Commentaries on the Laws of England; In Four Books. The Ninth Edition, with the Last Corrections of the Author; and Continued to the Present Time, by Ri. Burn, LL.D.

The First Posthumous Edition of Blackstone’s “Commentaries”

BLACKSTONE, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. In Four Books. The Ninth Edition, with the Last Corrections of the Author; and Continued to the Present Time, by Ri. Burn, LL.D. London: Printed for W. Strahan; T. Cadell; and D. Prince, 1783.

Ninth edition (first published at Oxford in 1765-1769), the first edition published after Blackstone’s death, edited by attorney and legal writer Richard Burn. Four octavo volumes (8 7/16 x 5 inches; 214 x 126 mm.). [4], ii, [2, “Postscript”], [2, “Advertisement”], [6], 226, 225*-226*, 227-337, 336*-337*, 338-420, 419*-420*, 421-485, [1, blank]; [7], [1, blank], 520, xix, [1, blank]; [7], [1, blank], 60, 59*-60*, 61-166, 165*-166*, 167-411, 410*-411*, 412-455, [1, blank, xxvii, [3, blank]; [7], [1, blank], 160, 159*-*160, 161-236, 35*-236*, 237-374, 373*-374*, 375-443, [1, blank], vii, [1, blank], [50, index] pp. Engraved frontispiece portrait in Volume I. Engraved “Table of Consanguinity” facing p. 202 and folding engraved “Table of Descents” facing p. 240 in Volume II.

Contemporary tree calf. Smooth spines decoratively tooled in gilt with red morocco gilt lettering label and black morocco gilt numbering label. Board edges decoratively tooled in gilt. Edges stained yellow. Bindings lightly rubbed, small wormtrack in spine of Volume I and wormhole in spine of Volume II, headcap of Volume IV lightly chipped. Occasional light foxing. Volume I with small faint intermittent dampstain in the lower margin, small ink stain in the outer margin of p. 352. Volume II with slight dampstaining in the upper margin, small piece torn from lower blank corner of P3 (pp. 229/230) and from lower blank corner of Ee1 (pp. 433/434). Volume III with a few small ink blots on title. Overall, an excellent set in an attractive contemporary binding.

“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).

Richard Burn’s “Advertisement concerning this ninth edition” in Volume I, dated July 20, 1783, states: “The editor judges it indispensible to preserve the author’s text intire. The alterations which will be found therein, since the publication of the last edition, were made by the author himself, as may appear from a corrected copy in his own handwriting. What the editor hath chiefly attended to is, to note the alterations made by subsequent acts of parliament. These, together with some few other necessary observations, in order to prevent confusion, are inserted separate and distinct at the bottom of the page.”

BMC III, p. 561, col. Lowndes, I, p. 212. Item #00724

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