In honour of Professor Somerville’s work and achievements, the Faculty of Law of McGill University has restored the 1773 edition of An Interesting Appendix to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. This volume is part of the Rare Book collection of the Nahum Gelber Law Library, and its record will carry in perpetuity a notice in tribute to Professor Somerville on behalf of McGill University.
An interesting appendix to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the laws of England. Philadelphia: Printed for the subscribers, by Robert Bell, 1773. This book is a collection of correspondence between William Blackstone, Joseph Priestley, and Philip Furneaux published as a reaction to the fourth volume of his Commentaries on the Laws of England, where Blackstone argued in support the suspension of legal penalties against nonconformists, and that essentially nonconformity remained a crime. The correspondence powerfully reveals and illustrates the philosophical, religious, and ethical tensions in the 18th century England. Priestley criticised Blackstone’s positions in the Commentaries relative to offences against the doctrine of the Established Church, while Furneaux in his letters on his Exposition of the Toleration Act offered powerful statement moral arguments against enforcing religious truths by civil penalties. After this public exchange of opinions, Blackstone made alterations to the subsequent editions of his Commentaries: he rephrased some offending passages, moderated his language in others, and corrected the errors and inaccuracies that had been pointed out by his correspondents.
Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804) was English clergyman, political theorist, and physical scientist whose work contributed to advances in liberal political and religious thought and in experimental chemistry. He is best remembered today for his contribution to the chemistry of gases, while during his time day he was known also as a vigorous advocate of unitarianism and of liberal reform of government, education, and theology. Philip Furneaux (1726–1783) was an English independent minister, known for his work on behalf of the rights of nonconformists.