Ancient Law - Its Connection to the History of Early Society
by Sir Henry James Sumner Maine
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Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, In thy most need to go by thy side.

This is No. 734 of Everyman's Library. A list of authors and their works in this series will be found at the end of this volume. The publishers will be pleased to send freely to all applicants a separate, annotated list of the Library.








SIR HENRY JAMES SUMNER MAINE, the son of a doctor, born 1822 in India. Educated at Christ's Hospital and Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1847 professor of civil law at Cambridge; 1850, called to the Bar. Member of Indian Council for seven years.

Died at Cannes, 1888.




All rights reserved Made in Great Britain at The Temple Press Letchworth and decorated by Eric Ravilious for J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. Aldine House Bedford St. London First Published in this Edition 1917 Reprinted 1927, 1931, 1936


No one who is interested in the growth of human ideas or the origins of human society can afford to neglect Maine's Ancient Law. Published some fifty-six years ago it immediately took rank as a classic, and its epoch-making influence may not unfitly be compared to that exercised by Darwin's Origin of Species. The revolution effected by the latter in the study of biology was hardly more remarkable than that effected by Maine's brilliant treatise in the study of early institutions. Well does one of Maine's latest and most learned commentators say of his work that "he did nothing less than create the natural history of law." This is only another way of saying that he demonstrated that our legal conceptions—using that term in its largest sense to include social and political institutions—are as much the product of historical development as biological organisms are the outcome of evolution. This was a new departure, inasmuch as the school of jurists, represented by Bentham and Austin, and of political philosophers, headed by Hobbes, Locke, and their nineteenth-century disciples, had approached the study of law and political society almost entirely from an unhistoric point of view and had substituted dogmatism for historical investigation. They had read history, so far as they troubled to read it at all, "backwards," and had invested early man and early society with conceptions which, as a matter of fact, are themselves historical products. The jurists, for example, had in their analysis of legal sovereignty postulated the commands of a supreme lawgiver by simply ignoring the fact that, in point of time, custom precedes legislation and that early law is, to use Maine's own phrase, "a habit" and not a conscious exercise of the volition of a lawgiver or a legislature. The political philosophers, similarly, had sought the origin of political society in a "state of nature"—humane, according to Locke and Rousseau, barbarous, according to Hobbes—in which men freely subscribed to an "original contract" whereby each submitted to the will of all. It was not difficult to show, as Maine has done, that contract—i.e. the recognition of a mutual agreement as binding upon the parties who make it—is a conception which comes very late to the human mind. But Maine's work covers much wider ground than this. It may be summed up by saying that he shows that early society, so far as we have any recognisable legal traces of it, begins with the group, not with the individual.

This group was, according to Maine's theory, the Family—that is to say the Family as resting upon the patriarchal power of the father to whom all its members, wife, sons, daughters, and slaves, were absolutely subject. This, the central feature of Maine's speculation, is worked out with infinite suggestiveness and great felicity of style in chapter V. ("Primitive Society and Ancient Law") of the present work, and his chief illustrations are sought in the history of Roman law. The topics of the other chapters are selected largely with a view to supplying confirmation of the theory in question and, as we shall see in a moment, Maine's later works do but serve to carry the train of reasoning a step further by the use of the Comparative Method in invoking evidence from other sources, notably from Irish and Hindu Law. Let us, however, confine ourselves for the moment to "Ancient Law." Maine works out the implications of his theory by showing that it, and it alone, can serve to explain such features of early Roman law as Agnation, i.e. the tracing of descent exclusively through males, and Adoption, i.e. the preservation of the family against the extinction of male heirs. The perpetual tutelage of women is the consequence of this position. Moreover, all the members of the family, except its head, are in a condition best described as status: they have no power to acquire property, or to bequeath it, or to enter into contracts in relation to it. The traces of this state of society are clearly visible in the pages of that classical text-book of Roman Law, the Institutes of Justinian,[1] compiled in the sixth century A.D., though equally visible is the disintegration wrought in it by the reforming activity of the praetor's edicts. That reformation followed the course of a gradual emancipation of the members of the family, except those under age, from the despotic authority of the father. This gradual substitution of the Individual for the Family was effected in a variety of ways, but in none more conspicuously than by the development of the idea of contract, i.e. of the capacity of the individual to enter into independent agreements with strangers to his family-group by which he was legally bound—an historical process which Maine sums up in his famous aphorism that the movement of progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract.

In the chapters on the early history of Wills, Property, and Contract, Maine supports his theory by showing that it is the key which unlocks many, if not all, of the problems which those topics present. The chapter on Wills—particularly the passage in which he explains what is meant by Universal Succession—is a brilliant example of Maine's analytic power. He shows that a Will—in the sense of a secret and revocable disposition of property only taking effect after the death of the testator—is a conception unknown to early law, and that it makes its first appearance as a means of transmitting the exercise of domestic sovereignty, the transfer of the property being only a subsidiary feature; wills only being permitted, in early times, in cases where there was likely to be a failure of proper heirs. The subsequent popularity of wills, and the indulgence with which the law came to regard them, were due to a desire to correct the rigidity of the Patria Potestas, as reflected in the law of intestate succession, by giving free scope to natural affection. In other words, the conception of relationship as reckoned only through males, and as resting on the continuance of the children within their father's power, gave way, through the instrumentality of the will, to the more modern and more natural conception of relationship.

In the chapter on Property Maine again shows that the theory of its origin in occupancy is too individualistic and that not separate ownership but joint ownership is the really archaic institution. The father was in some sense (we must avoid importing modern terms) the trustee of the joint property of the family. Here Maine makes an excursion into the fields of the Early Village Community, and has, too, to look elsewhere than to Rome, where the village community had already been transformed by coalescence into the city-state. He therefore seeks his examples from India and points to the Indian village as an example of the expansion of the family into a larger group of co-proprietors, larger but still bearing traces of its origin to the patriarchal power. And, to quote his own words, "the most important passage in the history of Private Property is its gradual separation from the co-ownership of kinsmen." The chapter on Contract, although it contains some of Maine's most suggestive writing, and the chapter on Delict and Crime, have a less direct bearing on his main thesis except in so far as they go to show that the reason why there is so little in early law of what we call civil, as distinct from criminal, law, and in particular of the Law of Contract, is to be found in the fact that, in the infancy of society, the Law of Persons, and with it the law of civil rights, is merged in the common subjection to Paternal Power.

Such, putting it in the simplest possible language, is the main argument of Ancient Law. The exigencies of space and of simplicity compel me to pass by, to a large extent, most of the other topics with which Maine deals—the place of custom, code, and fiction in the development of early law, the affiliation of international Law to the Jus Gentium and the Law of Nature, the origins of feudalism and of primogeniture, the early history of delict and crime, and that most remarkable and profound passage in which Maine shows the heavy debt of the various sciences to Roman law and the influence which it has exerted on the vocabulary of political science, the concepts of moral philosophy, and the doctrines of theology. I must confine myself to two questions: how far did Maine develop or modify in his subsequent writings the main thesis of Ancient Law? to what extent has this thesis stood the test of the criticism and research of others? As regards the first point, it is to be remembered that Ancient Law is but the first, though doubtless the most important, of a whole series of works by its author on the subject of early law. It was followed at intervals by three volumes: Village Communities in the East and West, Early Institutions, and Early Law and Custom. In the first of these he dealt with a subject which has excited an enormous degree of attention and not a little controversy among English, French, German, and Russian scholars,[2] amounting as it does to nothing less than an investigation into the origin of private property in land. The question has been put in various forms: did it commence with joint (or, as some would put it, less justifiably, communal or corporate) ownership or with individual ownership, and again was the village community free or servile? It is now pretty generally recognised that there was more than one type, though common cultivation was doubtless a feature of them all, and even in India there were at least two types, of which the one presenting several, as opposed to communal, ownership is not the less ancient. But it may well be that, as Maitland so often pointed out, much of the controversy has been literally an anachronism; that is to say, that nineteenth-century men have been asking the Early Ages questions which they could not answer and reading back into early history distinctions which are themselves historical products. Ownership is itself a late abstraction developed out of use. We may say with some certainty that family "ownership" preceded individual ownership, but in what sense there was communal ownership by a whole village it is not so easy to say.

