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Rudolf von Jhering

Rudolf von Jhering (August 22, 1818 - September 17, 1892), German jurist, was born in Aurich in East Friesland, where his father practised as a lawyer.

Young Jhering entered the university of Heidelberg in 1836 and, after the fashion of German students, visited successively Göttingen and Berlin. G.F. Puchta, the author of Geschichte des Rechts bei dem römischen Volke, alone of all his teachers appears to have gained his admiration and influenced the bent of his mind. After graduating doctor juris, Jhering established himself in 1844 at Berlin as Privatdozent for Roman law, and delivered public lectures on the Geist des römischen Rechts, the theme which may be said to have constituted his life's work. In 1845 he became an ordinary professor at Basel, in. 1846 at Rostock, in 1849 at Kiel, and in 1851 at Giessen.

Upon all these seats of learning he left his mark; beyond any other of his contemporaries he animated the dry bones of Roman law. The German juristic world was still under the dominating influence of the Savigny cult, and the older school looked askance at the daring of the young professor, who essayed to adapt the old to new exigencies and to build up a system of natural jurisprudence. This is the keynote of his famous work, Geist des römischen Rechts auf den verschiedenen Stufen seiner Entwickelung (1852-1865), which for originality of conception and lucidity of scientific reasoning placed its author in the forefront of modern Roman jurists. It is no exaggeration to say that in the second half of the 19th century the reputation of Jhering was as high as that of Savigny in the first. Their methods were almost diametrically opposed. Savigny and his school represented the conservative, historical tendency. In Jhering the philosophical conception of jurisprudence, as a science to be utilized for the further advancement of the moral and social interests of mankind, was predominant.

In 1868 Jhering accepted the chair of Roman Law at Vienna, where his lecture-room was crowded, not only with regular students but with men of all professions and even of the highest ranks in the official world. He became one of the lions of society, the Austrian emperor conferring upon him in 1872 a title of hereditary nobility. But to a mind constituted like his, the social functions of the Austrian metropolis became wearisome, and he gladly exchanged its brilliant circles for the repose of Göttingen, where he became professor in 1872. In this year he had read at Vienna before an admiring audience a lecture, published under the title of Der Kampf um's Recht (1872; Eng. trans., Battle for Right, 1884). Its success was extraordinary. Within two years it attained twelve editions, and it has been translated into twenty-six languages. This was followed a few years later by Der Zweck im Recht (2 vols., 1877-1883).

In these two works is clearly seen Jhering's individuality. The Kampf um's Recht shows the firmness of his character, the strength of his sense of justice, and his juristic method and logic: "to assert his rights is the duty that every responsible person owes to himself." In the Zweck im Recht is perceived the bent of the author's intellect. But perhaps the happiest combination of all his distinctive characteristics is to be found in his Jurisprudenz des täglichen Lebens (1870; Eng. trans., 1904). A great feature of his lectures was his so-called Praktika, problems in Roman law, and a collection of these with hints for solution was published as early as 1847 under the title Civilrechtsfalle ohne Entscheidungen.

In Göttingen he continued to work until his death on the 17th of September 1892. A short time previously be had been the centre of a devoted crowd of friends and former pupils, assembled at Wilhelmshöhe near Kassel to celebrate the jubilee of his doctorate. Almost all countries were worthily represented, and this pilgrimage affords an excellent illustration of the extraordinary fascination and enduring influence that Jhering commanded. In appearance he was of middle stature, his face clean-shaven and of classical mould, lit up with vivacity and beaming with good nature. He was perhaps seen at his best when dispensing hospitality in his own house. With him died the best beloved and the most talented of Roman-law professors of modern times. It was said of him by Professor Adolf Merkel[?] in a memorial address, R. v. Jhering (1893), that he belonged to the happy class of persons to whom Goethe's lines are applicable: "Was ich in der Jugend gewünscht, das habe ich im Alter die Fülle," and this may justly be said of him, though he did not live to complete his Geist des römischen Rechts and his Rechtsgeschichte. For this work the span of a single life would have been insufficient, but what he has left to the world is a monument of vigorous intellectual power and stamps Jhering as an original thinker and unrivalled exponent (in his peculiar interpretation) of the spirit of Roman law.

Among others of his works, all of them characteristic of the author and sparkling with wit, may be mentioned the following: Beiträge zür Lehre von Besitz, first published in the Jahrbücher für die Dogmatik des heutigen romischen und deutschen Privatrechts, and then separately; Der Besitzwille, and an article entitled "Besitz" in the Handwörterbuch der Staatswissenschaften (1891), which aroused at the time much controversy, particularly on account of the opposition manifested to Savigny's conception of the subject. See also Scherz und Ernst in der Jurisprudenz (1885); Des Schuldmoment im römischen Privatrecht (1867); Das Trinkgeld (1882); and among the papers he left behind him his Vorgeschiche der Indoeuropäer, a fragment, has been published by von Ehrenberg (I 894). See for an account of his life also M de Jonge, Rudolf v. Jhering (1888); and A Merkel, Rudolf von Jhering (1893).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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