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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 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 Anulysis 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 introduced that intricate science to a clear method, intelligible to the youngest student.
In the year 1757, on the death of Dr. Coxed, Warden of Winchester, he was elected by the surviving visitors of Michel's new foundation in Queen's College into that body. This new 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 could not be an easy task, and, in the present instance, was become more difficult, from the many unsuccessful attempts that had been made, all of which had only terminated in disputes between the members of the old, and the visitors of the new foundation ; yet, under these circumstances, Dr. Blackstone was not disheartened, but formed and pursued a plan, calculated to improve Mr. Michel's original donation, without departing from his intention ; and had the pleasure to see it completed, entirely to the satisfaction of the members of the old foundation, and confirmed, together with a body of statutes he drew for the purpose, by act of Parliament, in the
1769. Being engaged as counsel in the great contest for knights of the shire for the county of Oxford, in 1764, he very accurately considered a question then much agitated, Whether copyholders of a certain nature had a right to vote in county elections.
He afterwards reduced his thoughts on that subject into a small treatise ; and was prevailed upon by Sir Charles Mordaunt, and other members of Parliament, who had brought in a bill to decide that controverted point,
to publish it in March, 1758, under the title of Considerations on CopyholdAnd the bill soon after, receiving the sanction of the Legislature, passed into a law.
Mr. Viner having by his will left not only the copyright of his Abridg ment, but 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. In this situation he was (he informs us in his introduction to the Commentaries) led, both by duty and inclination, 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, 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 Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Houses, and afterwards prefixed to the first volume of his Commentaries.
His lectures had now gained such universal applause, that he was requested by a noble personage, who superintended the education of our late Sovereign, then Prince of Wales, to read them to his Royal Highness: but, 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 this 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 his late Majesty's royal breast of that good opinion and esteem, which afterwards promoted him to the Bench; and, when he was no more, occasioned the extension of the Royal bounty, in the earliest hours of her heavy loss, (unthought of and unsolicited,) to his widow and his numerous family.
In the year 1759, he published two small pieces merely relative to the University: the one intituled Reflections on the Opinions of Messrs. Pratt, Morton, and Wilbraham, relating to Lord Litchfield's Disqualification, who was then a candidate for the Chancellorship; the other, a Case for the Opinion of Counsel on the Right of the University to make new Statutes.
Having now established a reputation by his Lectures, which he justly thought might entitle him to some particular notice at the Bar, in June, 1759, he bought chambers in the Temple, resigned the office of Assessor of the Vice-Chancellor's Court, which he had held for about six years, and, soon after, the Stewardship of All-Souls College: and, in Michaelmas Term, 1759, resumed his attendance at Westminster; still continuing to pass some part of the year at Oxford, and to read his lectures there, at such times as did not interfere with the London Law Terms. The year before this he declined the honour of the Coif, which he was pressed to accept of by Lord Chief Justice Willes, and Mr. Justice (afterwards Earl) Bathurst.
In November, 1759, he published a new edition of the Great Charter and Charter of the Forest; which added much to his former reputation, not only as a great lawyer, but as an accurate antiquarian and an able historian. It must also be added, that the external beauties in the printing, types, &c., reflected no small honour on him, as the principal reformer of
the Clarendon Press, from whence no work had ever before issued equal, in those particulars, to this.
This publication drew him into a short controversy with the late Dr. Lyttelton, then Dean of Exeter, and afterwards Bishop of Carlisle.-The Dean, to assist Mr. Blackstone in his publication, had favoured him with the collation of a very curious ancient Roll, containing both the Great Charter and that of the Forest, of the 9th of Henry the 3d, which he and many of his friends judged to be an original. The Editor of the Charters, however, thought otherwise, and excused himself (in a note in his Introduction) for having made no use of its various readings, "as the plan of "his edition was confined to Charters which had passed the Great Seal, "or else to authentic entries and enrolments of record, under neither of "which classes the Roll in question could be ranked."
