« PreviousContinue »
brated; and, ascending in the scale from the lowest of the vertebrated class to the most perfect, we find at length, in the mammalia, all the most striking characters of osteological structure, and all the leading features of the physiology of the human frame fully displayed. When we have ascertained that animals of that class in which the type of our physical organization is so unequivocally developed, existed at distant, though not the most remote, periods in the history of this planet, and that a scheme, of which man forms an inseparable part, is of such high antiquity, the remarks of Bishop Butler on the connection of the course of things which come within our view, with the past, the present, and the future, are forcibly recalled to our recollection: “We
are placed (he observes) in the middle of a scheme, not a fixed but a progressive one, every way incomprehensible--incomprehensible in a manner equally with respect to what has been, what now is, and what shall be hereafter.'*
Indeed no department of science has ever illustrated and confirmed the line of argument adopted by that truly philosophical writer in a more satisfactory manner than geology. Relations between different portions of the system, however distant, are proved sometimes to subsist, and to extend even from extinct to living races of plants and animals. Sources of apparent derangement in the system appear, when their operation throughout a series of ages is brought into one view, to have produced a great preponderance of good; and to be governed by fixed general laws, conducive, perhaps essential, to the preservation of the habitable state of the globe. If the analogy between the constitution and government of the natural and moral worlds, supposed by Butler, be admitted as highly credible, the certainty that the former, so far as regards this planet, is a scheme of infinitely greater extent than we before had reason to imagine, greatly strengthens the presumption that of the latter also we as yet survey but an insignificant part; and that if the whole could be seen and comprehended by us, difficulties insurmountable by human reason, which now present themselves to every contemplative mind, would disappear; for things which we call irregularities may not be so at all;'^ and some unknown relation, or some unknown impossibility, may render what is objected against, just and good; nay, good in the highest practicable degree.'I
In a word, the farther we advance in the study of each branch of natural philosophy, the more our admiration of the grandeur and variety of nature's operations is called forth, while proofs of design and contrivance in all her works are multiplied. We are moreover continually rendered sensible how insignificant is the sum of all we know, in comparison with what remains unknown; and this observation applies with peculiar force to the investigations of geology, constituting indeed one of the main attractions which recommend that study to our attention. It is not easy,' says Butler, 'even for the most reasonable men, always to bear in mind the degree of our ignorance.'* That ignorance affords a full and satisfactory answer to all objections against the perfection of the scheme, whether of the natural or of the moral world, and thence against the wisdom, justice and benevolence of the common Parent and Preserver of them both.
* Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, p. 167, t Ibid. p. 159.
Ibid. p. 158.
Art. X.-Observations on the actual State of the English Laws
of Real Property; with the Outline of a Code. By James Humphreys, Esq. of Lincolns Inn, Barrister. London. . 8vo.
N opinion that the jurisprudence of this kingdom is in a
state, which requires a strong interference of the legislature to remedy its defects and abuses, and to produce a new and better administration of justice, has, for some time, been very prevalent in this country, among all classes of people.
Government has not been heedless of it; nor has it disdained to take up the work of amelioration by whomsoever commenced. A bill for the improvement of our criminal law has at length passed both houses of parliament, without any opposition, and has received the royal sanction; nor have we yet heard a voice raised against the wisdom or the policy of its provisions. The Court of Chancery had long been the theme of unrestrained and unqualified censure, the tone of which, not unfrequently, was such, as to manifest a degree of ignorance most extraordinary and reprehensible in those who ought to have been better acquainted with its principles and forms of proceeding, considering how extensively these apply, and how considerable a part of the landed and commercial interest of the country is, at all times, of necessity more or less subject to their controul and influence. During the session of 1824, a commission was issued by his Majesty, having for its principal object 'to inquire whether any and what alterations could be made in the practice established in the Court of Chancery-or in the several offices of that court, whereby the expenses attending such proceedings, and the time during which they depend in court, may be usefully and beneficially abridged.' A Report has recently been made under that commission, and a copy of it presented to the House of Com* Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, p. 158.
inons, on which it is not our present intention to say more than that, no less from the importance and wide scope of the subject, than from the character of the individuals composing the commission, accompanied as it is by a very voluminous Appendix, consisting of ample returns from the several officers of the court of the nature and amount of the business transacted in their several departments, and of the examinations at great length of several of the most eminent practitioners, solicitors, as well as barristers and judges, it cannot fail to excite great and anxious attention, and to lead to considerable immediate improvement, and, in the end, to yet more important and beneficial results. It has exposed to the public eye the whole machinery of the Court of Chancery; the wheels which impel or retard the progress of its proceedings; the means which it affords to honourable practitioners for effecting, and to dishonourable practitioners for defeating, the ends of justice; the circumstances under which it holds out a full, or only an imperfect relief to its suitors, and those under which it is incapable of yielding them. any redress
, whatever; the cases in which delay and expense are unavoidable; and those, in which these are occasioned by dishonesty, or idleness. On all these heads, it cannot be denied, that the Report has brought forward a mass of valuable information; and although, if the commission had been formed on a more extensive plan, it might perhaps bave done greater good; yet, such as it is, the public has reason enough to be thankful for its appearance. The great number and length of the returns and examinations, render it, however, an operose and irksome task to acquire any distinct or accurate view of the contents of this Res port. An analytical or arranged digest, such as that which has been published of the examinations concerning the state of Ireland, is therefore highly necessary ;-indeed, without some aid of this kind, few, we apprehend, will be able to master its tenour; and thus much of the benefit to be expected from free and open discussion will be lost to the public.
