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description. Previously to their publication the volumes usually put into the hands of the student at the commencement of his studies were Finch's Common Law or Wood's Institutes-works ill adapted to reconcile the student to the profession he was about to enter, and which were readily laid aside for a manual in which accurate learning, systematic arrangement, and comprehensive research were accompanied by an elegance of style to which, hitherto, the compositions of our English jurists had been strangers. Lord Mansfield, with whom the elder writers of our law appear never to have been favorites, expressed in strong terms his admiration of the manner in which Mr. 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 can not fail to please in a modern dress."*


In preparing his Commentaries for the press, he anxiously sought to render them as free from errors as possible. They were submitted to Lord Mansfield and to Chief-justice Wilmot ;† but in what degree the work benefited by this revision we are uninformed.

Great, however, as the admiration was with which the Commentaries were received, their demerits, which, in one point of view, were neither few nor slight, did not escape, what they fully merited, great severity of criticism. His ill-guarded expression, in his fourth volume, of his sentiments on religious toleration and the character of the dissenters, provoked some warm remarks from Dr. Priestley, to which Blackstone published a reply, in which, through the verbal sophistries in which he took refuge, and the elegance and gentlemanly retenue of his expressions, is easily perceived a consciousness that the castigation was not altogether unmerited, and no little irritation of temper at having received it. Dr. Furneaux addressed several long letters to him on the same subject. Sheridan and Bentham attacked some of his political chapters. Their criticisms did not draw from him, in his subsequent editions, either a bold defense, or a magnanimous surrender of the dogmas to which he was attached; with one exception, his policy was to surround and qualify what had been the most unguarded of his expressions, with a variety of rhetorical expletives that left the meaning to common apprehensions just what it was, but, in case it should be called in question, would be found, upon a critical examination, to have reduced it Holliday's Life of Mansfield, p. 89. + Life of Wilmot, p. 202.

to nothing. "These attacks," says Bentham, "have been the means of his adding a good deal of this kind of rhetorical lumber to the plentiful stock there was of it before. One passage, indeed, a passage deep tinctured with religious gall, they have been the means of clearing away entirely, and in this, at least, they have done good service. They have made him sophisticate, they have made him even expunge, but all the doctors in the world, I doubt, would not bring him to confession."


In the year 1776 Bentham published his Fragment on Government, or a Comment on the Commentaries, being an Examination of what is delivered on the Subject of Government in general, in the introduction to Sir W. Blackstone's Commentaries; with a Preface, in which is given a Critique on the Work at large. In this earliest and most finished of his publications, Bentham has pointed out, with equal severity and justice, the peculiar faults and merits of the commentator, in language as elegant as his own, but far more perspicuous and exact, and pointed and relieved with a wit to which vanity had not yet given unbridled license.

Bentham thus explains the nature of the provocation to his undertaking: "If it be a matter of importance and of use to us to be made acquainted with distant countries, surely it is not a matter of much less importance, nor of much less use to us, to be made better and better acquainted with the chief means of living happily in our own; if it be of importance and of use to us to know the principles of the element we breathe, surely it is not of much less importance, nor of much less use, to comprehend the principles, and endeavor at the improvement of those laws, by which alone we breathe it in security. If to this endeavor we should fancy any author, especially any author of great name, to be, and as far as could in such case be expected, to avow himself a determined and persevering enemy, what should we say of him? We should say that the interests of reformation, and through them the welfare of mankind, were inseparably connected with the downfall of his works; of a great part, at least, of the esteem and influence which these works might, under whatever title, have acquired.

"Such an enemy has been my misfortune (and not mine only) to see, or fancy, at least, I saw, in the author of the celebrated Commentaries on the Laws of England; an author whose works have had, beyond comparison, a more extensive circulation, have obtained a greater share of esteem, of applause, and, consequently,

In the first edition of the Commentaries, vol. iv., p. 50, the following passage occurred: "First, of the offense of reviling the ordinances of the Church. This is a crime of much grosser nature than that of mere non-conformity, since it carries with it the utmost indecency, arrogance, and ingratitude; indecency, by setting up private judgment in [virulent and factious] opposition to public [authority]; arro

gance, by treating with contempt and rudeness what has, at least, a better chance to be right than the singular notions of any particular man; and ingratitude, by denying that liberty of conscience to the members of the national church which the retainers to every petty conventicle enjoy." The words within crotchets were the result of Dr. Furneaux and Dr. Priestley's Letters.

of influence (and that by a title on many grounds so indisputable) than any other writer who on that subject has ever yet appeared.

"It is on this account that I conceived, some time since, the design of pointing out some of what appeared to me the capital blemishes of that work, particularly this grand and fundamental one, the antipathy to reformation; or rather, indeed, of laying open and exposing the universal inaccuracy and confusion which seemed, to my apprehension, to pervade the whole. For, indeed, such an ungenerous antipathy seemed of itself enough to promise a general vein of obscure and crooked reasoning, from whence no clear and sterling knowledge could be derived; so intimate is the connection between some of the gifts of the understanding and some of the affections of the heart.


It is in this view, then, that I took in hand that part of the first volume to which the author has given the name of Introduction."


