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16 - Eighteenth-Century Professorial Classification of English Common Law

from BLACKSTONE, FEUDALISM, AND INSTITUTIONAL WRITINGS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 October 2017

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Summary

Sir Robert Chambers was the successor of William Blackstone in the Vinerian Chair of English Law at Oxford. The reviewer surveys the teaching of English law in universities in the eighteenth century. He compares the analytical structure employed by Chambers with those of other lecturers of the era, particularly Blackstone. He concludes by remarking the importance of classification, especially in English law, in the creation of formally rational law.

A Course of Lectures on the Common Law Delivered at the University of Oxford 1767–1773 by Sir Robert Chambers Second Vinerian Professor of English Law and Composed in Association with Samuel Johnson, 2 vols, T M Curley (ed), Madison: University of Wisconsin Press (1986). Pp xix, 483 and xv, 445 [$30.00 + $30.00]. Reviewed by John W Cairns.

INTRODUCTION

Sir Robert Chambers has been virtually forgotten. Yet in his own day he was a well-known man – the friend of the remarkable Scott brothers, of James Boswell, and, most notably, of Samuel Johnson. He served in Bengal, first as a puisne judge, and then as Chief Justice, appointments which involved him in the affairs of Warren Hastings. He was Sir William Blackstone's successor in the Vinerian Chair of English Law at Oxford, and, on the evidence of his lectures, not an unworthy one. Memory of Chambers’ tenure of the Vinerian Chair was to some extent kept alive by his nephew's publication in 1824 of a part of the lectures as a Treatise on Estates and Tenures. Much more recently, Chambers has attracted the attention of scholars because his lectures are supposed to have involved him to some extent in a collaboration with Samuel Johnson. Interest in this led to the rediscovery in the British Library of the manuscript of the lectures now published. This is not the text which Chambers read, but a copy made for George III sometime before Chambers left for Bengal in 1774. That there was a measure of collaboration between Chambers and Johnson in writing the lectures seems clear, and comparison of the texts supposedly produced by their joint efforts with known examples of their respective styles is certainly a possible method of differentiating their contributions.

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Law, Lawyers, and Humanism
Selected Essays on the History of Scots Law, Volume 1
, pp. 462 - 481
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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