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In 1768 he was returned to Parliament for the borough of Westbury, in Wiltshire, and took part in the debates relative to the election of Mr. John Wilkes, when his adversaries in the House stated that many of the positions advanced by him on that occasion were strongly opposed to the doctrines laid down in the Commentaries; and he was also attacked in a pamphlet supposed to have been written by Sir W. Meredith. To this pamphlet he published a reply, under the title of A Letter to the Author of the Question Stated, which was severely commented upon by Junius, who concluded his bitter criticism thus: "If I were personally your enemy, I should dwell with a malignant pleasure upon those great and useful qualities you certainly possess, and by which you once acquired, though they could not preserve to you, the respect and esteem of your country. I should enumerate the honors you have lost, and the virtues you have disgraced; but, having no private resentments to gratify, I think it sufficient to have given my opinion of your public conduct, leaving the punishment it deserves to the closet and to yourself."

In the same year, Dr. Priestley animadverted on some positions. in the Commentaries relative to offenses against the doctrine of the Established Church, and Dr. Furneaux, with less ability, addressed to him some letters on his exposition of the Toleration Act. He published an answer to Dr. Priestley, and, in subsequent editions, modified some of the most glaring of the errors into which his political bias had led him. The attacks of Bentham and Sheridan were founded on principles too widely different from his own, and of too general application, to be thus acknowledged.

The reputation of Blackstone as an able lawyer was now so thoroughly established, that, had he been gifted with fluency of speech, and readiness and hardiness in political discussion, and had he possessed a constitution equal to the fatigues attending the most extensive business of the profession, he might probably have obtained its most lucrative emoluments and highest offices. The offer of the solicitor-generalship, on the resignation of Dunning in January, 1770, opened the most flattering prospects to his view. But his recent experience in the House of Commons, his consciousness of unfitness for active political partisanship, and a desire for more easy honors and emoluments, were probably his inducements to decline an appointment which was afterward more appropriately bestowed upon Thurlow.

He, however, readily accepted the office of Judge of the Common Pleas, on the resignation of Mr. Justice Clive, and kissed his majesty's hand on that appointment, February 9th, 1770; on the 12th of the same month he was called to the degree of a sergeant at law, and chose for a motto on the rings distributed on that occasion, "Secundis dubiisque rectus." But previously to the passing of his patent, Mr. Justice Yates having expressed an earnest wish to retire from the King's Bench into the Court of Common

Pleas (which, even at that time, was looked upon as a retreat from active life), Blackstone, from motives of personal esteem, consented. On the 16th of February he kissed his majesty's hand on being appointed a judge of the Court of King's Bench, and also received the honor of knighthood. But, upon the death of Mr. Justice Yates, which happened on the 7th of June following, he was gratified by being reappointed to his seat in the Court of Common Pleas. He was succeeded in the King's Bench by Sir W. H. Ashhurst. On his promotion to the bench he resigned the recordership of Wallingford.

He seemed now arrived at the point he always wished for, and might justly be said to enjoy otium cum dignitate. Freed from the attendance at the bar, and, what he had still a greater aversion to, in the Senate, "where," to use his own expression (in his reply to Dr. Priestley's remarks), "amid the rage of contending parties, a man of moderation must expect to meet with no quarter from any side," although he diligently and conscientiously performed the duties of the high office he was placed in, yet the leisure afforded by the legal vacations he dedicated to the private duties of this life, which, as the father of a numerous family, he found himself called upon to exercise; or to literary retirement, and the society of his friends, at his villa, called Priory Place, in Wallingford, which he purchased soon after his marriage, having, for some years before, occasionally resided at it. His connection with this town, both from his office of recorder, and his occasional residence there from about the year 1750, led him to promote every plan designed for its benefit or improvement. To his activity it is indebted for two new turnpike roads through the town, the one opening a communication, by means of a new bridge over the Thames at Shillingford, between Oxford and Reading, the other to Wantage, through the Vale of Berkshire. What substantial advantage the town of Wallingford derived from hence will be seen by the gradual increase of its malt trade between the years 1749 and 1779, extracted from the entries of the Excise Office during that period. To his architectural talents, his liberality, his zeal, and his numerous friends, Wallingford likewise owes the rebuilding that handsome fabric, St. Peter's Church.

These were his employments in retirement. In London his active mind was never idle, and when unoccupied by the duties of his station, he was generally engaged in some scheme of pub

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lic utility. In the latter part of his life he devoted much time to the consideration of prison discipline. He had remarked the inefficacy of the system which restores prisoners to society, on the expiration of their punishment, more complete adepts in criminal practices than when they entered the gates of their jail. Idleness, drunkenness, and an unrestrained communication between the oldest and youngest culprits were the characteristics of almost every jail in England. Among others, he exerted himself, in conjunction with Mr. Howard, to procure an act of Parliament for the establishment of penitentiary houses near the metropolis, the objects of which should be "to seclude the criminals from their former associates; to separate those of whom hopes might be entertained from those who were desperate; to teach them useful trades; to accustom them to habits of industry; to give. them religious instruction; and to provide them with a recommendation to the world, and the means of obtaining an honest livelihood after the expiration of the term of their imprisonment." The statute of the 19th Geo. III., c. 74, was accordingly passed, and though it did not produce all the beneficial effects that were expected from it, it led the way to more just and rational views of prison discipline. In one of his charges to a grand jury, he referred to the establishment of penitentiaries under this act in the following terms: "In these houses the convicts are to be separately confined during the intervals of their labors, debarred from all incentives to debauchery, instructed in religion and morality, and forced to work for the benefit of the public. Imagination can not figure to itself a species of punishment in which terror, benevolence, and reformation are more happily blended together. What can be more dreadful to the riotous, the libertine, the voluptuous, the idle delinquent, than solitude, confinement, sobriety, and constant labor? Yet what can be more truly beneficial? Solitude will awaken reflection; confinement will banish temptation; sobriety will restore vigor; and labor will beget a habit of honest industry; while the aid of a religious instructor may implant new principles in his heart; and when the date of his punishment is expired, will conduce both to his temporal and eternal welfare. Such a prospect as this is surely well worth the trouble of an experiment."