Maine was on surer ground when, as in his studies of Irish and Hindu law, he confined himself to the more immediate circle of the family group. In his Early Institutions he subjects the Brehon Laws of early Ireland to a suggestive examination as presenting an example of Celtic law largely unaffected by Roman influences. He there shows, as he has shown in Ancient Law, that in early times the only social brotherhood recognised was that of kinship, and that almost every form of social organisation, tribe, guild, and religious fraternity, was conceived of under a similitude of it. Feudalism converted the village community, based on a real or assumed consanguinity of its members, into the fief in which the relations of tenant and lord were those of contract, while those of the unfree tenant rested on status. In his Early Law and Custom he pursues much the same theme by an examination of Hindu Law as presenting a peculiarly close implication of early law with religion. Here he devotes his attention chiefly to Ancestor-worship, a subject which about this time had engaged the attention, as regards its Greek and Roman forms, of that brilliant Frenchman, Fustel de Coulanges, whose monograph La Cite Antique is now a classic. As is well known, the right of inheriting a dead man's property and the duty of performing his obsequies are co-relative to this day in Hindu law, and his investigation of this subject brings Maine back to the subject of the Patriarchal Power. He points out that both worshipper and the object of worship were exclusively males, and concludes that it was the power of the father which generated the practice of worshipping him, while this practice in turn, by the gradual admission of women to participate in the ceremonies, gradually acted as a solvent upon the power itself. The necessity of finding some one to perform these rites, on failure of direct male heirs, marked the beginning of the recognition of a right in women to inherit. The conception of the family becomes less intense and more extensive. These discussions brought Maine, in chapter VII. of Early Law and Custom, to reconsider the main theory of Ancient Law in the light of the criticism to which it had been exposed, and every reader of Ancient Law who desires to understand Maine's exact position in regard to the scope of his generalisations should read for himself the chapter in the later work entitled "Theories of Primitive Society." His theory of the patriarchal power had been criticised by two able and industrious anthropologists, M'Lennan and Morgan, who, by their investigation of "survivals" among barbarous tribes in our own day, had arrived at the conclusion that, broadly speaking, the normal process through which society had passed was not patriarchal but "matriarchal," i.e. understanding by that term a system in which descent is traced through females. It would take up far too much space to enter into this controversy in detail. It is sufficient to say that the counter-theory rested on the assumption that society originated not in families, based on the authority of the father and relationship through him, but in promiscuous hordes among whom the only certain fact, and, consequently, the only recognised basis of relationship, was maternity. Maine's answer to this was that his generalisations as to the prevalence of the patriarchal power were confined to Indo-European races, and that he did not pretend to dogmatise about other races, also that he was dealing not with all societies but all that had any permanence. He argues that the promiscuous horde, where and when it is found, is to be explained as an abnormal case of retrogression due to a fortuitous scarcity of females resulting in polyandry, and he opposes to the theory of its predominance the potency of sexual jealousy which might serve as only another name for the patriarchal power. On the whole the better opinion is certainly with Maine. His theory, at any rate, alone accords with a view of society so soon as it is seen to possess any degree of civilisation and social cohesion.

It will be seen that Maine's work, like that of most great thinkers, presents a singular coherence and intellectual elegance. It is distinguished also by an extraordinary wide range of vision. He lays under contribution with equal felicity and suggestiveness the Old Testament, the Homeric poems, the Latin dramatists, the laws of the Barbarians, the sacerdotal laws of the Hindus, the oracles of the Brehon caste, and the writings of the Roman jurists. In other words, he was a master of the Comparative Method. Few writers have thrown so much light on the development of the human mind in its social relations. We know now—a hundred disciples have followed in Maine's footsteps and applied his teaching—how slow is the growth of the human intellect in these matters, with what painful steps man learns to generalise, how convulsively he clings in the infancy of civilisation to the formal, the material, the realistic aspects of things, how late he develops such abstractions as "the State." In all this Maine first showed the way. As Sir Frederick Pollock has admirably put it—

Nowadays it may be said that "all have got the seed," but this is no justification for forgetting who first cleared and sowed the ground. We may till fields that the master left untouched, and one man will bring a better ox to yoke to the plough, and another a worse; but it is the master's plough still.

We may conclude with some remarks on Maine's views of the contemporary problems of political society. Maine was what, for want of a better term, may be called a Conservative, and, indeed, it may be doubted whether, with the single exception of Burke, any English writer has done more to provide English Conservatives with reasons for the faith that is in them. He has set forth his views in a collection of polemical essays under the title of Popular Government, which were given to the world in book form in 1885. He viewed the advent of Democracy with more distrust than alarm—he appears to have thought it a form of government which could not last—and he has an unerring eye for its weaknesses.[3] Indeed, his remarks on the facility with which Democracy yields itself to manipulation by wire-pullers, newspapers, and demagogues, have found not a little confirmation in such studies of the actual working of democratic government as M. Ostrogorski's Democracy and the Organisation of Political Parties. Maine emphasised the tyranny of majorities, the enslavement of untutored minds by political catchwords, their susceptibility to "suggestion," their readiness to adopt vicarious opinion in preference to an intellectual exercise of their own volition. It is not surprising that the writer who had subjected the theories of the Social Contract to such merciless criticism sighed for a scientific analysis of political terms as the first step to clear thinking about politics. Here he was on strong ground, but for such an analysis we have yet to wait.[4] He seems to have placed his hopes in the adoption of some kind of written constitution which, like the American prototype, would safeguard us from fundamental changes by the caprice of a single assembly. But this is not the place to pursue such highly debateable matters. Enough if we say that the man who wishes to serve an apprenticeship to an intelligent understanding of the political society of the present cannot do better than begin by a careful study of Maine's researches into the political society of the past.


Note.—The reader who desires to study Maine in the light of modern criticism is recommended to read Sir F. Pollock's "Notes on Maine's Ancient Law" (published by John Murray at 2s. 6d., or, with the text, at 5s.). The best short study of Maine with which I am acquainted is the article by Professor Vinogradoff in the Law Quarterly Review for April 1904. The field of research covered by Maine in his various writings is so vast that it is impossible to refer the reader, except at great length, to anything like an adequate list of later books on the subjects of his investigation. In addition to the works on the Village Community mentioned in a previous footnote, I may, however, refer the beginner to Mr. Edward Jenks' little book on The History of Politics in Dent's Primers, to Professor Ashley's translation of a fragment of Fustel de Coulanges under the title of The Origin of Property in Land, and to Sir Frederick Pollock's brilliant little book, The Expansion of the Common Law. The reader is also recommended to study Mr. H.A.L. Fisher's succinct survey of the contributions of Maitland to legal history under the title of F.W. Maitland; an Appreciation (Cambridge University Press). One of the most brilliant and ingenious studies of the origins of European civilisation is to be found in the work of the great German jurist, Ihering, Die Vorgeschichte der Indo-Europder, translated into English under the title of The Early History of the Indo-European Races (Sonnenschein, 1897).

[1] The reader who desires to pursue the subject by reference to one of Maine's chief authorities is recommended to read the translation of the Institutes by Sandars.

[2] English literature on the subject is best studied in Maitland's Domesday Book and Beyond, Vinogradoff's The Growth of the Manor and Villeinage in England (with an excellent historical introduction), and Seebohm's English Village Community.

[3] Witness the characteristic sentence: "On the whole they [i.e. the studies of earlier society] suggest that the differences which, after ages of change, separate the civilised man from savage or barbarian, are not so great as the vulgar opinion would have them.... Like the savage, he is a man of party with a newspaper for a totem ... and like a savage he is apt to make of his totem his God."

[4] Something of the kind was done many years ago by Sir George Cornewall Lewis in his little book on the Use and Abuse of Political Terms. I have attempted to carry the task a step farther in an article which appeared in the form of a review of Lord Morley's "History and Politics" in the Nineteenth Century for March 1913.


Navis ornate atque armata in aquam deducitur (Prize Poem), 1842; The Birth of the Prince of Wales (Prize Poem), 1842; Caesar ad Rubiconem constitit (Prize Poem), 1842; Memoir of H.F. Hallam, 1851; Roman Law and Legal Education (Essay), 1856; Ancient Law: its Connection with the Early History of Society and its Relation to Modern Ideas, 1861; Short Essays and Reviews on the Educational Policy of the Government of India, 1866; Village Communities in the East and West (Lectures), 1871; The Early History of the Property of Married Women as collected from Roman and Hindoo Law (Lecture), 1873; The Effects of Observation of India on Modern European Thought (Lecture), 1875; Lectures on the Early History of Institutions, 1875; Village Communities, etc.; third ed. with other Lectures and Addresses, 1876; Dissertations on Early Law and Custom (selected from Lectures), 1883; Popular Government (four Essays), 1885; India [1837-1887] (in "The Reign of Queen Victoria," ed. by Thos. Humphry Ward, vol. i.), 1887; The Whewell Lectures: International Law, 1887, 1888; Ancient Law (ed. with introduction and notes by Sir Frederick Pollock), 1906; Ancient Law (Allahabad ed., with introduction by K.C. Banerji), 1912.

