« PreviousContinue »
tical and judicial positions, their lives have been written, their characters have' been portrayed and will be preserved. Who were these others deemed worthy to enter the lists and measure lances with them in this important intellectual contest? Where is their memorial, even among the members of that profession of which, while they lived, they were the pride and ornament?
Besides official and political position, which must frequently give character and fame to the lawyer, there are some other exceptions, of those who hand down their names within the bounds of their profession by contributing valuable works to its legal literature. The legal writings of Lord Coke have contributed more than his office and influence to this result. Hale, Foster, Gilbert, and others may be placed in the same category. But that they have largely paid that debt which, according to Lord Bacon, every man owes to his profes-, sion, how soon would the names of Fearne, Hargrave, Butler, Preston, Powell, Stephen, and Williams have to be classed with those of Knowles, Perrot, and Prime!
There is one English legal writer whose fortune in this respect is peculiar. He produced an elementary work,-written with so much system and accuracy, and in style and language so pure and elegant, that it not only at once assumed and has ever since maintained the place of First Institute of legal education to all who make the common law of England their special study, but became a book of instruction and interest to scholars and gentlemen of all pursuits, which has been for that reason translated into many other tongues. That lawyer was Sir William Blackstone. An American author has in like manner illustrated his name by a work which both here and abroad will forever stand alongside and share the enviable fame of that of the illustrious English commentator. It is unnecessary to name James Kent.
The father of Sir William Blackstone was Charles Blackstone, a citizen and silkman of London, whose family was from the West of England. He was born on the 10th July, 1723: his father had died before; and he lost his mother at the early age of eleven.
By the early loss of both parents, William and his two brothers Charles and Henry were thrown upon the care of their maternal uncles. Charles and Henry were educated at Winchester, under the care of Dr. Bigg, who was warden of that school. Both of them took orders in the Church. The care and education of William fell to the lot of another uncle,-Mr. Thomas Bigg, an eminent surgeon of London.
In 1730, William, then about seven years old, was put to school at the Charter-House, and in 1735 was, by the nomination of Sir Robert Walpole, through the influence of another member of his mother's family, admitted as a scholar upon its foundation. He is said to have been a studious and exemplary boy and to have gained the favour of his masters. At the age of fifteen he was at the head of the school, and was thought sufficiently advanced to be removed to the university; and he was accordingly entered a commoner at Pembroke College, in Oxford, on the 30th of November, 1736. He was allowed to remain at school until after the 12th of December, the anniversary com
memoration of the foundation of the Charter-House, in order that he might deliver the customary oration in honour of Richard Sutton,-by which he gained much applause.
After having been three years prosecuting his studies at this illustrious seat of learning, on the 20th November, 1741, being then eighteen, he entered himself a member of the Middle Temple and commenced the study of the law. He was called to the bar as soon as the probationary period of five years
had expired, -viz., on the 28th November, 1746.
In the early periods of English jurisprudence, the Inns of Court were resorted to by large numbers of young gentlemen, not merely to acquire a profession, but to complete a liberal education by the study of the laws of their country. In the time of Fortescue, who wrote in the reign of Henry VI., there are said to have been about eighteen hundred or two thousand students in the Inns of Court and Chancery. The number was still very considerable in the time of Ben Jonson, who has left on record his estimate of their influence and character in the dedication of his comedy of Every Man out of his Humour, which he inscribed “To the noblest nurseries of humanity and liberty in the kingdom, the Inns of Court.” To characterize a law-school as the nursery of sound learning and civil liberty is indeed a highly-wrought eulogium of the legal profession,-a praise, however, which its history shows to have been well deserved. In the Inns of Chancery the younger students of the law were usually placed, “learning and studying,” says Fortescue, “the originals, and as it were the elements, of the law; who profiting therein, as they grew to ripeness, so were they admitted into the greater inns of the same study, called the Inns of Court."
