Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

which have acquired an European reputation, and earned, for these eminent jurists, in other countries, that meed of applause, which is like the calm, unbiassed judgment of posterity. Nor, in this connexion, should we omit the name of Mr. Theron Metcalf, in the list of American law writers; for although he has, as yet, appeared before the public only in the capacity of an Editor, the annotations with which he has enriched the text submitted to him, constitute, generally speaking, the most valuable part of the reprint, and bear the same relation to the text itself, which the notes of Mr. Serjeant Williams do to Saunders’s Reports. We hazard the conjecture, that he has in his desk manuscripts enough to give him a high reputation as a discriminating and philosophical law writer, would he present them to the public.

An extended and minute analysis of Mr. Hoffman's “ Course of Legal Study," a work exclusively professional, it would be hardly fair to inflict upon the readers of a literary journal. For them, it will be sufficient to state, that it contains a general course of legal study, followed by a particular syllabus under every title of the general course, and under each particular title are collected the various works which have been written upon the several subjects which belong to it. Connected with these titles, is a succession of learned, elaborate, and most valuable critical observations upon the most conspicuous of the works, recommended for study and perusal, interspersed with judicious reflections of a general nature, which manifest a mind of great general cultivation, and a lively interest in the progress and improvement of the student. A considerable portion of the second volume is devoted to the head of “auxiliary subjects," under the various divisions of the geography, and civil, statistical, and political history of the United States, forensic eloquence and oratory, legal biography and bibliography, legal reviews, journals, and essays, codification and proposed amendments of the law, medical jurisprudence, military and naval law, logic, and professional deportment. To the whole is subjoined an appendix, containing hints and advice on note-books, and on debating societies, and moot-courts.

In such a work, the most essential and indispensable merit is that of learning and thoroughness. Without these requisites, it would be worse than useless, since it would lead the student to be content with superficial attainments, and give him the notion that he had reached the summit of professional NO. 98.

10

VOL. XLVI.

acquisition, when he had little more than mastered the rudiments. In this respect, Mr. Hoffman's work is not only unexceptionable, but admirable. Its learning is thorough, copious, and exact, — pressed down and running over. It would take a high rank in this respect, if compared with the labors of European jurisprudents, whose unbroken days, from morn to dewy eve, are passed within the walls of their studies; but when we remember that it is the work of one, who has been more or less engaged in practice, during its composition, and who has been sustaining those active duties, imposed upon even the scholars and men of letters, in our young and bustling country, it moves our astonishment no less than our admiration. By what process he has contrived to find time to read so many books, and collect together so stupendous a mass of erudition, quite passes our comprehension. That an ambitious and hardworking lawyer should make himself well acquainted with the learning of the common law, is not so surprising, since that is a kind of knowledge which can readily be exchanged for wealth and honor. But Mr. Hoffman has not contented himself with an acquaintance with such books as are authority in Westminster Hall, though these are numerous enough to break the backs of many camels. He is equally at home among the voluminous treatises of the Roman and Continental law. The catalogue of authors on these subjects, contained in the beginning of the second volume, is, in itself, a work of no inconsiderable research, and we have no doubt that a large proportion of the names will be found to be new, even to well-instructed lawyers. Indeed, we think that those portions of Mr. Hoffman's work, which treat of the civil law, and recommend its study, are of peculiar value and importance. The study of the philosophical and scientific treatises of the distinguished legal writers of France and Germany, affords an excellent corrective to that narrow spirit which an exclusive devotion to the common law is liable to produce. English law-treatises are, for the most part, mere formularies for practice, and are little more than digests of cases, written without reference to general principles, in a purely technical form, and without any pretension to that scientific arrangement which is deemed so indispensable on the Continent.

As this is a work intended for the guidance and information of students, accuracy of judgment is a quality hardly less desirable than soundness of learning. In this particular, every lawyer will be likely to think Mr. Hoffman's opinions more or less correct, in proportion as they coincide more or less nearly with his own. After an attentive perusal of his two volumes, we think his judgment, very generally, correct;

and to most of his critical observations upon books and authors we express our hearty assent, so far as our knowledge qualifies us to speak. Not that we should on all occasions, have used precisely his language ; sometimes we should have thrown in an additional warmth of eulogy, and sometimes a deeper shade of censure ; but in the main, we go along with him. The book has one quality, which we especially like. It is a good-natured book. Mr. Hoffman is a benevolent censor, and seldom puts on the critical black cap of condemnation. He is disposed to do justice to all that is good in an author, and mentions defects and omissions in such a manner as plainly to show that he does it, not because it is agreeable to him, but because the truth and his duty require it. There are one or two names in his pages who have richly earned a critical flagellation, and we should have felt it to be no more than even justice, had it been administered by hands so well qualified as those of Mr. Hoffman ; but we are not sorry that he has not done it. Much as we should have enjoyed the correction, it might have impaired the agreeable impression which the book has left, of the generous and benevolent nature of its author, in obedience to that mysterious feeling which makes a man shrink from the hangman, however much he may wish that murderers and pirates should be hung. To show, however, that with all his kindness of feeling, and disposition to look upon the bright side of books, he is no dealer in unqualified and indiscriminate praise, as well as to give to our readers a fair specimen of his style and manner, we cite the following note upon the Commentaries of Chancellor Kent, premising that, in our opinion, the criticisms upon that admirable work are as correct in substance as they are proper in expression.