Contributions to: "Morning Chronicle," 1851; "Cornhill Magazine," 1871; "Quarterly Review," 1886; "Saturday Review," and "St. James's Gazette."

A brief memoir of the life of Sir Henry Maine, by Sir M.E. Grant Duff; with some of his Indian speeches and minutes, selected by Whitley Stokes, 1892.


The chief object of the following pages is to indicate some of the earliest ideas of mankind, as they are reflected in Ancient Law, and to point out the relation of those ideas to modern thought. Much of the inquiry attempted could not have been prosecuted with the slightest hope of a useful result if there had not existed a body of law, like that of the Romans, bearing in its earliest portions the traces of the most remote antiquity and supplying from its later rules the staple of the civil institutions by which modern society is even now controlled. The necessity of taking the Roman law as a typical system has compelled the author to draw from it what may appear a disproportionate number of his illustrations; but it has not been his intention to write a treatise on Roman jurisprudence, and he has as much as possible avoided all discussions which might give that appearance to his work. The space allotted in the third and fourth chapters to certain philosophical theories of the Roman Jurisconsults has been appropriated to them for two reasons. In the first place, those theories appear to the author to have had a wider and more permanent influence on the thought and action of the world than is usually supposed. Secondly, they are believed to be the ultimate source of most of the views which have been prevalent, till quite recently, on the subjects treated of in this volume. It was impossible for the author to proceed far with his undertaking without stating his opinion on the origin, meaning, and value of those speculations.


LONDON, January 1861.
















The most celebrated system of jurisprudence known to the world begins, as it ends, with a Code. From the commencement to the close of its history, the expositors of Roman Law consistently employed language which implied that the body of their system rested on the Twelve Decemviral Tables, and therefore on a basis of written law. Except in one particular, no institutions anterior to the Twelve Tables were recognised at Rome. The theoretical descent of Roman jurisprudence from a code, the theoretical ascription of English law to immemorial unwritten tradition, were the chief reasons why the development of their system differed from the development of ours. Neither theory corresponded exactly with the facts, but each produced consequences of the utmost importance.

I need hardly say that the publication of the Twelve Tables is not the earliest point at which we can take up the history of law. The ancient Roman code belongs to a class of which almost every civilised nation in the world can show a sample, and which, so far as the Roman and Hellenic worlds were concerned, were largely diffused over them at epochs not widely distant from one another. They appeared under exceedingly similar circumstances, and were produced, to our knowledge, by very similar causes. Unquestionably, many jural phenomena lie behind these codes and preceded them in point of time. Not a few documentary records exist which profess to give us information concerning the early phenomena of law; but, until philology has effected a complete analysis of the Sanskrit literature, our best sources of knowledge are undoubtedly the Greek Homeric poems, considered of course not as a history of actual occurrences, but as a description, not wholly idealised, of a state of society known to the writer. However the fancy of the poet may have exaggerated certain features of the heroic age, the prowess of warriors and the potency of gods, there is no reason to believe that it has tampered with moral or metaphysical conceptions which were not yet the subjects of conscious observation; and in this respect the Homeric literature is far more trustworthy than those relatively later documents which pretend to give an account of times similarly early, but which were compiled under philosophical or theological influences. If by any means we can determine the early forms of jural conceptions, they will be invaluable to us. These rudimentary ideas are to the jurist what the primary crusts of the earth are to the geologist. They contain, potentially, all the forms in which law has subsequently exhibited itself. The haste or the prejudice which has generally refused them all but the most superficial examination, must bear the blame of the unsatisfactory condition in which we find the science of jurisprudence. The inquiries of the jurist are in truth prosecuted much as inquiry in physics and physiology was prosecuted before observation had taken the place of assumption. Theories, plausible and comprehensive, but absolutely unverified, such as the Law of Nature or the Social Compact, enjoy a universal preference over sober research into the primitive history of society and law; and they obscure the truth not only by diverting attention from the only quarter in which it can be found, but by that most real and most important influence which, when once entertained and believed in, they are enabled to exercise on the later stages of jurisprudence.

The earliest notions connected with the conception, now so fully developed, of a law or rule of life, are those contained in the Homeric words "Themis" and "Themistes." "Themis," it is well known, appears in the later Greek pantheon as the Goddess of Justice, but this is a modern and much developed idea, and it is in a very different sense that Themis is described in the Iliad as the assessor of Zeus. It is now clearly seen by all trustworthy observers of the primitive condition of mankind that, in the infancy of the race, men could only account for sustained or periodically recurring action by supposing a personal agent. Thus, the wind blowing was a person and of course a divine person; the sun rising, culminating, and setting was a person and a divine person; the earth yielding her increase was a person and divine. As, then, in the physical world, so in the moral. When a king decided a dispute by a sentence, the judgment was assumed to be the result of direct inspiration. The divine agent, suggesting judicial awards to kings or to gods, the greatest of kings, was Themis. The peculiarity of the conception is brought out by the use of the plural. Themistes, Themises, the plural of Themis, are the awards themselves, divinely dictated to the judge. Kings are spoken of as if they had a store of "Themistes" ready to hand for use; but it must be distinctly understood that they are not laws, but judgments. "Zeus, or the human king on earth," says Mr. Grote, in his History of Greece, "is not a lawmaker, but a judge." He is provided with Themistes, but, consistently with the belief in their emanation from above, they cannot be supposed to be connected by any thread of principle; they are separate, isolated judgments.

Even in the Homeric poems, we can see that these ideas are transient. Parities of circumstance were probably commoner in the simple mechanism of ancient society than they are now, and in the succession of similar cases awards are likely to follow and resemble each other. Here we have the germ or rudiment of a Custom, a conception posterior to that of Themistes or judgments. However strongly we, with our modern associations, may be inclined to lay down a priori that the notion of a Custom must precede that of a judicial sentence, and that a judgment must affirm a Custom or punish its breach, it seems quite certain that the historical order of the ideas is that in which I have placed them. The Homeric word for a custom in the embryo is sometimes "Themis" in the singular—more often "Dike," the meaning of which visibly fluctuates between a "judgment" and a "custom" or "usage." [Greek: Nomos], a Law, so great and famous a term in the political vocabulary of the later Greek society, does not occur in Homer.

This notion of a divine agency, suggesting the Themistes, and itself impersonated in Themis, must be kept apart from other primitive beliefs with which a superficial inquirer might confound it. The conception of the Deity dictating an entire code or body of law, as in the case of the Hindoo laws of Menu, seems to belong to a range of ideas more recent and more advanced. "Themis" and "Themistes" are much less remotely linked with that persuasion which clung so long and so tenaciously to the human mind, of a divine influence underlying and supporting every relation of life, every social institution. In early law, and amid the rudiments of political thought, symptoms of this belief meet us on all sides. A supernatural presidency is supposed to consecrate and keep together all the cardinal institutions of those times, the State, the Race, and the Family. Men, grouped together in the different relations which those institutions imply, are bound to celebrate periodically common rites and to offer common sacrifices; and every now and then the same duty is even more significantly recognised in the purifications and expiations which they perform, and which appear intended to deprecate punishment for involuntary or neglectful disrespect. Everybody acquainted with ordinary classical literature will remember the sacra gentilicia, which exercised so important an influence on the early Roman law of adoption and of wills. And to this hour the Hindoo Customary Law, in which some of the most curious features of primitive society are stereotyped, makes almost all the rights of persons and all the rules of succession hinge on the due solemnisation of fixed ceremonies at the dead man's funeral, that is, at every point where a breach occurs in the continuity of the family.

