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PREF A C E.
THE following sheets contain the substance of
a course of lectures on the laws of England, which were read by the author in the university of OXFORD. His original plan took its rise in the year 1753: and, notwithstanding the novelty of such an attempt in this age and country, and the prejudices usually conceived against any innovations in the established mode of education, he bad the fatisfation to find (and be acknowleges it with a mixture of pride and gratitude) that bis endeavours were encouraged and patronized by those, both in the university and out of it, whose good opinion and esteem he was principally desirous to obtain.
The death of Mr. Viner in 1756, and bis ample benefačtion to the university for promoting the fiudy of the law, produced about two years afterwards a regular and public establishment of what the author had privately undertaken. The knowlege of our laws and constitution was adopted as a liberal science by general academical authoa 3
rity; competent endowments were decreed for the support of a lecturer, and the perpetual encouragement of students; and the compiler of the ensuing commentaries had the honour to be elected the first Vinerian profesor.
In this situation he was led, both by duty and inclination, to investigate the elements of the law, and the grounds of our civil polity, with greater afiduity and attention than many have thought it necessary to do. “And yet all, who of late years have attended the public administration of justice, must be fenfible that a masterly acquaintance with the general spirit of laws and the principles of universal jurisprudence, combined with an accurate knowlege of our own municipal constitutions, their original, reason, and history, hath given a beauty and energy to many modern judicial decisions, with which our ancestors were wholly unacquainted. If, in the pursuit of these inquiries, the author bath been able to rectify any errors which either himself or others may have heretofore imbibed, his pains will be sufficiently answered : and, if in some points he is still mistaken, the candid and judicious reader will make due allowances for the difficulties of a searcb so nezv, fo extensive, and so laborious.
· 2 Nov. 1765.
NOTWITHSTANDING the diffidence expressed in the foregoing Preface, no sooner was the work completed, but many of its positions were vehemently attacked by zealots of all (even oppofite) denominations, religious as well as civil; by Some with a greater, by others with a lefs degree of acrimony. To such of these animadverters as have fallen within the author's notice (for he doubts not but fome have escaped it) he owes at least this obligation; that they have occafioned him from time to time to revise bis work, in respect to the particulars objected to; to retract or expunge from it what appeared to be really erroneous; to amend or supply it when inaccurate or defective; to illustrate and explain it when obscure. But, where he thought the objections ill-founded, he bath left and shall leave the book to defend itself: being fully of opinion, that if his principles be false and his doctrines unwarrantable, no apology from bimself can make them right; if founded in truth and reftitude, no ‘censure from others can make them wrong.
The discharge of a duty similar to that to which the world is indebted for the Commentaries on the Laws of England, led the Editor to presume, that in the course of his researches he might be able to collect some observations which might be useful to the Public, and at the same time it suggested the propriety of his endeavouring to contribute to the further improvement of that valuable production.
The extensive sale of the last Edition has abundantly proved that the design has met with general approbation.
No alteration has been made in the Author's texts but the principal changes, which either the legislature or the decisions of the courts have introduced into the law since the last corrections of the Author, are specified and explained by the Editor in the notes *.
The Commentaries on the Laws of England form an essential part of every Gentleman's library : the beautiful and lucid arrangement, the purity of the language, the classic elegance of the quotations and .* The Editor's notes are separated from the text and notes of the Author by a line, and are referred to by figures, thus (1), and the pages of the former editions are preserved in the margin.
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allusions, the clear and intelligible explanation of cvery subject, must always yield the reader as much pleasure as improvement; and wherever any constitutional or legal question is agitated, they are the first, and, in general, the best authority referred to. In order to add to their utility in this respect, the Editor has annexed such exceptions and particular instances as he thought would render the information still fuller and more complete. Where he has presumed to question any of the learned Commentator's doctrines, he has assigned his reasons for his doubt or diffent; but where he has discovered an inaccuracy arising merely from inadvertence, he has stated it without scruple or ceremony. We should expect more than human excellence, if we imagined that a work, comprizing almost the whole fystem of Englifh jurisprudence, could be entirely free from mistakes. But it is a matter of great concern to the Profession and to the Public at large, that in an Author so univerfally read, so deservedly admired, and in whom such confidence is reposed, every subject should be reviewed with fcrupulous and critical precision. It has been, and it will continue to be, the Editor's peculiar study and ambition to advance this learned performance to as great a degree of accuracy and perfection as his attention and ability can effect; and he will always be grateful for any correction of his own errors, or for any useful remarks which may not have occurred to him in his examination of the Commentaries.