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He was elected bursar, or treasurer, of his college. Finding the muniments in a confused state, with considerable research and labour he made a new arrangement of them. He drew up a dissertation upon the method of keeping the accounts, with a view to render them more simple and intelligible,—a copy of which is still preserved, for the benefit of his successors in the bursarship.
He took a lively interest in the Codrington Library, exerted himself actively to secure the completion of the building, Edition: current; Page: [ xii ] and formed a new arrangement and classification of the books.
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In May, , as a small reward for his services, and to afford him further opportunities of advancing the interests of the college, he was appointed Steward of their Manors. In the same year, on the resignation of his uncle, Seymour Richmond, Esq. On the 26th of April, , he commenced Doctor of Civil Law, and thereby became a member of the convocation. About this time he published An Essay on Collateral Consanguinity. The design of the work was to attack the claims of those who, on the ground of kindred with Archbishop Chichele, the founder of All-Souls, asserted a right of being elected in preference to all others into that society.
He undertook to prove that as the archbishop, who by the canons could not lawfully marry, never had any legitimate lineal descendants, the great lapse of time since his death, by the rules both of the civil and canon law, had put an end to all collateral relationship,—or, in other words, that all mankind might be presumed equally akin to the founder. The college acted on this doctrine; but Archbishop Secker, in , as visitor, reversed their decision. It was about the year that Blackstone first began to plan his Lectures on the Laws of England.
He despaired of success at the bar, and determined to confine himself to his fellowship and an academical life, continuing the practice of his profession as provincial counsel. In Michaelmas Term, , he delivered his first course at Oxford. Whether from the novelty of the subject or the reputation of the lecturer, his first course was numerously attended. Nor did the interest flag. Such was the elegance of style and popular character of the course, that attendance soon became the fashion.
In , he found it worth while, from the number attending, to publish his Analysis of the Laws of England, for the use of his hearers. It is founded on a similar work by Sir Matthew Hale, with some alterations, not generally regarded as improvements. In July, , he was appointed one of the delegates of the Clarendon Press.
He entered upon this office with that determination to do his whole duty which characterized him in every other situation in which he was placed. He found that abuses had crept into that trust; and, in order to obtain a clearer insight into the matter, and to be better qualified to enter upon the task of correcting them, he made himself master of the mechanical art of printing.
He proposed a valuable reform, which he had the pleasure of seeing successfully put in execution, much to the advantage of the university. He wrote a small tract on the Management of the University Press, which he left for the use of his successors in that office. There had been Edition: current; Page: [ xiii ] a long dispute between the members of the old and the new foundation.
Here again he exerted himself successfully; and principally through his instrumentality this donation became a valuable acquisition to the college, as well as an ornament to the university, by the completion of that handsome pile of buildings towards the High Street which for many years had been little better than a confused heap of ruins. Blackstone drew up a body of statutes for the regulation of the endowment, which was confirmed by Act of Parliament in the year Viner having bequeathed to the University of Oxford a considerable sum of money and the copyright of his Abridgment of Law, for the purpose of instituting a professorship of Common Law, with fellowships and scholarships, Dr.
Blackstone was, on the 20th of October, , unanimously elected first Vinerian Professor. He lost no time in entering upon his duties, and on the 25th of the same month delivered his Introductory Lecture on the Study of the Law,—certainly, if no sketch had previously existed, a most remarkable composition to be prepared in so short a period of time. At the request of the Vice-Chancellor and heads of houses, he published this introductory, and afterwards prefixed it to his Commentaries.
His lectures soon became celebrated throughout the kingdom. In , he had resumed his attendance at Westminster, coming up to town every winter and showing himself in court each Michaelmas and Hilary Term,—for the purpose, doubtless, of making himself known. He does not record, however, that he was engaged in any cause.
He did not appear in court until Trinity Term, ; nor, indeed, does it seem that he ever acquired much celebrity as an advocate. His principal practice was as a chamber counsel. That he was commanding notice and regard in the profession appears from the fact that Lord Chief-Justice Willes and Mr. Justice Bathurst invited him to take the coif, which he declined,—probably from economical reasons.
The expense accompanying that honour was considerable; and in that which Blackstone felt to be more his professional line, the advantages and privileges of the order—principally then the monopoly of the practice at the bar of the Common Pleas—were not sufficient to counterbalance its expense and inconvenience. In the same year he published two small pieces relative to the university: the one entitled Reflections on the Opinions of Messrs.
Edition: current; Page: [ xiv ] As to the former, while the mechanical execution reflected great honour on the author as the principal reformer of the Clarendon Press, from which no volume had ever before issued equal in beauty to this, the work itself added materially to his former reputation as a lawyer and antiquary. It led him, however, into an unpleasant controversy with Dr.
Lyttelton, Dean of Exeter, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle, in regard to the authenticity of an ancient roll, containing the Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest, belonging to Lord Lyttelton, which, however, Blackstone did not consider an original. The first cause of any interest which he argued was that of Robinson vs. Bland, in Trinity Term, The question was whether a gaming-debt, contracted in France could be recovered in England. It is to be found reported 1 W.
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His argument is certainly elaborate and ingenious. The next cause in which he appears to have been engaged was, in a legal point of view, decidedly the most interesting that ever came before the courts,—namely, the common-law right of literary property. It was the case of Tonson vs. Collins, 1 Sir W.
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After this, it would be tedious and uninteresting to trace his connection with other important cases at the bar. In , the appointment of Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland was offered to him, but declined. In March of the same year, he was returned to Parliament for Hindon, in Wiltshire, and on May 6th received a patent of precedence. On the 5th May, , he married the daughter of James Clitherow, Esq.
This appointment, besides the rank it gave him in the university, assured him an agreeable residence during the delivery of his lectures. In , he collected and republished several of his pieces, under the title of Law Tracts, in two volumes octavo. In , he was appointed Solicitor-General to the Queen, and elected about the same time a Bencher of the Middle Temple. In appeared the first volume of the Commentaries,—twelve years after the delivery of his original lectures; and the other three volumes were published in the course of the four succeeding years.
In , he resigned the Vinerian professorship, and at the same time the principality of New Inn Hall. He had hoped that the professorship might be permanently connected with some college or hall, as Mr.
Viner had contemplated, and thus a permanent settlement in Oxford be rendered agreeable. But this plan was rejected in convocation, and thus his views of a lasting settlement disappointed.
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In , he was returned to Parliament for the borough of Westbury, in Wiltshire, and took part in the debates relative to the election of John Wilkes, when his adversaries observed and pointed out an inconsistency between his position and the doctrine laid down in his Commentaries on the subject. He Edition: current; Page: [ xv ] published a pamphlet on the subject, which drew upon him severe sarcasms from the author of Junius. In the same year Dr.
Priestley animadverted on his positions in the Commentaries relative to offences against the doctrine of the Established Church, and Dr.
Furneaux addressed him some letters on his Exposition of the Toleration Act. He published an answer to Dr. Priestley, and in subsequent editions modified the passages in which errors and inaccuracies had been pointed out.
He accepted, however, the position of a Judge of the Common Pleas, on the resignation of Mr. Justice Clive. Sir William Blackstone maintained the reputation he had previously acquired by his performance of his duties on the bench. There are several very elaborate judgments of his, in his own reports, upon important and difficult questions, which display his ability and research to great advantage.
The court of Common Pleas during the time of Blackstone differed in opinion only upon two cases. In both he dissented. The first was Scott vs. Shepherd, 2 W. Rolfe vs. Harwood, 2 W. The opinion of Sir William Blackstone in the celebrated case of Perrin vs.