Before we quit this stage of jurisprudence, a caution may be usefully given to the English student. Bentham, in his Fragment on Government, and Austin, in his Province of Jurisprudence Determined, resolve every law into a command of the lawgiver, an obligation imposed thereby on the citizen, and a sanction threatened in the event of disobedience; and it is further predicated of the command, which is the first element in a law, that it must prescribe, not a single act, but a series or number of acts of the same class or kind. The results of this separation of ingredients tally exactly with the facts of mature jurisprudence; and, by a little straining of language, they may be made to correspond in form with all law, of all kinds, at all epochs. It is not, however, asserted that the notion of law entertained by the generality is even now quite in conformity with this dissection; and it is curious that, the farther we penetrate into the primitive history of thought, the farther we find ourselves from a conception of law which at all resembles a compound of the elements which Bentham determined. It is certain that, in the infancy of mankind, no sort of legislature, not even a distinct author of law, is contemplated or conceived of. Law has scarcely reached the footing of custom; it is rather a habit. It is, to use a French phrase, "in the air." The only authoritative statement of right and wrong is a judicial sentence after the facts, not one presupposing a law which has been violated, but one which is breathed for the first time by a higher power into the judge's mind at the moment of adjudication. It is of course extremely difficult for us to realise a view so far removed from us in point both of time and of association, but it will become more credible when we dwell more at length on the constitution of ancient society, in which every man, living during the greater part of his life under the patriarchal despotism, was practically controlled in all his actions by a regimen not of law but of caprice. I may add that an Englishman should be better able than a foreigner to appreciate the historical fact that the "Themistes" preceded any conception of law, because, amid the many inconsistent theories which prevail concerning the character of English jurisprudence, the most popular, or at all events the one which most affects practice, is certainly a theory which assumes that adjudged cases and precedents exist antecedently to rules, principles, and distinctions. The "Themistes" have too, it should be remarked, the characteristic which, in the view of Bentham and Austin, distinguishes single or mere commands from laws. A true law enjoins on all the citizens indifferently a number of acts similar in class or kind; and this is exactly the feature of a law which has most deeply impressed itself on the popular mind, causing the term "law" to be applied to mere uniformities, successions, and similitudes. A command prescribes only a single act, and it is to commands, therefore, that "Themistes" are more akin than to laws. They are simply adjudications on insulated states of fact, and do not necessarily follow each other in any orderly sequence.

The literature of the heroic age discloses to us law in the germ under the "Themistes" and a little more developed in the conception of "Dike." The next stage which we reach in the history of jurisprudence is strongly marked and surrounded by the utmost interest. Mr. Grote, in the second part and second chapter of his History, has fully described the mode in which society gradually clothed itself with a different character from that delineated by Homer. Heroic kingship depended partly on divinely given prerogative, and partly on the possession of supereminent strength, courage, and wisdom. Gradually, as the impression of the monarch's sacredness became weakened, and feeble members occurred in the series of hereditary kings, the royal power decayed, and at last gave way to the dominion of aristocracies. If language so precise can be used of the revolution, we might say that the office of the king was usurped by that council of chiefs which Homer repeatedly alludes to and depicts. At all events from an epoch of kingly rule we come everywhere in Europe to an era of oligarchies; and even where the name of the monarchical functions does not absolutely disappear, the authority of the king is reduced to a mere shadow. He becomes a mere hereditary general, as in Lacedaemon, a mere functionary, as the King Archon at Athens, or a mere formal hierophant, like the Rex Sacrificulus at Rome. In Greece, Italy, and Asia Minor, the dominant orders seem to have universally consisted of a number of families united by an assumed relationship in blood, and, though they all appear at first to have laid claim to a quasi-sacred character, their strength does not seem to have resided in their pretended sanctity. Unless they were prematurely overthrown by the popular party, they all ultimately approached very closely to what we should now understand by a political aristocracy. The changes which society underwent in the communities of the further Asia occurred of course at periods long anterior in point of time to these revolutions of the Italian and Hellenic worlds; but their relative place in civilisation appears to have been the same, and they seem to have been exceedingly similar in general character. There is some evidence that the races which were subsequently united under the Persian monarchy, and those which peopled the peninsula of India, had all their heroic age and their era of aristocracies; but a military and a religious oligarchy appear to have grown up separately, nor was the authority of the king generally superseded. Contrary, too, to the course of events in the West, the religious element in the East tended to get the better of the military and political. Military and civil aristocracies disappear, annihilated or crushed into insignificance between the kings and the sacerdotal order; and the ultimate result at which we arrive is, a monarch enjoying great power, but circumscribed by the privileges of a caste of priests. With these differences, however, that in the East aristocracies became religious, in the West civil or political, the proposition that a historical era of aristocracies succeeded a historical era of heroic kings may be considered as true, if not of all mankind, at all events of all branches of the Indo-European family of nations.

The important point for the jurist is that these aristocracies were universally the depositaries and administrators of law. They seem to have succeeded to the prerogatives of the king, with the important difference, however, that they do not appear to have pretended to direct inspiration for each sentence. The connection of ideas which caused the judgments of the patriarchal chieftain to be attributed to superhuman dictation still shows itself here and there in the claim of a divine origin for the entire body of rules, or for certain parts of it, but the progress of thought no longer permits the solution of particular disputes to be explained by supposing an extra-human interposition. What the juristical oligarchy now claims is to monopolise the knowledge of the laws, to have the exclusive possession of the principles by which quarrels are decided. We have in fact arrived at the epoch of Customary Law. Customs or Observances now exist as a substantive aggregate, and are assumed to be precisely known to the aristocratic order or caste. Our authorities leave us no doubt that the trust lodged with the oligarchy was sometimes abused, but it certainly ought not to be regarded as a mere usurpation or engine of tyranny. Before the invention of writing, and during the infancy of the art, an aristocracy invested with judicial privileges formed the only expedient by which accurate preservation of the customs of the race or tribe could be at all approximated to. Their genuineness was, so far as possible, insured by confiding them to the recollection of a limited portion of the community.

The epoch of Customary Law, and of its custody by a privileged order, is a very remarkable one. The condition of the jurisprudence which it implies has left traces which may still be detected in legal and popular phraseology. The law, thus known exclusively to a privileged minority, whether a caste, an aristocracy, a priestly tribe, or a sacerdotal college is true unwritten law. Except this, there is no such thing as unwritten law in the world. English case-law is sometimes spoken of as unwritten, and there are some English theorists who assure us that if a code of English jurisprudence were prepared we should be turning unwritten law into written—a conversion, as they insist, if not of doubtful policy, at all events of the greatest seriousness. Now, it is quite true that there was once a period at which the English common law might reasonably have been termed unwritten. The elder English judges did really pretend to knowledge of rules, principles, and distinctions which were not entirely revealed to the bar and to the lay-public. Whether all the law which they claimed to monopolise was really unwritten, is exceedingly questionable; but at all events, on the assumption that there was once a large mass of civil and criminal rules known exclusively to the judges, it presently ceased to be unwritten law. As soon as the Courts at Westminster Hall began to base their judgments on cases recorded, whether in the year books or elsewhere, the law which they administered became written law. At the present moment a rule of English law has first to be disentangled from the recorded facts of adjudged printed precedents, then thrown into a form of words varying with the taste, precision, and knowledge of the particular judge, and then applied to the circumstances of the case for adjudication. But at no stage of this process has it any characteristic which distinguishes it from written law. It is written case-law, and only different from code-law because it is written in a different way.

From the period of Customary Law we come to another sharply defined epoch in the history of jurisprudence. We arrive at the era of Codes, those ancient codes of which the Twelve Tables of Rome were the most famous specimen. In Greece, in Italy, on the Hellenised sea-board of Western Asia, these codes all made their appearance at periods much the same everywhere, not, I mean, at periods identical in point of time, but similar in point of the relative progress of each community. Everywhere, in the countries I have named, laws engraven on tablets and published to the people take the place of usages deposited with the recollection of a privileged oligarchy. It must not for a moment be supposed that the refined considerations now urged in favour of what is called codification had any part or place in the change I have described. The ancient codes were doubtless originally suggested by the discovery and diffusion of the art of writing. It is true that the aristocracies seem to have abused their monopoly of legal knowledge; and at all events their exclusive possession of the law was a formidable impediment to the success of those popular movements which began to be universal in the western world. But, though democratic sentiment may have added to their popularity, the codes were certainly in the main a direct result of the invention of writing. Inscribed tablets were seen to be a better depositary of law, and a better security for its accurate preservation, than the memory of a number of persons however strengthened by habitual exercise.

The Roman code belongs to the class of codes I have been describing. Their value did not consist in any approach to symmetrical classifications, or to terseness and clearness of expression, but in their publicity, and in the knowledge which they furnished to everybody, as to what he was to do, and what not to do. It is, indeed, true that the Twelve Tables of Rome do exhibit some traces of systematic arrangement, but this is probably explained by the tradition that the framers of that body of law called in the assistance of Greeks who enjoyed the later Greek experience in the art of law-making. The fragments of the Attic Code of Solon show, however, that it had but little order, and probably the laws of Draco had even less. Quite enough too remains of these collections, both in the East and in the West, to show that they mingled up religious, civil, and merely moral ordinances, without any regard to differences in their essential character; and this is consistent with all we know of early thought from other sources, the severance of law from morality, and of religion from law, belonging very distinctly to the later stages of mental progress.

