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Break forth into thanksgiving,
A voice to Light gave being;
ART. IV.-A Course of Legal Study, addressed to Students and
the Profession generally. By David Hoffman. 2d edition, re-written and much enlarged. In 2 vols. Baltimore, 1836.
After the frequent and ample commendations which Mr. Hoffman's work has received from the most eminent sources, it is altogether superfluous to superadd the feeble tribute of our praise to an effort, which, even of itself, and independently of the mode of its execution, would be justly entitled to much of the highest. One chief object of the writer is to raise, in the estimation of the youthful student, the character of the profession to which he aspires to be attached, and to place, too, the science herself upon her proper eminence in that of the public. The
design was becoming an American lawyer to conceive, and the success has been commensurate with the propriety of the attempt.
Any detailed review of the plan of the author, or of his extensive and liberal course of study, is needless, after the elaborate examination bestowed upon the first edition, in a paper which appeared in the North American Review some years ago, and which was attributed to the pen of one of the most distinguished jurists of our country. We will, therefore, but remark upon the extension of the original plan, which has given rise to the present edition. The former addressed itself to the science as it existed when the work first issued from the press; and was designed more particularly to meet the wants of the mere legal student. The vast additions that have been made to the science of the law, and an expectation, on the part of the writer, that his book might not be useless even to the counsellor, the judge, or the statesman, called very properly for a wider expansion of his original idea. This Mr. Hoffman has effected, without detracting from the elementary and practical character of the “ Course” which is essential to adapt it to the uses of the young student.
On two main grounds, our author's plan and its execution are to be highly commended. First, the order which he has enforced and has so well exemplified; and, in the next place, the intellectual nature of his “Course."
Without order, all study is vain. It conduces not only to the more ready acquisition of the particular knowledge which at the time is desired, but, also, most materially to the permanent improvement of the mind itself, of the thinking and reasoning faculties. Years may be spent in erratic, though, for the moment, it may be, intense investigations of learning, and their fruits will be but the superficial acquisitions of that wealth, whose richest treasures lie at the hidden sources of the mine. Learning is a vast and weighty building, which must be reared, as all other buildings, upon solid foundations, or the structure will meet an untimely end. This is true of learning in general, but more particularly so of any special department of it, which, to be effectively studied, must be cautiously and knowingly commenced.
There are certain great truths, of an expanded nature, which lie at the basis of every science. These must be first explored, and thoroughly understood; and, standing upon them, we must start in our investigation of the particular branch of learning which we purpose to master. We must proceed, step by step ; never advancing until our present foothold is secure, and is properly appreciated. One truth leads to, and is connected with, another. This connection would never, perhaps, be seen, cerVOL. XI.-NO. 39.
tainly never estimated, if the idea which lies at the foundation be not first presented to the mind. Our march is thus upwards; the scene opens upon our vision. The depths and the sources are behind us; they have been passed. The root being familiar, the ramifications may be readily traced ; and there is thus no danger of our being involved in intricacies without some clew to unravel them.
This careful and progressive mode of investigation is adapted to all scientific enquiries, whether the subject be external nature or moral truths; but it is rnore necessary in the latter, depending as they do upon the relations and connections of our ideas. Our reasoning in such cases is cumulative; we always build upon what we have, and draw conclusions from premises already supposed to be settled ; if, therefore, our leading idea be erroneous, the train will be a series of absurdities and mistakes.
In the profession of which our author is a member, no position is more of an axiom than hat which declares the reason of the law to be the life of the law. By this it is not meant that the most perfect reason is always most congenial to legal principles; on the contrary, many of the provisions of every positive system of rules, the mere creation of the human mind, must be not only defective, but contrary to right, abstract reason. But it is intended to assert that the original, moving cause of the law, is that which is to govern in its exposition; that no correct exposition of any law can be given unless, and until, this moving cause be discovered. Hence the necessity of resorting to the original fountains of justice.
Of all the sciences, law has its foundations the deepest laid. It pervades and embraces all things. It is the impress of Deity upon his works. As the “heavens declare the glory of God, so the firmament showeth his handiwork ;" for the material world moves by his will, and every revolution of the system is but a new proof of his directing power. A law is, in its general definition, a rule of action; it is but descending from generals to particulars to consider any regulation of human conduct and affairs. In this descent, certain maxims, derived from an examination of God's will as deduced from his works, and from his law written upon the heart, must never be lost sight of. These should all human regulations subserve, and, of course, never violate.
