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LAWS OF ENGLAND.
BOOK THE FOURT H.
OF PUBLIC WRONG S.
CHAPTER THE FIRST.
Ó F THE NATURE OF CRIMES; AND THEIR PUNISHMENT.
E are now arrived at the fourth and laft branch of these commentaries; which treats of public wrongs, or crimes and misdemefnors. For we may remember that, in the beginning of the preceding volume, wrongs were divided into two forts or fpecies; the one private, and the other public. Private wrongs, which are frequently termed civil injuries, were the subject of that entire book: we are now therefore, laftly, to proceed to the confideration of public wrongs, or crimes and mifdemefnors; with the means of their prevention and punishment. In the pursuit of which fubject I fhall confider, in the first place, the general nature of crimes and punishments; fecondly, the perfons capable of committing crimes; thirdly, their feveral degrees of guilt,
* Book III. ch. 1.
as principals or acceffories; fourthly, the feveral fpecies of crimes, with the punishment annexed to each by the laws of England; fifthly, the means of preventing their perpetration; and, sixthly, the method of inflicting those punishments, which the law has annexed to each feveral crime and misdemeanor.
FIRST, as to the general nature of crimes and their punishment: the difcuffion and admeasurement of which forms in every country the code of criminal law; or, as it is more ufually denominated with us in England, the doctrine of the pleas of the crown: fo called, because the king, in whom centers the majesty of the whole community, is fuppofed by the law to be the person injured by every infraction of the public rights belonging to that community, and is therefore in all cafes the proper profecutor for every public offence".
THE knowlege of this branch of jurifprudence, which teaches the nature, extent, and degrees of every crime, and adjusts to it it's adequate and neceffary penalty, is of the utmost importance to every individual in the ftate. For (as a very great master of the crown law has obferved upon a similar occafion) no rank or elevation in life, no uprightness of heart, no prudence or circumfpection of conduct, fhould tempt a man to conclude, that he may not at fome time or other be deeply interested in these researches. The infirmities of the best among us, the vices and ungovernable paffions of others, the instability of all human affairs, and the numberless unforeseen events, which the compass of a day may bring forth, will teach us (upon a moment's reflection) that to know with precision what the laws of our country have forbidden, and the deplorable confequences to which a wilful disobedience may expose us, is a matter of universal concern.
IN proportion to the importance of the criminal law, ought alfo to be the care and attention of the legislature in properly b See Vol. I. < Sir Michael Fofter, pref. to rep. forming