But, whatever to a modern eye are the singularities of these Codes, their importance to ancient societies was unspeakable. The question—and it was one which affected the whole future of each community—was not so much whether there should be a code at all, for the majority of ancient societies seem to have obtained them sooner or later, and, but for the great interruption in the history of jurisprudence created by feudalism, it is likely that all modern law would be distinctly traceable to one or more of these fountain-heads. But the point on which turned the history of the race was, at what period, at what stage of their social progress, they should have their laws put into writing. In the western world the plebeian or popular element in each state successfully assailed the oligarchical monopoly, and a code was nearly universally obtained early in the history of the Commonwealth. But in the East, as I have before mentioned, the ruling aristocracies tended to become religious rather than military or political, and gained, therefore, rather than lost in power; while in some instances the physical conformation of Asiatic countries had the effect of making individual communities larger and more numerous than in the West; and it is a known social law that the larger the space over which a particular set of institutions is diffused, the greater is its tenacity and vitality. From whatever cause, the codes obtained by Eastern societies were obtained, relatively, much later than by Western, and wore a very different character. The religious oligarchies of Asia, either for their own guidance, or for the relief of their memory, or for the instruction of their disciples, seem in all cases to have ultimately embodied their legal learning in a code; but the opportunity of increasing and consolidating their influence was probably too tempting to be resisted. Their complete monopoly of legal knowledge appears to have enabled them to put off on the world collections, not so much of the rules actually observed as of the rules which the priestly order considered proper to be observed. The Hindoo code, called the Laws of Menu, which is certainly a Brahmin compilation, undoubtedly enshrines many genuine observances of the Hindoo race, but the opinion of the best contemporary orientalists is, that it does not, as a whole, represent a set of rules ever actually administered in Hindostan. It is, in great part, an ideal picture of that which, in the view of the Brahmins, ought to be the law. It is consistent with human nature and with the special motives of their authors, that codes like that of Menu should pretend to the highest antiquity and claim to have emanated in their complete form from the Deity. Menu, according to Hindoo mythology, is an emanation from the supreme God; but the compilation which bears his name, though its exact date is not easily discovered, is, in point of the relative progress of Hindoo jurisprudence, a recent production.

Among the chief advantages which the Twelve Tables and similar codes conferred on the societies which obtained them, was the protection which they afforded against the frauds of the privileged oligarchy and also against the spontaneous depravation and debasement of the national institutions. The Roman Code was merely an enunciation in words of the existing customs of the Roman people. Relatively to the progress of the Romans in civilisation, it was a remarkably early code, and it was published at a time when Roman society had barely emerged from that intellectual condition in which civil obligation and religious duty are inevitably confounded. Now a barbarous society practising a body of customs, is exposed to some especial dangers which may be absolutely fatal to its progress in civilisation. The usages which a particular community is found to have adopted in its infancy and in its primitive seats are generally those which are on the whole best suited to promote its physical and moral well-being; and, if they are retained in their integrity until new social wants have taught new practices, the upward march of society is almost certain. But unhappily there is a law of development which ever threatens to operate upon unwritten usage. The customs are of course obeyed by multitudes who are incapable of understanding the true ground of their expediency, and who are therefore left inevitably to invent superstitious reasons for their permanence. A process then commences which may be shortly described by saying that usage which is reasonable generates usage which is unreasonable. Analogy, the most valuable of instruments in the maturity of jurisprudence, is the most dangerous of snares in its infancy. Prohibitions and ordinances, originally confined, for good reasons, to a single description of acts, are made to apply to all acts of the same class, because a man menaced with the anger of the gods for doing one thing, feels a natural terror in doing any other thing which is remotely like it. After one kind of food has been interdicted for sanitary reasons, the prohibition is extended to all food resembling it, though the resemblance occasionally depends on analogies the most fanciful. So, again, a wise provision for insuring general cleanliness dictates in time long routines of ceremonial ablution; and that division into classes which at a particular crisis of social history is necessary for the maintenance of the national existence degenerates into the most disastrous and blighting of all human institutions—Caste. The fate of the Hindoo law is, in fact, the measure of the value of the Roman code. Ethnology shows us that the Romans and the Hindoos sprang from the same original stock, and there is indeed a striking resemblance between what appear to have been their original customs. Even now, Hindoo jurisprudence has a substratum of forethought and sound judgment, but irrational imitation has engrafted in it an immense apparatus of cruel absurdities. From these corruptions the Romans were protected by their code. It was compiled while the usage was still wholesome, and a hundred years afterwards it might have been too late. The Hindoo law has been to a great extent embodied in writing, but, ancient as in one sense are the compendia which still exist in Sanskrit, they contain ample evidence that they were drawn up after the mischief had been done. We are not of course entitled to say that if the Twelve Tables had not been published the Romans would have been condemned to a civilisation as feeble and perverted as that of the Hindoos, but thus much at least is certain, that with their code they were exempt from the very chance of so unhappy a destiny.



When primitive law has once been embodied in a Code, there is an end to what may be called its spontaneous development. Henceforward the changes effected in it, if effected at all, are effected deliberately and from without. It is impossible to suppose that the customs of any race or tribe remained unaltered during the whole of the long—in some instances the immense—interval between their declaration by a patriarchal monarch and their publication in writing. It would be unsafe too to affirm that no part of the alteration was effected deliberately. But from the little we know of the progress of law during this period, we are justified in assuming that set purpose had the very smallest share in producing change. Such innovations on the earliest usages as disclose themselves appear to have been dictated by feelings and modes of thought which, under our present mental conditions, we are unable to comprehend. A new era begins, however, with the Codes. Wherever, after this epoch, we trace the course of legal modification we are able to attribute it to the conscious desire of improvement, or at all events of compassing objects other than those which were aimed at in the primitive times.

It may seem at first sight that no general propositions worth trusting can be elicited from the history of legal systems subsequent to the codes. The field is too vast. We cannot be sure that we have included a sufficient number of phenomena in our observations, or that we accurately understand those which we have observed. But the undertaking will be seen to be more feasible, if we consider that after the epoch of codes the distinction between stationary and progressive societies begins to make itself felt. It is only with the progressive that we are concerned, and nothing is more remarkable than their extreme fewness. In spite of overwhelming evidence, it is most difficult for a citizen of western Europe to bring thoroughly home to himself the truth that the civilisation which surrounds him is a rare exception in the history of the world. The tone of thought common among us, all our hopes, fears, and speculations, would be materially affected, if we had vividly before us the relation of the progressive races to the totality of human life. It is indisputable that much the greatest part of mankind has never shown a particle of desire that its civil institutions should be improved since the moment when external completeness was first given to them by their embodiment in some permanent record. One set of usages has occasionally been violently overthrown and superseded by another; here and there a primitive code, pretending to a supernatural origin, has been greatly extended, and distorted into the most surprising forms, by the perversity of sacerdotal commentators; but, except in a small section of the world, there has been nothing like the gradual amelioration of a legal system. There has been material civilisation, but, instead of the civilisation expanding the law, the law has limited the civilisation. The study of races in their primitive condition affords us some clue to the point at which the development of certain societies has stopped. We can see that Brahminical India has not passed beyond a stage which occurs in the history of all the families of mankind, the stage at which a rule of law is not yet discriminated from a rule of religion. The members of such a society consider that the transgression of a religious ordinance should be punished by civil penalties, and that the violation of a civil duty exposes the delinquent to divine correction. In China this point has been passed, but progress seems to have been there arrested, because the civil laws are coextensive with all the ideas of which the race is capable. The difference between the stationary and progressive societies is, however, one of the great secrets which inquiry has yet to penetrate. Among partial explanations of it I venture to place the considerations urged at the end of the last chapter. It may further be remarked that no one is likely to succeed in the investigation who does not clearly realise that the stationary condition of the human race is the rule, the progressive the exception. And another indispensable condition of success is an accurate knowledge of Roman law in all its principal stages. The Roman jurisprudence has the longest known history of any set of human institutions. The character of all the changes which it underwent is tolerably well ascertained. From its commencement to its close, it was progressively modified for the better, or for what the authors of the modification conceived to be the better, and the course of improvement was continued through periods at which all the rest of human thought and action materially slackened its pace, and repeatedly threatened to settle down into stagnation.

I confine myself in what follows to the progressive societies. With respect to them it may be laid down that social necessities and social opinion are always more or less in advance of Law. We may come indefinitely near to the closing of the gap between them, but it has a perpetual tendency to reopen. Law is stable; the societies we are speaking of are progressive. The greater or less happiness of a people depends on the degree of promptitude with which the gulf is narrowed.

