The final volume of Blackstone's Commentaries sets forth a·lucid survey of crime and criminal procedure informed by those propositions concerning English law and the relations between man and state that characterize the entire work. Perhaps no area of the law so tested Blackstone's settled and complacent views as did the criminal law, particularly the large and growing body of statutory capital crimes. In the end, Blackstone failed to demonstrate that English criminal law reflected a coherent set of principles, but his intricate and often internally contradictory attempt nevertheless constitutes a classic description of that law, and can still be read as such. Blackstone struggled to reconcile the severity of the criminal law with what he saw as the essentially humane inspiration of English law in general, and in this he was a man of his age. Moreover, he sought to show that, in practice, English criminal justice accorded with the principles of certainty and proportionality of punishment invoked by the leading Continental penal reformers. His recognition of the gulf between the ideal and the reality, however, led him to cast his introductory statement, and much that followed, as a heartfelt, though muted and deferential, plea for reform of the laws of crimes and punishments.
Green, Thomas A. Introduction to Of Public WrongsWilliam Blackstone, iii-xvi. Commentaries on the Laws of England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. (A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769.)