The augmentation of the judges' salaries, calculated to make up the deficiencies occasioned by the heavy taxes they are subject to, and thereby to render them more independent, was obtained, in a great measure, by his industry and attention.

Sir William did not live to enjoy, for a lengthened period, the honors to which his learning, his literature, and his diligence had raised him. His constitution, hurt by the studious labors of his younger days and by an unhappy aversion to exercise, grew daily worse not only the gout, with which he was frequently, though not very severely, visited from the year 1759, but a nervous disorder also, that frequently brought on giddiness, added to a cor

pulency of body, rendered him still more inactive than he used to be, and contributed to the breaking up of his constitution at an early period of life.

About Christmas, 1779, he was seized with a violent shortness of breath, which his physicians supposed to arise from a dropsical habit and water on the chest, and by the application of the usual remedies he received relief. On coming to London to attend Hilary Term, he was again attacked, chiefly in his head, which brought on a drowsiness and stupor that baffled all the art of medicine; the disorder increased rapidly; he lay some days insensible, and on the 14th of February, 1780, expired, in the 57th year of his age. He was buried, by his own direction, in a vault he had built for his family, in the parish church of St. Peter's, in Wallingford. His neighbor and friend, Dr. Barrington, bishop of Llandaff, at his own request, performed the funeral service.

The fame of Sir William Blackstone as a commentator on the laws of England has rendered his character as a judge less conspicuous. His judgments are, indeed, never wanting in learning and good sense; but they would not alone have raised his name to its present distinguished station.

In his views of politics, as of law, he was inclined rather to extenuate and justify than to criticise or amend; or, as his character is otherwise expressed by his biographer, Mr. Clitherow, "As a senator, he was averse to party violence, and moderate in his sentiments. In Parliament he was a firm supporter of the true principles of our happy Constitution, in Church and State, on the real merits of which few men were better qualified to decide. He was an active and judicious promoter of whatever he thought useful or advantageous to the public in general, or to any particular society or neighborhood he was connected with; possessing a sound judgment, with a clear and analytical head, and an unremitting perseverance in pursuing whatever he thought right, he was enabled to carry many beneficial plans into execution."

"Being a believer in the great truths of Christianity, from a thorough investigation of its evidences, and attached to the Church of England from conviction of its excellence, his principles were those of its genuine members-enlarged and tolerant. His religion was pure and unaffected, his attendance on its public duties regular, and performed with seriousness and devotion."

"He was an excellent manager of his time, and though much of it was spent in the study of books and the employment of his pen, it was done without the parade or ostentation of being a hard student. It was observed that during his residence at college, his studies never appeared to break in upon the common business of life, or the innocent amusements of society; for the latter of which few men were better qualified, being possessed of the happy faculty of making his own company agreeable and instructive, while he enjoyed, without reserve, the society of others."

"Melancthon himself could not have been more rigid in observing the hour and minute of an appointment; during the years in which he read his lectures at Oxford, it could not be remembered that he had ever kept his audience waiting for him, even a few minutes. As he valued his own time, he was extremely careful not to be instrumental in squandering or trifling away that of others, who, he hoped, might have as much regard for theirs as he had for his. Indeed, punctuality was, in his opinion, so much a virtue, that he could not bring himself to think perfectly well of any who were notoriously defective in it."

"The virtues of his private character, less conspicuous in their nature, and, consequently, less generally known, endeared him to those he was more intimately connected with, and who saw him in the more retired scenes of life. He was, notwithstanding his contracted brow (partly owing to his being very near-sighted), a cheerful, agreeable, and facetious companion. He was a faithful friend, an affectionate husband and parent, and a charitable benefactor to the poor; possessed of generosity, without affectation, bounded by prudence and economy. The constant accurate knowledge he had of his income and expenses (the consequence of uncommon regularity in his accounts) enabled him to avoid the opposite extremes of meanness and profusion."

Strict in the exercise of every public and private duty himself, he expected the same attention to both in others; and, when disappointed in this expectation, was apt to animadvert with some degree of severity on those who, in his estimate of duty, seemed to deserve it. This rigid sense of obligation, added to a certain irritability of temper derived from nature, and increased in his latter years by a strong nervous affection, together with his countenance and figure, conveyed an idea of sternness, which occasioned the heavy, but unmerited imputation, among those who did not know him, of ill-nature; but he had a heart kind and benevolent as ever man possessed."


"A natural reserve and diffidence, which accompanied him from his earliest youth, and which he could never shake off, appeared to a casual observer like pride, especially after he became a judge, when he thought it his duty to keep strictly up to forms (which, as he was wont to observe, are frequently too much laid aside), and not to lessen the respect due to the dignity and gravity of his office by any outward levity of behavior."*

The reception of the Commentaries was of the most flattering * The author of the Biographical His- spect, called the new-made civilian Doctory of Sir William Blackstone relates the following anecdote of him: "I was perfectly well acquainted with a certain bookseller, who told me, that upon hearing Mr. Blackstone had commenced Doctor of Civil Law, the next time he did him the honor of a visit, he (the bookseller), in the course of conversation, and out of pure re

TOR.' This familiar manner of accosting him (as he was pleased to term it) put him in such a passion, and had such an instantaneous and violent effect, and operat ed on him to so alarming a degree, that the poor bookseller thought he should have been obliged to send for a doctor from St. Luke's."

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