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TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
THE common law is as much the birth-right of an American as of an Englishman. It is our law, as well as the law of England, it having been brought thence, and established here as far forth as it was found fitted to our institutions and the circumstances of the country. Without a proper knowledge of it, we are ignorant of the principles upon which are based our dearest and most highly appreciated rights: not merely those affecting life, liberty, good name, and property, but those which control the domestic relations of Husband and Wife, Parent and Child, Guardian and Ward, Master and Servant, in our position as members of civil society.
SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE investigated the elements of that law, and reduced it to a system, which he explained in a course of Lectures delivered by him as Vinerian professor in the University of Oxford; which Lectures, from the time of their delivery until the present day-now a period of nearly a century-have increased in celebrity, commanding at all times, as an able exposition of the law, universal admiration and respect. The learned commentator on American law, in speaking of Judge Blackstone, places him at the head of all modern writers who treat of the general elementary principles of law, and pronounces this beautiful eulogium: "By the excellence of his arrangement, the variety of his learning, the justness of his taste, and the purity and elegance of his style, he communicated to those subjects which were harsh and forbidding in the pages of Coke, the attractions of a liberal science and the embellishments of polite literature." In itself the work is inestimable; but the last London edition, the twenty-first, adds greatly to its value, having been prepared for publication by four distinguished barristers of England, who, after each taking a volume of the Commentaries for review, have added copious notes to the text, explaining changes in the law which have been effected in England, by decision or statute, down to the year 1844. To the work thus prepared have been added notes, adapting it to the use of the American student, by an attempt, in some degree at least, to show the law as it exists in this country under
our institutions, and as it has been changed by legislative enactments, particularly in the State of New York; and also to point out the diversities of the common law, as held in England and in this country, in the few instances in which a difference prevails. How far the American editor has succeeded, he submits to the candor and liberality of his brethren of the profession to determine. At all events, he trusts it will be found that he has lessened the labors of the student, and facilitated the researches of the barrister.
In respect to the references to the notes, it will be observed that the author has used the letters of the alphabet, the English annotators have appropriated numerals, and the American editor the ordinary marks of reference, viz., the * † ‡ § | T¶.
The abbreviations most frequently occurring in those notes are the letters "R. S.," which represent the words Revised Statutes of New York; so the letters "U. S." stand for United States; "N. Y.," for New York; and "R. L." for Revised Laws of New York. When the reference is to the Revised Statutes, the first edition is intended.
SIR WILLIAM BLACKSTONE'S
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 endeavors were encouraged and patronized 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 afterward 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 honor 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 oth
ers 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 of July, 1723, in Cheapside, in the parish of St. Michael le Querne, some months after the death of his father, Mr. Charles Blackstone, a silkman, and citizen and bowyer of London, who was the third son of Mr. John Blackstone, a respectable apothecary in Newgate-street, descended from a family of that name in the West of England, at or near Salisbury. William's mother was Mary, eldest daughter of Lovelace Bigg, Esquire, of Chilton Foliot, in Wiltshire; she died before he attained his twelfth year.
William had three brothers, Charles, John, who died in infancy, and Henry. Charles and Henry were educated at Winchester, under the care of their uncle, Dr. Bigg, who was warden of that society, and were afterward both fellows of New College, Oxford; Charles became a fellow of Winchester, and vicar of Wimering, in Hampshire; Henry, after having practiced 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 early loss of both parents was probably the occasion of his future advancement, and that high literary character and reputation in his profession which he has left behind him; for, had his father lived, it is likely that the third son of a London tradesman, not in great affluence, would have been bred in the same line of life, and those parts which have so much signalized the possessor of them would have been lost in a warehouse or behind a counter. But, even from his birth, the care both of his education and fortune was kindly undertaken by his maternal uncle, Mr. Thomas Bigg, who was then an eminent surgeon in London, and afterward, on the death of his elder brothers, became owner of the Chilton estate, which is still enjoyed by that family.
In 1730, William, then about seven years old, was put to school at the Charter House; and in 1735 was, by the nomination of Sir Robert Walpole, on the recommendation of Charles Wither, of Hall, in Hampshire, his cousin by the mother's side, admitted upon the foundation there. Here his talents and industry procured him the favor of his masters, who encouraged and assisted him with the utmost attention. At the age of fifteen he had reached the head of the school, and was thought well qualified to be removed to the University; and he was accordingly entered a commoner at Pembroke College in Oxford, on the 30th of November, 1736, and was the next day matriculated. At the same time, he was elected to one of the Charter House exhibitions by the governors of that foundation, to commence from the Michael