A general proposition of some value may be advanced with respect to the agencies by which Law is brought into harmony with society. These instrumentalities seem to me to be three in number, Legal Fictions, Equity, and Legislation. Their historical order is that in which I have placed them. Sometimes two of them will be seen operating together, and there are legal systems which have escaped the influence of one or other of them. But I know of no instance in which the order of their appearance has been changed or inverted. The early history of one of them, Equity, is universally obscure, and hence it may be thought by some that certain isolated statutes, reformatory of the civil law, are older than any equitable jurisdiction. My own belief is that remedial Equity is everywhere older than remedial Legislation; but, should this be not strictly true, it would only be necessary to limit the proposition respecting their order of sequence to the periods at which they exercise a sustained and substantial influence in transforming the original law.

I employ the word "fiction" in a sense considerably wider than that in which English lawyers are accustomed to use it, and with a meaning much more extensive than that which belonged to the Roman "fictiones." Fictio, in old Roman law, is properly a term of pleading, and signifies a false averment on the part of the plaintiff which the defendant was not allowed to traverse; such, for example, as an averment that the plaintiff was a Roman citizen, when in truth he was a foreigner. The object of these "fictiones" was, of course, to give jurisdiction, and they therefore strongly resembled the allegations in the writs of the English Queen's Bench, and Exchequer, by which those Courts contrived to usurp the jurisdiction of the Common Pleas:—the allegation that the defendant was in custody of the king's marshal, or that the plaintiff was the king's debtor, and could not pay his debt by reason of the defendant's default. But I now employ the expression "Legal Fiction" to signify any assumption which conceals, or affects to conceal, the fact that a rule of law has undergone alteration, its letter remaining unchanged, its operation being modified. The words, therefore, include the instances of fictions which I have cited from the English and Roman law, but they embrace much more, for I should speak both of the English Case-law and of the Roman Responsa Prudentum as resting on fictions. Both these examples will be examined presently. The fact is in both cases that the law has been wholly changed; the fiction is that it remains what it always was. It is not difficult to understand why fictions in all their forms are particularly congenial to the infancy of society. They satisfy the desire for improvement, which is not quite wanting, at the same time that they do not offend the superstitious disrelish for change which is always present. At a particular stage of social progress they are invaluable expedients for overcoming the rigidity of law, and, indeed, without one of them, the Fiction of Adoption which permits the family tie to be artificially created, it is difficult to understand how society would ever have escaped from its swaddling clothes, and taken its first steps towards civilisation. We must, therefore, not suffer ourselves to be affected by the ridicule which Bentham pours on legal fictions wherever he meets them. To revile them as merely fraudulent is to betray ignorance of their peculiar office in the historical development of law. But at the same time it would be equally foolish to agree with those theorists, who, discerning that fictions have had their uses, argue that they ought to be stereotyped in our system. They have had their day, but it has long since gone by. It is unworthy of us to effect an admittedly beneficial object by so rude a device as a legal fiction. I cannot admit any anomaly to be innocent, which makes the law either more difficult to understand or harder to arrange in harmonious order. Now legal fictions are the greatest of obstacles to symmetrical classification. The rule of law remains sticking in the system, but it is a mere shell. It has been long ago undermined, and a new rule hides itself under its cover. Hence there is at once a difficulty in knowing whether the rule which is actually operative should be classed in its true or in its apparent place, and minds of different casts will differ as to the branch of the alternative which ought to be selected. If the English law is ever to assume an orderly distribution, it will be necessary to prune away the legal fictions which, in spite of some recent legislative improvements, are still abundant in it.

The next instrumentality by which the adaptation of law to social wants is carried on I call Equity, meaning by that word any body of rules existing by the side of the original civil law, founded on distinct principles and claiming incidentally to supersede the civil law in virtue of a superior sanctity inherent in those principles. The Equity whether of the Roman Praetors or of the English Chancellors, differs from the Fictions which in each case preceded it, in that the interference with law is open and avowed. On the other hand, it differs from Legislation, the agent of legal improvement which comes after it, in that its claim to authority is grounded, not on the prerogative of any external person or body, not even on that of the magistrate who enunciates it, but on the special nature of its principles, to which it is alleged that all law ought to conform. The very conception of a set of principles, invested with a higher sacredness than those of the original law and demanding application independently of the consent of any external body, belongs to a much more advanced stage of thought than that to which legal fictions originally suggested themselves.

Legislation, the enactments of a legislature which, whether it take the form of an autocratic prince or of a parliamentary assembly, is the assumed organ of the entire society, is the last of the ameliorating instrumentalities. It differs from Legal Fictions just as Equity differs from them, and it is also distinguished from Equity, as deriving its authority from an external body or person. Its obligatory force is independent of its principles. The legislature, whatever be the actual restraints imposed on it by public opinion, is in theory empowered to impose what obligations it pleases on the members of the community. There is nothing to prevent its legislating in the wantonness of caprice. Legislation may be dictated by equity, if that last word be used to indicate some standard of right and wrong to which its enactments happen to be adjusted; but then these enactments are indebted for their binding force to the authority of the legislature and not to that of the principles on which the legislature acted; and thus they differ from rules of Equity, in the technical sense of the word, which pretend to a paramount sacredness entitling them at once to the recognition of the courts even without the concurrence of prince or parliamentary assembly. It is the more necessary to note these differences, because a student of Bentham would be apt to confound Fictions, Equity, and Statute law under the single head of legislation. They all, he would say, involve law-making; they differ only in respect of the machinery by which the new law is produced. That is perfectly true, and we must never forget it; but it furnishes no reason why we should deprive ourselves of so convenient a term as Legislation in the special sense. Legislation and Equity are disjoined in the popular mind and in the minds of most lawyers; and it will never do to neglect the distinction between them, however conventional, when important practical consequences follow from it.

It would be easy to select from almost any regularly developed body of rules examples of legal fictions, which at once betray their true character to the modern observer. In the two instances which I proceed to consider, the nature of the expedient employed is not so readily detected. The first authors of these fictions did not perhaps intend to innovate, certainly did not wish to be suspected of innovating. There are, moreover, and always have been, persons who refuse to see any fiction in the process, and conventional language bears out their refusal. No examples, therefore, can be better calculated to illustrate the wide diffusion of legal fictions, and the efficiency with which they perform their two-fold office of transforming a system of laws and of concealing the transformation.

We in England are well accustomed to the extension, modification, and improvement of law by a machinery which, in theory, is incapable of altering one jot or one line of existing jurisprudence. The process by which this virtual legislation is effected is not so much insensible as unacknowledged. With respect to that great portion of our legal system which is enshrined in cases and recorded in law reports, we habitually employ a double language and entertain, as it would appear, a double and inconsistent set of ideas. When a group of facts come before an English Court for adjudication, the whole course of the discussion between the judge and the advocate assumes that no question is, or can be, raised which will call for the application of any principles but old ones, or any distinctions but such as have long since been allowed. It is taken absolutely for granted that there is somewhere a rule of known law which will cover the facts of the dispute now litigated, and that, if such a rule be not discovered, it is only that the necessary patience, knowledge, or acumen is not forthcoming to detect it. Yet the moment the judgment has been rendered and reported, we slide unconsciously or unavowedly into a new language and a new train of thought. We now admit that the new decision has modified the law. The rules applicable have, to use the very inaccurate expression sometimes employed, become more elastic. In fact they have been changed. A clear addition has been made to the precedents, and the canon of law elicited by comparing the precedents is not the same with that which would have been obtained if the series of cases had been curtailed by a single example. The fact that the old rule has been repealed, and that a new one has replaced it, eludes us, because we are not in the habit of throwing into precise language the legal formulas which we derive from the precedents, so that a change in their tenor is not easily detected unless it is violent and glaring. I shall not now pause to consider at length the causes which have led English lawyers to acquiesce in these curious anomalies. Probably it will be found that originally it was the received doctrine that somewhere, in nubibus or in gremio magistratuum, there existed a complete, coherent, symmetrical body of English law, of an amplitude sufficient to furnish principles which would apply to any conceivable combination of circumstances. The theory was at first much more thoroughly believed in than it is now, and indeed it may have had a better foundation. The judges of the thirteenth century may have really had at their command a mine of law unrevealed to the bar and to the lay-public, for there is some reason for suspecting that in secret they borrowed freely, though not always wisely, from current compendia of the Roman and Canon laws. But that storehouse was closed so soon as the points decided at Westminster Hall became numerous enough to supply a basis for a substantive system of jurisprudence; and now for centuries English practitioners have so expressed themselves as to convey the paradoxical proposition that, except by Equity and Statute law, nothing has been added to the basis since it was first constituted. We do not admit that our tribunals legislate; we imply that they have never legislated; and yet we maintain that the rules of the English common law, with some assistance from the Court of Chancery and from Parliament, are coextensive with the complicated interests of modern society.

