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not exhibit deep traces of the progress of society, as well as of the footsteps of time. The ancient reporters are going very fast not only out of use, but out of date, and almost out of recollection. The modern reports, and the latest of the modern, are the most useful, because they contain the last, and, it is to be presumed, the most correct exposition of the law, and the most judicious application of abstract and eternal principles of right to the refinements of property. They are likewise accompanied by illustrations best adapted to the inquisitive and cultivated reason of the present age. But the old reporters cannot be entirely neglected, and I shall devote the remainder of this lecture to a short historical review of the principal reporters prior to the present times. No one ought to read a book, said M. Lami, (and the remark has peculiar application to law books,) unless he knows something of the author, and when he wrote, and the character of the work, and the character of the edition.
For the sake of perspicuity and convenient arrangement, we will divide the reports into two classes : those that preceded, and those that are subsequent to the year 1688. I select that period, because the distinction between the old and new law seems then to be more distinctly marked. The cumbersome and oppressive appendages of the feudal tepures were abolished in the reign of Charles II., and the spirit of modern improvement, and of commercial policy, began then to be more sensibly felt, and more actively diffused. The appointment of that great and honest lawyer, Lord Holt, to the station of chief justice of the King's Bench, gave a new tone and impulse to the vigour of the common law. The despotism of the Stuarts was abolished for ever, and the civil and political liberties of the English nation were more explicitly acknowledged and defined, at the accession of the house of Orange. The old reporters
« Enlrcliens sur les Sciénces, ei sur la maniére d'eluiier.
will include all the reports from the Year Books down to that period; and we will, in the first place, bestow upon those of them which are the most distinguished, a cursory glance and rapid review.
The oldest reports extant on the English law, are the Year Books, which consist of eleven parts or volumes, written in law French, and extend from the beginning of the reign of Edward II, to the latter end of the reign of Henry VIII., a period of about two hundred years. There are a few broken cases, which may be gleaned from the old abridgments, and particularly from Fitzherbert, which go back to the reign of Henry III. The Year Books were printed by subscription in 1679; but they have never been translated, and they are not worth the labour and expense either of a new edition or a translation. The substance of the Year Books was afterwards included in the great abridgments of Statham, Fitzherbert, and Brooke, and those compilations superseded in a considerable degree the use of them. The Year Books were very much occupied with discussions touching the forms of writs, and the pleadings and practice in real actions, which have gone entirely out of use. In a late case in the C. B. the judges spoke with some sharpness of reproof against going back to the Year Books in search of a precedent in the case of levying a fine. The great authenticity and accuracy of the Year Books arose from the manner in which they were composed. There were four reporters appointed to thạt duty, and they had a yearly stipend from the crown, and they used to confer together, and the reports being settled by so many persons of approved diligence and learning, deservedly carried great credit with them. But so great have been the changes since the feudal ages, in the character of property, the business of civil life, and the practice of the courts, that the
a 2 Tuunton, 201.
great mass of curious learning and technical questions contained in the Year Books, has sunk into oblivion ; and it will be no cause of regret if that learning be destined never to be reclaimed. The Year Books have now become nearly obsolete, and they are valuable only to the antiquary and historian, as a faithful portrait of ancient customs and manners."
The Year Books ended in the reign of Henry VIII., be- Dyer. cause persons were no longer appointed to the task of reporting, with the allowance of a fixed salary. Private lawyers then undertook the business of reporting for their own use, or for the purpose of publication. Many English lawyers have regretted that the practice of appointing public reporters, with a stipulated compensation, was not continued, as it would have relieved the profession from many hasty and inaccurate reports, which have greatly increased the uncertainty of the law. The reports of Dyer relate to the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth. They have always been held in high estimation, for Dyer presided as chief justice of the C. B. for upwards of twenty years, and was distinguished for learning, ability, and firmness. His reports were afterwards enriched by marginal notes of Chief Justice Treby, and which are said by Mr. Justice Buller to be good law. The work was compiled in law French, and published in an English translation in 1793, with the notes.
