Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIV.: OF THINGS PERSONAL. - Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XXIV.: OF THINGS PERSONAL. - Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 1 
Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books. Notes selected from the editions of Archibold, Christian, Coleridge, Chitty, Stewart, Kerr, and others, Barron Field’s Analysis, and Additional Notes, and a Life of the Author by George Sharswood. In Two Volumes. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1893). Vol. 1 - Books I & II.
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OF THINGS PERSONAL.
Under the name of things personal are included all sorts of things movable, which may attend a man’s person wherever he goes;1 and therefore, being only the objects of the law while they remain within the limits of its jurisdiction, and being also of a perishable quality, are not esteemed of so high a nature, nor paid so much regard to by the law, as things that are in their nature more permanent and immovable, as land and houses, and the profits issuing thereout. These, being constantly within the reach and under the protection of the law, were the principal favourites of our first legislators: who took all imaginable care in ascertaining the rights, and directing the disposition, of such property as they imagined to be lasting, and which would answer to posterity the trouble and pains that their ancestors employed about them; but at the same time entertained a very low and contemptuous opinion of all personal estate, which they regarded as only a transient commodity. The amount of it indeed was comparatively very trifling, during the scarcity of money and the ignorance of luxurious refinements which prevailed in the feodal ages. Hence it was, that a tax of the fifteenth, tenth, or sometimes a much larger proportion, of all the movables of the subject, was frequently laid without scruple, and is mentioned with much unconcern by our antient historians, though now it would justly alarm our opulent merchants and stockholders. And hence **385]likewise may be derived the frequent forfeitures inflicted by the common law, of all a man’s goods and chattels, for misbehaviours and inadvertencies that at present hardly seem to deserve so severe a punishment. Our antient law-books, which are founded upon the feodal provisions, do not therefore often condescend to regulate this species of property. There is not a chapter in Britton or the Mirror, that can fairly be referred to this head; and the little that is to be found in Glanvil, Bracton, and Fleta seems principally borrowed from the civilians. But of later years, since the introduction and extension of trade and commerce, which are entirely occupied in this species of property, and have greatly augmented its quantity and of course its value, we have learned to conceive different ideas of it. Our courts now regard a man’s personalty in a light nearly, if not quite, equal to his realty: and have adopted a more enlarged and less technical mode of considering the one than the other; frequently drawn from the rules which they found already established by the Roman law, wherever those rules appeared to be well grounded and apposite to the case in question, but principally from reason and convenience, adapted to the circumstances of the times; preserving withal a due regard to antient usages, and a certain feodal tincture, which is still to be found in some branches of personal property.
But things personal, by our law, do not only include things movable, but also something more: the whole of which is comprehended under the general name of chattels, which Sir Edward Coke says(a) is a French word signifying goods. The appellation is in truth derived from the technical Latin word catalla: which primarily signified only beasts of husbandry, or (as we still call them) cattle, but in its secondary sense was applied to all movables in general.(b) In the grand coustumier of Normandy(c) a chattel is described as a mere movable, but at the same time it is set in opposition to a fief or feud: so that not only goods, but whatever was not a feud, were accounted chattels. *[*386And it is in this latter, more extended, negative sense, that our law adopts it: the idea of goods, or movables only, being not sufficiently comprehensive to take in every thing that the law considers as a chattel interest. For since, as the commentator on the coustumier(d) observes, there are two requisites to make a fief or heritage, duration as to time, and immobility with regard to place; whatever wants either of these qualities is not, according to the Normans, an heritage or fief; or, according to us, is not a real estate: the consequence of which in both laws is, that it must be a personal estate, or chattel.