A body of law bearing a very close and very instructive resemblance to our case-law in those particulars which I have noticed, was known to the Romans under the name of the Responsa Prudentum, the "answers of the learned in the law." The form of these Responses varied a good deal at different periods of the Roman jurisprudence, but throughout its whole course they consisted of explanatory glosses on authoritative written documents, and at first they were exclusively collections of opinions interpretative of the Twelve Tables. As with us, all legal language adjusted itself to the assumption that the text of the old Code remained unchanged. There was the express rule. It overrode all glosses and comments, and no one openly admitted that any interpretation of it, however eminent the interpreter, was safe from revision on appeal to the venerable texts. Yet in point of fact, Books of Responses bearing the names of leading jurisconsults obtained an authority at least equal to that of our reported cases, and constantly modified, extended, limited or practically overruled the provisions of the Decemviral law. The authors of the new jurisprudence during the whole progress of its formation professed the most sedulous respect for the letter of the Code. They were merely explaining it, deciphering it, bringing out its full meaning; but then, in the result, by piecing texts together, by adjusting the law to states of fact which actually presented themselves and by speculating on its possible application to others which might occur, by introducing principles of interpretation derived from the exegesis of other written documents which fell under their observation, they educed a vast variety of canons which had never been dreamed of by the compilers of the Twelve Tables and which were in truth rarely or never to be found there. All these treatises of the jurisconsults claimed respect on the ground of their assumed conformity with the Code, but their comparative authority depended on the reputation of the particular jurisconsults who gave them to the world. Any name of universally acknowledged greatness clothed a Book of Responses with a binding force hardly less than that which belonged to enactments of the legislature; and such a book in its turn constituted a new foundation on which a further body of jurisprudence might rest. The Responses of the early lawyers were not however published, in the modern sense, by their author. They were recorded and edited by his pupils, and were not therefore in all probability arranged according to any scheme of classification. The part of the students in these publications must be carefully noted, because the service they rendered to their teacher seems to have been generally repaid by his sedulous attention to the pupils' education. The educational treatises called Institutes or Commentaries, which are a later fruit of the duty then recognised, are among the most remarkable features of the Roman system. It was apparently in these Institutional works, and not in the books intended for trained lawyers, that the jurisconsults gave to the public their classifications and their proposals for modifying and improving the technical phraseology.

In comparing the Roman Responsa Prudentum with their nearest English counterpart, it must be carefully borne in mind that the authority by which this part of the Roman jurisprudence was expounded was not the bench, but the bar. The decision of a Roman tribunal, though conclusive in the particular case, had no ulterior authority except such as was given by the professional repute of the magistrate who happened to be in office for the time. Properly speaking, there was no institution at Rome during the republic analogous to the English Bench, the Chambers of Imperial Germany, or the Parliaments of Monarchical France. There were magistrates indeed, invested with momentous judicial functions in their several departments, but the tenure of the magistracies was but for a single year, so that they are much less aptly compared to a permanent judicature than to a cycle of offices briskly circulating among the leaders of the bar. Much might be said on the origin of a condition of things which looks to us like a startling anomaly, but which was in fact much more congenial than our own system to the spirit of ancient societies, tending, as they always did, to split into distinct orders which, however exclusive themselves, tolerated no professional hierarchy above them.

It is remarkable that this system did not produce certain effects which might on the whole have been expected from it. It did not, for example, popularise the Roman law—it did not, as in some of the Greek republics, lessen the effort of intellect required for the mastery of the science, although its diffusion and authoritative exposition were opposed by no artificial barriers. On the contrary, if it had not been for the operation of a separate set of causes, there were strong probabilities that the Roman jurisprudence would have become as minute, technical, and difficult as any system which has since prevailed. Again, a consequence which might still more naturally have been looked for, does not appear at any time to have exhibited itself. The jurisconsults, until the liberties of Rome were overthrown, formed a class which was quite undefined and must have fluctuated greatly in numbers; nevertheless, there does not seem to have existed a doubt as to the particular individuals whose opinion, in their generation, was conclusive on the cases submitted to them. The vivid pictures of a leading jurisconsult's daily practice which abound in Latin literature—the clients from the country flocking to his antechamber in the early morning, and the students standing round with their note-books to record the great lawyer's replies—are seldom or never identified at any given period with more than one or two conspicuous names. Owing too to the direct contact of the client and the advocate, the Roman people itself seems to have been always alive to the rise and fall of professional reputation, and there is abundance of proof, more particularly in the well-known oration of Cicero, Pro Muraena, that the reverence of the commons for forensic success was apt to be excessive rather than deficient.

We cannot doubt that the peculiarities which have been noted in the instrumentality by which the development of the Roman law was first effected, were the source of its characteristic excellence, its early wealth in principles. The growth and exuberance of principle was fostered, in part, by the competition among the expositors of the law, an influence wholly unknown where there exists a Bench, the depositaries intrusted by king or commonwealth with the prerogative of justice. But the chief agency, no doubt, was the uncontrolled multiplication of cases for legal decision. The state of facts which caused genuine perplexity to a country client was not a whit more entitled to form the basis of the jurisconsult's Response, or legal decision, than a set of hypothetical circumstances propounded by an ingenious pupil. All combinations of fact were on precisely the same footing, whether they were real or imaginary. It was nothing to the jurisconsult that his opinion was overruled for the moment by the magistrate who adjudicated on his client's case, unless that magistrate happened to rank above him in legal knowledge or the esteem of his profession. I do not, indeed, mean it to be inferred that he would wholly omit to consider his client's advantage, for the client was in earlier times the great lawyer's constituent and at a later period his paymaster, but the main road to the rewards of ambition lay through the good opinion of his order, and it is obvious that under such a system as I have been describing this was much more likely to be secured by viewing each case as an illustration of a great principle, or an exemplification of a broad rule, than by merely shaping it for an insulated forensic triumph. A still more powerful influence must have been exercised by the want of any distinct check on the suggestion or invention of possible questions. Where the data can be multiplied at pleasure, the facilities for evolving a general rule are immensely increased. As the law is administered among ourselves, the judge cannot travel out of the sets of facts exhibited before him or before his predecessors. Accordingly each group of circumstances which is adjudicated upon receives, to employ a Gallicism, a sort of consecration. It acquires certain qualities which distinguish it from every other case genuine or hypothetical. But at Rome, as I have attempted to explain, there was nothing resembling a Bench or Chamber of judges; and therefore no combination of facts possessed any particular value more than another. When a difficulty came for opinion before the jurisconsult, there was nothing to prevent a person endowed with a nice perception of analogy from at once proceeding to adduce and consider an entire class of supposed questions with which a particular feature connected it. Whatever were the practical advice given to the client, the responsum treasured up in the note-books of listening pupils would doubtless contemplate the circumstances as governed by a great principle, or included in a sweeping rule. Nothing like this has ever been possible among ourselves, and it should be acknowledged that in many criticisms passed on the English law the manner in which it has been enunciated seems to have been lost sight of. The hesitation of our courts in declaring principles may be much more reasonably attributed to the comparative scantiness of our precedents, voluminous as they appear to him who is acquainted with no other system, than to the temper of our judges. It is true that in the wealth of legal principle we are considerably poorer than several modern European nations, But they, it must be remembered, took the Roman jurisprudence for the foundation of their civil institutions. They built the debris of the Roman law into their walls; but in the materials, and workmanship of the residue there is not much which distinguishes it favourably from the structure erected by the English judicature.

The period of Roman freedom was the period during which the stamp of a distinctive character was impressed on the Roman jurisprudence; and through all the earlier part of it, it was by the Responses of the jurisconsults that the development of the law was mainly carried on. But as we approach the fall of the republic there are signs that the Responses are assuming a form which must have been fatal to their farther expansion. They are becoming systematised and reduced into compendia. Q. Mucius Scaevola, the Pontifex, is said to have published a manual of the entire Civil Law, and there are traces in the writings of Cicero of growing disrelish for the old methods, as compared with the more active instruments of legal innovation. Other agencies had in fact by this time been brought to bear on the law. The Edict, or annual proclamation of the Praetor, had risen into credit as the principal engine of law reform, and L. Cornelius Sylla, by causing to be enacted the great group of statutes called the Leges Corneliae, had shown what rapid and speedy improvements can be effected by direct legislation. The final blow to the Responses was dealt by Augustus, who limited to a few leading jurisconsults the right of giving binding opinions on cases submitted to them, a change which, though it brings us nearer the ideas of the modern world, must obviously have altered fundamentally the characteristics of the legal profession and the nature of its influence on Roman law. At a later period another school of jurisconsults arose, the great lights of jurisprudence for all time. But Ulpian and Paulus, Gaius and Papinian, were not authors of Responses. Their works were regular treatises on particular departments of the law, more especially on the Praetor's Edict.

