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act of Parliament for providing detached houses of hard labour for convicts, as a substitute for transportation.
Whether the plan may, or may not succeed equal to 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 beneficial 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 should fail, yet who can read the following quotation from one of his charges to a county 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 debauchery,—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 happily blended toge"ther. 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; sobriety will restore vigour; and labour will "beget a habit of honest industry: while the aid of a religious in"structor may implant new principles in his heart; and when the "date of his punishment is expired, will conduce to both his tem"poral 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.
A few weeks before he died, he was applied to by the trustees for executing 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 seemed 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 lament the loss of Mr. Justice Blackstone.
He 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 Landaff, 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 too prolix, a 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. A hard task for the pen of a friend! 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 the 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 to 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 once digested, he never forgot.
He was an excellent manager of his time, and though so much of it was spent in an application to 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 company 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, indeared 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 nearsighted), 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 ceconomy. 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. Selden; "If he had some infirmities with other men, they "were weighed down with wonderful and prodigious abilities and "excellences in the other scale."
It is now necessary, as at first proposed, to say something of the work here offered to the public.
That it is the genuine offspring of Mr. Justice Blackstone's pen, and compiled entirely by himself from his own notes (except in one instance that shall be mentioned) there can be no doubt. It is contained in five large Note-books, all written with his own hand; and prepared for the press, even to an Index, and a Table of Matters. These he still continued to carry on, as he added in each Vacation what he had collected in the preceding Term. The work reaches down to the end of Michaelmas Term, 1779, the last in which he regularly attended his Court; his illness confining him at home the greatest part of Hilary Term, 1780. And as there is no doubt of its being genuine, neither can there be any of his intention that it should be published; for, by a clause in his will he directs, "That his Manuscript Reports of Cases deter"mined in Westminster 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."
This last part of the clause the editor here inserts, as an excuse for not making any presents of the work; which he does not think himself justified in doing, as trustee for the author's children, to whose emolument the profits are specifically directed to be applied.
The reader must not expect in the first volume 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 volume are of the Court of King's Bench, but there are some of the Courts of Chancery, Exchequer, and Exchequer Chamber on appeal.
- ■ * The Earl of Clarendon.
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 these 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 onlyf. Which circumstances sufficiently evince that these 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 and Wheate, and which, as appears by a remark eub
i'oined to it, was communicated to him by that great and able awyer, Mr. Fazakerly; but was all transcribed in his own hand. The Editor hopes the arguments are reported correctly; but as they are only a copy, probably from a copy made by a clerk, it is possible there may be some errors in them, which the candid reader will excuse; and lament with him, that by the dreadful conflagration at the house of the Noble Lord above mentioned, in June last, a correct note of that argument was lost, among his other very valuable manuscripts, which his Lordship had in the most obliging manner given permission to the Editor to examine Sir William Blackstone's Note-book with, and correct any errors that might be found in it. For this mark of esteem for his late departed Brother, and the kind manner in which it was offered, the Editor thinks himself happy in having an opportunity of publicly expressing his own, and the family's most grateful acknowledgments.
Fortunately for those whose interest is concerned in this publication, and (it may perhaps be added without impropriety) for the public too, the manuscript Note-book containing this report escaped the same fate. It was delivered, a few days before, by the Editor to Mr. Justice Ashhurst, to communicate to Lord Mansfield, and happily had not been sent to him.
The state the Editor found this work in, greatly alleviated the trouble attending the publication; but as he had reason to think, the learned Judge had not given it the last revisal he intended, he has thought it his duty, before he made it public, to read the whole
• See page 627. t See page 681, vol. 2.