Shaping the Common Law: From Glanvill to Hale, 1188-1688

Shaping the Common Law: From Glanvill to Hale, 1188-1688

Shaping the Common Law: From Glanvill to Hale, 1188-1688

Shaping the Common Law: From Glanvill to Hale, 1188-1688


In a series of fifteen vivid essays, this book discusses the contributions of great common-law jurists and singular documents- namely the Magna Carta and the Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts- that have shaped common law, from its origins in twelfth-century England to its arrival in the American colonies.

Featured jurists include such widely recognized figures as Glanvill, Francis Bacon, Sir Edward Coke, and John Selden, as well as less known but influential writers like Richard Hooker, Michael Dalton, William Hudson, and Sir Matthew Hale. Across the essays, the jurists' personalities are given voice, the context of time and events made clear, and the continuing impact of the texts emphasized. Taken as a whole, the book offers a simple reverence for the achievements of these men and law books and a deep respect for the role historical events have played in the development of the common law.


While I toiled amidst the dry-rot, fallen timbers, and primitive plumbing of a family home in southwest Nova Scotia in the summer of 1982, a telegram came to the Plympton post office, relayed by the postmaster to his mother, who phoned the neighbor across the road, who walked over to deliver the message. It was an invitation from Leslie Adams, Esq., of Birmingham, Alabama, lawyer and publisher of the Gryphon Library of Classics, to assemble an editorial committee to oversee a new venture, The Legal Classics Library. A few moments' thought, then I crossed the road and used the neighbor's telephone to respond to Les, settle terms, accept the offer, and choose the first half-dozen volumes. A second call directed Maritime Tel & Tel to install a telephone.

In 1783, my great-great-great-grandfather Nathan, a Loyalist, fled to these same acres from Waltham, Massachusetts. Before 1982, Plympton provided me a similar sort of refuge from Berkeley, California. There had been pastoral bliss in escaping for the summer, to labor tool-in-hand, research, and write without the interruption of modern communications. That evaporated. The telegram was cause and my response had its effect. Now the house, barn, and garage are festooned with cord and cordless phones, my study mounts fax and desktop, and the TV cable provides ISP.

In the quarter-century since that phone call, I have written ninety-nine introductory essays of some 20–25 printed pages, printed separately as pamphlets to accompany works reprinted in The Legal Classics Library. Chronologically, these “Notes from the Editors” ranged from Hammurabi's Code to William Rehnquist's The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is. Multivolume works demanded Notes to accompany each volume: the eight . . .

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