The word “Inns” was anciently used to denote town-houses, in which the nobility and gentry resided when they were in attendance at court; and it is frequently employed by the old poets to denote a spacious and elegant mansion, The Inns of Court were in old French termed hostells. In the court-records in Latin they are called hospitia; while diversoria is the name applied to public lodging-houses, which are now commonly known as inns. The br.ildings originally purchased for the purposes of these legal societies, baving been at the time private residences, still retained in their new use the ancient names by which they were designated. The Middle and Inner Temples were formerly dwellings of the Knights Templars; Lincoln's and Gray's Inn anciently belonged to the Earls of Lincoln and Gray. So the names of the several Inns of Chan. cery are taken from the names of their original proprietors, except New Inn, Staple Inn, which belonged to the Merchants of the Staple, and Lion Inn, which was a common tavern, with the sign of the lion.
There can be no doubt that there was originally provided in these schools some system of instruction for the students. Competent persons, termed readers, were appointed to deliver public lectures. Such men as More, Coke, and Holt were chosen as readers. They fell into disuse, however; and before the time of Blackstone the student at the Inns was left to his own discretion, and was even called to the bar, after a set time, without any examination as to
his qualification for the exercise of his profession. According to the regulations at that time, and with some modification still existing, every man was entit'ed to be called to the bar who had paid the fees accustomed and due to the Inn at which he had entered, and had kept twelve terms. A term was kept in a very easy and pleasant way indeed, by being present at a certain number of dinners in common-generally five in each term—in presence of the benchers. He must have gone nine times through a certain ceremony which is called performing an exercise. Exercises were performed thus. The student was furnished by the steward of the society with a piece of paper, on which was supposed to be written an argument on some point of law, but, owing to the negligence of successive copyists, the writing came at last to consist of a piece of legal jargon wholly unintelligible. When, after-dinner, grace had been said, the student advanced to the barristers' table and commenced reading from this paper; upon which one of the barristers present made him a slight bow, took the paper from him and told him that it was quite sufficient. Throwing aside this piece of antiquated and ridiculous mummery, we may say, then, that practically all that was required as a qualification for the English bar was that the applicant had eaten sixty dinners at certain intervals.
We have not been informed under whose advice or by whose direction Blackstone prosecuted his course of legal studies in the Middle Temple. He bas himself depicted in a very lively manner the dangers and difficulties of such a course:—“We may appeal to the experience of every sensible lawyer, whether any thing can be more hazardous or discouraging than the usual entrance on the study of the law. A raw and inexperienced youth, in the most dangerous season of life, is transplanted on a sudden into the midst of allurements to pleasure, without any restraint or check but what his own prudence can suggest; with no public direction in what course to pursue his inquiries, no private assistance to remove the distresses and difficulties which will alway! embarrass a beginner. In this situation, he is expected to sequester himself from the world, and, by a tedious, lonely process, to extract the thicory of law from a mass of undigested learning; or else, by an assiduous attendance on the courts, to pick up theory and practice together sufficient to qualify him for the ordinary run of business.
We may conjecture that Blackstone began with Finch, and then proceeded ** set upon the rough mines of legal treasure to be found in Coke upon Littleton, as well as to look into Bracton, Glanville, Fleta, and the Reports. It was somewhat better than when, not quite two centuries before, in 1652, Sir Henry Spelman so graphically described it as linguam peregrinam, ajalectum barbarum, methodum inconcinnum, molem non ingentem solum sed perpetuis humeris sustinendam.
The young student, whose career we are to sketch, little thought that, in the design of Providence, he was the engineer selected to make a new road through this wild and almost impassable country, and that he would do so with so much skill and judgment, and at the same time adorn its sides and environs with so green and rich a landscape, as to convert the journey from a wearisome tail
to an attractive pleasure. For almost a century the Commentaries have been the first book of the student of law; and, whatever criticisms have been or may be made upon their learning or accuracy, the fact is, that no lawyer fails to make them a part of his course of study, sooner or later.
At Oxford he had been a diligent student. Before he was twenty, he had compiled a treatise on the Elements of Architecture, with plans and drawings from his own pen. He devoted a large portion of his time to elegant literature, and had cultivated to a considerable extent the art of poetry. Even at school he had shown poetic ability by some verses on Milton, for which he was rewarded with a gold medal. Upon betaking himself to the study of the law, he appears to have considered it necessary to abandon this employment. He wrote “The Lawyer's Farewell to his Muse," which was afterwards printed in Dodsley's Miscellanies,—a poem exhibiting a cultivated taste and a chastened fancy, as well as great command of language. Afterwards, in 1751, he wrote an elegy on the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, which was published in the Oxford Collection. Judging from these pieces, it is, perhaps, not a subject of regret that he relinquished poetry; nor are we tempted to exclaim, as Pope did of Lord Mansfield,
“How sweet an Ovid was in Murray lost!"
