Page images

ing, yet, from the magnitude of the work, the state of the times, the negligence of the persons employed to solicit subscriptions, or, possibly, from some doubts in regard to the ability of the translator for the execution of his task, but a very meager list of subscribers was obtained. Being, therefore, compelled to lay aside my translation, as far as it had advanced, I thought no more of the work, till about the beginning of the winter, when having, in the course of my professional business, occasion to examine some points in the law of insurance, I was led to consult the new Commercial Code of France on that subject. It then occurred to me, that as this code embraces so many questions of general interest and importance to the mercantile world, and its provisions, in many cases, though bearing a strong re. semblance to the English law on these subjects, yet differing from that law in some important points, it might be worth while to publish a separate translation of it, which I thought might be done without incurring a very great risk. Accordingly I set about the work, and in the course of a short time had it ready for the

press, when I was informed that it had already been translated and published in a magazine printed in Philadelphia, called the American Review,

This translation, I have understood, was furnished by a distinguished civilian of the bar of Pennsylvania; and most assuredly, after knowing this circumstance, I should never have thought of publishing mine, had that gentleman's been printed in a form better calculated for general circulation and professional use; but appearing in a journal devoted principally to party po

litics, it assumes too little the air of a regular treatise to obtain that regard and consideration, which, it appears to me, are justly due to a work of the nature and merit of the Commercial Code of France. On looking into the translation in the Review, I soon perceived that it differed very widely in style and manner from the one which I had prepared; and as I had also translated The Motives, or discourses of the counsellors of state, containing a luminous and interesting discussion of the various principles and provisions of the code, which are not published in the magazine above mentioned, I concluded that I might venture to print my translation, with some chance of success, and without incurring the imputation of plagiarism. I have also added some notes, which are printed at the end of the volume. 'I do not know that they are necessary to the understanding of the text; they may, however, contribute to awaken curiosity on some of the subjects to which they refer, and lead to a deeper investigation of the principles contained in the code. They might, indeed, have been easily extended much farther, for it is not a difficult, though a troublesome task, to write notes; but I am no friend to copious annotation, unless it tend to throw light on some obscure passage, or to illustrate some important principle in a work.

In order that those who are acquainted with the French langnage may judge of the fidelity of my translation, and also, with a view of obviating any misappre. hension which may arise, in regard to the exact meaning of any particular expression or clause in the French law,should thiscode, like the ordinances of Louis XIV. be cited in our courts, as authority in favour of any general principle of commercial law, or in any controversy in which the laws of France should be brought in question, I have thought it might be useful to have the original text printed with the translation, on the oppo. site page of the book. By this means also, students at law, and those of the profession who have only a slight knowledge of French, may have an opportunity of cultivating and extending it, while, at the same time, they are acquiring a more general acquaintance with the various and important principles of the Lex Mercatoria.

Should the present work receive the approbation of the public, it will soon be followed by the publication of the Code Napoleon and Code of Civil Procedure, which, together with the Motives, will form two large octavo volumes, without the original text, which is not intended to be printed, unless it should appear to be the general wish to have both the original and the translation of those two codes printed together, like the Com. mercial Code.

The Code Napoleon now constitutes the civil law of France. All the former laws, customs and usages, both written and unwritten, of the different provinces in that country, were entirely abolished on the introduction of this new system of jurisprudence. It is, unquestionably, a work of the highest merit, whether we consider the pure morality, the sound legal principles, and enlightened reason which pervade every part of it, or the

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

lucid order, precision, and method with which the matter is arranged and exhibited.

Whatever, therefore, some persons may think of the nature of he present government of France, of its stability or duration ; whatever may be the ultimate consequence of the powerful coalition now arrayed against her ; and though the star of her glory now shines with diminished lustre ; yet, as long as society and civilization exist, as long as reason, truth, and justice are prized among men, the Codes of the French empire, those splendid monuments of jurisprudence, erected by the learning and wisdom of the nation, will endure, and reflect the brightest honour on their founders.

The notion entertained by many people in this country that this system of laws is wholly founded upon ar. bitrary power, and, consequently, affords no security to the rights of persons, or the enjoyment of property, is equally erroneous and absurd. However arbitrary a government may be, it can never be its interest or policy to make laws, by which the bonds of society may be slackened, and the relative rights of individuals left at the mercy of accident or force.

In cases, unconnected with public policy, where the object is solely to determine the question of meum and tttum, the laws of even a despotic state are quite as likely to be framed, so as to afford protection and security to private rights, as under the government of the freest republic. The excellence of laws, as they respect the mutual relations and the multifarious commerce of men in society, depends much more upon the enlightened views, and the wisdom of the lawgi. ver, than upon the nature of the government, or the freedom of the people. In proportion to the advancement of civilization and of learning in a country, whatever may be the form of its government, the laws will be found just and pure-I mean those laws which relate to personal rights, and the security of property; for I am not now considering political rights. In the reign of Justinian, as despotic a prince as any that swayed the Roman sceptre, that magnificent system of jurisprudence which forms the body of the civil law, was raised and perfected :-a system, whatever may have been the early prejudices of the English nation against it, which contains all the elements of justice and equity between man and man, and the principles and provisions of which, at this day, strengthen and adorn the gothic fabric of the common law of England.

If we reflect upon the manner in which the different codes established by the present government of France were enacted, we cannot but entertain a very favourable opinion of their excellence. They were the productions of care, labour, and time; and the fruit of the united wisdom, genius, and researches of the best and most enlightened men of that country. Many of the most distinguished members of the old parliaments were called to assist in the formation of this new system of jurisprudence, and contributed their learning and experience to render it as perfect as possible. The discussions which took place in the council of state, on the framing of the Code Napoleon alone, make two large quarto volumes, in which every article and clause of that code are examined, and critically compared

« PreviousContinue »