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Opinions On Questions Of Law
by [?]

The following opinions on cases of law may be regarded as among the strongest proofs of Johnson’s enlarged powers of mind, and of his ability to grapple with subjects, on general principles, with whose technicalities he could not be familiar. Of law, as a science, he ever expressed the deepest admiration, and an author who combines an accurate knowledge of the practical details of jurisprudence with the most philosophical views of legal principles, has quoted Dr. Johnson, as pronouncing the study of law “the last effort of human intelligence acting upon human experience.” We allude to the eloquent and excellent Sir James Mackintosh’s Discourse on the Study of the Law of Nature and Nations, p. 58. Lord Bacon, in his two books on the Advancement of Learning, has affirmed, that professed lawyers are not the best law authors; and the comprehensive and lucid opinions which Dr. Johnson has here given, and which, in many instances, have been subsequently sanctioned by legislative authority, seem to establish the remark.

The first Case in the present edition, involves an ingenious defence of the right of abridgment, founded on considerations on Dr. Trapp’s celebrated sermons “on the nature, folly, sin, and danger of being righteous over-much.” These discourses, about the year 1739, when methodism was a novelty, attracted much attention. Mr. Cave, always anxious to gratify his readers, abridged and extracted parts from them, and promised a continuation. This never appeared; stopped, perhaps, by threats of prosecution on the part of the original publishers of the sermons. It was, in all probability, on this occasion, that Dr. Johnson wrote the following paper.–Gent. Mag. July, 1787. It is a subject with whose bearings he might be presumed to be practically conversant; and, accordingly, we find, in his memoirs, many recorded arguments of his, on literary property. They uniformly exhibit the most enlarged and liberal views–a readiness to sacrifice private considerations to publick and general good. He wished the author to be adequately remunerated for his labour, and tenderly protected from spoliation, but, by no means, encouraged in monopoly. See Boswell’s Life, i. ii. iv.