(Note 18.) Kent's COMMENTARIES ON AMERICAN LAW.The Commentaries on American Law,' in four volumes, by our distinguished countryman, James Kent, for many years Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature, of New York, and subsequently Chancellor of that State, have already gained the high reputation of a standard work, and justly rank next in value and estimation to those of the great commentator on the laws of England.

“Much might be said of the deep research, the classical embellishments, the apt illustrations, and the clear and manly style, which characterize every portion of this able work; but this would be superfluous, as the well-merited fame of this great American jurisconsult, is too well known to need any remarks of this kind. Our duty to the student, in such a case, is rather to note defects, if there be any, than to collect beauties; the latter abound, the former are to be sought after. In compliance with this view, we shall briefly notice such as have occurred to us.

“1. The general arrangement, or method of the work, as we think, is not as correct as it might have been. With a few exceptions, the contents of the first volume would have been more suitably found in a fourth ; and those of the fourth would have been better as the second volume; whilst most of the topics embraced by his second and third volumes should have found their appropriate places elsewhere.

2. The learning is sometimes too particular and minute, for an elementary work, as it occasionally loses sight of its institutionary character ; and topics are, at times, too abruptly discussed, the student not having presented to him the requisite definitions, and elementary knowledge essential to the due comprehension of the argument.

“3. The laws of the State of New York are rather too much dwelt on, for a treatise on American jurisprudence; and the references to legal doctrines, homogeneous throughout the Union, are not always clear and satisfactory.

4. Many important titles of the law are wholly omitted ; and but little is said of the extensive doctrine of equity, on which the learned commentator is so peculiarly qualified to treat. The philosophy and general principles of penal law, as they have been softened down by the pervading humanity of our legislation, might have been embraced in his scheme; and as a system of American law it is defective in some other material branches, which are peculiarly national; the practical proceedings of courts are, perhaps, justly omitted, but the outlines of pleading, evidence, actions, &c. we should have been much gratified to see explained by so able a pen.

5. In the fourth volume, on the doctrines of the realty, we have much to admire; but we perceive that the learned author's pen has been too frequently restrained by the consideration, that very many of the common law principles of this abstruse branch of our jurisprudence have been abolished in the State of New

ces.

York, by the recent code of that State. This American students generally will have just cause to regret.

“Such is our sincere admiration of the labors of this estimable and philosophical jurist, that it sometimes appeared to us rash and ungrateful to find the least fault, amidst so many excellen

But as the foregoing (if they be defects), are trivial and easily remedied, we doubt not they will be amply corrected in a new edition : and if not, they can never diminish the class of his readers and admirers. The feelings with which we express our opinions on all occasions, are those of gratitude to all who have enlarged the boundaries of our science, and contributed to its philosophical illustration; and none deserves the meed of high praise more justly than Chancellor Kent, in this work, as also in his decisions, which must for ever remain a monument of judicial wisdom, learning, and eloquence, without superior in those of any country, or any age; moreover, the maxim which has guided us in this volume is, Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis amica veritas.” — Vol. I. pp. 166 – 168.

The members of the profession of the law owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Hoffman, for his endeavours to elevate it, by the comprehensive course of liberal studies, which he has prescribed to its students. He, who values the law merely as a means of securing a respectable social position and accumulating property, may smile, as he reads the list of books which are recommended in the first and second titles, and will probably skip the eloquent pages which inculcate their diligent perusal. But he, who is aware of the intellectual dangers which attend upon the exclusive study of the technicalities of the law, will take diligent heed to Mr. Hoffman's advice, and lay deep the foundations of his professional preparation in a thorough course of history, ethics, and natural law. The young student, however impatient he may be to thrust his sickle into the harvest, need not fear that he is losing time in thus devoting himself, for a season, to liberal studies, and lingering in the “ primrose paths ” of literature and philosophy. The principles of law strike root most deeply, and bear fruit most abundantly, in a mind fertilized by general reading. An ignorant man may be a skilful attorney and a safe practitioner, and may become a walking index of decided cases ; but he will never be a great lawyer. Many honorable names may be pointed out in the annals of the profession, who, it is easy to perceive, would have been better lawyers, had they been better scholars. So long as the question is, merely, how the de

« ForrigeFortsæt »