The Equity of the Romans and the Praetorian Edict by which it was worked into their system, will be considered in the next chapter. Of the Statute Law it is only necessary to say that it was scanty during the republic, but became very voluminous under the empire. In the youth and infancy of a nation it is a rare thing for the legislature to be called into action for the general reform of private law. The cry of the people is not for change in the laws, which are usually valued above their real worth, but solely for their pure, complete, and easy administration; and recourse to the legislative body is generally directed to the removal of some great abuse, or the decision of some incurable quarrel between classes and dynasties. There seems in the minds of the Romans to have been some association between the enactment of a large body of statutes and the settlement of society after a great civil commotion. Sylla signalised his reconstitution of the republic by the Leges Corneliae; Julius Caesar contemplated vast additions to the Statute Law; Augustus caused to be passed the all-important group of Leges Juliae; and among later emperors the most active promulgators of constitutions are princes who, like Constantine, have the concerns of the world to readjust. The true period of Roman Statute Law does not begin till the establishment of the empire. The enactments of the emperors, clothed at first in the pretence of popular sanction, but afterwards emanating undisguisedly from the imperial prerogative, extend in increasing massiveness from the consolidation of Augustus's power to the publication of the Code of Justinian. It will be seen that even in the reign of the second emperor a considerable approximation is made to that condition of the law and that mode of administering it with which we are all familiar. A statute law and a limited board of expositors have risen into being; a permanent court of appeal and a collection of approved commentaries will very shortly be added; and thus we are brought close on the ideas of our own day.



The theory of a set of legal principles, entitled by their intrinsic superiority to supersede the older law, very early obtained currency both in the Roman state and in England. Such a body of principles, existing in any system, has in the foregoing chapters been denominated Equity, a term which, as will presently be seen, was one (though only one) of the designations by which this agent of legal change was known to the Roman jurisconsults. The jurisprudence of the Court of Chancery, which bears the name of Equity in England, could only be adequately discussed in a separate treatise. It is extremely complex in its texture and derives its materials from several heterogeneous sources. The early ecclesiastical chancellors contributed to it, from the Canon Law, many of the principles which lie deepest in its structure. The Roman law, more fertile than the Canon Law in rules applicable to secular disputes, was not seldom resorted to by a later generation of Chancery judges, amid whose recorded dicta we often find entire texts from the Corpus Juris Civilis imbedded, with their terms unaltered, though their origin is never acknowledged. Still more recently, and particularly at the middle and during the latter half of the eighteenth century, the mixed systems of jurisprudence and morals constructed by the publicists of the Low Countries appear to have been much studied by English lawyers, and from the chancellorship of Lord Talbot to the commencement of Lord Eldon's chancellorship these works had considerable effect on the rulings of the Court of Chancery. The system, which obtained its ingredients from these various quarters, was greatly controlled in its growth by the necessity imposed on it of conforming itself to the analogies of the common law, but it has always answered the description of a body of comparatively novel legal principles claiming to override the older jurisprudence of the country on the strength of an intrinsic ethical superiority.

The Equity of Rome was a much simpler structure, and its development from its first appearance can be much more easily traced. Both its character and its history deserve attentive examination. It is the root of several conceptions which have exercised profound influence on human thought, and through human thought have seriously affected the destinies of mankind.

The Romans described their legal system as consisting of two ingredients. "All nations," says the Institutional Treatise published under the authority of the Emperor Justinian, "who are ruled by laws and customs, are governed partly by their own particular laws, and partly by those laws which are common to all mankind. The law which a people enacts is called the Civil Law of that people, but that which natural reason appoints for all mankind is called the Law of Nations, because all nations use it." The part of the law "which natural reason appoints for all mankind" was the element which the Edict of the Praetor was supposed to have worked into Roman jurisprudence. Elsewhere it is styled more simply Jus Naturale, or the Law of Nature; and its ordinances are said to be dictated by Natural Equity (naturalis aequitas) as well as by natural reason. I shall attempt to discover the origin of these famous phrases, Law of Nations, Law of Nature, Equity, and to determine how the conceptions which they indicate are related to one another.

The most superficial student of Roman history must be struck by the extraordinary degree in which the fortunes of the republic were affected by the presence of foreigners, under different names, on her soil. The causes of this immigration are discernible enough at a later period, for we can readily understand why men of all races should flock to the mistress of the world; but the same phenomenon of a large population of foreigners and denizens meets us in the very earliest records of the Roman State. No doubt, the instability of society in ancient Italy, composed as it was in great measure of robber tribes, gave men considerable inducement to locate themselves in the territory of any community strong enough to protect itself and them from external attack, even though protection should be purchased at the cost of heavy taxation, political disfranchisement, and much social humiliation. It is probable, however, that this explanation is imperfect, and that it could only be completed by taking into account those active commercial relations which, though they are little reflected in the military traditions of the republic, Rome appears certainly to have had with Carthage and with the interior of Italy in pre-historic times. Whatever were the circumstances to which it was attributable, the foreign element in the commonwealth determined the whole course of its history, which, at all its stages, is little more than a narrative of conflicts between a stubborn nationality and an alien population. Nothing like this has been seen in modern times; on the one hand, because modern European communities have seldom or never received any accession of foreign immigrants which was large enough to make itself felt by the bulk of the native citizens, and on the other, because modern states, being held together by allegiance to a king or political superior, absorb considerable bodies of immigrant settlers with a quickness unknown to the ancient world, where the original citizens of a commonwealth always believed themselves to be united by kinship in blood, and resented a claim to equality of privilege as a usurpation of their birthright. In the early Roman republic the principle of the absolute exclusion of foreigners pervaded the Civil Law no less than the Constitution. The alien or denizen could have no share in any institution supposed to be coeval with the State. He could not have the benefit of Quiritarian law. He could not be a party to the nexum which was at once the conveyance and the contract of the primitive Romans. He could not sue by the Sacramental Action, a mode of litigation of which the origin mounts up to the very infancy of civilisation. Still, neither the interest nor the security of Rome permitted him to be quite outlawed. All ancient communities ran the risk of being overthrown by a very slight disturbance of equilibrium, and the mere instinct of self-preservation would force the Romans to devise some method of adjusting the rights and duties of foreigners, who might otherwise—and this was a danger of real importance in the ancient world—have decided their controversies by armed strife. Moreover, at no period of Roman history was foreign trade entirely neglected. It was therefore probably half as a measure of police and half in furtherance of commerce that jurisdiction was first assumed in disputes to which the parties were either foreigners or a native and a foreigner. The assumption of such a jurisdiction brought with it the immediate necessity of discovering some principles on which the questions to be adjudicated upon could be settled, and the principles applied to this object by the Roman lawyers were eminently characteristic of the time. They refused, as I have said before, to decide the new cases by pure Roman Civil Law. They refused, no doubt because it seemed to involve some kind of degradation, to apply the law of the particular State from which the foreign litigant came. The expedient to which they resorted was that of selecting the rules of law common to Rome and to the different Italian communities in which the immigrants were born. In other words, they set themselves to form a system answering to the primitive and literal meaning of Jus Gentium, that is, Law common to all Nations. Jus Gentium was, in fact, the sum of the common ingredients in the customs of the old Italian tribes, for they were all the nations whom the Romans had the means of observing, and who sent successive swarms of immigrants to Roman soil. Whenever a particular usage was seen to be practised by a large number of separate races in common it was set down as part of the Law common to all Nations, or Jus Gentium. Thus, although the conveyance of property was certainly accompanied by very different forms in the different commonwealths surrounding Rome, the actual transfer, tradition, or delivery of the article intended to be conveyed was a part of the ceremonial in all of them. It was, for instance, a part, though a subordinate part, in the Mancipation or conveyance peculiar to Rome. Tradition, therefore, being in all probability the only common ingredient in the modes of conveyance which the jurisconsults had the means of observing, was set down as an institution Juris Gentium, or rule of the Law common to all Nations. A vast number of other observances were scrutinised with the same result. Some common characteristic was discovered in all of them, which had a common object, and this characteristic was classed in the Jus Gentium. The Jus Gentium was accordingly a collection of rules and principles, determined by observation to be common to the institutions which prevailed among the various Italian tribes.

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