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Lord Hardwicke, the successor of Lord Talbot, held the great seal for upwards of twenty years, and the present wise and rational system of English equity jurisprudence,
owes more to him than perhaps to any of his predecessors. Veney and His decisions are reported in the elder Vesey, and Atkyns, Alkyog.
and partly in Ambler, and Dickens; and though none of them are eminent reporters, either for accuracy or precision in the statements of the cases, or in giving the judgment of court,yet the value of his opinions, and the great extent of his learning, and the solidity of his judgment, have been sufficiently perceived and understood. There is no judge in the juridical annals of England, whose judicial character has received greater and more constant homage. His knowledge of the law, said a very competent judge, was most extraordinary, and he was a consummate master of the profession. His decisions, at this day, and in our own courts, do undoubtedly carry with them a more commanding weight of authority than those of any other judge; and the best editions of the elder Vesey and Atkyns will continue to fix the attention and study of succeeding ages.
Eden's Reports of the decisions of Lord Northington, the successor to Lord Hardwicke, are very authentic, and highly esteemed. They surpass in accuracy the reports either of Ambler or Dickens within the same period, and the authority of Lord Northington is very great, and it arose from
the uncommon vigour and clearness of his understanding. Brown. The next book of reports of deserved celebrity is Brown,
commencing with Lord Thurlow's appointment to the office of chancellor; and the high character of the court at that period, gave to those reports a very extensive authority and circulation, and for which they were indebted more to the reputation of the chancellor, than to any merit in the execution of the work. Cox's Cases in Chancery give us the
a Buller, J. in 6 East, 29. n. Sir J. Mansfield, in 5 Taunton, 64. 4 Vesey, 138. n. Pref. to Eden's Reports. 1 Sch. 8: Lef. 240.
b Lord Kenyon, 7 Term, 416,
decisions of Lord Kenyon, while he was master of the rolls under Thurlow, as well as the decisions of the lord chancellor, during the same period. They were intended as a supplement to the reports of Brown and the younger Vesey, so far as those reports covered the period embraced by these cases, and they are neat, brief, and perspicuous reports, of unquestionable accuracy. A new and greatly improved edition has lately been published in New-York, under the superintendence of one of the masters in chancery.
Younger The reports of the younger Vesey extend over a large Veveyor space of time, and contain the researches of Sir Richard Pepper Arden, as master of the rolls, and the whole of the decisions of Lord Loughborough, and carry us far into the time of Lord Eldon. These reports are distinguished for their copiousness and fidelity. The same character is due to the reports of his successors; and though great complaints have been made at the delay of causes, arising from the cautious and doubting mind of the present venerable lord chancellor of England, it seems to be universally conceded, that he bestows extraordinary diligence in the investigation of immense details of business, and arrives in the end at a correct conclusion, and displays a most comprehensive and familiar acquaintance with equity principles. It must, nevertheless, be admitted, that the reports of Lord Eldon's administration in equity, amounting to perhaps thirty volumes, and replete with attenuated discussion, and loose suggestions of doubts and difficulties, are enough to task very severely the patience of the profession.
There are recent reports of decisions in other departments of equity, which are deserving of great attention. The character of those branches of the equity jurisdiction, is eminently sustained; and the reported decisions of Lord Redesdale and Lord Manners, in the Irish Court of Chancery, are also to be placed on a level, in point of authority, with the best productions of the English bench.
Upon our American equity reports, I have only to observe, that, being decisions in cases arising under our domes
General merit of reports.
tic laws and systems, they cannot but excite a stronger interest in the mind of the student; and from their more entire application to our circumstances, they will carry with them the greater authority.
I have now finished a succinct detail of the principal reporters; and when the student has been thoroughly initiated in the elements of legal science, I would strongly recommend them to his notice. The old cases, prior to the year 1688, need only be occasionally consulted, and the leading decisions in them examined. Some of them, however, are to be deeply explored and studied, and particularly those cases and decisions which have spread their influence far and wide, and established principles which lie at the foundations of English jurisprudence. Such cases have stood the scrutiny of contemporary judges, and been illustrated by succeeding artists, and are destined to guide and control the most distant posterity. The reports of cases since the middle of the last century, ought, in most instances, to be read in course, and they will conduct the student over an immense field of forensic discussion. They contain that great body of the commercial law, and of the law of contracts, and of trusts, which governs at this day. They are worthy of being studied even by scholars of taste and general literature, as being authentic memorials of the business and manners of the age in which they were composed. Law reports are dramatic in their plan and structure. They abound in pathetic incident, and displays of deep feeling. They are faithful records of those “ little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind,” that fill up the principal drama of human life; and which are engendered by the love of power, the appetite for wealth, the allurements of pleasure, the delusions of self-interest, the melancholy perversion of talent, and the machinations of fraud. They give us the skilful debates at the bar, and the elaborate opinions on the bench, delivered with the authority of oracular wisdom. They become deeply interesting, because they contain true portraits of the talents and learning of the sages of the law.
We should have known but very little of the great mind and varied accomplishments of Lord Mansfield, if we had not been possessed of the faithful reports of his decisions. It is there that his title to the character of “ founder of the commercial law of England,” is verified. A like value may be attributed to the reports of the decisions of Holt, Hardwicke, Willes, Wilmot, De Grey, Camden, Thurlow, Kenyon, Sir William Scott, and many other illustrious names, which will be as immortal as the English law.
Nor is it to be overlooked as a matter of minor importance, that the judicial tribunals have been almost uniformly distinguished for their immaculate purity. Every person well acquainted with the contents of the English reports, must have been struck with the unbending integrity and lofty morals with which the courts were inspired. I do not know where we could resort, among all the volumes of human composition, to find more constant, more tranquil, and more sublime manifestations of the intrepidity of conscious rectitude. If we were to go back to the iron times of the Tudors, and follow judicial history down from the first page in Dyer to the last page of the last reporter, we should find the higher courts of civil judicature, generally, and with rare exceptions, presenting the image of the sanctity of a temple, where truth and justice seem to be enthroned and to be personified in their decrees.