Sentiments About the Law, as of 1856 --

at least the sentiments of Joel Prentiss Bishop, writing the dedication to his criminal law treatise (some paragraph breaks added, some deleted):


Gentlemen: --

I dedicate this elementary first volume of my Commentaries on the Criminal Law to you.

To those of you who are in or entering the legal ranks, I have endeavored to point the way to that true legal science, which alone is practical, and which alone can give you success. The illusion, that the truly practical and the truly scientific are not in our profession identical, I have endeavored to do my part to dispel. It will devolve on you to do yours.

Those of you who are outside of the profession will gain from these pages, I hope, something of culture; you will obtain that rare knowledge for a non-professional man, a tolerably accurate, though incomplete, idea of what sort of thing the law of the land is; you will qualify yourselves to look more wisely after your own interests, and to discharge the better your duties as members of the community, and parts of this great nation; and you will exert, in consequence of such acquirements, a healthful, reflex influence on the profession itself.

I cannot promise you, in these pages, intoxicating draughts for the fancy; but grateful food for the mind. I shall not lead you through green meadows, ploughed by melodious rills; but shall conduct you where, with mental eye, you will see the abstract right and the practically expedient mingling together, thus constituting the substance of our law; and the law extending itself, and sustaining human society.

If you have ever indulged the prejudice, that the law is a burrow for rogues, and a prison for the good, you will find the delusion dissolved. If you have imagined, that lawyers and judges are corrupted by their calling, you will learn, that the wickedness which exceptional men among them have sometimes exhibited, has come from their own hearts, in spite of better instructions, and not from their books.

I commit this volume to you, the young men of our country; because in your hands is our future jurisprudence. And I pray you never to forget, that our jurisprudence is alike a chief builder in our temple of liberty, a harbinger and nourisher of our prosperity, and an adorner of our national glory.