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Aston, at the house of the former. 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.
As it has been before remarked, that this is not intended as a panegyric, but purely as a faithful, though unadorned narrative, nothing is here said of his conduct as a Judge. The lawyer will, no doubt, duly appreciate his worth in that character whenever he has occasion to consult his Reports, the second volume of which is composed entirely of cases determined whilst he sat on the Bench.
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," 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 attended 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 nume rous 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, though he had for some years before occasionally resided at it.
His connection with this town, both from his office of Recorder, and his more or less frequent residence there from about the year 1750, led him to form and promote every plan which could contribute to its benefit or improvement. To his activity it stands 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 best evidenced from the gradual increase of its malt trade between the years 1749 and 1779, extracted from the entries of the Excise-Office during that period, as contained in the note below†.
To his architectural talents, his liberal disposition, his judicious 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 not occupied in the duties of his station, he was ever engaged in some scheme of public utility. The last of this kind in which he was concerned, was the act of Parliament for providing detached houses of hard labour for convicts, as a substitute for transportation.
Whether the plan did, or did not succeed to the extent of his wishes and expectations, it is yet an indisputable proof of the goodness of his heart, his humanity, and his desire of effecting reformation, by means more bene
ficial to the criminal and the community, than severity of punishment. All human schemes, like all mechanical inventions, generally in practice fall short of the theory; and although this may have failed, yet who can read the following quotation from one of his charges to a country grand jury relative to that act, without applauding the intention, and reverencing the public virtue of those who planned it :-
"In these houses," says he, "the convicts are to be separately confined "during the intervals of their labour, debarred from all incentives to de"bauchery-instructed in religion and morality-and forced to work for "the benefit of the public. Imagination cannot figure to itself a species of "punishment in which terror, benevolence, and reformation are more hap. "pily blended together. What can be more dreadful to the riotous, the "libertine, the voluptuous, the idle delinquent, than solitude, confinement, "sobriety, and constant labour? Yet, what can be more truly beneficial? "Solitude will awaken reflection; confinement will banish temptation; so"briety will restore vigour; and labour will beget a habit of honest indus"try while the aid of a religious instructor may implant new principles "in his heart; and, when the date of his punishment is expired, will con"duce to both his temporal and eternal welfare. Such a prospect as this "is surely well worth the trouble of an experiment."
It ought not to be omitted, that the last augmentation of the Judges' salaries, calculated to make up the deficiencies occasioned by the heavy taxes they are subject to, and thereby render them more independent, was obtained in a great measure by his industry and attention.
In this useful and agreeable manner he passed the last ten years of his life, but not without many interruptions by illness. His constitution, hurt by the studious midnight labours of his younger days, and an unhappy aversion he always had 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 a giddiness or vertigo, added to a corpulency of body, rendered him still more unactive 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 the Faculty apprehended was occasioned by a dropsical habit, and water on the chest. By the application of proper remedies, that effect of his disorder was soon removed, but the cause was not eradicated; for, on his coming up to town to attend Hilary Term, he was seized with a fresh attack, chiefly in his head, which brought on a drowsiness and stupor, and baffled all the art of medicine; the disorder increasing so rapidly, that he became at last for some days almost totally insensible, and expired on the 14th of February, 1780, in the 57th year of his age. To the public his loss was great; to his family and friends irreparable.
A few weeks before he died, he was applied to by the trustees for exe cuting the will of the late Sir George Downing, Baronet, who had bequeathed a large estate for the endowing a new College in Cambridge, to give his assistance in forming a proper plan for this society, and framing a body of statutes for its regulation.
This was a task to which his abilities were peculiarly adapted; and it may be difficult to determine whether the application reflected more honour on the trustees or on him. He had mentioned to some of his most intimate friends his undertaking this business with great pleasure, and seem
ed to promise himself much satisfaction in the amusement it would afford him : but alas ! his disorder was then coming on with such hasty strides, that, before any thing could be done in it, death put an end to this, and all his labours, and left the University of Cambridge, as well as that of Oxford, to lanient the loss of Mr. Justice Blackstone.
lle was buried by his own direction in a vault he had built for his family in his parish church of St. Peter's in Wallingford. His neighbour and friend Dr. Barrington, Bishop of Llandaff, at his own particular request, performed the funeral service, as a public testimony of his personal regard, and highest esteem.
· Having now given a faithful, and it is hoped not 100 prolix, detail of the life of this great man, from his cradle to his grave, it will be expected that it should be followed by the outlines, at least, of his character. To do justice to the merit of such a character, without incurring the imputation of flattery, is as difficult as to touch on its imperfections (and such ihe most perfect human characters have), with truth and delicacy.
