'Observe how parts with parts unite / In one harmonious rule of right': William Blackstone's Verses on the Laws of England

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Abstract:

Little thorough critical attention has been paid to William Blackstone's experiment in legal poetry, 'The Lawyer's Farewell to His Muse', published in 1755 in the fourth volume of Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems. This article argues that the poem demonstrates Blackstone's early commitment to a programme of academic enquiry that (on the one hand) boldly asserts the structure and symmetry of English law, and that (on the other) is predicated on a notion of accessibility, a determination to reclaim legal knowledge to public understanding. It may thus be read as an intellectual manifesto for Blackstone's innovative programme of lectures on English law, and for Commentaries on the Laws of England itself. Consideration of the poem offers a rare glimpse of the field of scholarly excitement within which a monumental, necessarily sober piece of Enlightenment scholarship originates, and provides a perspective on Blackstone's magnum opus which is liberated from the contexts of Jeremy Bentham's critique.

Keywords: BLACKSTONE; EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY; ENLIGHTENMENT; LEGAL POETRY; LEGAL WRITING

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/L&H.6.2.179

Publication date: December 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Law and Humanities is a peer-reviewed journal, providing a for for scholarly discourse within the arts and humanities around the subject of law. For this purpose, the arts and humanities disciplines are taken to include literature, history (including history of art), philosophy, theology, classics and the whole spectrum of performance and representational arts. The remit of the journal does not extend to consideration of the laws that regulate practical aspects of the arts and humanities (such as the law of intellectual property). Law and Humanities is principally concerned to engage with those aspects of human experience which are not empirically quantifiable or scientifically predictable.
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