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fight with me; but the gentleman seeing him unwilling to accept of this challenge, went out from the place, whereupon I following him, some of the gentlemen that belonged to the Constable taking notice hereof acquainted him therewith, who sending for the French cavalier, checked him well for his sauciness, in taking the ribband away from his grandchild, and afterwards bid him depart his house; and this was all that I ever heard of the gentlemen, with whom I proceeded in that manner because I thought myself obliged thereunto by the oath taken when I was made Knight of the Bath, as I formerly related upon this occasion. IX.
THOMAS HOBBES was born at Malmesbury in Wiltshire, in 1588. He received a careful early education at home and in the Grammar School of his native town. At fourteen he went to Oxford and entered at Magdalen Hall, where he spent five years, chiefly in the pursuit of philosophical studies. He is said to have assisted Lord Bacon in the translation into Latin of some of his English works. He became (1608) tutor in the Devonshire family, and travelled with his pupils at intervals during many years in France and Italy, forming the acquaintance of Galileo, Descartes, Gassendi, and other eminent men of the day. He returned to England in 1637, and resided at Chatsworth for some time, but the apprehension of civil war between King and Parliament made him think it safer to retire to Paris in 1641. He remained abroad for twelve years, and returned, in 1653, to England, where Cromwell permitted him to live undisturbed. He died in 1679 at the advanced age of ninety-one, having continued his literary activity to the last.
Hobbes was one of the most powerful and acute of English political writers. The circumstances of his time, by directing his attention to the philosophy of politics and its foundation in morals and the nature of man, probably determined the subject of his principal writings. His career as an author did not commence till he had passed middle life. His two great works, the Treatise on Government, and Leviathan, appeared, the one when he was fifty-two, and the other when he was sixty-three years of age. Of his minor works the two most characteristic, Behemoth an account of the Civil Wars, and The Dialogue of the Laws of England, were not published till after his death.
Hobbes has a right to be considered as the father of modern English philosophy. He was the precursor of the school of thought which may be traced in one direction through Locke and Bolingbroke, and in another through Berkeley and Hume. In morals and law he was the progenitor of Bentham. Upon these great subjects he was the most powerful thinker of his age, and his theories, if sometimes imperfect, are full of profound and shrewd observation. His style is vigorous and terse, enlivened by flashes of grotesque humour.
Without law, every thing is in such sort every man's, as he may take, possess, and enjoy, without wrong to any man; every thing, lands, beasts, fruits, and even the bodies of other men, if his reason tell him he cannot otherwise live securely. For the dictates of reason are little worth, if they tended not to the preservation and improvement of men's lives. Seeing then without human law all things would be common, and this community a cause of encroachment, envy, slaughter, and continual war of one upon another, the same law of reason dictates to mankind, for their own preservation, a distribution of lands and goods, that each man may know what is proper to him, so as none other might pretend a right thereunto, or disturb him in the use of the same. This distribution is justice, and this properly is the same which we say is one's own; by which you may see the great necessity there was of statute laws, for preservation of all mankind. It is also a dictate of the law of reason, that statute laws are a necessary means of the safety and well-being of man in the present world, and are to be obeyed by all subjects, as the law of reason ought to be obeyed, both by King and subjects, because it is the law of God.
Now as to the authority you ascribe to custom, I deny that any custom of its own nature can amount to the authority of a law. For if the custom be unreasonable, you must, with all other lawyers, confess that it is no law, but ought to be abolished; and if the custom be reasonable, it is not the custom, but the equity that makes it law. For what need is there to make reason law by any custom how long soever, when the law of reason is eternal ? Besides, you cannot find it in any statute, though lex et consuetudo be often mentioned as things to be followed by the judges in their judgments, that consuetudines, that is to say, customs or usages, did imply any long continuance of former time; but that it signified such use and custom of proceeding, as was then immediately in being before the making of such statute. Nor shall you find in any statute the word common-law, which may not be there well interpreted for any of the laws of England temporal; for it is not the singularity of process used in any court that can distinguish it, so as to make it a different law from the law of the whole nation.
It cannot be that a written law should be against reason; for nothing is more reasonable than that every man should obey the law which he hath himself assented to. But that is not always the law, which is signified by grammatical construction of the letter, but that which the legislature thereby intended should be in force; which intention, I confess, is a very hard matter many times to pick out of the words of the statute, and requires great ability of understanding, and greater meditations and consideration of such conjuncture of occasions and incommodities, as needed a new law for a remedy. For there is scarce anything so clearly written, that when the cause thereof is forgotten, may not be wrested by an ignorant grammarian, or a cavilling logician, to the injury, oppression, or perhaps destruction of an honest man. And for this reason the Judges deserve that honour and profit they enjoy.
For my part, I believe that men at this day have better learned the art of cavilling against the words of a statute, than heretofore they had, and thereby encourage themselves and others to undertake suits upon little reason. Also the variety and repugnancy of judgments of common-law, do oftentimes put men to hope for victory in causes whereof in reason they had no ground at all: also the ignorance of what is equity in their own causes, which equity not one man in a thousand ever studied. And the lawyers themselves seek not for their judgments in their own breasts, but in the precedents of former judges: as the ancient judges sought the same, not in their own reason, but in the laws of the empire. Another, and perhaps the greatest cause of multitude of suits, is this, that for want of registering of conveyances of land, which might easily be done in the townships where the lands lay, a purchase cannot easily be had which will not be litigious.
5. Ethics of Subjects and Sovereigns.
B. It seems you make a difference between the ethics of subjects, and the ethics of sovereigns.