation. Dr. Blackstone, however, was not disheartened, but pursued his plan for the improvement of Mr. Michel's original donation, without departing from his intention; to the entire satisfaction of the members of the old foundation; which, together with a body of statutes he drew for the purpose, was confirmed by act of Parliament, in the year 1769.
Being engaged as counsel in the great contest for knights of the shire for the county of Oxford, in 1764, he very maturely considered a question then much agitated, Whether copyholders of a certain nature had a right to vote in county elections: and
having committed those thoughts to paper, in the shape of a small treatise, he was prevailed upon, by Sir Charles Mordaunt, and other members of Parliament, who had brought in a bill to settle that controverted point, to publish it in March, 1758, under the title of Considerations on Copyholders. The bill soon after passed into a law.
Mr. Viner having by his will left the copyright of his Abridgment, together with other property to a considerable amount, to the University of Oxford, to found a professorship, fellowships, and scholarships of common law, Dr. Blackstone was, on the 20th of October, 1758, unanimously elected Vinerian Professor. This situation (he informs us in his introduction to the Commentaries) led him to investigate the elements of law, and the grounds of our civil polity, with greater assiduity and attention than many have thought it necessary to do; and, on the 25th of the same month, he read his first introductory lecture; one of the most elegant and admired compositions which any age or country ever produced : this he published at the request of the ViceChancellor and Heads of Houses, and afterwards prefixed to the first volume of his Commentaries.
His lectures were received with such universal approbation, that he was requested by a noble personage, who superintended the education of George the Third, then Prince of Wales, to read them to his Royal Highness: being at that time engaged to a numerous class of pupils in the University, he thought he could not, consistently with that engagement, comply with the request, and therefore declined it. But he transmitted copies of many of them for the perusal of his Royal Highness: who, far from being offended at an excuse grounded on so honourable a motive, was pleased to order a handsome gratuity to be presented to him. It is more than probable that this early knowledge of the character and abilities of the Professor laid the foundation in the breast of his Majesty George the Third, of that good opinion and esteem, which afterwards promoted him to the Bench; and, occasioned immediately after his decease, the extension of the Royal bounty to his widow and his numerous family.
In the course of this year he was strongly pressed by Lord Chief Justice Willes, and Mr. Justice (afterwards Earl) Bathurst,