William Blackstone

William Blackstone, born on the 10th of July 1723, a famous judge, politician and jurist during the eighteenth century, born into a middle-class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1738.


After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple, and called to the Bar there in 1746.


Blackstone was particularly good at Greek, mathematics and poetry,with his notes on William Shakespeare being included in George Stevens’s 1781 edition of Shakespeare’s plays.


Many of Blackstone’s undergraduate texts survive, and they include few legal texts, instead being wide-ranging; politics, current affairs, poetry, geometry and controversial theological texts. Blackstone was admitted to study for a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, civil law being the only legal area recognised by his university on the 9th of July 1740.


In addition to his formal studies, Blackstone published a collection of poetry which included the draft version of The Lawyer to his Muse, his most famous literary work. In 1743 he published Elements of Architecture and An Abridgement of Architecture, two treatises on the rules governing the art of construction.


He was elected a fellow of All Souls, Oxford, in 1744 and received the bachelor of civil law degree in 1745. Although he was admitted to the bar in 1746, he had limited success in practicing law and continued to hold several university posts and to lecture on English law. Shortly thereafter, Blackstone was appointed to the newly created Vinerian chair.


In 1761 he was elected to Parliament and also received a patent of precedence giving him the rank of King’s Counsel. His success also brought him practice, a seat in the House of Commons and the Headship of New Inn Hall, Oxford, in 1761.


The first volume of his ’Commentaries on the Laws of England’appeared in 1765, being the enlarged substance of his lectures, the fourth and final volume came in 1769, and edition after edition followed down to the middle of the nineteenth century. It was the first time that English Law had been made readable and intelligible to the lay mind.


Blackstone was active in the prison-reform movement, worked against the tendency to extend the list of capital offenses, and was critical of the poor laws. In some technical areas, such as contract laws, his thinking was in advance of that of most of his contemporaries.


Blackstone gave the first regular university lectures on English law and sought not only to provide formal instruction for prospective lawyers but to present the basic elements of common law as an integral part of the academic education of English gentlemen.


Blackstone retired from his Professorship and Headship, in 1766, and was made a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1770. He was not by any means a great judge, being unfitted by temperament and habit for quick decisions.


He spent the last twenty years of his life with his family in Castle Priory House which he built at Wallingford and which still stands as a hotel with its lawn sloping down to the river.


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