Chattels therefore are distributed by the law into two kinds; chattels real, and chattels personal.(e)
1. Chattels real, saith Sir Edward Coke,(f) are such as concern, or savour of, the realty; as terms for years of land, wardships in chivalry, (while the military tenures subsisted,) the next presentation to a church, estates by a statute-merchant, statute-staple, elegit, or the like; of all which we have already spoken. And these are called real chattels, as being interests issuing out of, or annexed to, real estates: of which they have one quality, viz., immobility, which denominates them real; but want the other, viz., a sufficient, legal, indeterminate duration; and this want it is that constitutes them chattels. The utmost period for which they can last is fixed and determinate, either for such a space of time certain, or till such a particular sum of money be raised out of such a particular income; so that they are not equal in the eye of the law to the lowest estate of freehold, a lease for another’s life: their tenants were considered upon feodal principles as merely bailiffs or farmers; and the tenant of the freehold might at any time have destroyed their interest, till the reign of Henry VIII.(g) A freehold, which alone is a real estate, and seems (as has been said) to answer to the fief in Normandy, is conveyed by corporal investiture and *[*387livery of seisin; which gives the tenant so strong a hold of the land, that it never after can be wrested from him during his life, but by his own act of voluntary transfer, or of forfeiture; or else by the happening of some future contingency, as in estates pur auter vie, and the determinable freeholds mentioned in a former chapter.(h) And even these, being of an uncertain duration, may by possibility last for the owner’s life; for the law will not presuppose the contingency to happen before it actually does, and till then the estate is to all intents and purposes a life-estate, and therefore a freehold interest. On the other hand, a chattel interest in lands, which the Normans put in opposition to fief, and we to freehold, is conveyed by no seisin or corporal investiture, but the possession is gained by the mere entry of the tenant himself; and it will certainly expire at a time prefixed and determined, if not sooner. Thus a lease for years must necessarily fail at the end and completion of the term; the next presentation to a church is satisfied and gone the instant it comes into possession, that is, by the first avoidance and presentation to the living; the conditional estates by statutes and elegit are determined as soon as the debt is paid; and so guardianships in chivalry expired of course the moment that the heir came of age. And if there be any other chattel real, it will be found to correspond with the rest in this essential quality, that its duration is limited to a time cortain, beyond which it cannot subsist.2
2. Chattels personal are, properly and strictly speaking, things movable; which may be annexed to or attendant on the person of the owner, and carried about with him from one part of the world to another. Such are animals, household stuff, money, jewels, corn, garments, and every thing else that can properly be put in motion and transferred from place to place. And of this kind of chattels it is that we are principally to speak in the remainder of this book; having been unavoidably led to consider the nature of chattels real, and their incidents, in the former chapters, which were **388]employed upon real estates; that kind of property being of a mongrel amphibious nature, originally endowed with one only of the characteristics of each species of things; the immobility of things real, and the precarious duration of things personal.
Chattel interests being thus distinguished and distributed, it will be proper to consider, first, the nature of that property, or dominion, to which they are liable; which must be principally, nay, solely, referred to personal chattels: and, secondly, the title to that property, or how it may be lost and acquired. Of each of these in its order.
[1 ] See, in general, as to what is personal property, Com. Dig. Biens; Vin. Abr. Property; and 2 Roper on Legacies, ch. 16, sect. 1. See 387, post. “Chattels” are real or personal. Co. Litt. 118, b. Chattels real are such as concern the realty, as a term for years. Id. Chattels personal are cattle, stuff, &c.; fowls, tame or reclaimed; deer; coneys, tame; fish in a trunk; tithes severed from the nine parts; trees sold or reserved upon a sale, (Hob. 173,) and emblements. Com. Dig. Biens, A. 2. The terms “goods and chattels” include choses in action as well as those in possession. 12 Co. 1. 1 Atk. 182. But a bill of exchange, mortgage, bond, and banker’s receipt will not pass by a bequest of all the testator’s “property” in a particular house, though cash and bank-notes would have passed, they being quasi cash; for bills, bonds, &c. are mere evidence of title to things out of the house and not things in it. 1 Sch. & Lef. 318. 11 Ves. 662. The term “chattels” is more comprehensive than goods, and will include animate as well as inanimate property. The term “goods” will not include fixtures; but the word “effects” may embrace the same. 7 Taunt. 188. 4 J. B. Moore, 73. 4 B. & A. 206. Invalid exchequer-bills are securities and effects within the meaning of 15 Geo. II. c. 13. 1 New R. 1. The terms “effects, both real and personal,” in a will, pass freehold estates and all chattels real and personal. 3 Bro. P. C. 388. As to trees, see Com. Dig. Biens, H. 2 Saund. index, Trees. Bridgm. index, tit. Timber. When severed, or contracted to be severed, from the land, they pass as personal property. Hob. 173. 11 Co. 50. Com. Dig. Biens. [Editor: illegible character] Toller’s L. Ex. 195, 196.—Chitty.
[(a) ] 1 Inst. 118.
[(b) ] Dufresne, ii. 409.
[(c) ] C. 87.
[(d) ]Il conviendroit quil fust non mouuable et de duree a lous iours, fol. 107, a.
[(e) ] So too in the Norman law, Cateux sont meubles et immeubles: si corime vrais meubles sont qui transporter se peuvent, et ensuivir le corps; immeubles sont choses qui ne peuvent ensuivir le corps, ni estre transporters, et tout ce qui n’est point en heritage. LL. Will. Nothi, 4, apud Dufresne, ii. 409.
[(f) ] 1 Inst. 118.
[(g) ] See page 142.
[(h) ] Page 120.
[2 ] It is a rule of the law of England, in common with that of most other nations, that the title by succession to personal property, wherever it is situated, shall be determined by the law of the domicil of the deceased owner. 1 H. Bla. 670. 5 Ves. 750. 5 B. & C. 451. 1 Hagg. 474, 498. 8 Sim. 310. But it has been denied by a justly-esteemed writer that this rule extends to chattels real, on the ground that the treatment of such property as personalty is peculiar to our own law. 1 Jarm., Wills, 4. 2 id. 740. The point appears to be unaffected by decision, and is perhaps open to argument on both sides. See 2 P. Wms. 622.—Sweet.