Page images
PDF
EPUB

in the chambers of a practising counsel or pleader. If he went into parliament, or the diplomatic service, his knowledge or his ignorance of political scieuce, of modern history, of international jurisprudence, was what it chanced to be. And parallel to all this, though beyond the sphere of the universities, was the general inefficiency, or even absence, of tests of fitness for medical practice, commissions in the army or navy, and indeed for any sort of employment. It is almost needless to say that on the continent the general part of education was always got over at an earlier age, and the special part relatively more important, and more systematically attended to. But for some time past a very strong reaction has set in, even in England, in favour of special training. We have been taught by bitter experience, that generals are seldom heaven-born; that learned men may preach to empty churches; that empiricism in law and medicine is very different from sound and useful knowledge. In a word-and this remark, though its principles may be far more generally applied, we now frame with especial reference to law-we have found that if you set a man down to commence his learning at an age when to learu solidly already begins to be irksome, an'l when the success which on the long rua attends solid learning cannot be relied on for a stimulus, because the needs which must be supplied will not wait for the effects of a learning which only succeeds upon the long run, then you will make a practitioner under whose hands drafts and statutes will run to an inordinate length, because they will seek to exhaust particulars by enumeration, instead of providing for them by laying down principles; precedents will be heaped up without measure, because they will be used without reason; the forms of procedure will be filled with pitfalls, becarise they will be merely technical ; and the memory will be the faculty chiefly called into play, because it is that of which the possession depends least on the culture and self-command of the possessor. Under the feelings of these evils special training has been lately instituted in England, or at least greatly extended, for most vocations of life, and tests have been established where none previously existed, or made more stringent where they were not

VOL. VII. NO. XIV.

a

[ocr errors]

before upknown, At the same time, though this perhaps formas but the lesser element in the recent educational movement, attempts have been made to render the general part of an English liberal education more really general and liberal, more worthy of an age which has added so much to the range of human knowledge.

Now the particular result of all this which we wish at present to consider, is that a vast amount of new educational work has been created in the country, and that no attempt has been made to apportion it on any principles between the various institutions which have to perform it. We do not mean to say that such an attempt, if made, would have been altogether successful. On occasions like these, plan beforehand as skilfully as you may, experience will defeat much, will modify more. Nor again can the best plans, even when already supported by experience sufficient at least for a presentiment of the effect, force their way rapidly against old habit, or the instinctive grasp with which man seeks to retain possession when he has it. We will illustrate what we mean.

Suppose an old habit of sending youths to the university till they are twenty-two, and therefore a university in possession of its students till that age. One may be satisfied that certain things which Cambridge and Oxford now undertake to do for their students, might be done better for them elsewhere; but can we blame severely the reluctance of alma mater to part with her sons, or can we fail to praise warmly her strenuous effort to do what she can for them while they are with her ?

Those who have taken any interest in the recent development of the old universities, well know that such considerations have had a powerful effect. The best arguments to shew that London, and not Cambridge, is the right place for beginning, as well as for pursuing, the study of English law, have been met, and with an undeniable force, by the reply: "the men are here, and we must do something for them.” Nor again must it be forgotten that, as a consequence of the isolated position which in this country local bodies and corporations hold towards each other and the government, Cambridge, if she encouraged her undergraduates to defer

the commencement of their legal studies till they arrived in London, would be trusting to a certain scheme pursued by the inns of court, of the practical working of which few of her resident members can know any thing; and which those inns, receiving so large a proportion of

proportion of their students from extraacademical sources, would at present be quite unable to frame with reference to any assumed previous university course.

Must, then, our new educational activities remain doomed to a blind chaotic weltering ? or is there no escape from that but to call in the aid of a central authority, to show us our respective places? We need not stay to argue with Englishmen that the latter course would crush out tons of spiritual momentum, for every pound of such momentum which it would economise by removing obstacles; but we think that by presenting from time to time the considerations which, so far as can yet be predicted, are likely to govern the ultimate solution of the problem, the date may be accelerated when that solution shall be worked out through the self-governing powers of our countrymen. With this object, we will offer to our readers some reflections on the plan which finds favour in certain academical quarters; that, namely, of introducing at the old universities an elementary study of law, by which those who looked forward to its practice may be prepared for grappling in London with the details.

