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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 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.
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 Re- 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.
and corrected by Lord Chancellor Nottingham. Like the reports of Lord Coke, they are defective in method and precision, and are replete with copious legal discussions. Hobart was chief justice of the C. B., and a very great lawyer. Judge Jenkins, the contemporary of Coke and Hobart, has given us, in the preface to his reports, an exalted eulogy on those distinguished men, and the biographical sketch of their characters is peculiarly animated and lively. Jenkins compiled his reports, or centuries, (as he quaintly terms them,) during the tumult of the civil wars under Charles I. and the commonwealth; and they resemble more a digest of decisions after the manner of Fitzherbert and Brooke, than regular reports of adjudged cases. From his intemperate language, and hard fate, it is evident he was a zealous royalist, and had provoked the resentment of his enemies. He composed his work, as he says, when he was "broken with old age and confinement in prison where his fellow subjects, grown wild with rage, had detained him for fifteen years, and that he was surrounded with an odious multitude of barbarians." He renders a just tribute
of veneration to the memory of Lord Coke and Lord Hobart, as two men who had furnished surprising light to the professors of the law. They were judges of great authority and dignity, who, to the most accurate eloquence, joined a superlative knowledge of the laws, and consummate integrity, and whose names, he said, would flourish as long as the laws and the kingdom should endure. Lord Hobart, as he continues to observe, was adorned with the brightest endowments, and a piercing understanding, and he had always equity before his eyes. Lord Coke was a judge whom power could not break nor favour bend. He enjoyed the smiles and frowns of the court by turns, and possesed an immense fortune, which he had honestly acquired. The only thing objected to him as a fault was, that he was thought to go too great lengths with the republican party; but he admits that he died in the highest estimation.
Croke's Reports of decisions in the courts of law in the Croke. reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles, are a work of credit and celebrity among the old reporters. They commence about the time that Dyer ended, and were first published under the protectorate of Cromwell. From the character of the judge, his gravity, learning, diligence, and advantages, and from the precision and brevity of his cases, these reports have sustained their character in every succeeding age, and are, to this day, familiarly referred to, as an authentic depository of the rules of the common law.
The reports of Yelverton are a small collection of select Yelverton. cases, in the latter part of the 'reign of Elizabeth, and the first ten years of the reign of James. He was a judge of the C. B., and one of the most eminent lawyers of that age, and which was truly the Augustan age of the old common Jaw learning. These reports have been lately recommended to the notice of the American lawyer, by a new edition published in this country, and enriched with copious, valuable, and accurate notes, by Mr. Metcalf.
In the reign of Charles II. the most distinguished of the Saunders. reports are those of Chief Justice Saunders. They are confined to decisions in the K. B. for the space of six years, between the 18th and 24th years of the reign of Charles II., and contain the pleadings and entries in the cases decided, as well as the arguments of counsel, and the judgment of the court. They are recommended for the accuracy of the entries, and the concise, clear, and pointed method of decision; and are particularly valuable to the practising lawyer, as a book of precedents as well as of decisions. They have always been esteemed the most accurate and valuable reports of that age, and this is the character which has been repeatedly given of them by the judges in modern times.* A new edition of these reports was published in 1799 by Serjeant Williams, with very copious notes, which, in many
a 3 Burr. 1730. 2 Bos. & Pull, 23.