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perty, which are the most difficult to be thoroughly undera stood, are the least worth the pains of understanding, exc cept to such gentlemen as intend to pursue the profession. To others I may venture to apply, with a slight alteration, the words of Sir John Fortescue“, when first his royal pupil determines to engage in this study. “ It will not be neces“ sury for a gentleman, as such, to examine with a close appli“cation the critical niceties of the law. It will fully be suffi. “cient, and he may well enough be denominated a lawyer, if « under the instruction of a master he traces up the principles “ and grounds of the law, even to their original ele“ments. Therefore in a very short period, and with [37] “ very little labour, he may be sufficiently informed in “the laws of his country, if he will but apply his mind in “good earnest to receive and apprehend them. For, though “ such knowledge as is necessary for a judge is hardly to “ be acquired by the lucubrations of twenty years, yet, “ with a genius of tolerable perspicacity, that knowledge “ which is fit for a person of birth or condition may be “ learned in a single year, without neglecting his other “ improvements.”

To the few therefore (the very few I am persuaded) that entertain such unworthy notions of an university, as to sup. pose it intended for mere dissipation of thought; to such as mean only to while away the awkward interval from childhood to'twenty-one, between the restraints of the school and the licentiousness of politer life, in a calm middle state of men. tal and of moral inactivity ; to these Mr. Viner gives no in. vitation to an entertainment which they never can relish. But to the long and ilustrious train of noble and ingenuous youth, who are not more distinguished among us by their birth and possessions, than by the regularity of their conduct and their thirst after useful knowledge, to these our benefac. tor has consecrated the fruits of a long and laborious life, worn out in the duties of his calling; and will joyfully reflect (if such reflections can be now the employment of his

n De laud. Leg. c. 8,

thoughts) that he could not more effectually have benefited posterity, or contributed to the service of the public, than by founding an institution which may instruct the rising generation in the wisdom of our civil polity, and inspire them with a desire to be still better acquainted with the laws and constitution of their country (6).

(6) It is remarkable that the celebrated historian Mr. Gibbon, animadverting freely upon the lectures and institutions of Oxford, speaks only of the Vinerian professorship with respect; for, after noticing the establishment of the riding-school, he adds, “the Vinerian “professorship is of far more serious importance. The laws of his country are the first science of an Englishman of rank and fortune, “who is called to be a magistrate, and may hope to be a legislator. “This judiciousinstitution was coldly entertained by the graver doctors, “ who complained (I have heard the complaint), that it would take the "young people from their books; but Mr. Viner's benefaction is not “ unprofitable, since it has at least produced the excellent Commenta. "ries of Sir William Blackstone.” Gibbon's Life, p. 53. And in another part, having stated his inducements for bestowing attention upon new publications of merit, he tells us, "a more respectable motive may be "assigned for the third perusal of Blackstone's Commentaries, and a “copious and critical abstract of that English work was my first seri. sous production in my native language.” p. 141. Such, it may be observed, are even the remote consequences of every liberal and literary institution, that Viner's Abridgment may have contributed in no inconsiderable degree to the elegance and perspicuity of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.






LAW, in its most general and comprehensive sense, sig. nifies a rule of action; and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action, which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.

Thus when the supreme being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be. When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion, to which all moveable bodies must conform. And, to descend from the greatest operations to the smallest, when a workman forms a clock, or other piece of mechanism, he establishes at his own pleasure certain arbitrary laws for its direction; as that the hand shall describe a given space in a given time; to which law as long as the work conforms, so long it continues in perfection, and answers the end of its formation.

If we farther advance, from mere inactive matter to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws; more numerous indeed, but equally fixed and invariable. The whole progress of plants, from the seed to the root, and from thence to the seed again; the method of animal nutrition, digestion, secretion, and all other branches of vital economy; are not left to chance, or the will of the crea

ture itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the great creator.

This then is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being: and, in those creatures that have neither the power to think, nor to will, such laws must be invariably obeyed, so long as the creature itself subsists, for its existence depends on that obedience. But laws, in their more confined sense (1), and in which it is our

(1) This perhaps is the only sense in which the word law can be strictly used; for in all cases where it is not applied to human conduct, it may be considered as a metaphor, and in every instance a more appropriate term may be found. When it is used to express the operations of the Deity or Creator, it comprehends ideas very different from those which are included in its signification when it is applied to man, or his other creatures. The volitions of the Almighty are his laws, ho

had only to will γενεσθω φως και εγενετο. When we apply the word · law to motion, matter, or the works of nature or of art, we shall find

in every case, that with equal or greater propriety and perspicuity, we might have used the words quality, property, or peculiarity. We say that it is a law of motion, that a body put in motion in vacuo must for ever go forward in a straight line with the same velocity; that it is a law of nature, that particles of matter shall attract each other with a force that varies inversely as the square of the distance from each other; and mathematicians say, that a series of numbers observes a certain law, when each subsequent term bears a certain relation or proportion to the preceding term: but in all these instances we might as well have used the word property or quality, it being as much the property of all matter to move in a straight line, or to gravitate, as it is to be solid or extended ; and when we say that it is the law of a series that each term is the square or square-root of the preced. ing term, we mean nothing more than that such is its property or peculiarity. And the word law is used in this sense in those cases only which are sanctioned by usage; as it would be thought a harsh expression to say, that it is a law that snow should be white, or that fire should burn. When a mechanic forms a clock, he establishes a model of it either in fact or in his mind, according to his pleasure ; but if he should resolve that the wheels of bis clock should move contrary to the usual rotation of similar pieces of mechanisin,

present business to consider them, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct : that is, the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and freewill, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behaviour.

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. A being, independent of any other, has no rule to pursue, but such as he prescribes to himself; but a state of dependence will inevitably oblige the inferior to take the will of him, on whom he depends, as the rule of his conduct: not indeed in every particular, but in all those points wherein his dependence consists. This principle therefore has more or less extent and effect, in proportion as the superiority of the one and the dependence of the other is greater or less, absolute or limited. And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker's will.

This will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, [40] whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and

we could hardly with any propriety established by usage apply the term law to his scheme. When law is applied to any other object than man, it ceases to contain two of its essential ingredient ideas, viz. disobedience and punishment.

Hooker, in the beginning of his Ecclesiastical Polity, like the learned judge, has with incomparable eloquence interpreted law in its most general and comprehensive sense. And most writers who treat law as a science, begin with such an explanation. But the Editor, though it may seem presumptuous to question such authority, has thought it his duty to suggest these few observations upon the signification of the word law.


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