Blackstone’s Commentaries 1765
William Blackstone (1723–1780)
Although William Blackstone had a varied career—attorney, college administrator, Oxford University chaired professor, member of Parliament, solicitor general to the queen, judge on the Court of King’s Bench and the Court of Common Pleas—his most lasting contribution and source of enduring renown is his Commentaries on the Laws of England.
From 1765 to 1769, the Clarendon Press in Oxford released the four volumes of his opus.
It divided English common law into four categories:
i) personal rights (domestic relations, master and servant, parent and child, guardian and ward, infants);
(ii) property rights (the law of property);
(iii) private wrongs (torts, including assault, defamation, false imprisonment, and wrongful death); and
(iv) public wrongs (torts, including assault, defamation, false imprisonment, and wrongful death); and I (criminal law).
Blackstone’s earliest lectures at Oxford were “marked as much by the talent of the man of letters as by the learning of the lawyer,” according to one writer, and “his work became a fixture of Oxford life.”
“He it was who first imparted to the law the air of a science,” remarked Barry Yelverton, Chief Baron of the Irish Court of Exchequer, about Blackstone. He discovered a skeleton and gave it life, color, and a complexion. He hugged the frigid statue, and it blossomed into youth, health, and beauty as a result of his contact.” Blackstone’s goal was to produce a treatise that would appeal to both laypeople and law students. His achievement was both rapid and long-lasting.
According to former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, “no other book—except the Bible—has played such a major influence in the history of American institutions.” The Commentaries rapidly became a needed resource for practicing attorneys, but according to Boorstin, “the Commentaries were not just an introduction to the study of law; for most lawyers, they comprised all there was of the law throughout the first century of American freedom.”
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Commentaries were essential in creating the basis of American law. After WWII, a new version for students was produced in England, and the Commentaries are still used in Supreme Court judgments (including during the 2013–2014 term).
Law Reporting and Legal Publishing (1872).
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)