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tions, the general consistency with principle is as distinguishable, as their practical importance.
We have the rather dwelt upon these improvements in maritime law, because they are most obvious to the general observer, and, therefore, most readily admitted. In the several branches of this law, instead of a few elementary principles, and a few decisions, turning upon nice distinctions, we have now a regular system ; which, though not entirely perfect, exhibits such a scientific arrangement and harmony of principles, that, in most of the questions arising in practice, the profession are enabled to relieve themselves from those distressing doubts, which never fail to bring discredit upon the law for its supposed uncertainty. But improvement has not been confined to commercial law. A spirit of scientific research has diffused itself over the other departments of the common law ; contested questions are now, and for a long time have been, sifted with the most laborious diligence, and the limits of principles established, with a philosophical precision and accuracy, which is rarely observable in the old reports. The doctrines of uses and trusts, of last wills and testaments, of contingent remainders, of executory devises, and of legacies, although resting on ancient and immovable foundations, are reduced to a very high degree of exactness and consistency, and followed out into their regular results with a truly logical conformity to principles, for which we might search in vain in the annals of former times.
But, although much has been done in modern times, to methodize the common law, and give it a systematic character, so that we may, not only arrive at its principles by regular analysis, but teach its elements and distinctions by an enlarged synthesis ; yet it is not to be imagined, that the profession have to encounter less labor, or to exercise less diligence, than formerly, in order to obtain a mastery of the science; or that there is little uncertainty in applying it to the solution of those questions, which perpetually arise in human transactions. To a certain extent, law must for ever be subject to uncertainty and doubt; not from the obscurity and fluctuation of decisions, as the vulgar erroneously suppose, but from the endless complexity and variety of human actions. However certain may be the rules of the statute or common law, they must necessarily be general in their language, and incapable of a minute and perfect application to the boundless circumstances of life, which may modify, limit, or affect them. It is impossible to provide by any code, however extensive, for the infinite variety of distinctions, as to civil justice, arising from the imperfection of human language and foresight, from the conflict of opposing rights, from the effect of real or apparent hardships, and from those minute equities, which are often found in different scales, adding somewhat to the weight of each, but rarely forming an exact equipoise. Until human actions are capable of being limited on every side to a definite range of circumstances, the permutations and combinations of which may be perfectly ascertained and enumerated; until there shall be an entire separation of right from wrong in all the business of life, and the elements of each shall be immiscible and repulsive; until, in short, we shall become absolutely pure and perfect in our actions, and perfectly conusant of all the operations of the past, the present, and the future; there will remain immeasurable uncertainties in the law, which will call for the exercise of professional talents, and the grave judgments of courts of justice. We must be content, since we cannot hope to realize these Utopian dreams of human excellence, to secure the upright and enlightened administration of justice, by encouraging learned advocates to fit themselves for eminence at the bar, and by supporting with liberal salaries the dignity, the virtue, and the independence of the bench.
We have already intimated an opinion, that the improvements in the various departments of law have in no degree lessened the necessity of laborious study to qualify gentlemen for the higher walks of the profession. The changes of two centuries have greatly facilitated the means of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the science; but they have also widened the circle to an almost incalculable extent. Sir Henry Spelman has left us a striking picture of the difficulties and discouragements of the study, of his own time. In his preface to his Glossary, he says, “ Emisit me [mater] tamen sub anno altero  Londinum juris nostri capessendi gratiâ ; cujus cum vestibulum salutassem, reperissemque linguam peregrinam, dialectum barbaram, methodum inconcinnam, molem non ingentem solum, sed perpetuis huineris sustinendam, excidit, fateor, animus, blandioribusque subridens musis, rigidam hanc minervam, ferreis amplexibus coercendam, leni molimine delibari.” To be sure, the discouragements of that day were not inconsiderable; the whole of the law was locked up in barbarous Latin, and still more barbarous Norman French. The doctrines of special pleading were obscured by the shades of a dead language, and by the embarrassing subtilties of scholastic refinement.
body of the law was to be principally extracted from the Year Books, and the elaborate, though immethodical abridgments of Statham, Fitzherbert, and Brooke. The only guides, which could be said to illumine the way, were the brief, but profound text of Littleton on Tenures, the authoritative and methodical sketch of Glanville, the comprehensive, exact, and learned treatise of Bracton, (whom Sir William Jones has justly characterized as the best of our juridical classics), and the perspicuous and compact work of Fleta, in which the unknown author follows with steady footsteps the path of his master. If to these we add the old Tenures, the old and the new Natura Brevium, the Register of original writs, the works of Britton and Staundford, the very able dialogues of St. German between a Doctor and Student, the acute and subtile notes of Perkins, and the diffuse, but accurate and learned, commentaries of Plowden,* we have the bulk of juridical authors, which were to be mastered by the student at the time, to which Sir Henry Spelman refers. We do not mean to undervalue the labor, which was necessary to accomplish this arduous task; and we well know, that, what works did not then supply, could be acquired only by the dry practice of a black letter office, and a constant and fatiguing attention upon courts of justice. But adding every thing, which the most strenuous advocate of the ancient law would ask, we may safely pronounce, that the labors of a modern student, if he means to attain eminence, must be infinitely greater. To be a sound lawyer, he must not merely taste, but drink deep at the ancient fountains of the law. He must acquire an accurate knowledge of the feudal tenures, and of the ancient doctrines connected therewith, because they constitute the rudiments of the law of real estates; and yet, much of this learning is remote from common use, and lies deep in the dark and uncouth text of the primitive writers. He must be initiated into the mysteries of real actions, which will at once carry him back three centuries ; for, since the days of queen Elizabeth, these actions have gradually sunk into neglect; and unless he thoroughly comprehends them, he can hardly be master of the modern actions of trespass and ejectment, not to speak of our own state, where real actions exist in their vigor, and remain the great remedies for deciding titles. If we add to this the necessary learning of personal actions, founded on
* The other reporters of this period, Keilway, Anderson, Moore, &c., were not then published. The Mirror of Justices, though of an earlier time, did not appear until a half century afterwards. There are some few other works of this period, but they were not thought worth a distinct enumeration.
