Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ginal. The editor of the Charters, however, thought otherwise, and excused himself (in a note in his introduction) for having made no use of its various readings, “ as the plan of his edition was confined to charters which had passed the great seal, or else to authentic entries and enrolments of record, under neither of which classes the roll in question could be ranked." The dean, upon this, concerned for the credit of his roll, presented to the Society of Antiquaries a vindication of its authenticity, dated June the 8th, 1761; and Mr. Blackstone delivered in an answer to the same learned body, dated May the 28th, 1762, alleging, as an excuse for the trouble he gave them, “ that he should think himself wanting in that respect which he owed to the society, and Dr. Lyttelton, if he did not either own and correct his mistakes, in the octavo edition then preparing for the press, or submit to the society's judgment the reasons at large upon which his suspicions were founded.” These reasons, we may suppose, were convincing, for here the dispute ended *.

About the same time he also published a small treatise on the Law of Descents in Fee Simple.

A dissolution of parliament having taken place, he was in March 1761, returned burgess for Hindon, in Wiltshire, and on the 6th of May following had a patent of precedence granted him to rank as king's counsel, having a few months before declined the office of chief justice of the court of common pleas in Ireland.

Finding himself not deceived in his expectations in respect to an increase of business in his profession, he now determined to settle in life, and on the 5th of May, 1761, he married Sarah the eldest surviving daughter of the late James Clitherow, of Boston-house, in the county of Middlesex, esq. with whom he passed near nineteen years in the enjoyment of the purest domestic and conjugal felicity, for which no man was better calculated, and which, he used often to declare, was the happiest part of his life : by her

* It may be here mentioned, that, as an antiquary, and a member of this so. ciety, into which he was admitted February the 5th, 1761, he wrote “A Letter to the hon. Daines Barrington, describing an antique Seal, with some observations on its original, and the two successive controversies which the disuse of it afterwards occasioned." This seal, having the royal arms of

England on it, was one of those which all persons having the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction were obliged by the statute of the 1st of Ed. VI. ch: 2, to inake use of. This letter is printed in the third volume of the Archæologia; but his discussion of the merits of the Lyttelton roll, though containing much good criticisin, has not yet been made public.

"he had nine children, the eldest and youngest of whom died infants : seven survived him; viz. Henry, James *, William, Charles, Sarah, Mary, and Philippa ; the eldest not much above the

age

of 16 at his death. His marriage having vacated his fellowship at All-Souls, he was, on the 28th of July 1761, appointed by the earl of Westmoreland, at that time chancellor of Oxford, principal of New-inn hall

. This was an agreeable residence during the time his lectures required bim to be in Oxford, and was attended with this additional pleasing circumstance, that it gave him rank, as the head of an house in the university, and enabled him, by that means, to continue to promote whatever occurred to him, that might be useful and beneficial to that learned body. An attempt being made about this time to restrain the power given him, as professor, by the Vinerian statutes, to nominate a deputy to read the solemn lectures, he published a state of the case for the perusal of the members of convocation ; upon which it was dropped.

In the following year, 1762, he collected and republished several of his pieces, under the title of “ Law Tracts," in 2 vols. 8vo. In 1763, on the establishment of the queen's family, Mr. Blackstone was appointed solicitor general to her majesty, and was chosen about the same time a bencher of the Middle Temple.

Many imperfect and incorrect copies of his lectures have ing by this time got abroad, and a pirated edition of them being either published, or preparing for publication in Ireland, he found himself under the necessity of printing a correct edition himself; and in November, 1765, published the first volume, under the title of “ Commentaries on the Laws of England," and in the course of the four succeeding years the other three volumes, which completed a work that will transmit his name to posterity among the first class of English authors, and will be universally read and admired, as long as the laws, the constitution, and the language of this country remain. Two circumstances respecting this great work, omitted by his biographer, we are enabled to add from unquestionable authority. So anxious was he that this work should appear with every possible advantage, that he printed three copies of the first

* Now principal of New Inn hall, assessor to the vice-chancellor, and deputy Steward.

