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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/595

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

SEPTEMBER, 1880.


 

THE SCIENCE OF COMPARATIVE JURISPRUDENCE.
By WILLIAM M. IVINS.

AN unbeliever in the possibilities of an exact historical science. Mr. Goldwin Smith, has said that history is like a child's box of letters, out of which we may spell whatsoever we please. As illustrative of his meaning, he might have taken the works of any of the old jurists, say Domat or Blackstone, for instance, and shown that that which they called history was too apt to be nothing more than a succession of ingenious but not always happy guesses. Writing upon the history of law, they used only such facts as squared with their preconceived philosophy of law—which philosophy, in its turn, was only another and slightly modified form of their dogmatic theology, from which it was a series of deductions. We owe the old legists, from the time of Gaius to that of Blackstone, a vast debt which we can never pay; but it is for the body of substantive law they have left us, not for their bizarre and unscientific speculations as to the origin and philosophy of law.

In his chapter on Rousseau's "Theory of the Social Compact," Mr. John Morley says: "Signal novelties in thought are as limited as signal inventions in architectural construction. It is only one of the great changes in method that can remove the limits of the old combinations, by bringing new material and fundamentally altering the point of view." The truth of this remark is nowhere better shown than in the very matter of which we have been speaking. If we may claim to know more than our forefathers about the actual historical development of law, it is only because we have become possessed of a new historical method which has already wrought signal, if not fundamental, alterations in our point of view so far as regards the origin