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ascertaining exactly what effect it will have upon them, which appears now to depend entirely, or principally, on the individual mover or the few individuals who bring forward the law, and which requires much more care and accuracy than is generally bestowed on the work. Then, again, a number of laws on important but uninteresting subjects are passed rapidly in thin houses, at two o'clock in the morning-in hot evenings, at the close of the session; clauses are frequently thrust into long and verbose acts at the suggestion of individuals, or classes of individuals, which, though containing frequently most important provisions, pass, without due consideration, as matters of course. As long as these negligent practices prevail, it is in vain to hope for a statute-book free from incongruities, and perplexities, and verbose accumulations. It might, perhaps, be desirable to establish a standing committee (after the manner of The Sir at Athens)
to watch and discern what laws waxed improper for the time, and what new law did, in any branch, cross a former law, and so, ex officio, to propound their repeal. In the mean time, however, and perhaps, indeed, under all circumstances, the only check which can be kept on inconsiderate legislation touching subjects which require no interference, and the slovenly composition of those laws which are really required, must be found in the attention and vigilance of the general body of members, and the active watchfulness of the public on the proceedings of the two houses. If every member would conscientiously perform his duty, not only in deliberately weighing, and perfecting, with the helps of the skill and knowledge of others, every law which he might have occasion himself to propose, but also in keeping up a close scrutiny on the proceedings of his fellows, a check on light and perfunctory legislation might be found, less effectual, indeed, but, perhaps, more available than that wise statute of the Locrians, which accommodated every initiator of a new law with a rope, wherewith he was strangled if his bill was disapproved and rejected. Certain it is, that consolidation and amendment of the old laws are of very imperfect efficacy, unless an improved style of framing laws becomes habitual for the future. However well conceived may be the measures proposed to the house, and however eloquently and perspicuously the senator may expound their object and enforce their expediency, it should ever be remembered, that his task is but half achieved in the public exertions of the debate. His measures must fail of their proposed utility unless the more irksome business of arranging and finishing in detail the provisions required is executed with care and caution, and accuracy, and with the recollection ever to be kept in mind, that every phrase and particle of his law must, sooner or later, become the subject of close scrutiny and inves
tigation when its provisions come to be practically applied, to be canvassed by lawyers, and construed by magistrates and courts of justice. Then it is that negligent legislation is found to produce irreparable evil. The strict limits within which our judges and magistrates are confined in the application of the laws, renders the greater precision, and comprehensiveness, and perspicuity of expression necessary in the laws themselves. In countries where the judge has the virtual power of making a law, he may remedy, in practice, many deficiencies in the work of the lawgiver ; but as, in England, we recognise no such discretionary authority, the duty of the legislator requires to be executed with additional labour and circumspection. If he puts forth no law applicable to a particular case, or passes one which is vague and obscure, and uncertain in its terms, however crying may be the injustice occasioned, however flagrant may be the crimes which pass unpunished, the courts have no authority to remedy the evil; the hands of the judge are tied by the constitution; he can only say, with regret, ita lex scripta est; and the public have only to thank the careless or ignorant senator, who, by negligently exercising a solemn and important duty, has occasioned a mischief which it was precisely his office, and his alone, to prevent. How little these considerations have been borne in mind by the majority of our past legislators has, we think, appeared from the foregoing pages. Indeed, all business of parliament, unconnected with the stimulus of party-politics, and especially business of a legal nature, seems, till of late years,
till of late years, to have been found too dry and repulsive to occupy much attention. There is probably little exaggeration in Mr. Burke's story, mentioned by Mr. Peel, of a member meeting him as he was hurrying down to the house, and telling Mr. Burke, on his asking what the house was about,
Oh, the great debate is gone off, and they are only passing bills about capital punishments. Late years appear, however, to have occasioned a manifest change and improvement in the character of legislative proceedings. The mass of pressing and difficult business, public as well as private, which has imperiously demanded attention, and necessarily occupied much time, added to the absence of more engrossing topics, probably to the increased knowledge and good sense of the body of the members, has given rise to an impatience of desultory and purely ornamental speaking, and has given a more practical and useful direction to the efforts of senators than formerly characterised them. Since the engrossing interest of a critical warfare has ceased, all minds, both within and without the walls of parliament, have been, and now are, powerfully directed to the details of internal administration, and to improving defects in the useful institutions of the country.
This is necessarily matter of much more dry research and patient investigation than the discussion of treaties, or the celebration of victories. If these topics, however, exclude the more luxuriant flowers of eloquence, they necessarily tend to create a terse, condensed, and energetic style of speaking, suited to subjects, sober and practical indeed in their character, but yet connected with all the interesting principles of philosophy and morals, and tending to the permanent improvement and happiness of society in all its classes. Among these supremely important topics for legislative consideration, the condition of the laws stands foremost;—foremost in the importance of its results; foremost in the wide scope and field which it presents; foremost in the skill and knowledge, and, above all, the labour and judgment required in those who undertake its amendment.
