He who sticks to the letter sticks to the bark ; or, He who considers the letter merely of an instrument cannot comprehend its meaning.
All old law writers, and who are, in fact, the makers of law maxims, say, that reason is law, and that without reason there is no law ; and, that that which is contrary to reason is contrary to law. So, the meaning of this maxim is, that to understand the letter of the law the reason of it must be known ; and to judge of the letter only of a document without knowing the reason of it, is but to have a superficial knowledge of its meaning ; and in all cases where it can, without infringing upon other more important rules, this rule will be applied.
The construction of deeds must be reasonable and agreeable to common understanding ; and where the intention is clear, too much stress must not be laid upon the precise signification of the words : “Quoties in verbis nulla est ambiguitas, ibi nulla expositio contra verba fienda est.” Thus a lessee is not liable for a breach of covenant to repair committed before the execution of the lease by the lessor, though subsequently to the day from which the habendum states the term to commence. On the other hand, where by an agreement under seal for a lease of copyholds, to be granted so soon as a licence could be obtained from the lord of the manor, the defendant covenanted that he would from time to time, during the term to be granted as aforesaid, keep the premises in repair ; and the defendant entered and occupied during the term agreed to be granted ; he was held liable to repair according to the agreement, though no lease had been made to him, nor licence obtained from the lord. Again, in an action of trover, where the defendant sought to stay further proceedings upon bringing the specific goods into court, and upon payment of costs; and where it was objected by the plaintiff that that could not be, inasmuch as the court did not keep a warehouse ; “the Court said that a warehouse had nothing to do with ordering the thing to be delivered to the plaintiff ; that money paid into court was payment to the plaintiff, and that the reason and spirit of cases made the law, not the letter of particular precedents.
Under a deed of arrangement in bankruptcy, where a composition was to be paid in cash and in promissory notes, but some of the Creditors had been paid all cash, and it was objected that such a departure from the terms of the deed rendered it inoperative against non assenting creditors ; it was held that such was not the case, and that payment in advance rendered payment in notes useless ; and it was observed that, in the absence of fraud, a release by one of the creditors of his instalment would be a compliance with the terms of the composition ; the contrary conclusion being absurd, the main object of the deed being payment of the creditors, and they being satisfied, the detail might be treated as immaterial.
The rule, “Mala grammatica non vitiat chartem, ” and others of a like nature, may with propriety be considered in connection with this maxim ; in the application of which it was held, that, where a bill of sale was made by ID on the 29th June, wherein the maker was described as “gentleman,” and who on the 3rd July commenced business as an agent, and continued so until after the 16th July, the day when the bill of sale was filed, the affidavit verifying the bill of sale bearing date the same day, the maker being therein described as ” the said ID is a gentleman ;“ this variance did not vitiate the bill of sale.