Aa A definite project, this book owes its inception to a year's study under M. Pirenne in 1924-25. Much of the material that it contains, however, was to some extent assembled earlier, for in one way or another I have been dealing with boroughs ever since my initiation into graduate work at Harvard University. Charles Gross, just before his final illness forced him to abandon teaching, gave me a thesis subject connected with English municipal history, and so introduced me to many problems that reappear in the ensuing chapters. But my dissertation was little more than a hope when I came under the direction of another master. If in time I learned the meaning of scholarship and developed a liking for research strong enough to survive the toil of thesis-writing, it was as the pupil of Professor Charles Homer Haskins. To him my debt of gratitude is too great to be expressed here or elsewhere.
From my thesis I was led to consider the military and fiscal obligations of mediaeval townsmen generally, and although my original topic did not directly involve the fundamental problem of the borough, I was inevitably led to it. I became increasingly familiar with the pertinent sources and with the interpretations made of them by leading historians. I came to appreciate as fundamental to our knowledge of the Norman records the searching criticism of Round, whose essays, for the sheer power of straight thinking there exhibited, have been to me a constant joy and incentive. Also I came under the lasting charm of Maitland, whose marvellous sense of historical values, combined with an uncanny faculty of vivid expression, has given us our truest picture of early English institutions. On this book his influence will be apparent from title to concluding page.
Meanwhile, investigation of Continental materials taught me the value of examining English custom against a European background. Along with the writings of many other authorities, I read and admired the articles of Henri Pirenne, but because I gave the matter no concentrated attention, I failed to realize that his ideas might have especial significance for the history of the borough. Then came the opportunity of studying at the University of Ghent, and under the personal guidance of a great teacher, the half-understood reading of earlier days took on new meaning. Ill-assorted bits of information that I had already gained from the English sources clicked into place, suggesting the outline of the book that is herewith presented.
By sketching the history of the boroughs down to the opening of the . . .