Page images



"Books," says Bishop Hacket, in his quaint life of Lord Keeper Williams, "are sown so thick in all countries of Europe, that a new one which adds one more to the former gross, had need of an apology. Many that love knowledge, both industrious and of sound judgment, are not nice to say, that repletion of Authors hath begat loathing, which is a reason likewise, or a pretence, that divers who are learned and full men, contain their liquour in their vessels, and never broach it in the press, to make it public, because they think it folly to contribute to waste and excess."

However, as the Bishop thought proper to give his learned work to the public, I venture to follow his example, and subjoin the following remarks, which, perhaps, are wrongly designated an apology for my book, they being, in fact, meant as an excuse for my having written one of this


Vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt.

As the period is fast approaching, when I am to be called to the bar, I deem it a duty I owe, not only to myself individually, but to those dear and kind friends, who feel interested in my welfare, to explain away any appearance of disregard to the strict rules of legal decorum, which to the minds of unreflecting persons, might militate against me, in my professional career. I am aware, it has been the remark of ages, that nothing is so detrimental to the acquisition of any science requiring the entire and undivided application of the faculties, as engaging, at the same time, in any other pursuit, and thereby distracting that attention which ought to remain fixed and unchangeable.

This is a proposition which is too generally received, and too universally confirmed, to be shaken by any arguments, no matter however skilfully applied, or energetically maintained. But let us consider, what is the meaning of the observation; and first, reasoning from experience, cast a glance at the lives of the most eminent

[blocks in formation]

lawyers,―men, whose names are interwoven with the rights and liberties of our country, and on the strength of whose decisions, is based the fabric of our jurisprudence, the best security of the state.

The great commentator upon Littleton, whose name must stand at the head of every list of lawyers, in any age or time, he of whom we may well say, as Quinctilian did of Cicero, that an admiration of his works is a sure mark of some proficiency in the study of the law. The man, who dared be honest in the worst of times, when the prerogative of arbitrary rights, supposed to be inherent in the crown, commenced making those encroachments, which, from the want of such advisers as Lord Coke, to keep it within due bounds, brought one monarch to the block, and forced another to abdicate. He who fearlessly replied to king James I. in the words of Bracton, "Quod rex non debet esse sub homine sed sub Deo et lege," has laid down in his admirable Institutes the following disposition of time for the student

Sex horas somno totidem des legibus æquis,
Quatuor orabis des epulasque duas,

Quod superest ultro sacris largire camœnis.

This learned judge, the author or rather the compiler and annotator of the corpus of our elder

jurisprudence, establishes the fact, that time may be so disposed that no two portions can clash or create that discontinuance in the studies of any one part which the student, and above all, the student of law must carefully guard against. We shall next consider how far the student may indulge, with impunity, in pursuits differing essentially from the principal, or, as in the present instance, how far law and literature may be combined in the same person. To ascertain this, I direct my reader's attention to the early life of another luminary of the profession, whose extensive information on almost every subject, and whose virtuous life gained him-the former, that share of business which talent is ever sure to obtain; the latter, the approbation of men of every shade and variety of political and religious opinion, in one of the most arduous situations, in the most convulsed times ever known in this country, that of presiding in a seat of justice, when England was in a state of revolution,-to Sir Matthew Hale.

"The various acquirements, and instructive conversation of the learned Selden, led young Hale (then a student of Lincoln's Inn) to extend the scope of his studies, and to apply himself to literary and scientific pursuits. Some branches of mathematics, and of natural history, engaged a considerable portion of his attention, and his writings on these subjects, attest the diligence of his application. He took a pleasure also, in

[blocks in formation]

studying medicine, and anatomy, in which his biographer affirms him to have made no inconsiderable progress. Ancient history, and chronology, also afforded an employment for his leisure hours; but his principal delight was the study of divinity."

With what justness can it be said that a lawstudent who departs from the black lettered page of legal lore, must necessarily be ignorant of the essential knowledge of his profession, when here we find the most profound and thoroughly skilled lawyer of any country, engaged at the same time in not only the studies of the three learned professions, Law, Physic, and Divinity ; but, of the no less useful accomplishments which distinguish the Gentleman and the Scholar. I confess, that since I determined to give my work to the public under the sanction of my humble name, I have been more than once alarmed, lest thoughtless persons might exclaim: "What little knowledge he can have of law, who spent his time rambling about writing a book," and others being misled by the apparent justness of the remark, (which I am ready to admit, is often too true,) might conceive a prejudice against me, which every young man entering public life should most strenuously endeavour to avoid.

Actuated then by these motives, the most important which ever engaged my attention, for upon the first impression often depends the subsequent

« PreviousContinue »