First, then, we would say that no study can really flourish any where, unless it engages a fair proportion of the best talent of the place ; but that this cannot happen with any elementary study of law at Cambridge or Oxford, for the best talent will there always be devoted to those studies which carry the fellowships. The major of this proposition will hardly be disputed. It is the highest students who give the intellectual tone to their competitors, and the energy and attainments of all the rest are in proportion to theirs. This influence, propagated amoug the fellow-students through the powerful sympathies of youth, and their natural disposition to imitate their leading companions, reaches even the teachers. The professor is languid whose class contains few disciples, or none, of more than average ability; increase the numbers of these, and his efforts and his success redouble. Thus the faculty of law, standing apart from the regular studies of the universities, has dragged on at them an existence never more than half vital; nor, if the number of its votaries were increased by those whom exceptional circumstances, or the conscious absence of conspicuous ability, detached from the main race for fellowships, can it be supposed that it would thereby gain any advantage except in numbers. But the minor of our premises may perhaps be disputed. It will be asked, why may not some of the great prizes themselves be devoted to law? We answer, because the prizes are too great for the merely elementary study of any science. With the utmost desire to see fellowships conferred as the reward of more varied attainments than those which have hitherto commanded them; to see, for instance, physical science and the oriental languages elevated to the academical rank which belongs to them not less for their educational value than for their intrinsic importance to humanity, and especially to England, we must yet assume that no slight proficiency in any thing can give a just claim to a fellowship; and therefore the notion that these rewards can ever be widely used as incentives to the study of law, is inapplicable to the question which we are now considering, which is merely that of breaking ground in that study at the universities.

But then, it will be said, why limit the argument to that question? Why should there not—and this idea, too, has had considerable currency in the still chaotic subject of university reform --why should there not, at Cambridge and Oxford, be great schools of law, large enough and thorough enough to employ and reward in their higher branches sone tolerable share of the academical intellect? No doubt it is very seductive to the university mind, to dream of wiping out the blot with which the English universities have so often been reproached by their foreign sisters; namely, that the faculty of arts has absorbed in them all other forms of mental activity; and, as the project takes the shape of reinvigorating the ancient faculty of law, it wears that appearance of conservatism under which the English Radical

.

is so apt to cloak himself, and to revolutionise the essential nature of an institution, while he maintains its shell. That in the present state of English law, its study can be usefully prosecuted to any length otherwise than in close connection with its practice, is what no one at all acquainted with the subject can suppose. In order, then, that a comprehensive and flourishing faculty of law may become even possible at our universities, there must first be so sweeping a change in the structure of our law itself, as is not indeed inconceivable; and we, as advocates of codification must admit it to be, to a certain considerable extent at least, desirable; but which, at any rate, is not likely to be speedily carried out. But suppose it carried out, what then? Unless not only the structure, but the matter of our law be thoroughly changed, with which would our codified jurisprudence stand in the closest connection ? With the history and social life of ancient Rome, or with the history and social life of modern England ? Through the adoption of the Roman law by the continental nations, the study of their municipal jurisprudence, even when codified, is to this day so intimately connected with that ancient learning which belongs to the general part of a liberal education, that it stands in the universities in a close and natural sequence on the faculty of arts or philosophy. Here a similar result can never happen. As soon as he steps beyond the threshold of English law, the student will always require to be familiar with the business transactions of the society around him ; with the variety and complication of settlements of property, mercantile arrangements, and contracts which it has never been attempted to compress into classified forms. This knowledge he can only gain in the chambers of counsel ; and it is while passing through

; these that his real study of law must therefore be made. Thus the attempt to erect a flourishing faculty of law at an English university must, we affirm, be as fruitless as it would be in substance novel : and, we would observe, that even on the continent important inconveniences arise from the exclusive cultivation of the science of law in bodies which are not concerned with its practice ; for not only is there much clumsiness occasion

« PreviousContinue »