No branch of jurisprudence is more important than the law of successions or inheritance; as it constitutes that part of any national system of laws, which is the most peculiar and distinct, and which is of most frequent use and extensive application.
In the law of contracts, the rules of decision, observed in the jurisprudence of different countries, are in general dictated by reason and good sense; and rise naturally, though not always obviously, from the plain maxims of equity and right.
As to the criminal law, mankind are in general agreed in regard to the nature of crimes: and, although some diversity necessarily results from the exigencies of different states of society, leading to considerable variation in the catalogue of offences, and in the scale of relative guilt and consequent punishment; yet the fundamental principles are unaltered, and may perhaps be equally traced in every known scheme of exemplary and retributive justice.
But the rules of succession to property, being in their nature arbitrary, are in all systems of law merely conventional. Admitting even that the succession of the offspring to the parent is so obvious as almost to present a natural and universal law; yet this very first rule is so variously modified by the usages of different nations, that its application at least must be acknowledged to be founded on consent rather than in reasoning. In the laws of one people the rights of primogeniture are established; in those of another the equal succession of all the male offspring prevails; while the rest allow the participation of the female with the male issue, some in equal, other in unequal proportions. Succession by right of representation, and the claim of descendants to inherit in the order of proximity, have been respectively established in various nations, according to the degree of favour, with which they have viewed those opposite pretensions. Proceeding from linear to collateral succession, the diversity of laws prevailing among different nations, is yet greater, and still more forcibly argues the arbitrariness of the rules. Nor is it indeed practicable to reduce the rules of succession as actually established in any existing body of law, to a general or leading principle, unless by the assumption of some maxim not necessarily nor naturally connected with the canons of inheritance.
In proportion then, as the law of successions is arbitrary and irreducible to fixed and general principles, it is complex and intricate in its provisions; and requires, on the part of those entrusted with the administration of justice, a previous preparation by study; for its rules and maxims cannot be rightly understood, when only hastily consulted as occasions arise. Those occasions are of daily and of hourly occurrence: and, on this account, that branch of law should be carefully and diligently studied.
In the Hindu jurisprudence in particular, it is the branch of law, which specially and almost exclusively merits the attention of those who are qualifying themselves for the line of service in which it will become their duty to administer justice to our Hindu subjects, according to their own laws.
A very ample compilation on this subject is included in the Digest of Hindu law, prepared by Jagannatha under the directions of Sir William Jones. But copious as that work is, it does not supersede the necessity of further aid to the study of the Hindu law of inheritance. In the preface to the translation or the Digest, I hinted an opinion unfavourable go the arrangement of it, as it has been executed by the native compiler. I have been confirmed in that opinion of the compilation, since its publication; and indeed the author's method of discussing together the discordant opinions maintained by the lawyers of the several schools, without distinguishing in an intelligible manner which of them is the received doctrine of each school, but on the contrary leaving it uncertain whether any of the opinions stated by him do actually prevail, or which doctrine must now be considered to be in force and which obsolete, renders his work of little utility to persons conversant with the law, and of still less service to those who are not versed in Indian jurisprudence.
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