It is indeed somewhat surprizing that, with (we believe) one single exception, this document, so valuable from the nature of its contents, and so repeatedly and anxiously called for, has as yet drawn.forth no comment or criticism of the slightest ima portance. This solitary exception, however, is in itself equivalent iu importance to a host of minor notices; for we cannot help believing the rumour to be correct, which assigns a recent pamphlet, entitled “Considerations suggested by the Report made to his Majesty under a Commission,' &c., to a late lord chancellor of Ireland, who was himself a member of that commission, but who withheld his signature from the Report, for reasons which appear sufficiently on the face of this pamphlet. His lordship’s profound knowledge, both of the law and practice of courts of equity, is unquestionable; his opinions therefore upon the subjects embraced by the Report, or in any mamer connected with it, are entitled to the highest degree of respect and attentionThey will have their due degree of weight with the public at large, no less than with the legislature, when it comes to the task of embodying and carrying into effect such of the suggestions made by the commissioners as may be thought expedient, together with such other provisions as may be found consequential upon them. More than this not even the noble lord himself can wish for, or anticipate, as the result of his public-spirited interference. Even the vague fear of innovation might, we conceive, have been quieted by the name of the illustrious individual who presided in the commission, and whose name appears foremost, as sanctioning and recommending the propositions of the Report; and his lordship needs not to be informed, in the words of the first and greatest of our English chancellors, that even innovation itself is a thing not more turbulent than a froward retention of customs. Nevertheless, for ourselves we shall only say that, sincerely wishing well to the results of this important inquiry, we rejoiced at the appearance of his lordship’s pamphlet. In questions which arise upon subjects of profound and intricate investigation, truth is seldom elicited without a considerable degree of hostile controversy. Let the propounder of an opinion be ever so well informed upon the subject of it, he seldom perceives all the connected arguments, whether favourable or unfavourable to his own conclusions, until after a conflict with some able adversary. Such a struggle generally leads to deeper meditations and more active researches :-to the discovery of facts, which would not have been known; of arguments which would not have suggested themselves; and of fastnesses and weaknesses, which would not have been spontaneously explored.
At one most important result, however, the framers of the Report, and the noble author of the pamphlet, arrive in concurrence--namely, that any great and extensively beneficial change in the practice and administration of the law is necessarily connected with a revision of its principles.
No person,' say the Commissioners, 'can have had much experience in courts of equity, without feeling, that many suits owe their origin to, and many others are greatly protracted by, questions arising from the niceties and subtleties of the law and practice of conveyancing. Any al. teration in this system must be made with the greatest caution: but as connected with the object of saving time and expense to suitors in the Court of Chancery, we venture to submit to your Majesty's consideration,
whether it might not be proper to commit to competent persons the task of examining this part of our law, with a view to determining if any improvement can safely be made in it, which might lessen the expense and parrow the field of litigation respecting the transfer of property
The recommendation contained in this passage of the Report is indeed conveyed in terms which are framed with all the caution to be expected from persons in the exercise of so high and responsible an office, when speaking on a subject not strictly within the scope of the inquiry committed to them, however incidentally connected with its objects. But it is impossible for the most superficial reasoner not to perceive the extent of meaning couched, beneath the guarded expressions which they have employed, and in which sense they seem to have been considered by Lord Redesdale himself where he signifies his full approbation of this part of their suggestions. What (it must be asked) is the law of Conveyancing, the niceties and subtleties of which give rise to so many questions, the origin themselves of suits so complicated and protracted, but the whole system of jurisprudence by which the transmission of property from person to person is governed; and how can any investigation of the subject be limited, so as not to embrace that entire system, and the very principles on which it is founded ?
Scarcely had these intimations been given, when they were answered by a work of singular novelty, both in its exhibition of the system itself, so far as regards the subject of real. property, and in suggestions for its amelioration. Embracing, as does the work alluded to, the entire subject which it professes to discuss, its copiousness and, at the same time, its severe compression, alike forbid the supposition of its being the mere production of the moment; and we are forced to conclude that, by a fortunate coincidence, the author was already prepared for the enterprize in which the sudden demand of the occasion induced him, perhaps, more immediately to embark.
Mr. Humphreys, a gentleman well known for his professional skill and experience, (qualities which cannot fail to add weight to his theories, and force to the confidence which we are disposed to place in his reasoning,) commences the work which we are about to consider, with a distinction, hitherto unremarked by us, between political and civil institutions, as regarded with a view to correction. The former, he observes, are in their nature comparatively siinple, and they affect the great body of the people.
• When a government possesses the elements, and a people the character of freedom, it is by the quick perception and the energies of the public that political defects are detected or abuses remedied; and, in