Mr. Hoffman properly, therefore, introduces the student, 'in the first place, to a knowledge of moral and political philosophy. He makes him acquainted with the elements of morals and government; with the operations and powers of his own mind, and the foundation and different kinds of political constitutions. He makes him sensible of the capacity of his reason, and accustoms him to draw upon his own resources of thought. He
lays a solid foundation of first principles which have place in his own nature, and in that of civil society, before leading him into the store-house of municipal law, which human ingenuity has filled with every variety of device and contrivance. As the starting point of morals and government, the student is conducted to the Bible-to the only authentic history of the origin and multiplication of mankind, and the rise of the social compact. The system of morals to which the mind is led is that traced by the finger of God himself, and not the mere fanciful theory of erring human reason. With this sure light and guide to be ever held in his view, the student is then made acquainted with the different systems of human speculation, upon this deeply interesting topic, from the classic pages of Aristotle and Cicero to the profound investigations of the learned metaphysicians of our own days. No one, in reading the remarks of our author upon
this part of his course, can fail to be struck with the becoming religious tone which pervades the work. He does not, as too many have done in their systems of education, lose sight of his dependent relation to his Creator, or attempt the improvement of the intellectual faculty, a spark from the divine essence, forgetful of the homage and reverence due to the great cause of it and of all things. No fancied independence is assumed for imperfect humanity, but the student is directed, by the insertion of the beautiful prayer of Dr. Johnson, at the very commencement of the work, to an acknowledgment of the source of all intelligence.
The moral law, and the law of nature and of nations, are, in this course then, first presented to the attention of the student. The works indicated are all of the very highest order, and their adequate study would go far towards the full development of the youthful mind. Our only objection to this part of Mr. Hoffman's course is to the number of books upon the same topics which he proposes to his readers. The books themselves are all worth the time which their proper perusal would consume, if it were intended fully.to invest the student with all the ornaments to be derived from a minute knowledge of metaphysics; but the study of all these is by no means essential; on the contrary, we should be inclined to pronounce it superfluous for the object in view. We would adopt the ancient writers, in Mr. Hoffman's list, with the exception of Seneca ; and from the moderns we would erase (simply as portions of the course of legal study,) Beattie's Elements, Cogan's Ethical Questions, Smith's Theory, Hedge's Abridgment, Burlamaqui's Institutes, and Puffendorf. The books retained in the list will impart to the student a full mastery of this branch of his legal education.
The next step is to an acquaintance with the elementary and
constitutional principles of the municipal law of England, of the United States, and of the Roman civil law; and the student is thus invited to apply his previous knowledge of the general principles of government to their practical development in these systems of law and in those countries in which he is the most interested. We should be ourselves inclined to reverse this order, by placing first on the list the works which treat of the institutes of the Roman law. Its greater antiquity would seem to give it an earlier position in the course, and by its prior acquisition, its principles could be traced down into the laws of England and America ; and when met with, as they of course would be, in the study of the latter, their reasons and provisions would be familiar.
We may here repeat the remark as to the number of books, and apply it to the list recommended under this and the succeeding heads. We should be disposed to curtail not the topics themselves, but the works in which they are discussed. The mind should not be overloaded or wearied by the recurrence of the same subjects, which, though important, are but introductory to the main object, after they have been well understood from competent sources. Time, too, in every student's course is of vast importance. We should say, take the best book upon any head; confine the learner to it till he has thoroughly comprehended it, and then pass on to another subject, which may be connected with it in the order of his
A selection could readily be made from the books re.. commended by Mr. Hoffman, without much danger of mistake, as they are all standard works.
The feudal law holds a prominent position under this second great head, and is placed first in order by our author. As we said before, we should prefer the student commencing with the Roman law, and then proceeding to the law of feuds. This alteration is however not very important, as the two systems are so entirely distinct. It is advantageous, nevertheless, for the young learner to have presented to his mind the different systems of human law, in some degree according to the order of history. The feudal law he should thoroughly master (we mean in its principles, not in all its details), in order to comprehend its deep and lasting impression upon the forms of government, and the municipal laws of those countries to which his attention is particularly directed. Without this knowledge, much of those laws will be to him a dead letter; the life will be wanting, as the reason will not be perceived.
There is no obsolete learning in the law, when regard is had to principles. They shoot forth into branches which reach the remotest divisions of the science; and unless the whole system is swept away by the ruthless hand of a conqueror, or a no less