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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, at the house of his father, Mr. Charles Blackstone, a silk-man, and citizen and bowyer of London; who was the third son of Mr. John Blackstone, an eminent apothe cary in Newgate-street, descended from a family of that name in the west of England, at or near Salisbury, and who died some months previous to the birth of William, the author of these justly esteemed Commentaries. His mother was Mary, eldest daughter of Lovelace Bigg, Esquire, of Chilton Foliot, in Wiltshire; she died before the learned commentator attained his twelfth year.
Sir William had three brothers, Charles, John, and Henry. John died an infant, Charles and Henry were educated at Winchester, under the care of their uncle Dr. Bigg, who was warden of that society, and were afterwards both fellows of New College, Oxford; Charles became a fellow of Winchester, and vicar of Wimering in Hampshire: Henry, after having practised 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 being early in life deprived of both parents proved, in its consequences, the reverse of misfortune to our author: to that circumstance probably he was indebted for his future advancement, and that high literary character and reputation in his profession, which he has left behind him; to that circumstance the public too is probably indebted for the benefit it has received, and will receive, as long as the law of England remains, from the labours of his pen. For, had his father lived, it is most likely, that the third son of a London tradesman, not of 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
But, even from his birth, the care both of his education and fortune was kindly undertaken by his maternal uncle, Mr. Thomas Bigg, an eminent surgeon in London, and afterwards, on the death of his elder brothers, owner of the Chilton estate, which is still enjoyed by that family.
The affectionate, it may be said the parental, care this worthy man took of all his nephews, particularly in giving them liberal educations, supplied the great loss they had so early sustained, and compensated in a great degree for their want of more ample fortunes. And it was always remembered, and often mentioned by them all, with the sincerest gratitude.
In 1730, being about seven years old, William 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, Esquire, his cousin by the mother's side, admitted upon the foundation there.
In this excellent seminary he applied himself to every branch of youthful education, with the same assiduity which accompanied his studies through life. His talents and industry rendered him the favourite of his masters, who encouraged and assisted him with the utmost attention; at
the age of fifteen he was at the head of the school, and, although so young, 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 this time he was elected to one of the Charter-House exhibitions by the Governors of that foundation, to commence from the Michaelmas preceding, but was permitted to continue a scholar there till after the 12th of December, being the anniversary commemoration of the founder, to give him an opportunity of speaking the customary oration, which he had prepared, and which did him much credit.
About this time also he obtained Mr. Benson's gold prize medal of Milton, for verses on that poet.
Thus, before he quitted school, did his genius begin to appear, and re ceive public marks of approbation and reward. And so well pleased was the Society of Pembroke College with their young pupil, that, in the February following, they unanimously elected him to one of Lady Holford's exhibitions for Charter-House scholars in that house.
Here he prosecuted his studies with unremitting ardour; and although the classics, and particularly the Greek and Roman poets, were his favourites, they did not entirely engross his attention: logic, mathematics, and the other sciences were not neglected; from the first of these (studied rationally, abstracted from the jargon of the schools,) he laid the foundation of that close method of reasoning he was so remarkable for: and from the mathematics he not only reaped the benefit of using his mind to a close investigation of every subject that occurred to him, till he arrived at the degree of demonstration the nature of it would admit; but he converted that dry study, as it is usually thought, into an amusement, by pursuing the branch of it which relates to architecture.
This science he was particularly fond of, and made himself so far master of it, that, at the early age of twenty, he compiled a treatise, entitled Elements of Architecture, intended for his own use only, and not for publication, but esteemed by those judges who have perused it, in no respect unworthy his maturer judgment, and more exercised pen.
Having determined on his future plan of life, and made choice of the law for his profession, he was entered in the Middle Temple on the 20th of November, 1741. He now found it necessary to quit the more amusing pursuits of his youth, for the severer studies to which he had dedicated himself, and betook himself seriously to reading law.
How disagreeable a change this must have been to a young man of brilliant parts, and a fine imagination, glowing with all the classical and poetical beauties he had stored his mind with, is easier conceived than expressed he alone, who felt, could describe his sensations on that occasion; which he did in a copy of verses, since published by Dodsley, in the 4th volume of his Miscellanies, intituled, The Lawyer's Farewell to his Muse; in which the struggle of his mind is expressed so strongly, so naturally, with such elegance of sense and language, and harmony of versification, as must convince every reader, that his passion for the Muses was too deeply rooted to be laid aside without much reluctance, and that, if he had pursued that flowery path, he would not perhaps have proved inferior to the best of our English poets.
Several little fugitive pieces, besides this, have at times been communicated by him to his friends, and he has left (but not with a view of publi