The Dean upon this, concerned for the credit of his Roll, presented to the Antiquarian Society a vindication of its authenticity, dated June the 8th, 1761; and Mr. Blackstone delivered in an answer to the same learned body, dated May the 28th, 1762, alleging as an excuse for the trouble he gave them," that he should think himself wanting in that respect which "he owed to the Society and Dr. Lyttelton, if he did not either own and "correct his mistake, in the octavo edition then preparing for the press, or "submit to the Society's judgment the reasons at large, upon which his "suspicions were founded." These reasons, we may suppose, were convincing, for here the dispute ended.*
About the same time, he also published a small treatise on The Law of Descents in Fee Simple.
A dissolution of Parliament having taken place, he was, in March, 1761, returned burgess for Hindon, in Wiltshire; and, on the 6th of May following, had a patent of precedence granted him to rank as King's Counsel, having a few months before declined the office of Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, in Ireland.
Finding himself not deceived in his expectations in respect to an increase of business in his profession, he now determined to settle in life, and, on the 5th of May, 1761, he married Sarah, the eldest surviving daughter of the late James Clitherow, of Boston House, in the county of Middlesex, Esquire; with whom he passed near nineteen years, in the enjoyment of the purest domestic and conjugal felicity, (for which no man was better calculated,) and which, he used often to declare, was the happiest part of his life. By her he had nine children, the eldest and youngest of whom died infants; seven survived him, viz. Henry, James, William, Charles, Sarah, Mary, and Philippa; the eldest was not much above the age of sixteen at his death.
His marriage having vacated his fellowship at All-Souls, he was, on the 28th of July, 1761, appointed by the Earl of Westmoreland, at that time Chancellor of Oxford, Principal of New Inn Hall. This was an
It may be here mentioned, that, as an Antiquarian, and a member of this Society, into which he was admitted February the 5th, 1761, he wrote "A Letter to the Honourable Daines "Barrington, describing an antique seal, with "some observations on its original, and the two successive Controversies which the dis"use of it afterwards occasioned." This Seal, having the royal arms of England
on it, was one of those which all persons hav ing the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, were obliged by the statute of the 1 Edw. VI. ch. 2, to make use of. This letter is printed in the 3rd voluine of the Archæologia; but his dis cussion of the merits of the Lyttelton Roll, though containing much good antiquarian cri ticism, has not yet been made public.
agreeable residence during the time his lectures required him to be in Oxford, and was attended with this additional pleasing circumstance, that is gave him rank as the head of a house in the University, and enabled him, by that means, to continue to promote whatever occurred to him, that might be useful and beneficial to that learned body.
An attempt being made about this time to restrain the power given him, as Professor, by the Vinerian statutes, to nominate a deputy to read the solemn lectures, he published a state of the case, for the perusal of the Members of Convocation, upon which it was dropped.
In the following year, 1762, he collected and republished several of his pieces under the title of Law Tracts, in two volumes, octavo.
In 1763, on the establishment of the Queen's family, he was appointed Solicitor-General to her Majesty ; and was chosen about the same time a Bencher in the Middle Temple.
Many imperfect and incorrect copies of his lectures having by this time got abroad, and a pirated edition of them being either published, or preparing for publication in Ireland, he found it necessary to print a correct edition himself; and accordingly, in November, 1765, the first volume appeared, under the title of Commentaries on the Laws of England, and in the course of the four succeeding years the other three volumes ; which completed a Work, that will transmit his name to posterity among the first class of English authors, and will be universally read and admired, as long as the laws, the constitution, and the language of this country remain.
In the year 1766, he resigned the Vinerian Professorship, and the Principality of New Inn Hall ; finding he could not discharge the personal duties of the former, consistently with his professional attendance in London, or the delicacy of his feelings as an honest man.
Thus was he detached from Oxford, to the inexpressible loss of that University, and the great regret of all those who wished well to the establishment of the study of the law therein. When he first turned his views towards the Vinerian Professorship, he had formed a design of settling in Oxford for life : he had flattered himself, that, by annexing the office of Professor to the Principality of one of the Halls (and perhaps converting it into a college), and placing Mr. Viner's fellows and scholars under their Professor, a society might be established for students of the common law, similar to that of Trinity-Hall in Cambridge, for civilians.
