Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: Of Crimes, Affecting Several of the Natural Rights of Individuals. - Collected Works of James Wilson, vol. 2
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CHAPTER VI.: Of Crimes, Affecting Several of the Natural Rights of Individuals. - James Wilson, Collected Works of James Wilson, vol. 2 
Collected Works of James Wilson, edited by Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall, with an Introduction by Kermit L. Hall, and a Bibliographical Essay by Mark David Hall, collected by Maynard Garrison (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 2.
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Of Crimes, Affecting Several of the Natural Rights of Individuals.
Those crimes and offences of which I have already treated, attack some one of the natural rights of man or of society: there are other crimes and offences, which attack several of those natural rights. Of these, nuisances are the most extensive and diversified.
A nuisance denotes any thing, which produces mischief, injury, or inconvenience. It is divided into two kinds—common and private.a The latter will be treated under the second division of my system: it is a damage to property. Common nuisances are a collection of personal injuries, which annoy the citizens generally and indiscriminately—so generally and indiscriminately, that it would be difficult to assign to each citizen his just proportion of redress; and yet, on the whole, so “noisome,” that publick peace, and order, and tranquillity, and safety require them to be punished or abated.
On this subject, and, I believe, on this subject alone, the common law makes no distinction between a person and a thing. The exquisite propriety, with which the distinction is lost in this subject, proves strongly the importance of preserving it in every other. The exception establishes the rule.
How degraded are persons when they deserve to be classed with things! We have seen, on a former occasion,b that—1. The duellists and the promoters of duels are ranked with the offals of the shambles. The station is, indeed, a most humiliating one. Let no station, however, yield to absolute despair. From the very lowest depression, as well as from the very highest exaltation, there is a return in a contrary course. In pure compassion for the degraded hero, let us give him at least one grade of promotion. Perhaps, by vigorous exertion, he may become qualified for his advanced dignity. The quarreller or promoter of quarrels of one sex, may behave so as to reflect no great disgrace on the common scold of the other. She, too, is a common nuisance.
2. A common scold, says the law, is a publick nuisance to her neighbourhood: as such she may be indicted, and, if convicted, shall be placed in a certain engine of correction, called the trebucket, castigatory, or cucking stool; which, in the Saxon language, signifies the scolding stool; though now it is frequently corrupted into ducking stool; because the residue of the sentence against her is, that when she is thus placed, she shall be plunged in the waterc —for the purpose of prevention, it is presumed, as well as of punishment.
Our modern man of gallantry would not surely decline the honour of her company. I therefore propose humbly, that, in future, the cucking stools shall be made to hold double.
3. Eaves droppers too, another set of honourable associates—such as listen under walls, or windows, or eaves of a house, in order to hear the discourse of the family, and from that discourse to frame tales, mischievous and slanderous—these are common nuisances: they may be indicted as such; and as such may be punished by fine and finding sureties for their good behaviour.d
It is whispered to me, that the expression “eaves droppers” must refer to a very early and a very simple state of society, when people lived in cabins or huts: because, when people live in three story houses, it would be rather awkward to listen at their eaves in order to learn the secrets of families. It is therefore suggested, that, as the common law is remarkable for its adroitness in accommodating itself to the successive manners of succeeding ages, a small alteration should be made in the description of this nuisance, in order to suit it to the present times; and that the tea table should be substituted in the place of the eaves of the house. I declare I have not the remotest objection to the proposal; provided the wine tables, whenever they merit it, be of the party.
4. To keep hogs in any city or market town is a common nuisance.e
5. Disorderly houses are publick nuisances; and, upon indictment, may be suppressed and fined.f
6. Every thing offensive and injurious to the health of a neighbourhood is a common nuisance; is liable to a publick prosecution; and may be punished by fine according to the quantity of the misdemeanor.g
7. Annoyances in highways, bridges, and publick rivers are likewise common nuisances.h Other kinds might be enumerated.
Indecency, publick and grossly scandalous, may well be considered as a species of common nuisance: it is certainly an offence, which may be indicted and punished at the common law.i
Profaneness and blasphemy are offences, punishable by fine and by imprisonment. Christianity is a part of the common law.j
[a. ]3. Bl. Com. 216. 4. Bl. Com. 166.
[b. ]Ante. p. 1139.
[c. ]4. Bl. Com. 169.
[d. ]Id. ibid.
[e. ]4. Bl. Com. 167.
[f. ]Id. ibid.
[g. ]Id. ibid.
[h. ]Id. ibid.
[i. ]1. Haw. 7. 1. Sid. 168. Wood. Ins. 412.
[j. ]2. Str. 834. 4. Bl. Com. 59.