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of limbs, dignity of shape and air, with a pleasing, engaging, and open countenance. Fortune alone, by throwing him into that barbarous age, deprived him of historians worthy to transmit his fame to posterity; and we wish to see him delineated in more lively colors, and with more particular strokes, that we may at least perceive some of those small specks and blemishes, from which, as a man, it is impossible he could be entirely exempted.
"But we should give but an imperfect idea of ALFRED's merit, were we to confine our narration to his military exploits, and were not more particular in our account of his institutions for the execution of justice, and of his zeal for the encouragement of arts and sciences.
"After ALFRED had subdued, and had settled or expelled the Danes, he found the kingdom in the most wretched condition, desolated by the ravages of those barbarians, and thrown into disorders, which were calculated to perpetuate its misery. Though the great armies of the Danes were broken, the country was full of straggling troops of that nation, who, being accustomed to live by plunder, were become incapable of industry; and who, from the natural ferocity of their manners, indulged themselves in committing violence, even beyond what was requisite to supply their necessities. The English themselves, reduced to extreme indigence by these continued depredations, had shaken off all bands of government; and those who had been plundered to-day betook themselves next day to the like disorderly life, and, from despair, joined the robbers in pillaging and ruining their fellow-citizens. These were the evils, for which it was necessary that the vigilance and activity of ALFRED should provide a remedy.
"That he might render the execution of justice strict and regular, he divided all England into counties; these
counties he divided into hundreds; and the hundreds into tithings. Every householder was answerable for the behaviour of his family and slaves, and even of his guests, if they lived above three days in his house. Ten neighbouring householders were formed into one corporation, who, under the name of a tithing decennary, or fribourg, were answerable for each other's conduct, and over whom one person, called a tithing-man, headbourg, or borsholder, was appointed to preside. Every man was punished as an outlaw, who did not register himself in some tithing; and no man could change his habitation, without a warrant or certificate from the borsholder of the tithing to which he formerly belonged.
"When any person in any tithing or decennary was guilty of a crime, the borsholder was summoned to answer for him; and if he were not willing to be surety for his appearance, and his clearing himself, the criminal was committed to prison, and there detained till his trial. If he fled, either before or after finding sureties, the borsholder and decennary became liable to inquiry, and were exposed to the penalties of law. Thirty-one days were allowed them for producing the criminal; and if that time elapsed without their being able to find him, the borsholder, with two other members of the decennary, was obliged to appear, and, together with three chief members of the three neighbouring decennaries (making twelve in all) to swear that his decennary was free from all privity both of the crime committed, and of the escape of the criminal. If the borsholder could not find such a number to answer for their innocence, the decennary was compelled by fine to make satisfaction to the king, according to the degree of the offence. By this institution every man was obliged, from his own interest, to keep a watchful eye over the conduct of his neighbours; and was in a
manner surety for the behaviour of those who were placed under the division to which he belonged; whence these decennaries received the name of frank-pledges.
"Such a regular distribution of the people, with such a strict confinement in their habitations, may not be necessary in times, when men are more enured to obedience and justice; and it might perhaps be regarded as destructive of liberty and commerce in a polished state; but it was well calculated to reduce that fierce and licentious people under the salutary restraint of law and government. But ALFRED took care to temper these rigors by other institutions favorable to the freedom of the citizens; and nothing could be more popular and liberal than his plan for the administration of justice. The borsholder summoned together his whole decennary to assist him in deciding any lesser difference which occurred among the members of this small community. In affairs of greater moment, in appeals from the decennary, or in controversies arising between members of different decennaries, the cause was brought before the hundred, which consisted of ten decennaries, or a hundred families of freemen, and which was regularly assembled once in four weeks, for the deciding of causes. Their method of decision deserves to be noted, as being the origin of juries; an institution admirable in itself, and the best calculated for the preservation of liberty, and the administration of justice, that ever was devised by the wit of man. Twelve freeholders were chosen, who, having sworn, together with the hundreder, or presiding magistrate of that division, to administer impartial justice, proceeded to the examination of that cause which was submitted to their jurisdiction. And, beside these monthly meetings of the hundred, there was an annual meeting, appointed for a more general inspection of the police of the district; for
the inquiry into crimes, the correction of abuses in magistrates, and the obliging of every person to shew the decennary in which he was registered. The people, in imitation of their ancestors, the ancient Germans, assembled there in arms; whence a hundred was sometimes called a wapentake; and its court served both for the support of military discipline, and for the administration of civil justice.
"The next superior court to that of the hundred was the county-court, which met twice a year, after Michaelmas and Easter, and consisted of the freeholders of the county, who posessed an equal vote in the decision of causes. The bishop presided in this court, together with the alderman; and the proper object of the court was the receiving of appeals from the hundreds and decennaries, and the deciding of such controversies as arose between men of different hundreds. Formerly, the alderman possessed both the civil and military authority; but ALfred, sensible that this conjunction of powers rendered the nobility dangerous and independent, appointed also a sheriff in each county, who enjoyed a co-ordinate authority with the former in the judicial function. His office also impowered him to guard the rights of the crown in the county, and to levy the fines imposed; which in that age formed no contemptible part of the public revenue.
“There lay an appeal, in default of justice, from all these courts to the King himself in Council; and as the people, sensible of the equity and great talents of Alfred, placed their chief confidence in him, he was soon overwhelmed with appeals from all parts of England. He was indefatigable in the dispatch of these causes; but, finding that his time must be entirely engrossed by this branch of duty, he resolved to obviate the inconvenience, by correcting the ignorance or corruption of the inferior magis
trates, from which it arose. He took care to have his nobility instructed in letters and the laws: he chose the earls and sheriffs from among the men most celebrated for probity and knowledge: he punished severely all malversation in office: and he removed all the earls whom he found unequal to the trust; allowing only some of the more elderly to serve by a deputy till their death should make room for more worthy successors.
"The better to guide the magistrates in the administration of justice, ALFRED framed a body of laws; which, though now lost, served long as the basis of English jurisprudence, and is generally deemed the origin of what is denominated the COMMON LAW. He appointed regular meetings of the States of England twice a year in London; a city which he himself had repaired and beautified, and which he thus rendered the capital of the kingdom. The similarity of these institutions to the customs of the ancient Germans, to the practice of the other northern conquerors, and to the Saxon laws during the Heptarchy, prevents us from regarding ALFRED as the sole author of this plan of government; and leads us rather to think, that, like a wise man, he contented himself with reforming, extending, and executing the institutions which he found previously established. But, on the whole, such success attended his legislation, that every thing bore suddenly a new face in England: robberies and iniquities of all kinds were repressed by the punishment or reformation of the criminals and so exact was the general police, that ALFRED, it is said, hung up, by way of bravado, golden bracelets near the highways; and no man dared to touch them. Yet, amidst these rigors of justice, this great Prince preserved the most sacred regard to the liberty of his people; and it is a memorable sentiment preserved in his