1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Thibaut, Anton Friedrich Justus

THIBAUT, ANTON FRIEDRICH JUSTUS (1774-1840), German jurist, was born at Hameln, in Hanover, on the 4th of January 1774, the son of an officer in the Hanoverian army, of French Huguenot descent. After passing his school-days in Hameln and Hanover, young Thibaut entered the university of Göttingen as a student of jurisprudence, went thence to Königsberg, where he studied under Kant, and afterwards to Kiel, where he was a fellow-student with Niebuhr. Here, after taking his degree of doctor juris, he became a Privatdozent. In 1798 he was appointed extraordinary professor of civil law, and in the same year appeared his Versuche über einzelne Theile der Theorie des Rechts (1798), a collection of essays on the theory of law, of which by far the most important was entitled Über den Einfluss der Philosophie auf die Auslegung der positiven Gesetze, wherein he sought to show that history without philosophy could not interpret and explain law. In 1799 was published his Theorie der logischen Auslegung des römischen Rechts, one of his most remarkable works. In 1802 he published a short criticism of Feuerbach's theory of criminal law, which recalls in many ways the speculations of Bentham. The same year appeared Über Besitz und Verjährung, a treatise on the law of possession and the limitation of actions. In 1802 Thibaut was called to Jena, where he spent three years and wrote, in Schiller's summer-house, his chief work, System des Pandektenrechts (1803), which ran into many editions. The fame of this book depends before all else upon the fact that it was the first modern complete compendium of the subject, distinguished alike by the accuracy of its sources and the freedom and unpedantic manner in which the subject is handled. It is, in effect, a codification of the Roman law as it then obtained in Germany, modified by Canon law and the practice of the courts into a comprehensive system of Pandect law. At the invitation of the grand-duke of Baden he went to Heidelberg to fill the chair of civil law and to assist in organizing the university; and he never quitted that town, though he received in after years, as his fame grew, invitations to Göttingen, Munich and Leipzig. His class was large, his influence great; and, except Gustav Hugo and Savigny, no civilian of his time was so well known. In 1814 appeared his Civilistische Abhandlungen, of which the principal was his famous essay, the parent of so much literature, on the necessity of a national code for Germany (vide infra). In 1819 he was appointed to the upper house of the newly constituted Baden parliament. He was also made member of the Scheidungsgericht (divorce court). In 1836 Thibaut published his Erörterungen des römischen Rechts. One of his last works was a contribution in 1838 to the Archiv für die civilistische Praxis, of which he was one of the editors (see below). Thibaut married, in 1800, a daughter of Professor Ahlers of Kiel. He died after a short illness, at Heidelberg, on the 29th of March 1840.

Thibaut, a man of strong personality and manly consistent nature, was much more than a jurist: he deserves to be remembered in the history of music. Palestrina and the early composers of church music were his delight; and in 1824 appeared anonymously his work, Über die Reinheit der Tonkunst, in which he eulogized the old music, and especially that of Palestrina. He was an ardent collector of old compositions, and often sent young men to Italy, at his own expense, to discover interesting musical manuscripts. Among the masters of German prose, too, Thibaut holds no mean place. His style is simple and manly, but rich in the happy accidents of expression which come only to true artists.

Most of Thibaut's works have already been mentioned, but his essay on the necessity of a code for Germany (Über die Nothwendigkeit eines allegemeinen burgerlichen Rechts fur Deutschland), which was inspired by the enthusiasm of the war of Liberation and written in fourteen days, deserves further notice. Thibaut himself explained in the Archiv für die civilistische Praxis, in 1838, the origin of this memorable essay. He had realized the change denoted by the march of German soldiers to Paris in 1814, and the happy future opened up for Germany. The system of small states he hoped and believed would continue; for the big state he considered crushing to the life of the individual and harmful as concentrating the “warm life” of the nation in one central point. In his judgment the only unity practicable and needful for Germany was that of law; and for this he urged all the German governments to labour. The essay was as much a condemnation of the entire state of jurisprudence as an argument for codification; it was a challenge to civilians to justify their very existence. Savigny took up the challenge thus thrown down; and a long controversy as to points not very clearly defined took place. The glory of the controversy belonged to Savigny; the real victory rested with Thibaut.

The framers of the new German civil code (bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) in 1879 were indebted for the arrangement of their matter in no small degree to Thibaut's method and clear classification, but beyond this, the code, based on the common law of the several German states, which was adroitly blended by the usus pandectarum into an harmonious whole, does not reflect his influence. He was one of the earliest to criticize the divisions found in the Institutes, and he carried on with Gustav Hugo a controversy as to these points.

In modern German legal literature Thibaut's influence is not very perceptible. Even at Heidelberg it was quickly superseded by that of his successor, Karl Adolf von Vangerow (1805-1870), and in Germany his works are now little used as text-books. But those best able to judge Thibaut have most praised him. Austin, who owed much to him, describes him as one “who for penetrating acuteness, rectitude of judgment and depth of learning and eloquence of exposition, may be placed by the side of von Savigny, at the head of all living civilians.”

For further information as to Thibaut's life and work, see Baumstark, Thibaut, Blätter der Erinnerung (1841); Karl Hagemann, Aus dem Leben H. F. J. Thibaut, mit Correspondenz, in die Preuss. Jahrbücher (1880); Teichmann, in Holtzendorff's Rechtslexikon; and E. Landsberg, in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, vol. 37.