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and he maintained his equitable jurisdiction with a high hand, and exercised his authority over every thing which could be a subject of judicial inquiry, and decided with very little regard to the common law. This conduct in his judicial capacity was one of the grounds of accusation against him when he was impeached. Under his successor, Sir Thomas More, who was the first chancellor that ever had the requisite legal education, business rose again with rapidity, and to such extent as to require the assistance of a master of the rolls. He allowed injunctions so freely, as to displease the common law judges, though he acted always with great ability and integrity. To show how wonderfully business in chancery had increased by the time of Lord Bacon, we need only recur to the fact which he gives us himself, that he made two thousand orders and decrees in a year; and yet we have not a single decision of his reported.
Those decisions, if well and faithfully reported, would doubtless have presented to the world a clear illustration and masterly display of many principles of equity since greatly considered and discussed; for even upon dry technical rules and points of law, he shed the illuminations of his mighty mind.
In West's Symboleography, a work published at the close of Elizabeth's reign, we have divers curious and authentic precedents of the process, and bills, and answers in chancery, prior to the time of Bacon. We have, also, in the same work, a brief digest of the powers and jurisdiction of the court, from which it would appear, that equity was regarded in that day as a matter of arbitrary conscience, unencumbered by any rules or principles of law. No cases are cited to show what the authority was, but such as were gleaned from the Year Books, and the treatises of the Doc
a Reeves' History of the English Law, vol. 4. p. 368–377. b Bacon's Works, vol. 4. p. 580.
Earliest Chancery Reports.
tor and Student, and of the Diversity of Courts. It was not until after the restoration, that any reports of adjudged cases in chancery were published. The volumes, entitled, “Reports of Cases taken and adjudged in the Court of Chancery in the reign of Charles I., Charles II., James II., William III., and Queen Anne," commence with the reign of Charles I., and contain the earliest adjudged cases in equity. But that work, and another contemporary work of the same character, entitled, "Cases argued and adjudged in the High Court of Chancery," are both of them, in their general character, loose, meagre, and inaccurate reports, of not much weight or authority. But the report of some cases decided by Lord Chancellor Cowper, in the third and last volume of the Reports in Chancery, and the great case of the Duke of Norfolk, and the case of Bath and Montague, at the conclusion of the Cases in Chancery, are distinguished exceptions to this complaint, and those great cases are fully and very interestingly reported. In the latter part of the reign of Charles II., Lord Chancellor Nottingham raised the character of the court to high reputation, and established both its jurisprudence and its jurisdiction upon wide and rational foundations. We have but few reports of his decisions that are worthy of his fame. They are dispersed through several works of inferior authority. It is from his time, however, that equity became a regular and cultivated science, and the judicial decisions in chancery are to be carefully studied.
Vernon's Reports are the best of the old reports in chancery. They were published from his manuscripts, after his death, by order of Chancellor King, and were found to be quite imperfect and inaccurate. In 1806, Mr. Raithby favoured the profession with a new and excellent edition of Vernon, enriched by learned notes, and accurate extracts from the register's books, so that the volumes assumed a new dress and more unquestionable authenticity. Those reports include part of the judicial administration of Lord Nottingham, and the whole of the time of Lord Somers;
but they give us nothing equal to the reputation of those
Moseley's Reports of Cases during the time of Lord King, Moseley. have received a various and contradictory character and treatment. Lord Mansfield said it was a book not to be quoted; but Lord Eldon, who is presumed to have been a better judge of the merits of the work, says, that Moseley is a book of considerable accuracy. It is fortunate that we have even so imperfect a view of the decisions of Lord King, who was an eminent scholar, and to whom Mr. Locke bequeathed his papers and library.
Lord Talbot presided in chancery but a very few years. Talbot. He was a pure and exalted character, who died in the vigour of his age, and his loss was lamented as a great national calamity. The cases during his time, under the title of Cases tempore Talbot, are well reported, and have a reputation for accuracy.
a 1 Vesey, jr. 547. 3 Vesey, 285. 5 Vesey, 664.
Lord Hardwicke, the successor of Lord Talbot, held the great seal for upwards of twenty years, and the present wise and rational system of English equity jurisprudence, owes more to him than perhaps to any of his predecessors. Vesey and His decisions are reported in the elder Vesey, and Atkyns, and partly in Ambler, and Dickens; and though none of them are eminent reporters, either for accuracy or precision in the statements of the cases, or in giving the judgment of court, yet the value of his opinions, and the great extent of his learning, and the solidity of his judgment, have been sufficiently perceived and understood. There is no judge in the juridical annals of England, whose judicial character has received greater and more constant homage. His knowledge of the law, said a very competent judge, was most extraordinary, and he was a consummate master of the profession. His decisions, at this day, and in our own courts, do undoubtedly carry with them a more commanding weight of authority than those of any other judge; and the best editions of the elder Vesey and Atkyns will continue to fix the attention and study of succeeding ages.
Eden's Reports of the decisions of Lord Northington, the successor to Lord Hardwicke, are very authentic, and highly esteemed. They surpass in accuracy the reports either of Ambler or Dickens within the same period, and the authority of Lord Northington is very great, and it arose from the uncommon vigour and clearness of his understanding. The next book of reports of deserved celebrity is Brown, commencing with Lord Thurlow's appointment to the office of chancellor; and the high character of the court at that period, gave to those reports a very extensive authority and circulation, and for which they were indebted more to the reputation of the chancellor, than to any merit in the execution of the work. Cox's Cases in Chancery give us the
a Buller, J. in 6 East, 29. n. Sir J. Mansfield, in 5 Taunton, 64. 4 Vesey, 138. n. Pref. to Eden's Reports. 1 Sch. & Lef. 240. b Lord Kenyon, 7 Term, 416,
decisions of Lord Kenyon, while he was master of the rolls under Thurlow, as well as the decisions of the lord chancellor, during the same period. They were intended as a supplement to the reports of Brown and the younger Vesey, so far as those reports covered the period embraced by these cases, and they are neat, brief, and perspicuous reports, of unquestionable accuracy. A new and greatly improved edition has lately been published in New-York, under the superintendence of one of the masters in chancery.
The reports of the younger Vesey extend over a large Voy space of time, and contain the researches of Sir Richard Pepper Arden, as master of the rolls, and the whole of the decisions of Lord Loughborough, and carry us far into the time of Lord Eldon. These reports are distinguished for their copiousness and fidelity. The same character is due to the reports of his successors; and though great complaints have been made at the delay of causes, arising from the cautious and doubting mind of the present venerable lord chancellor of England, it seems to be universally conceded, that he bestows extraordinary diligence in the investigation of immense details of business, and arrives in the end at a correct conclusion, and displays a most comprehensive and familiar acquaintance with equity principles. It must, nevertheless, be admitted, that the reports of Lord Eldon's administration in equity, amounting to perhaps thirty volumes, and replete with attenuated discussion, and loose suggestions of doubts and difficulties, are enough to task very severely the patience of the profession.
There are recent reports of decisions in other departments of equity, which are deserving of great attention. The character of those branches of the equity jurisdiction, is eminently sustained; and the reported decisions of Lord Redesdale and Lord Manners, in the Irish Court of Chancery, are also to be placed on a level, in point of authority, with the best productions of the English bench.
Upon our American equity reports, I have only to observe, that, being decisions in cases arising under our domes