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Entered according to act of Congress by
WM. HARDCASTLE BROWNE, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington,
NEARLY a century and a half ago, the students of Oxford University listened to the lectures of Sir William Blackstone on the subject of English law; which literary and historical compilations were subsequently embodied in the four volumes of his commentaries. From that time to the present day, wherever the English language is spoken, these commentaries have been adopted by jurists, lawyers, students and literary men generally, as an epitome of the fundamental principles of our jurisprudence.
Numerous editions of the work have appeared, more or less abridged, and usually copiously annotated. Whether, in an elementary work of this nature on the general principles of English law, a profusion of notes is an advantage, may well be doubted. In addition to the fact, that many of such notes are necessarily of local application, or a mere reprint of the notes and opinions of previous editors, it is a question, whether their great number and variety would not tend to confuse the student, and, to some extent, divert his attention from the original text. So convinced of this fact are the faculties of a few of our leading law schools, that the catalogues of such institutions in certain instances, in specifying the works to be studied, mention Blackstone's Commentaries, “exclusive of editors' notes."
Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his preface to an edition of Shakespeare's plays, advises the reading of the dramas, with utter disregard of the notes of the commentators. He states, most emphatically, that the general effect of the work is weakened by reference to such notes, the mind chilled by such interruption, and the thoughts diverted from the principal subject; until the reader, wearied by perusal of the notes and comments, at last discards the book itself; for its beauty is no longer discernible.
Where a law has been abrogated or materially altered, or has become obsolete, a single word to that effect in a foot-note will apparently suffice to check its further investigation ; which plan has been adopted in the present edition. The retention of such annulled statutes in the text is because of their historic value, and to render the work more full and accurate ; which the paucity of notes enables the present editor to accomplish in much greater degree. He has labored to retain in this edition all of Blackstone's great work, which has any bearing whatever upon the present law, whether it be the law itself, as now operative, or the grand principles which underlie it; and also all matter of historic interest contained in the commentaries, which may prove valuable or entertaining reading.
The marked separation of paragraphs, and the constant use of distinctive catch-words, together with the clear large type of the text, will, it is hoped, not only render the book attractive in appearance, but also readily understood by the student of law, as well as by the active practitioner.
The plan of the work and a portion of the manuscript were submitted, before publication, to the examination of several prominent professors of law in two universities, and their approval of its general features obtained.
A novel addition to the book is the glossary of nearly two thousand legal terms, maxims and brief Latin phrases, used in the commentaries, with abridged definitions.
Biographical sketches of lawgivers and writers mentioned in the commentaries are appended to this edition, and also a chart of the line of descent of the sovereigns of England, from the date of the heptarchy to the present time.
TABLE OF CONTENTS. .
Civil, Canon, Common.
Natural and civil liberty.
Magna carta and later actş.
Life, limbs, body, health, reputa-
Habeas corpus act.
Ne exeat regno.
By limiting the prerogative.
Rules in construing.
4. Laws of House of Lords.
IV. THE ROYAL FAMILY.
2. Perpetual taxes.
Customs. Excise duty.
Stamp duties. Houses and win.
Letters of marque. X. THE PEOPLE.
Rural deans. Parsons and vicars.
4. Fountain of honor and office.
XII. THE CIVIL STATE.
6. Head of national church.
Creation and rights of peers.
Ranks among commonalty.
Laborers. Stewards. Bailiffs.
Law of lunacy. Spendthrifts. Restraints and corrections.