Page:Select Essays in Anglo-American Legal History, Volume 1.djvu/10

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PREFACE

of thirty years ago, to the Selden Society's source-books and Mr. Holdsworth's recent first volume; and, on the other hand, the more numerous essays and chapters of the authors represented in these present volumes. But, until now, most of these lesser structural members of the framework have lain scattered about upon the ground, here and there,—ready for use, and yet not fully serviceable because not easily accessible and not assembled in their relations to each other and to the whole. It is the purpose of these volumes to assemble and make accessible these valuable parts of the structure of our legal history.

The season is ripe for this work. It is probable that an- other generation will pass before the final elaboration of the structure can be attempted. Until the Year Books are en- tirely re-edited and printed, most of the work will be of a limited and topical scope. It is now time for our profession to take account of past progress,—to put together and to possess in mastery that which has been so far achieved; following the dictate of Goethe: "My maxim in the study of Nature is this: Hold fast what is certain, and keep a watch on what is uncertain."

The times demand, too, of our profession, more cultivation of the taste for history. A counter-balance against the hasty pressure for reform, and against an over-absorption in the narrow experience of the present, is to be sought in the solid influence of history. A true conservatism, and an intelligent progress, must alike be based on historical knowledge,—a knowledge not remaining in the possession of a few scholars, but penetrating abroad into the general consciousness of the profession.

For student and for practitioner alike, we believe that these historical essays will be a welcome enlargement of the horizon of our law. "It is the historians who are my true men," says the genial Montaigne, "for they are pleasant and easy; wherein immediately man in general (the knowledge of whom I hunt after) appears more lively and entire than anywhere besides." And his ingenuous reason for best liking Plutarch and Seneca is a reason which (we confess) has seemed to us likely to commend these present composite vol-