In his public line of life he approved himself an able, upright, impartial Judge ; perfectly acquainted with the laws of his country, and making them the invariable rule of his conduct. As a Senator, he was averse lo party violence, and moderate in his sentiments. Not only in Parliament, but at all times, and on all occasions, 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 so well qualified to decide. He was ever an active and judicious promoter of whatever he thought useful or advantageous to the public in general, or to any particular society or neighbourhood he was connected with ; and having not only a sound judgment, but the clearest ideas, and the most analytical head that any man, perhaps, was ever blessed with, these qualifications, joined to an unremitting perseverance in pursuing whatever he thought right, enabled him to carry many beneficial plans into execution, which probably would have failed, if they had been attempted by other men.
He was a believer in the great truths of Christianity, from a thorough investigation of its evidence; 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, and his attendance on its public duties regular, and those duties always performed with seriousness and devotion.
His professional abilities need not be dwelt upon. They will be universally acknowledged and admired, as long as his works shall be read, or, in other words, as long as the municipal laws of this country shall remain an object of study and practice. And though his works will only hold forth to future generations his knowledge of the law, and his talents as a writer, there was hardly any branch of literature he was unacquainted with. He ever employed much time in reading; and whatever he had read, and digested, he never forgot.
He was an excellent manager of his time, and though so much of it was spent in an application 10 books, and the employment of his pen, yet this was done without the parade or ostentation of being a hard student. It was observed of him, during his residence at college, that 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 calculated, being possessed of the happy faculty of making his own com
pany agreeable and instructive, whilst 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 for 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 (owing in a great measure 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 œconomy. 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.
Being himself strict in the exercise of every public and private duty, he expected the same attention to both in others; and, when disappointed in his 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 as benevolent and as feeling as man ever 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, though it was only appearance, 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 now too much laid aside,) and not to lessen the respect due to the dignity and gravity of his office, by any outward levity of behaviour.
In short, it may be said of him, as the noble historian† said of Mr. Sel. den: "If he had some infirmities with other men, they were weighed down with wonderful and prodigious abilities and excellences in the other scale."
His Reports, in two volumes, reach down to the end of Michaelmas Term, 1779, the last in which he regularly attended his Court; his illness
*The author of The Biographical History of Sir Wm. Blackstone relates the following anecdote of the learned Commentator: "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 honour of a visit, he (the hookseller) in the course of conversation, and out of pure respect, called the VOL. I. 3
new made Civilian 'DOCTOR.' 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 operated 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.
The Earl of Clarendon.
confining him at home the greatest part of Hilary Term, 1780. And as there is no doubt of their being genuine, neither can there be any of his intention that they should be published; for, by a clause in his will ho directs, "That his Manuscript Reports of Cases determined in Westmin"ster Hall, taken by himself, and contained in several large Note-books, "be published after his decease.-And that the produce thereof be carried "to, and considered as part of, his personal estate."
The reader must not expect in the first book a regular series of reports of the determinations of any one Court, or without breaks and interruptions in respect to time. They seem to be only such, as he had selected out of many from his rough notes, either as being of a more interesting nature, or containing some essential point of law or practice, or perhaps such only (particularly for the first few years) as he had taken the most accurate notes of.. Far the greatest part of those contained in the first book, are of the Court of King's Bench; but there are some of the Courts of Chancery, Exchequer, and Exchequer Chamber on appeal.
They begin with Michaelmas Term, 1746, in which he was called to the Bar; and there are some of every Term, except two, to Michaelmas, 1750, from whence there is an interval to Michaelmas, 1756, without one. The reason of this, most probably, is, that during that period he resided chiefly at Oxford, and had much of his time taken up in composing his Lectures, which he began to read in 1753, and in preparing for which he had been for some years before principally employed. This accounts for his want of leisure to revise such rough notes as he might have taken during that period, and to fit them for publication, while they were fresh in his memory. In the three following years he attended the Bar only in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, on account of his Lectures; consequently there are, among his Reports, none of the Easter and Trinity Terms of those years; but from thence they continue in a regular series, except one Term, when he was indisposed, and the two Terms immediately preceding his being promoted to the Bench, when he attended the Court of Exchequer only. Which circumstances sufficiently evince that those Reports were all (except one) taken by himself. That one is of the arguments of Sir Thomas Clarke, Master of the Rolls; Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench; and the Lord Keeper Henley; delivered in the Court of Chancery, in Hilary Term, 1759, on determining the interesting cause of Burgess v. Wheate, and which, as appears by a remark subjoined to it, was communicated to him by that great and able lawyer, Mr. Fazakerly; but was all transcribed in his own hand.
Mr. Malone, in an Advertisement to a Supplement to his edition of Shakespeare, says, "Sir W. Blackstone is one of the most eminent literary characters that the present age has produced;" and, in the preface to a Fragment on Government, we find the following:-"He it is, in short, who first of all institutional writers, has taught jurisprudence to speak the language of the scholar and the gentleman; put a polish upon that rugged science; cleansed her from the dust and cobwebs of the office; and if he has not enriched her with that precision that is drawn only from the sterling treasury of the sciences, has decked her out, however, to advantage from the toilette of classical erudition, enlivened her with metaphors and allusions, and sent her abroad in some measure to instruct, and in still greater to entertain, the most miscellaneous, and even the most fastidious Societies."