Mr. Peel, and other members, who have of late devoted their time and attention to this subject, have done essential good, not only by the acts which they have introduced, but also by strongly and repeatedly calling the attention of parliament to the condition of the statute-law, and pointing out the evils arising from the manner in which our ancestors have been wont to frame their enactments. Much, very much, remains to be achieved - the first steps only in the road of improvement have been made. Mr. Peel, no question, intends to proceed with the consolidation and purification of the different branches of the criminal law; but a wide field remains open, which, we trust, will be occupied by other improvers. The talents, acquirements, and influence of those members of the government and legislature, who have received the advantage of a legal education-particularly of the right honourable gentlemen at the head of the Woods and Forests and of the Board of Control-might, if their official duties permitted, be most beneficially directed to promoting and patronising further consolidations of the laws. Mr. Peel's efforts certainly evince that an important portion of the general work of consolidation and revision of the law may be effected by an individual legislator aided by active professional assistants. It is perhaps, however, too much to expect that the whole work can he accomplished by the mere exertions of single members of parliament, however ably assisted; a commission of members and professional individuals, or of the latter alone, may, perhaps, be found necessary to execute the details of a general consolidation of the statute law. Whatever may be the means resorted to, we think it is now clear that the improvements already effected must needs lead the way to many It is now no longer matter of doubt and speculation, whether verbose laws can or cannot be abridged, and conflicting, confused, and accumulated laws sim
plified, condensed, and rendered perspicuous. This task has, in several important branches of law, been accomplished with such signal success as to silence all mere theoretical reasonings against the plan. Not only have the public witnessed and applauded this advance towards an improved system--Mr. Peel has acted throughout his task with the advice and concurrence of technical lawyers, and the approbation and assistance of the experienced judges of the realm. In the judicious caution which has restrained him from pushing his reforms beyond the point to which they could be accompanied by the concurrence of the practical executors and ministers of the law, he has even stopped short, in some instances, of the extent to which lawyers conceived he might proceed. Well knowing the value of opinion, respecting even the prejudices of habit, and bearing in mind that the success of laws in their practical operation, must ever mainly depend on the acceptation in which they are held by those who put them in force, he has, with a truly statesman-like moderation, consented to waive something of the completion of his own designs, out of deference to those not so far advanced in their views as himself. By this wise caution he has secured the confidence of the public, and, while he has acquired for himself the character not more of an enlightened than of a safe and practical legislator, he has paved the way for an easy accomplishment of further improvements, when time and circumstances render them fitting. We cannot help adding, that the professors of the law, from the judges downwards, have encouraged and aided these reforms in legislation in a spirit which abundantly refutes the sneers which the vulgar sometimes indulge against them, as desiring to check legal improvements from illiberal, and even sordid motives. To those who know them best, it is needless to say that a more enlightened, liberal, and truly generous body--one more incapable of sacrificing really useful objects to selfish considerations--cannot be found ; though from an accurate and practical knowledge of the laws of their country, and from the habit of penetrating through false appearances, and detecting sophistries, they may often attach small value to empirical schemes of amendment which, to more superficial and less informed observers, may appear deserving of all patronage. To the practical, well considered, and cautious improvements lately made in the criminal code, Mr. Peel bears testimony that they have, one and all, with whom he communicated, given zealous and disinterested attention, and every co-operation which their knowledge could afford.
VOL. XXXVII, NO, LXXIII.
Art. VII.—The Constitutional History of England, from the
Accession of Henry VII. to the Death of George II. By Henry
Hallam. London. 1827. 2 vols. 4to. MR.
R. HALLAM tells us that the title which he has adopted
appears to exclude all matters not referrible to the state of government, or what is loosely denominated the constitution ;' this part of history being, he says, in many respects, most congenial to his own studies and habits of mind. He has generally, therefore, abstained from mentioning, except cursorily, either military or political transactions which do not seem to bear ou this primary subject. It must, however, he proceeds to say, “ be evident that the constitutional and general history of England, at some periods, nearly coincide; and I presume, that a few occasional deviations of this nature will not be deemed unpardonable, especially where they tend, at least indirectly, to illustrate the main topic of inquiry. Nor will the reader, perhaps, be of opinion that I have forgotten my theme in those parts of the following work which relate to the establishment of the English church, and to the proceedings of the state with respect to those who have dissented from it; facts certainly belonging to the history of our constitution in the large sense of the word, and most important in their application to modern times, for which all knowledge of the past is principally valuable.'
The experiment of separating history into its constituent parts, civil and military, ecclesiastical, constitutional, literary, moral and commercial, was made upon a large scale by the industrious Henry, who thereby established for himself no inconsiderable reputation, notwithstanding the nefarious malignity with which Gilbert Stuart endeavoured to blast the fruit of his labours, ruin him in his fortunes, and break his heart.* As yet, however, Dr. Ranken (in a history of France) has been his only imitator. For the advantages are more specious than solid; and history is in reality rendered more complicated by this scheme for simplifying it. A book so arranged may be convenient for the facilities of reference which it affords; and, therefore, it is well that there should be histories composed upon such a plan. But a pariative, which proceeds according to the course of time and events, and records things as they are intermingled in the multifold concerns of society, is read with more pleasure, and remembered with more profit. The relation of civil and military transactions, of laws, literature, manners,
* Mr. D'Israeli
, in his Calamities of Authors, has given a curious account of this Literary Hatred, exhibiting a Conspiracy against an Author.' Its materials are derived from Stuart's own letters, who little thought, while he was seeking to destroy the reputation of another, that he was heaping up infamy for himself,