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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1822–1888)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by David MacGregor Means (1847–1931)
 
HENRY JAMES SUMNER MAINE was born near Leighton on August 15th, 1822, and passed his first years in Jersey; afterward removing to England, where he was brought up exclusively by his mother, a woman of superior talents. In 1829 he was entered by his godfather—Dr. Sumner, afterward Archbishop of Canterbury—at Christ’s Hospital, and in 1840 went as one of its exhibitioners to Pembroke College, Cambridge. From the very beginning his career was brilliant; and after carrying off nearly all the academic honors, he was made Regius Professor of Civil Law at the early age of twenty-five. In spite of a feeble constitution, which made his life a prolonged struggle with illness, his voice was always notably strong, and is described by one of his early hearers as like a silver bell. His appearance was striking, indicating the sensitive nervous energy of which he was full. Such were his spirits and disposition that he was a charming companion, but it was hard to draw him away from his reading. This became eventually prodigious in extent, his power of seizing on the essence of books and passing over what was immaterial being very remarkable.  1
  In 1847 he married his cousin, Jane Maine; and as it became necessary to provide for new responsibilities, he took up the law as a profession, and was called to the bar in 1850. Like so many other great Englishmen of modern times, he devoted much time to writing for the press, his first efforts appearing in the Morning Chronicle. He wrote for the first number of the Saturday Review, and is said to have suggested its name. His contributions were very numerous; and were especially valued by the editor, John Douglas Cook, although the present Lord Salisbury, Sir William Harcourt, Goldwin Smith, Sir James Stephen, Walter Bagehot, and other able writers were coadjutors. He practiced a little at the common-law bar; but his health did not permit him to go regularly on circuit, and he soon went over to the equity branch of the profession. In 1852 the Inns of Court appointed him reader in Roman law; and in 1861 the results of this lectureship were given to the world in the publication of ‘Ancient Law.’  2
  This splendid work made an epoch in the history of the study of law. It is the finest example of the comparative method which the present generation has seen. Some of its conclusions have been proved erroneous by later scholars, but the value of the book remains unimpaired. Apart from its graces of style, its peculiar success was due to the author’s power of re-creating the past; of introducing the reader, as it were, to his own ancestors many centuries removed, engaged in the actual transaction of legal business. It was altogether fitting that one who had shown such distinguished capacity for understanding the thoughts and customs of primitive peoples should be chosen as an administrator of the Indian Empire; and in 1862 Maine accepted the law membership in the council of the Governor-General—the office previously filled by Macaulay. Perhaps nowhere in the world is so good work done with so little publicity as in such positions as this. It is inconceivable that any one except a historian or a specialist should read Maine’s Indian papers, and yet no one can take them up without being struck with their high quality. So far as intelligent government is concerned, there is no comparison between a benevolent despot like Maine and a representative chosen by popular suffrage.  3
  On his return from India in 1869, Maine became professor of jurisprudence at Oxford; and showed the results of his Indian experiences in the lectures published in 1871, under the title ‘Village Communities.’ In 1875 he brought out the ‘Early History of Institutions.’ He became a member of the Indian Council, and resigning his Oxford professorship, was chosen master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge; numberless other honors being showered on him. In 1883 the last of the series of works begun with ‘Ancient Law’ appeared,—‘Dissertations on Early Law and Custom.’ This was followed in 1885 by ‘Popular Government,’ a work especially interesting to Americans as criticizing their form of government from the aristocratical point of view. In 1887 Maine succeeded Sir William Harcourt as professor of international law at Cambridge; but delivered only one course of lectures, which were published after his death without his final revision. He died February 3d, 1888, of apoplexy, leaving a widow and two sons, one of whom died soon after his father. A memoir of his life was prepared by Sir M. E. Grant Duff, with a selection of his Indian speeches and minutes, and published in this country in 1892 by Henry Holt & Co. It contains a fine photograph from Dickinson’s portrait,—enough evidence of itself to explain the mastery which the English race has come to exercise over so large a part of the earth.  4
  Maine’s style was distinguished by lucidity and elegance. He has been justly compared with Montesquieu; but the progress of knowledge gave him the advantage of more accurate scholarship. He applied the theory of evolution to the development of human institutions; yet no sentence ever written by him has been so often quoted as that which recognized the immobility of the masses of mankind: “Except the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin.” In spite of his wonderful powers of almost intuitive generalization, and of brilliant expression, he had not the temperament of a poetical enthusiast. He was noted for his caution in his career as a statesman, and the same quality marked all his work. As Sir F. Pollock said, he forged a new and lasting bond between jurisprudence and anthropology, and made jurisprudence a study of the living growth of human society through all its stages. But those who are capable of appreciating his work in India will perhaps consider it his greatest achievement; for no man has done so much to determine what Indian law should be, and thus to shape the institutions of untold millions of human beings.  5
 
 
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