Diary of John Adams, volume 1

169 image 1760. Novr. 14th. Friday. JA 1760. Novr. 14th. Friday. Adams, John
1760. Novr. 14th. Friday.

I am just entered on the 26th Year of my Life, and on the fifth Year of my studies in Law, and I think it is high Time for a Reformation both in the Man, and the Lawyer. 25 Years of the Animal Life is a great Proportion to be spent, to so little Purpose, and four Years, the Space that we spend at Colledge is a great deal of Time to spend for no more Knowledge in the science and no more Employment in the Practice of Law. Let me keep an exact Journal therefore of the Authors I read, in this Paper.1

This day I am beginning my Ld. Hales History of the Common Law, a Book borrowed of Mr. Otis, and read once already, Analysis and all, with great Satisfaction. I wish I had Mr. Blackstones Analysis, that I might compare, and see what Improvements he has made upon Hale’s.

But what principally pleased me, in the first Reading of Hales History, was his Dissertation upon Descents, and upon Tryals by a Jury.

Hales Analysis, as Mr. Gridley tells me, is an Improvement of one, first planned and sketched by Noy, an Attorney General in the Reign of Charles 1st. And Mr. Blackstone’s is an Improvement upon Hales.2


That is, this paper booklet or gathering of leaves.


For copies of works by Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale and Sir William Blackstone still among JA’s books at the Boston Public Library, see Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 113, 28.

1760. Novr. 14. Friday. JA 1760. Novr. 14. Friday. Adams, John
1760. Novr. 14. Friday.

The Title is “The History of the Common Law of England.” The Frontispiece, I cannot comprehend. It is this. Ἰσχυρον ὁ ΝÓ ΜΟΣ έστὶν ἄρχοντὰ1 His great Distribution of the Laws of England is into Leges scriptae and Leges non scriptae. The first are Acts of Parliament which are originally reduced to writing before they are enacted, or receive any binding Power, every such Law being in the first Instance, formally drawn up in Writing, and made as it were a Tripartite Indenture, between the King, the Lords and Commons.

The Leges non scriptae, altho there may be some Monument or Memorial of them in Writing (as there is of all of them) yet all of them have not their original in Writing, but have obtained their Force by immemorial Usage or Custom.


Transcribed by JA from the titlepage of Sir Matthew Hale’s The History and Analysis of the Common Law of England, London, 1713. JA could make no sense of it because it is garbled Greek for which the printer may have been re-170 image sponsible. CFA subjoined the following note on the passage: “Stephanus quotes the following as a proverb,—

Ἰσχυρὸν ὁ νόμος έστ𐎯ν, ἤν ἄρχοντ᾽ ἔχῃ. which he translates,—The law is powerful if it have an executor” (JA, Works , 2:101). The Stephani, or Estiennes, were 16th-century printers and lexicographers; see Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 86. Hale’s titlepage motto is evidently a distorted version of this “proverb.”