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Judicial character, whose title to the admiration of his Countrymen renders him worthy to be ranked with your Lord Bacon, and Edward Coke. I do not anticipate any praise for that part of the publication which is my own, but shall be highly gratified by your accepting the dedication of it as a testimony of my gratitude and friendship.
I have the honor to be
with the highest respect,
your most obedient Servant,
A NÉw edition of Fortescue's treatise “ De Laudibus Legum Angliæ.” appeared to the Editor an useful undertaking, not only because he considered that copies of the work had become scarce and expensive, but also on account of the intrinsic value . of the matter it contained. In the present edition will be found the Translation published in the year 1775; together with the original composition in Latin subjoined. A few notes are added; in which an endeavour has been made to point out rather than to pursue those channels of investigation which seemed requisite for elucidating the text, or for illustrating it by shewing its relation to the History, Antiquities, and Jurisprudence of the Country.
In examining the merit of this small tract of Fortescue, and the claim which it possesses upon public attention, it will be remembered with what respect it has been cited by the most eminent personages, whose names adorn our judicial annals, Coke, Somers, Holt, Blackstone. In many of the most momentous questions which have been agitated in Parliament and in the Courts of Westminster Hall, a powerful appeal has been made to the authority of this treatise. Neither can the character or the situation of the Author fail of imparting an additional interest to it. He was a person who filled the office of Chief Justice of England with great reputation, during a considerable period of the reign of Hen. VI. When he was composing his work “ De Laudibus Legum Angliæ,” he occupied, like Clarendon, the station of Lord High Chancellor, by the appointment of a Sovereign who had been deprived of his throne: And both those illustrious legal characters were conspicuous for making the instruction of their countrymen the object of their. meditations in exile. Fortescue conceived that he was pursuing a judicious course for securing the future happiness of the English Nation, in forming the character of the Heir Apparent to the throne, and acquainting him with the duties of a Patriot King: a task which in later times, even Hampden did not look upon as derogatory to his talents, or incompatible with his independence.
Philosophy has undergone almost a new birth since the period when Fortescue wrote ; education has received much improvement; the stores of learning have been augmented; experience has instructed and enlightened the present generation by the example of the ages that are past: It will not therefore be thought surprising that the reflections which the wisest of our ancestors have transmitted to us should often appear to our understandings puerile or ridiculous, the result of contracted or prejudiced views. Nevertheless the
opinions and feelings of antiquity must be made an object of research, if we wish to arrive at an intimate knowledge of laws, considered as a criterion of the wants and the sentiments of a people. Lord Bacon has remarked that historians afford us a very imperfect light in this enquiry, “ Versatur infelicitas quædam inter historicos vel optimos, ut legibus et actis judicialibus non satis commorentur, aut si forte diligentiam quandam adhibuerint, tamen ab authenticis longe varient.” Whereas the writings of Fortescue present an interesting picture, drawn from what was passing under his immediate view, of the political, moral, religious and physical situation of the Country connected with its jurisprudence. It is from these circumstances, more than from books of Statutes and Reports, that the origin of national laws is to be discovered, their spirit and meaning to be collected, their excellence to be appreciated, and the blind veneration which often attends them to be dissipated. A previous enquiry concerning the original sources of national law is surely necessary for unfolding the design and the principles of our earlier legal institutions, and must afford great facilities towards the comprehending those parts of the present fabric of our Jurisprudence, of which the construction is of an ancient date, or which have been fashioned after the ancient model. Considering that in the present treatise of Fortescue, are laid before the reader the
materials which may assist in composing a philosophical history of the law, whilst the sentiments of our ancestors are there recorded upon the deeply important subjects of religion, government, and the administration of Justice, we shall perhaps not think the value of the work to have been overrated by Sir William Jones, who ascribed to it the preciousness of gold.
The benefit resulting from the perusal of Fortescue's treatise will be deemed of paramount utility, if it has the effect of cherishing in the minds of reflecting men those principles of government and civil obedience, which it inculcates, and which are admirably calculated to unite a Sovereign and his people by the ties of mutual interest, and of reciprocal protection and dependence. If these principles were first promulgated by Fortescue
Sir W. Jones, in recommending to a learned foreigner the works from which a knowledge of the English Constitution might be best collected, says,
Alter, libellus est, de quo dici potest id quod de fluvio Teleboâ scripsit Xenophon, Meyas mev ov; kalos 8€. Auctor fuit Angliæ Cancellarius sub rege Henrico sexto, et ob turbulenta tempora, cum alumno suo principe Edwardo, in Galliam fugit; ubi, cum esset summâ senectute, aureolum hunc dialogum contexuit. Certe leges nostræ, ut in illo libro videbis, persapienter sunt compositæ, ut ait Pindarus,
Νομος και παντων βασιλευς