It has, however, been well remarked that "to his early predilection for poetry we may reasonably attribute the formation of that exquisite style and method with which he afterwards embellished and illustrated the law. For nothing so well can teach us that propriety of expression, that felicity of illustration, and that symmetry of method by which the most abstruse subject may be rendered clear and delightful, as the study of the works of those who may be styled the masters of language." It is not uncommon to hear the expregsion, “The law is a jealous mistress.” It is true that this profession, like all others, demands of those who would succeed in it an earnest and entire devotion. It must be the main business of the student: he must love it. But it is not inconsistent with all this that he should still pursue his classical reading,—that he should maintain a constant acquaintance and familiarity with those authors in every tongue who, by the unanimous award of time, are the standards of taste and eloquence. A man may become a firstrate practitioner or scrivener by devoting himself exclusively to professional reading, and, if money be his whole object, with great success; but if his aim be—as it ought to be—higher, then liberal studies will be found as necessary to make the truly great and accomplished lawyer as any other. It is not the mere gathering of flowers in devious by-paths, but of rich and nourishing fruit, which gives tone and vigour to the moral and intellectual man. The old partition of time, which even Lord Coke has sanctioned by his authority, "for the good spending of the day,” assigned six hours of the twenty-four to the "sacred muses :"
“Sex horas somno, totidem des legibus æquis
Previously to Blackstone's call to the bar, he had removed from Pembroke to All-Souls, and in June, 1744, had become a fellow of the latter college. All-Souls was celebrated for lawyers; and Lord Northington and Chief-Justice Willes were fellows of this college. In 1745, he graduated Bachelor of Civil Law.
After his admission to the bar, he was condemned, like the great majority of all who adopt this profession, to undergo a long and trying novitiate. From 1746 to 1760, he only reports himself to have been engaged in two cases, and those so unimportant that they are not mentioned in any other
Happy are those who adopt as their motto Ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito, —who seize this as the favourable time for close observation of men and things, as well as for an extended and thorough course of professional reading, -remembering that the mower loses no time while he is whetting his scythe, - but | being careful not to sink into the mere recluse and book-worm. Our author
appears to have attempted this happy middle way; but, at the same time, hope so long deferred made his heart sick; and it has been noticed that though from his call to the bar until Michaelmas Term, 1750, he regularly attended the court of King's Bench and took notes of cases, his diligence relaxed, and latterly the only cases noted are those concerning the universities, in whose affairs he always took an especial interest. He made the acquaintance, however, and secured the friendship, during this time, of some of the most eminent men in the profession, who appear to have discovered in him that merit which he only wanted the opportunity to display to all. One of these was William Murray, afterwards Earl of Mansfield. Upon a vacancy in the professorship of Civil Law in the University of Oxford, Mr. Murray introduced Mr. Blackstone to the Duke of Newcastle, then Chancellor of the University, and warmly recommended him as entirely able to fill the vacant chair. For his grace, however, this was not enough, unless he could rely on his support in favour of the administration. To ascertain the political principles of Blackstone, he said to him, “Sir, I can rely upon the judgment of your friend Mr. Murray as to your giving law-lectures in a style most beneficial to the students; and I dare say I may safely rely on you, whenever any thing in the political hemisphere is agitated in the university, that you will exert yourself in our behalf.” The answer was, “Your grace may be assured that I will discharge my duty in giving law-lectures to the best of my poor ability.” “Ay, ay," replied his
"land your duty in the other branch, too.” Mr. Blackstone coolly bowed; and a few days after Dr. Jenner was appointed professor.
Mr. Blackstone passed much of his time in Oxford, and took an active interest in the affairs of the university. He was elected bursar, or treasurer, of his cc lege. Finding the muniments in a confused state, with considerable research and labour he made a new arrangement of them. He drew up a dissertation upon the method of keeping the accounts, with a view to render them more simple and intelligible,-a copy of which is still preserved, for the benefit of his successors in the bursarship. He took a lively interest in the Codring, ton Library, exerted himself actively to secure the completior of the building,