"There are two characters, one or other of which every man who finds any thing to say on the subject of law may be said to take upon him that of the expositor and that of the censor. To the province of the expositor it belongs to explain to us what, as he supposes, the law is; to that of the censor, to observe to us what he thinks it ought to be. The former, therefore, is principally occupied in stating, or in inquiring after, facts; the latter in discussing reasons. The expositor, keeping within his sphere, has no concern with any other faculties of the mind than the apprehension, the memory, and the judgment; the latter, in virtue of those sentiments of pleasure or displeasure which he finds occasion to annex to the objects under his review, holds some intercourse with the affections. That which is law is, in different countries, widely different; while that which ought to be, is in all countries, to a great degree, the same. The expositor, therefore, is always the citizen of this or that particular country; the censor is, or ought to be, the citizen of the world. To the expositor it belongs to show what the legislator and his under-workman, the judge, have done already; to the censor it belongs to suggest what the legislator ought to do in future. To the censor, in short, it belongs to teach that science which, when by change of hands. converted into an art, the legislator practices.

"Let us now return to our author. Of these two perfectly distinguishable functions, the latter alone is that which it fell necessarily within his province to discharge. His professed object was to explain to us what the laws of England were. 'Ita lex scripta est was the only motto which he stood engaged to keep in view. The work of censure (for to this word, in default of any other, I find it necessary to give a neutral sense), the work of censure, as it may be styled, or, in a certain sense, of criticism, was to him but a parergon-a work of supererogation; a work indeed, which, if aptly executed could not but be of great orna

ment to the principal one, and of great instruction as well as entertainment to the reader, but from which our author, as well as those that had gone before him on the same line, might, without being chargeable with any deficiency, have stood excused; a work which, when superadded to the principal, would lay the author under additional obligations, and impose on him new duties; which, notwithstanding whatever else it might differ in from the principal one, agrees with it in this, that it ought to be executed with impartiality, or not at all.

"If, on the one hand, a hasty and undiscriminating condemner of what is established may expose himself to contempt; on the other hand, a bigoted or corrupt defender of the works of power becomes guilty, in a manner, of the abuses which he supports; the more so if, by oblique glances and sophistical glosses, he studies to guard from reproach, or recommend to favor, what he knows not how, and dares not attempt, to justify. To a man who contents himself with simply stating an institution as he thinks it is, no share, it is plain, can justly be attributed (nor would any one think of attributing to him any share), of whatever reproach, any more than of whatever applause the institution may be thought to merit. But if, not content with this humbler function, he takes upon him to give reasons in behalf of it, reasons whether made or found by him, it is far otherwise. Every false and sophistical reason that he contributes to circulate, he himself is chargeable with; nor ought he to be holden guiltless even of such as, in a work where fact, not reason, is the question, he delivers as from other writers without censure. By officiously adopting them he makes them his own, though delivered under the names of the respective authors, not much less than if delivered under his own. For the very idea of a reason betokens approbation; so that to deliver a remark under that character, and that without censure, is to adopt it. A man will scarcely, therefore, without some note of disapprobation, be the instrument of introducing, in the guise of a reason, an argument which he does not really wish to see approved. Some method or other he will take to wash his hands of it; some method or other he will take to let men see that what he means to be understood to do is merely to report the judgment of another, not to pass one of his own. Upon that other, then, he will lay the blame; at least he will take care to repel it from himself. If he omits to do this, the most favorable cause that can be assigned to the omission is indifference; indifference to the public welfare-that indifference which is itself a crime."

"Of a piece with the discernment which enables a man to perceive, and with the courage which enables him to avow, the defects of a system of institutions, is that accuracy of conception which enables him to give a clear account of it. No wonder, then, in a treatise, partly of the expository class and partly of the

censorial, that if the latter department is filled with imbecility, symptoms of kindred weakness should characterize the former."

"The former department, however, of our author's work is what, on its own account merely, I should have scarce found myself disposed to intermeddle with. The business of simple exposition is a harvest in which there seemed no likelihood of there being any want of laborers, and into which, therefore, I had little ambition to thrust my sickle."

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"The Introduction is the part to which, for reasons that have been already stated, it was always my intention to confine myself. It is but a part even of this Introduction that is the subject of the present Essay. What determined me to begin with this small part of it is the facility I found in separating it from every thing that precedes or follows it. This is what will be more particularly spoken to in another place.

"It is not that this part is among those which seemed most open to animadversion. It is not that stronger traces are exhibited in this part than in another of that spirit in our author which seems so hostile to reformation, and to that liberty which is reformation's harbinger.

"It is not here that he tramples on the right of private judgment, that basis of every thing that an Englishman holds dear. It is not here, in particular, that he insults our understandings with nugatory reasons, stands forth the professed champion of religious intolerance, or openly sets his face against civil refor


"It is not here, for example, he would persuade us that a trader who occupies a booth at a fair is a fool for his pains, and, on that account, no fit object of the law's protection.

"It is not here that he gives the presence of one man at the making of a law, as a reason why ten thousand others that are to obey it need know nothing of the matter.



It is not here that, after telling us, in express terms, there must be an actual breaking' to make burglary, he tells us, in the same breath, and in terms equally express, where burglary may be without actual breaking; and this because the law will not suf fer itself to be trifled with.'

"It is not here that, after relating the laws by which peaceable Christians are made punishable for worshiping God according to their consciences, he pronounces, with equal peremptoriness and complacency, that every thing, yes, every thing, is as it should be.'



"It is not here that he commands us to believe, and that on pain of forfeiting all pretensions to either sense or probity,' that the system of our jurisprudence is, in the whole and every part of it, the very quintessence of perfection.

"It is not here that he assures us, in point of fact, that there never has been an alteration made in the law that men have not afterward found reason to regret.

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