Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/8

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I have undertaken to illustrate my subject by the records of two great systems of law—the Roman and the Hindoo. These systems are very far indeed from being the only sources from which information can be gathered concerning the infancy of mankind, or even concerning the Aryan race of men. But the evidence supplied by each of them is highly authentic, and, while both of them run back to what may fairly be called a vast antiquity, they both assume at their starting point the existence of the institution, by no means apparently universal among savage men, out of which, as I said, all civilisation has grown—the Family. I need scarcely add that, even for historical purposes, their value is very unequal.

There is no history so long, so continuous, and so authentic as that of the Roman law; and yet it is not a little remarkable that till about half-a-century ago it was systematically treated, except by a small minority of jurists, as if it had no history at all. This was a consequence of its great juridical perfection. Now, nothing could be more out of place here than a panegyric on the Roman law, seen from a lawyer's point of view. Let me, however, pause to observe that, considering the time and pains which a good many of us spend in acquiring the Latin language, it is much to be regretted that so few of us knew anything of this branch of Latin literature. For it is really so expressed, and so put together, as to deserve the name of literature. Moreover, it was the only literature of the Romans which has any claim to originality; it was the only part of their literature in which the Romans themselves took any strong interest; and it is the one part which has profoundly influenced modern thought. One result, however, of its symmetry and lucidity was that it was long regarded as a birth of pure intellect, produced, so to speak, at a single effort. Those who attempted to construct a history for it were few, and not of the highest credit. But it happened that, in 1816, the great German historian, Niebuhr, travelling in Italy, had his attention attracted at Verona to a manuscript of one of the Fathers, under the letters of which ancient writing appeared. This manuscript, when deciphered, proved to be a nearly perfect copy of an educational work, written in the scond century of our era, for young Roman students of law, by one of the most famous of Roman lawyers, Gaius or Caius. At that period Roman jurisprudence retained enough of the traces of its most ancient state for it to be necessary that they should be explained to young readers by the author of