A Pioneer in Legal Scholarship

By Shiffman, Stuart H. | Judicature, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

A Pioneer in Legal Scholarship


Shiffman, Stuart H., Judicature


A pioneer in legal scholarship Frederick Pollock and the English Juristic Tradition, by Neil Duxbury. Oxford University Press. 2004. 360 pages. $125.

If the Gaelic adage "A man is known by the company he keeps," applied to Frederick Pollock, shelves of books would have been written about his life and contributions to the law. Instead, the man who numbered among his contemporaries such giants of the law as EW. Maitland and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. remains an overlooked figure by legal historians and biographers. Frederic Pollock and the English Juristic Tradition by Neil Duxbury is perhaps the maiden foray into recognizing the contributions of Pollock to English common law doctrine and ultimately to English and American jurisprudence.

In a brief opening biographical chapter Duxbury traces Pollock's life and legal accomplishments. He was educated at Eton and at Trinity College in Cambridge. Despite his 20-year tenure as professor of jurisprudence at Oxford, Pollock never relinquished his academic allegiance to Trinity because it was there that his love of scholarship was instilled. Following in the career path of his grandfather and father, Pollock became a member of Lincoln Inn in 1868 and was admitted to the bar in 1871. Unlike his ancestors who were members of the Inner Temple, Pollock sought entry to Lincoln's Inn because it was the home for many Chancery practitioners. In his memoirs Pollock recalled, "my father considered (and I suppose my grandfather agreed) that the Chancery branch would suit me better with my scholarly tastes."

After a dozen years in the practice of law, Pollock became a professor of law at the University of London. It was not an auspicious beginning. Assuming for his students a level of knowledge that they had not yet attained apparently made his lectures and classes less than popular. He left the university after one year.

But London's loss was to be Oxford's gain. In 1883, Pollock succeeded Sir Henry Maine as the university's Corpus Professor of Jurisprudence. At Oxford his scholarly career flourished. From 1885 to 1919 he was editor of the Law Quarterly Review and editor-in-chief of the Law Reports from 1895 to 1935. Along with his colleague FW. Maitland he collaborated on The History of English Law. His friendship with American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes led to regular correspondence memorialized in the publication of The Holmes Pollock Letters in 1941, six years after Pollock's death. To some degree, every lawyer educated in the common law tradition has been exposed to the jurisprudence and legal theories of Frederick Pollock.

A watershed period

The concluding decades of the ninteenth century represent a watershed period in the development and study of law in common law nations. Both England and America experienced major changes in how law was taught and studied. Rather than learning the law in the environment of English chambers or American law offices, aspiring attorneys moved to the laboratory of law schools that blossomed in both countries. Law would henceforth be taught as a science. …

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