Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION - A Concise History of the Common Law
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION - Theodore Frank Thomas Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law 
A Concise History of the Common Law (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION
The decision of the publishers to reprint this work in a larger type will have made it easier for the reader to use it, I hope; it has also made it possible to effect a good deal of revision. No new subjects have been added, however, for the object of the work has always been to treat only a limited number of topics, but with sufficient detail to make them intelligible. This has made it necessary to place the history of English law in its setting of canon, civil, and general European law in order to show the intellectual influences which have moulded our own system. Comparison with other legal systems is therefore essential to the method here pursued. The point of view adopted throughout is that of a historian who surveys the law from the outside, as it were, and contributes both comparison and criticism to the historical study contained in the following pages.
Besides a few additions (which are distributed fairly evenly through the book), there have been numerous revisions, occasionally rearrangements (especially in dealing with the jury), and sometimes a more ample explanation of difficult points.
The general plan of the work remains unchanged. The first half of the book is an historical introduction to the study of law, and stress has therefore been placed upon those conditions in political, economic, social and religious thought which have contributed to its formation. As the readers for whom this part is designed will generally be first-year undergraduates, it seemed prudent to assume that their previous knowledge of history would be by no means extensive; hence the distinctly elementary note of the first eighty pages.
The courts, the profession, and such general factors in legal development as legislation and the principle of precedent, are subjects which deserve close attention at the introductory stage, for they are the foundation of much that follows. It would, no doubt, be possible to state the essential facts in a very condensed form by using an encyclopaedic style, but such a treatment is not very helpful to beginners. Enough illustrative material has therefore been used to give, I hope, some of the spirit and atmosphere in which the common law system grew up.
The place of legal history in the law school curriculum is still a matter of debate. It may be remarked, however, that if law is a difficult study to the beginner, the history of the law, with its different outlook and unfamiliar concepts, is apt to be more difficult still. This book has therefore been planned on the principle that the first part, “A General Survey of Legal History,” is as much legal history as a first-year student can be expected to master, in view of the fact that he is embarking upon a subject for which his earlier studies have given him little preparation. At a later stage he can embark upon legal history in more detail, either as a separate subject, or as part of the study of substantive law.
The second half of the book, therefore, consists of introductions to the history of a few of the main divisions of the law. Other topics, indeed, might have been added, but only at the risk of defeating the object of the book, which is to convey a sense of historical development, and not to serve as a work of reference. The mere recital of historical data is not enough, and so a limited field, treated with careful exposition, seemed more likely to interest those who are just embarking upon their legal education, than a more comprehensive (and therefore less intimate) treatment of a larger field. The increase of size in this edition is very slight, and is attributable principally to the amplification of expository passages, and not to the introduction of new subjects for treatment.
Everyone who is interested in the history of the law is under an immense debt to the writings of Pollock, Maitland and Holdsworth in England, and of Holmes, Thayer and Ames in America. Were it not for the thirteen masterly volumes of the Vinerian Professor, neither this nor any other short history of English law could be written with any degree of confidence. The stately series of the Selden Society’s publications has provided a rich harvest of original materials which adds immensely to the vividness of legal history whenever teachers and students make use of them. The even longer series of many of our county historical societies afford rich illustration of our legal history, and the grateful thanks of legal historians are due to these bodies, and especially to the enlightened bands of subscribers who make it possible to continue the work of publication, even in these inauspicious days. The footnotes to this history have been designed to place illustrative cases and statutes easily within the reach of readers. The Council of the Selden Society have kindly allowed me to reproduce a lengthy extract from one of their publications, and I hope that readers will be tempted to explore these and the other sources cited.
It should be explained that the text and pagination of this fifth edition correspond entirely, both in the English issue by Messrs. Butterworth, and in the American issue by Messrs. Little, Brown and Company.
My thanks are due once again to many friends who have discussed legal history and its teaching with me in a very helpful way, and to many English and American teachers who used the earlier editions and were kind enough to send me valuable suggestions. I am once again particularly grateful to Professor H. A. Hollond of Cambridge and Professor A. D. Hargreaves of Birmingham for their learned criticisms and interest, to Mr. K. Howard Drake for the Index, and to Messrs. Butterworth for their constant and sympathetic care in the production of this volume, and in the preparation of the Tables.
T. F. T. P.
London School of Economics,