London: Printed by A. Strahan…, 1803. Item #00639
"Always Lucid and Graceful"
A Fine Early Nineteenth-Century Blackstone
BLACKSTONE, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England, In Four Books. The Fourteenth Edition, with the Last Corrections of the Author; and with Notes and Additions by Edward Christian, Esq.…London: Printed by A. Strahan…for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1803.
Fourteenth edition (first published at Oxford 1765-1769), the sixth edition published after Blackstone’s death, with notes and additions by Chief Justice of the Isle of Ely Edward Christian. Four octavo volumes (8 1/16 x 5 1/16 inches; 205 x 129 mm.). Irregular pagination. Collation: a8 B-Z8 Aa-Tt8 Uu4; A4 B-Z8 Aa-Uu8; A4 B-Z8 Aa- Mm8; a4 B-Z8 Aa-Pp8 Qq4 Rr2.
Engraved frontispiece portrait in Volume I. Engraved “Table of Consanguinity” facing p. 204 and folding engraved “Table of Descents” facing p. 240 in Volume II.
Contemporary calf. Covers decoratively ruled in blind. Smooth spines ruled in blind with red morocco gilt lettering labels and with volume numbers stamped in black. Board edges decoratively tooled in blind. A spectacular set.
“Blackstone's great work on the laws of England is the extreme example of justification of an existing state of affairs by virtue of its history…Until the Commentaries, the ordinary Englishman had viewed the law as a vast, unintelligible and unfriendly machine; nothing but trouble, even danger, was to be expected from contact with it. Blackstone's great achievement was to popularize the law and the traditions which had influenced its formation. He has been accused of playing to the gallery, of flattering the national vice of complacency with existing institutions. The charge is in many respects just; but it is no small achievement to change the whole climate of public opinion…Blackstone was not interested in the science of law. All law is the same to him—the law of gravity or the law of the land. The object of the latter is to distinguish between right and wrong. Rights are either the rights of persons or of things; wrongs are either public or private. These theses from the headings of the four books of the Commentaries…He takes a delight in describing and defending as the essence of the constitution the often anomalous complexities which had grown into the laws of England over the centuries. But he achieves the astonishing feat of communicating this delight, and this is due to a style which is itself always lucid and graceful. This is the secret of Blackstone’s enormous influence” (Printing and the Mind of Man 212).
This work was enormously successful with eight editions appearing in the author's lifetime, and “for sixty years after his death editions continued to follow one another almost as quickly” (D.N.B.).