Mr. Viner's will very much favoured this plan. He leaves to the University “ all his personal estate, books, &c., for the constituting, establish"ing, and endowing one or more Fellowship or Fellowships, and Scho“ larship or Scholarships, in any College or Hall in the said University, as "to the Convocation shall be thought most proper for Students of the “Common Law." But, notwithstanding this plain direction to establish them in some College or Hall, the clause from the Delegates which ratified this designation, had the fate to be rejected by a negative in convocation.
By this unexpected, and, as was assumed by his friends, unmerited rejection. Mr. Blackstone's prospects in Oxford had no longer the same al. lurement to make him think of a lasting settlement there. His views of an established society for the study of the common law were at an end, and no room left him for exerting, in this instance, that ardour for improvement which constituted a distinguishing part of his character.
In the new Parliament, chosen in 1768, he was returned burgess for Westbury in Wiltshire.
In the course of this Parliament, the question, “whether a member expel"led was or was not eligible in the saine Parliament,” was frequently agitated in the House with much warmth, and what fell from him in a debate being deemed by some persons contradictory to what he had advanced on the same subject in his Commentaries, he was attacked with much asperity in a pamphlet supposed to be written by a baronet, a member of that House* To this charge he gave an early reply in printt.
In the same year, Dr. Priestly animadverted on some positions in the same work, relative to offences against the doctrine of the Established Church, to which he published an answer.
The Compiler of this memoir, desirous of avoiding all controversy, contents himself with the bare mentioning these two publications, without giving any opinion concerning their respective merits. As the works of the author whose life he is writing, it is his duty not to omit the mention of them : but how far the charges of his antagonists were founded in reason, and supported by argument ; or whether he by his answers sufficiently exculpated himself from those charges, must be left to the determination of those who have been, or may become readers of them. The Compiler's only intent is to write a faithful narrative, not a professed panegyric.
Mr. Blackstone's reputation as a great and able lawyer was now so thoroughly established, that, had he been possessed of a constitution equal to the fatigues attending the most extensive business of the profession, he might probably bave obtained its most lucrative emoluments and highest offices. The offer of the Solicitor-Generalship, on the resignation of Mr. Dunning in January, 1770, opened the most flattering prospects to his view. But the attendance on its complicated duties at the Bar, and in the House of Coinmons, induced him to refuse it.
But though he declined this path, which so certainly, with abilities like Mr. Blackstone's, leads to the highest dignities in the law, yet he readily accepted the office of Judge of the Common Pleas, when offered to him on the resignation of Mr. Justice Clive, and kissed his Majesty's hand on that appointment, February 9th, 1770 ; and was called to the degree of a Serjeant at Law on the 12th of the same month, being the last day of Hilary Term, 10 Geo. 3, and chose for a motto on the rings distributed on that occasion,“ Sccundis debiisq. rectus.” Previous, however, to the passing his palent, Mr. Justice Yates expressed an earnest wish to retire from the King's Bench into the Court of Common Pleas. To this wish Sir W. Blackstone, from motives of personal esteem, consented ; and, on the 16th February, kissed his Majesty's hand on being appointed a Judge of the Court of King's Bench, and also received the honour of knighthood ; and was on the evening of the same day sworn into office before the Lords Commissioners Smythe and Aston, at the house of the former, in Bloomsbury Square. But, upon the death of Mr. Justice Yates, which happened on the 7th of June following, Sir William was appointed to his original seat in the Court of Common Pleas, and on Friday the 22nd kissed his Majesty's hand on the appointment. On the 25th he executed a resignation of his office of Judge of the King's Bench; his patent was sealed, and he was sworn in before the Lords Commissioners Smythe, Bathurst, and
* Sir William Meredith.
Junius several letters addressed to the learned + A Letter to the Author of The Question Commentator. See Junius, Vol. i. Letter 25, Stated: by another Member of Parliament. &c. Small 8vo. 1s. 1769. This pamphlet drew from