Transcriber's Notes: Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England was first published in 1765-1769. It contains a number of archaic spellings (including "goaler" for "gaoler" and "it's" for "its") that have been preserved as they appear in the original. All such spellings have been verified using the Oxford English Dictionary. Inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, capitalization, and italicization have also been preserved. Obvious printer errors have been preserved and marked with red dotted underlining. Hover the mouse over the underlined text to view a Transcriber's Note. Errata in the original are hyperlinked to the Errata section.
Long s (ſ) in the original has been modernized as modern s. The archaic convention of placing quotation marks at the beginning of each line of a quotation has also been modernized so that quotation marks appear only at the beginning and end of the quotation.
This e-book contains a few phrases in ancient Greek, which may not display properly depending on the fonts the user has installed. Hover the mouse over the Greek phrase to view a transliteration, e.g., βιβλος.
BOOK THE FIRST.
WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, Esq.
VINERIAN PROFESSOR OF LAW,
SOLICITOR GENERAL TO HER MAJESTY.
PRINTED AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
M. DCC. LXV.
THE QUEEN’S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY,
THE FOLLOWING VIEW
OF THE LAWS AND CONSTITUTION
THE IMPROVEMENT AND PROTECTION OF WHICH
HAVE DISTINGUISHED THE REIGN
OF HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL CONSORT,
WITH ALL GRATITUDE AND HUMILITY,
MOST RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED
BY HER DUTIFUL
AND MOST OBEDIENT
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 it's 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 had the satisfaction to find (and he acknowleges it with a mixture of pride and gratitude) that his 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 his ample benefaction to the university for promoting the study 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 authority; 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 professor.
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 assiduity 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 sensible 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 hath 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 search so new, so extensive, and so laborious.
THE labour indeed of these researches, and of a regular attention to his duty, for a series of so many years, he hath found inconsistent with his health, as well as his other avocations: and hath therefore desired the university's permission to retire from his office, after the conclusion of the annual course in which he is at present engaged. But the hints, which he had collected for the use of his pupils, having been thought by some of his more experienced friends not wholly unworthy of the public eye, it is therefore with the less reluctance that he now commits them to the press: though probably the little degree of reputation, which their author may have acquired by the candor of an audience (a test widely different from that of a deliberate perusal) would have been better consulted by a total suppression of his lectures;——had that been a matter intirely within his power.
FOR the truth is, that the present publication is as much the effect of necessity, as it is of choice. The notes which were taken by his hearers, have by some of them (too partial in his favour) been thought worth revising and transcribing; and these transcripts have been frequently lent to others. Hence copies have been multiplied, in their nature imperfect, if not erroneous; some of which have fallen into mercenary hands, and become the object of clandestine sale. Having therefore so much reason to apprehend a surreptitious impression, he chose rather to submit his own errors to the world, than to seem answerable for those of other men. And, with this apology, he commits himself to the indulgence of the public.