ST O N

O N volume, which he sent to three learned friends, for their opinion. The other circumstance does honour to his liberality. After reserving the copy-right in his own hands for some years, he disposed of it to Messrs. Strahan and Cadell for a considerable sum, but as, immediately after concluding the bargain, the decision passed the house of Jords, which depreciated literary property, he offered Messrs. Strahan and Cadell, to cancel the agreement, and substitute another, by which he thought they would be less injured. These gentlemen, however, met his proposition with a corresponding liberality, and the original bare gain stood; and every reader will be glad to hear that they were no losers, the work soon becoming, and yet remaining, in every sense, an English classic.

In 1766, he resigned the Vinerian professorship, and the principality of New-inn hall; finding he could not discharge the personal duties of the former, consistently with his professional attendance in London, or the delicacy of his feelings as an honest man. Thus was he detached from Oxford, to the inexpressible loss of that university, and the great regret of all those who wished well to the establishment of the study of the law therein. When he first turned his views towards the Vinerian professorship, he had formed a design of settling in Oxford for life; he had flattered himself, that by annesing the office of professor to the principality of one of the halls (and perhaps converting it into a college), and placing Mr. Viner's fellows and scholars under their professor, a society might be established for students of the common law, similar to that of Trinity hall in Cambridge for civilians. Mr. Viner's will very much favoured this plan. He leaves to the university “all his personal estate, books, &c. for the constituting, establishing, and endowing one or more fellowship or fel. lowships, and scholarship or scholarships, in any college or hall in the said university, as to the convocation shall be thought most proper for students of the common law.” But notwithstanding this plain direction to establish them in some college or hall, the clause from the delegates which ratified this designation, had the fate to be rejected by a negative in convocation.

În the new parliament chosen in 1768 he was returned burgess for Westbury in Wiltshire. In the course of this parliament, the question, “ Whether a member expelled was, or was not, eligible in the same parliament," was free quently agitated in the house with much warmth; and what fell from him in a debate being deemed by some persons contradictory to what he had advanced on the same subject in his Commentaries, he was attacked with much asperity, in a pamphlet supposed to be written by a baronet, a member of that house. To this charge he gave an early reply in print. In the same year, Dr. Priestley animadverted on some positions in the same work, relative to offences against the doctrine of the established church, to which he published an answer.

Mr. Blackstone's reputation as a great and able lawyer was now so thoroughly established, that had he been possessed of a constitution equal to the fatigues attending the most extensive business of the profession, he might probably have obtained its most lucrative emoluments and highest offices. The offer of the solicitor generalship, on the resignation of Mr. Dunning, in Jan. 1770, opened the most flattering prospects to his view. But the attendance on its complicated duties at the bar, and in the house of commons, induced him to refuse it. But though he declined this path, which so certainly, with abilities like Mr. Blackstone's, leads to the highest dignities in the law, yet he readily accepted the office of judge of the common pleas, when offered to him on the resignation of Mr. Justice Clive; to which he was appointed on the 9th of February 1770. Previous however to the passing his patent, Mr. Justice Yates expressed an earnest wish to remove from the king's bench to the court of common pleas. To this wish Mr.

Blackstone, from motives of personal esteem, consented: but on his death, which happened between the ensuing Easter and Trinity terms, Mr. Blackstone was appointed to his original destination in the common pleas; and on his promotion to the bench, he resigned the re, cordership of Wallingford.

He seemed now arrived at the point be 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 now placed in, yet the leisure afforded by the legal vacarions he dedicated to the priyate duties of life, which, as the father of a numerous family, he now 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 be 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 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. He was indeed always a great promoter of the improvement of public roads : the new western road over Botley Causeway was projected, and the plan of it entirely conducted by him. He was the more earnest in this design, not merely as a work of general utility and ornament, but as a solid improvement to the estate of a nobleman, in settling whose affairs he had been most laboriously and beneficially employed. To his architectural talents, also, bis liberal disposition, his judicious zeal, and his numerous friends, Wallingford 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. Of this scheme we have just given some account in the life of Blackburn the architect. It has been put in practice in several counties, but the question as to the beneficial effects of solitary confinement, although frequently agitated, has not been so completely decided as to obviate many objections which have been lately of fered.

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

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »