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instances, are distinct and elaborate essays on the subjects of which they treat. Lord Eldon has said, in reference to this edition, that to any one in a judicial situation, it would be sufficiently flattering to have it said of him, that he was as good a common lawyer as Sergeant Williams, and that no man ever lived, to whom the character of a great common lawyer more properly applied. I have no doubt of the merit of the edition, and of the great learning of the editor. The authorities, new and old, applicable to the subject, are industriously collected, and methodically arranged. But with all the praise justly due to the edition, it is liable to the great objection of making one of the old reporters the vehicle of voluminous dissertations. They introduce perplexity and confusion by their number and length. If such treatises were published by themselves, the student would know better where to find them; but when appended to a plain reporter, they seem to be out of place. Notes would appear to be more appropriate, if they were confined simply and drily to the illustration of the case in the text, and to show, by a reference to other decisions, how far it might still be regarded as an authority, and when and where it had been confirmed, or questioned, or extended, or restricted, or overruled. The convenience and economy of the profession would certainly be well consulted by this course. This edition of Saunders so far surpasses in extent and variety of learning, the original work, as to become a new work of itself, which might properly be denominated Williams' notes; and the venerable simplicity of the reporter is obscured and lost, in the commentaries of the annotator.
The reports of Chief Justice Vaughan contain some very interesting cases. He was a grave and excellent judge, and his reports consist chiefly of his own arguments and opinions, delivered while he was chief justice, and they are distinguished for great variety of learning. The reports of Sir Thomas Jones, who was also chief justice in the reign of Charles II.; of Sir Creswell Levinz, who was a judge of the
Value of the
C. B.; of Sir Geffrey Palmer, who was attorney general under Charles II.; of Lord Chief Justice Pollexfen, whose reports consist of cases argued by him while he was at the bar; and of Sir Wm. Jones, who was for twenty-two years a judge, are all of them works of authority, though a considerable part of the discussions and decisions which they record, ceases at this day to excite much attention, or to be very applicable to the new and varied course of human affairs. And, indeed, it may be here observed, that a very old reports. large proportion of the matter contained in the old reporters, prior to the English revolution, has become superseded, and is now cast into the shade, by the improvements of modern times; by the disuse of real actions, and of the subtleties of special pleadings; by the cultivation of maritime jurisprudence; by the growing value and variety of personal contracts; by the spirit of commerce, and the enlargement of equity jurisdiction; by the introduction of more liberal and enlightened views of justice and public policy; and, in short, by the study and influence of the civil law.
In perusing the old reports, we cannot but be struck with the long, laborious, and subtle arguments, and the great delay, which accompanied the investigation of points of law. Thus, for instance, the case of Stowell v. Zouch, in Plowden, was argued twice in the C. B., and then twice in the Exchequer Chamber, before all the judges of England. Calvin's case, in Coke, was argued first at the bar of the K. B. by counsel, then in the Exchequer Chamber, first by counsel, and then by all the judges. It was afterwards argued by counsel at two different times, and then by all the judges at the next term, upon four different days; and at another term thereafter, by all the judges on four different days. So again, in Manby & Richards v. Scott, in Levinz, the case was argued at the bar three several times, by distinct counsel each time, and afterwards by all the judges at the bench. It was quite common in former times to have a case spoken to at two, and three, and four several times, and each time at a different term, before judgment was rendered.
Lord Chief Justice Willes' reports, in the reign of George II., we find a case which was argued five times, and at five distinct terms, and the judgment was not rendered until the space of five years had elapsed from the first argument. It was not until the time of Lord Mansfield, that such repeated arguments were disused, and great despatch and unexampled facility and vigour given to the administration of justice. There were some advantages attending these repeated discussions, which served as a compensation for the delay and expense attending them. They tended to dissipate shadows and doubts, and to unite the opinions on the bench, and prevent that constant division among the judges, which has much weakened the authority of some of our American
From the era of the English revolution, the reports increase in value and importance; and they deal more in points of law applicable to the great changes in property, and the commerce and business of the present times. I shall not undertake to speak critically of the particular merits of the modern reports, for this would lead me into Modern Re-too extensive details. Those of Lord Raymond and Serjeant Salkeld embrace the reigns of William and Mary, and Queen Anne; and during that period Lord Chief Justice Holt gave lustre to the jurisprudence of his country. The reports of Sir John Strange, of Lord Chief Baron Comyns, of Lord Chief Justice Willes, and part of the reports of Serjeant Wilson, occupy the reigns of George I. and II. ; and they are all respectable, and the reports of Willes and Wilson, in particular, very accurate repositories of the judicial decisions of those reigns. The reports of Lord Raymond and of Serjeant Wilson are also peculiarly valuable to the pleader, for the many useful entries and forms of pleadings which accompany the cases. From that period, the English reports are to be read and studied with profound attention. The reports of Burrow, Cowper, and Douglass, contain the substance of Lord Mansfield's judicial decisions, and they are among the most interesting reports in the En
glish law. All the courts of law at Westminster have been filled with very eminent men, since the time of the accession of George III.; and we need only refer to the Term Reports, and to East, and his successors, as reporters to the King's Bench, and to Wilson, Henry Blackstone, Bosanquet & Puller, Taunton, and their successors in the C. B., for views and sketches of the English law in its most correct and cultivated state.
A still deeper interest must be felt by the American lawyer in the perusal of the judicial decisions of his own country. Our American reports contain an exposition of the common law, as received and modified in reference to the genius of our institutions. By that law we are governed and protected, and it cannot but awaken a correspondent attachment. But I need not undertake the invidious task of selection and discrimination among the numerous volumes of the reports of American decisions. Their relative character must be familiar to the profession, and it will be sufficient to advise the student to examine thoroughly, and to obtain the mastery of the principles of law, as expounded and declared by our more important tribunals, whether they be of federal or of state jurisdiction.
We have hitherto confined our attention to the reports of cases in the courts of common law. But the system of equity is equally to be found embodied in the reports of adjudged cases; and the maxims of the Court of Chancery Chancery are as fixed as those which govern other tribunals. That court is as much bound as a court of law, by a series of decisions, applicable to the case, and establishing a rule. It has no discretionary power over principles and established precedents; and Chancery has grown to be a jurisdiction of so much strict technical rule, that it is said by a distinguished writer on equity doctrines, that there are now many settled rules of equity which require to be moderated by the rules of good conscience, as much as the most rigorous rules of law did, before the chancellors interfered on equitable VOL. I. 62
grounds. A court of equity becomes, in the lapse of time, by gradual and almost imperceptible degrees, a court of strict technical jurisprudence, like a court of law. The binding nature of precedents in a court of equity was felt and acknowledged by Lord Keeper Bridgman, in the reign of Charles II. ; and in the case of The Earl of Montague v. Lord Bath, soon after the revolution, Lord Chief Justice Treby, who sat for the Lord Chancellor, declared, that the Court of Chancery was limited by the precedents and practice of former times, and that it was dangerous to extend its authority further. At this day, justice is administered in a court of equity upon as fixed and certain principles as in a court of law; and Lord Eldon has secured to himself a title to the reverence of his countrymen, for resisting the temptation so often pressed upon him, to make principles and precedents bend to the hardship of a particular case. In this country it is at least as important as in any other, that the administration of justice, both legal and equitable, should be stable and uniform; and especially if there be any weight in the opinion of an ancient English lawyer, that "variety of judgments, and novelty of opinions, were the two plagues of a commonwealth."d
We have no reports of chancery decisions until subsequent to the time of Lord Bacon. Anciently, the Court of Chancery administered justice according to what appeared to be the dictate of conscience as applied to the case, without any regard to law or rule; and great inconvenience and mischief must have been produced in the infancy of the court, by reason of the uncertainty and inconsistency of its decisions, flowing from the want of settled principles. The jurisdiction of the court was greatly enlarged in the time of Cardinal Wolsey, who was chancellor under Henry VIII.;
a Sugden's Letters to a Man of Property, p. 4.
b 1 Mod. 307.
c 3 Ch. Cas. 95.
d Pref. to Jenkins' Centuries.