Plowden's Commentaries embrace the same period as the Plowden. reports of Dyer. They bear as high a reputation for accuracy as any ancient book of reports, though Lord Coke said he had discovered four cases in Plowden which were erroneous. Plowden gives the pleadings in those cases in
a In 1 Barnewall & Cresswell, 410. the Court of King's Bench decided a case chiefly upon the authority of a citation from the Year Book of 42 Edw. III.; but such a reference is rare.
6 3 Term, 84.
which judgment was entered ; and the arguments of counsel, and the decisions on the bench, very much at large. They were first published in 1578, and taken originally, as he says, for his private use. But he took great pains in rendering his work accurate, and he reported nothing but what had been debated and decided upon demurrer, or special verdict; and his reports were likewise submitted to the inspection of the serjeants and judges. The work is, therefore, distinguished for its authenticity and accuracy, and, though not of so dramatic a character as much of the Year Books, it is exceedingly interesting and instructive, by the evidence it affords of the extensive learning, sound doctrine, and logical skill of the ancient English bar.
Lord Coke's reports, in 13 parts or volumes, are confined Coke's Ro- to the reigns of Elizabeth and James, and deservedly stand
at the head of the ancient reports, as an immense repository of common law learning. The first eleven books of his reports contain about 500 cases, and were published in his lifetime, and he took care to report and publish only what he calls leading cases, and conducive to the public quiet. Lord Bacon said, that had it not been for Sir Edward Coke's reports, the law in that age would have been atmost like a ship without ballast; and that though “ they had extrajudicial resolutions, they did contain infinite good decisions.” Much of the various and desultory learning in these reports is law to this day, and the most valuable of the cases reported, have been selected, and recommended to the attention of the American student, by Professor Hoffman, of the university of Maryland, in his “Course of legal study." When these reports were published, between 1600 and 1615, there were no other prior reports, but the Year Books, Dyer, and Plowden. Lord Coke said, that he endeavoured, in his reports, to avoid obscurity, ambiguity, and prolixity. It is singular that he should have so egregiously failed in his purpose. The want of methodical arrangement and lucid order, is so manifest in his reports,
and he abounds so greatly in extrajudicial dicta and collateral discussions, that he is distinguished above most other reporters, for the very defects he intended to avoid. It is often very difficult to separate the arguments of counsel from the reasons and decisions of the court, and to ascertain precisely the point adjudged. This, probably, gave occasion to Ireland and Manley's Abridgment of Lord Coke's Reports, in which they undertake to detach from the work all the collateral discussion and learning, and to give only the “very substance and marrow" of the reports. A work of this kind may be convenient in the hurry of research, but I believe no accurate lawyer would ever be content to repose himself upon such a barren account of a decision, without looking into the reason and authorities on which it was founded. With all their defects, Lord Coke's Reports are a standard work of that age, and they alone are sufficient to have discharged him from that great obligation of duty with which he said he was bound to his profession. When Coke's Reports were first published, they gave much offence to King James, as containing many doctrines which were deemed too free and injurious to the prerogative of the crown; and the king commanded Lord Coke to strike out the offensive parts, and he also referred the work to his judges to be corrected. But Lord Coke was too independent in spirit, and he had too high a regard to truth and law, to gratify the king on this subject; and he was, for this and other causes, removed from the office of Chief Justice of the K. B.
Hobart's Reports of cases, in the time of James I., were printed in 1646, and in a subsequent age they were revised
a We have Lord Coke's authority on the very point. " The advised and orderly reading over of the books at large, I absolutely determine to be the right way to enduring and perfect knowledge; and to use abridgments as tables, and to trust only to the books at large.” Dedication of Coke's Reports to the Reader, p. 11.
b Lord Bacon's Works, vol. 6. 121. 128, 132. 173.