torts or contracts, which in modern times have branched out into an almost endless variety, we shall have some notion of the extent of the labor, which is now requisite to the attainment of the first rank in the profession.
This view of the subject may appear appalling to young gentlemen, who are just quitting our universities, with the intention of devoting their lives to the science of jurisprudence. It ought, however, to be a great consolation to them, that the elementary writers are more faithful, more accurate, and more polished, than in former times. The paths may not always be well cleared, nor the prospects interesting ; but, in almost every direction, there will be found learned guides, who cannot fail to diffuse a bright and steady cheerfulness, during the most rugged journeys.
The superior advantages, in this respect, of our own times over the past, will be apparent upon the slightest reflection. If we look back to the termination of the century, succeeding the period, to which Sir Henry Spelman alluded, we shall find, that the student had comparatively few additional elementary works to assist his progress. Lord Hale, in his preface to Rolle's Abridgment, (in 1668,) gives us a list of those, which were most useful, and he contents bimself with adding to those already named by us, Rolle's Abridgment, Lord Coke's Institutes, and the intermediate reporters between his own time and Plowden.* Not but that some other elementary works had in the mean time been published; but they were not deemed by him peculiarly useful to students.
We have also, yet remaining, a letter of Lord Chief Justice Reeve, addressed to his nephew about seventy years later, (9 Geo. II.,) on the study of the law, by which we find, that, in his opinion, (with which we do not coïncide,) Finch’s Law, Hale's History of the Common Law, and Wood's Institutes, were the most material elementary works, that had been added to the old stock during this whole period.t
The publication of Blackstone's Commentaries (in 1765) constituted a new epoch in the annals of the common law. Previously to that period, the learned author had published his Analysis of the laws of England, I which exhibited the outline of the method and principal divisions, which the Commentaries were
* Lord Hale's preface to Rolle is well worth the diligent perusal of students.
† The letter of Lord Chief Justice Reeve is published in the Collectanea Juridica, vol. i. p. 79.
† The Analysis was first published in 1756.
intended to fill up, in pursuance, indeed, of the plan, which had been previously sketched by the masterly pen of Lord Hale. Of a work, which has been so long before the public as Blackstone's Commentaries, it cannot be necessary for us to utter one word of approbation. For luminous method, for profound research, for purity of diction, for comprehensive brevity, and pregnancy of matter, for richness in classical allusions, and for extent and variety of knowledge of foreign jurisprudence, whether introduced for illustration, or ornament, or instruction, it is not too much to say, that it stands unrivalled in ours, and, perhaps, in every other language. There have not, however, been wanting, of late years, attempts to undervalue the importance of these Commentaries. It has been suggested, that in some parts the work is superficial, and in others, too general and elementary ; that it cannot be safely relied on as authority; and that it teaches the science so imperfectly, that it has almost as great a tendency to mislead, as to instruct. These objections seem to us founded upon a total misconception of the design of the work. The author did not undertake to exhibit a full and perfect view of the common law, but merely a summary sketch of its most important doctrines and distinctions.
That some errors may be found by a strict scrutiny cannot be denied; but, from the vast extent and variety of the materials, such errors were to be expected. The only wonder is, that so much should have been accomplished, with so little intermixture of false doctrine, and obscure and inaccurate statement. We cannot express our own sentiments better than in the language of that admirable ornament of juridical literature, Sir William Jones: “His Commentaries are the most correct and beautiful outline, that ever was exhibited of any human science ; but they alone will no more form a lawyer, than a general map of the world, how accurately and elegantly soever it may be delineated, will make a geographer. If, indeed, all the titles, which he professed only to sketch in elementary discourses, were filled up with exactness and perspicuity, Englishmen might hope at length to possess a digest of their own laws, which would leave but little room for controversy, except in cases depending on their particular circumstances.” — (Jones on Bailments, 3, 4.)
But the most incontestible proof of the excellence of the work is to be found in the striking effects, which its publication produced in every department of the common law. By the elegance of its style, and the novel dress, in which it clothed the elements of law,