David Hoffman and the Science of Jurisprudence

Chronicles of the Wandering Jew, 1853

1853 - One year before his death Hoffman began to finally see in print the first volume of his projected six volume history of Christianity Chronicles, Selected From the Originals of Cartaphilus, The Wandering Jew. This last work by Hoffman was typical of his grandiose style - in both size and projected scope the work was massive.

1853 title page

"Series the First - Vol. 1" ran to 687 pages and included Hoffman's dedication to his brother, the "Editor's Historiette of the Legend of the Wandering Jew," the "Epistle of Cartaphilus to his Editor," a note from "Editor to Reader" along with assorted appendices, charts and time lines. For Hoffman it was to be his crowning achievement, a testament to his talent and literary skills. Some of his contemporaries however, were less than enthusiastic about the effort. Fellow Baltimore lawyer and author John Pendleton Kennedy wrote of Hoffman's project:

I would not be surprised if it be all ready for the press in huge and painful volumes, and should be as minute as the old patristic writings in the history of every heresy from first to last, with immense resource of readings and authority scattered through voluminous notes- all of which Hoffman would conceive to be but in the fashion of the Pickwick papers and to be carried about as light reading for travellers.1

Hoffman would have professed to be unfazed by such a negative review of his work. As he wrote in the introduction to this work only those who had read the entire piece were in a position to accurately judge its worth. Given the projected size of the series one has to wonder if Hoffman really believed anyone would read the entire six volumes.

While an initial reading of Hoffman's Chronicles suggests an anti-Catholic stance it is the continued growth of democratization in America that appears to be Hoffman's true target. His Cartaphilus urges toleration upon his audience writing that "my zeal of opposition never betrayed me into such judicial blindness, as would cause me to join in an indiscriminate hue and cry of the often sciolous, and sometimes mendacious Protestants" but then proceeds to temper this call for toleration with an appeal to observe the appropriate boundaries of class and position. Like his Anthony Grumbler of the 1830s Hoffman's final literary creation serves as one more extension of his own misgivings regarding the influence ofpopularpolitics.

Only a few words more unto thee, oh Albion! - Thou mayest be either the Savior, or the Destroyer of Man's best hopes on Earth, and in Heaven,-for there are in thee two signal Virtues flowing from the Source of all Good - "TOLERATION" and "LIBERTY" - the just use of either of which is heavenly-the abuse of which is diabolic!...Doubt it not, oh Albion, that thy "Toleration," without conservative limitations, and thy "Liberty," without it essential restrictions, are fascinating thee into the abyss thou wouldst anxiously avoid.

Having seen his plans for teaching a true "science of jurisprudence" fail; his professional and teaching career languish; his efforts at a political or diplomatic career flounder; and, most recently, his efforts to build a career as a land agent for John C.Fremont flounder,Hoffman appears in this work to be asking for forgiveness for his own foibles as much as those of his fictional subject. Hoffman in his opening essay - The Editor to The Reader - discussesthe works idiosyncratic structure; askingthose "carpers" and "purists" to read the entire piece before passing judgment on the subject or the author.

The Editor to His Reader.

Courteous Reader! it is probable a few words may be expected of thee from the Editor of a Chronicle coming from a source so little contemplated, and of a character, in many respects, so anomalous.

That it may not suit the taste of some is altogether likely; and that, moreover, it may occasionally offend others is equally to be expected, however anxiously the "Wanderer" and his Editor have endeavored to gain friends, or at least a docile ear. It also may be presumed that a few will be found so fastidious, as scarce to tolerate the blending of so great a variety of dissimilar topics, and perhaps styles, in the same work: but as the world is perhaps vast and various enough to yield even a numerous class of readers of similar taste, and sufficiently liberal to weigh soberly the ultimate objects and tendencies of the whole, both as to matter and manner, the Editor has ventured to cherish the hope that Cartaphilus will be kindly welcomed on his return from Oriental lands, and that his scholarship may also be, though both are as conscious as any one can be that, in all respects the execution of the enterprise may be regarded as extremely imperfect, compared with the vastness, and possible the essential worth of the general scheme or ideality itself.

To the entire class of Purists and Carpers, the Editor will only say - read the whole-or none: go not in pursuit of faults, or as to what might have been done,- both are liberally, but most regretfully admitted - and then let your judgment be a tender one, on less towards the long afflicted and sinning, but now Converted Jew, than towards the retired Jurisconsult,-who, when in eager pursuit of mental occupation, hath, perhaps, inconsiderately and injudiciously undertaken a duty towards the "Wanderer of the Ages," that ill harmonized with the early readings and veins of thought, so usually among the disciples of Littleton, and of his great Commentator. But, such as the whole may be, he now presents it,- neither craving praise, nor deprecating censure - but still hopeful of justice.

Now, as the Jew is again wandering, the Editor (whose feeling hath ever been, Ubi fum, ibi patria-Where I am, There is my country) is grateful for all the benevolences he that received in this, and in other lands; but now doth he yearn for his natal soil; and, nearly in the words of the gifted poet, Tupper, is inclined to say

Tither thy son, O columbia! is hast'ning
There for true riches securely to search;
Not for thy Gold, California, longing---
But for sweet Home, with enough - and a Church.

David Hoffman.

6A Hanover St. Hanover Square,
September, 1852.

Maxwell Bloomfield. David Hoffman and the Shaping of a Republican Legal Culture. 38 Md. L. Rev. 673, 686 (1979). (Return to text)

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