David Hoffman and the Science of Jurisprudence

The Lecture of 1823

1823 - This was the first of Hoffman's lectures, based upon his course of study,tobe delivered as part of the University of Maryland. The Maryland Law Institute, as it was then known, occupied a "spacious and commodious building" near Market Street that was paid for in part by Hoffman. At this time Hoffman had not instituted a moot court or debating society although he had hopes of attracting enough students to develop both.

Title Page of 1823 Lecture

A Lecture Introductory

of a Course of Lectures

Now Delivering in the

University of Maryland 1823



(pp. 1 - 10 of original document)

THE science of jurisprudence, as it concerns the topics most interesting to human understanding, and human happiness, is also that of the widest extent, and most numerous particulars. As it relates to the conduct of man, it is a moral science of great sublimity; as its object is individual and national prosperity, it must be, of all others, the most important; as it regards the actions, both of communities and individuals, it is infinitely various; and as it concerns all the rights and obligations derived from, or due to God, our country, and ourselves, it is a science endlessly diffusive, whose "seat is," indeed, "the bosom of God, and whose voice is the harmony of the world."

Lawgivers have, in all ages, been esteemed the largest and most transcendent benefactors of the race; not only because their institutions have obviously promoted the tranquillity and elegance of societies, but because it was equally obvious how large a share of observation, how clear a discernment of causes and effects, and how judicious an adjustment of various principles, were requisite to the success of any form of policy. Scarcely less accurate or admirable, too, is that perspicacious talent by which the expositor of laws is led to the recognition of these general principals- to use them in the interpretation of old, and in the framing of new enactments; or that steady~ and liberal understanding by which general consequences are regarded, instead of particular, and general justice is distributed, without reference to private or partial inconvenience.-These are, or ought to be the characteristicks (sic) of the three great classes of Lawyers-Legislators, who make, Jurisconsults, who expound, and Judges, who both interpret and distribute, the laws of policed societies.

We are not then to expect, and far be it from me to inculcate the opinion, that such a science requires no extraordinary powers of genius, of application, or of both. That which has been aptly described by Burke, as the "pride of the human intellect, and the collected wisdom of ages; combining the principals of original justice with the boundlass variety of human concerns," cannot be acquired, but by the steady, and methodical application of a well regulated mind.

You will doubtless find, in the very largeness of the career on which you are entering- in the difficulties by which it is environed-in the strong thought, and assiduity which it enforces, additional motives of admiration, -and (to bold and generous minds) additional causes of ambition, and of emulation. Were your profession of vulgar and easy attainment, there would be no just reason for the high veneration with which we regard the great masters, and luminaries of the science; nor should I have any motive for proffering the aids, which, among others, I have proposed for the progress of the student; or for stimulating your industry and emulation. I am earnestly of opinion that few, perhaps none, have ever attained; 'unto the depths of learning,' in any science, without industry and talent, regulated by method, and accompanied by a love of study, bordering on enthusiasm. To use the strong language of Gesner, in relation to knowledge in general, and which is emphatically applicable to law, "He who would be learned, must cry after knowledge, and lift up his voice for understanding: he must seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures." - Yet when I use this language, which may, perhaps, seem discouraging, I must be understood to speak of students who desire to study and practise law, as one of the most honourable, profitable and laudable professions, and not of such as desire to rank the knowledge of its general principles, among the number of their elegant accomplishments; between whom, and professional men, there is a wide a difference, as between the polite man of science, who in his closet, studies the philosophy of mechanicks, and the learned mechanician, who applies- them to the erection of complex machinery or the edification of perfect models of architecture. To the professional student, then, we must be understood to address ourselves, when we discourse of the largeness of the science enveloped in his profession, and of the zeal, the method, and enduring perseverance with which it is essential to pursue it.

Students of laws, in common with others, partake of those obstacles which science (in this age) herself erects to the followers of science. Not only are the boundaries of legal, as well as other learning, greatly enlarged, and its topicks equally multiplied, but the literature of the age, even that which solicits your regard, as kindred to your legitimate studies, are vastly extended and diversified. To these allurements of polite, and general learning, it is necessary to oppose the greatness, and importance of your own particular science and to urge you to the remembrance of the maxim, now more just than ever,"non omnia possumus omnes." On this point I presume, I shall not be misunderstood - as in a work, some time since, addressed by me to American students of law, I insisted on the necessity of preparing their mind for its legal studies by imbuing it with general and liberal learning, thus previously acquiring information on subjects, which the study of their profession will seldom permit to be extensively, and minutely inquired into afterwards; and at the same time of framing their minds to habits of research and diligence. This is not, however, designed to exclude altogether the study of other sciences, or of polite literature, contemporaneously with that of law: the most indefatigable student has either from external circumstances, or from mental exhaustion, many intervals of time, in which he revolts from his immediate pursuit through he would gladly fill them with less laborious avocations. The mind is unwilling to be forever contending with difficulty, or excited to the full measure of its strength: the most diligent require some relaxation of employment, some change to diversify the rugged track of investigation. The sage Ascham, the erudite Erasmus, the deeply thinking Montesquieu, and the sublime Newton, were accustomed to unbend the mind, in the moments stolen from their intellectual toils, by the perusal of the fancies of Dante, or of Tasso, or of some of the voluminous tales and romances of the times.

The student who desires to economise time, should therefore indulge these variations of the mental appetite, and tempt this intellectual satiety with every modification with which genius has adorned literature, or disguised the harshness of science. Such an occupation of the fragments of time, often idly and unprofitably thrown away, under the plea of mental exhaustion, would enable the law student to accomplish himself in the principles of universal science, without, in any degree breaking in upon those hours which should be sacred to the study of his profession. It is fortunate that the instruction which the mind rejects in one shape, it will often receive in another.

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