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PREFACE. - Marcus Tullius Cicero, Treatise on the Laws [51 BC]
The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Comprising his Treatise on the Commonwealth; and his Treatise on the Laws. Translated from the original, with Dissertations and Notes in Two Volumes. By Francis Barham, Esq. (London: Edmund Spettigue, 1841-42). Vol. 2.
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All who are acquainted with Cicero’s Republic are probably aware that it forms a general introduction to the Treatise on Laws, which we now translate for the first time into English. This treatise is therefore to be regarded as a necessary supplement to the former work, and each supports and illustrates the other with surprising force and beauty.
Cicero evidently intended it as a text book of the grand principles and elements of law; and next to the bible, we cannot mention any volume better entitled to our esteem in this respect. The influence that this treatise on Laws has avowedly possessed over the minds of the great jurisconsults who have subsequently written on legal morals, has been immense. It has been continually quoted and referred to, as a kind of legal oracle by the sages of modern times and nations, and in indirect modes, it has diffused its sublime sentiment through the main body of ethical literature.
In the course of this work, Cicero treats of the law,—divine or theologic; the law of nature and nations; the law ecclesiastical or canonical, and the law civil and municipal.
In translating it, we have endeavoured to preserve that basso relievo style of translation, if we may use the term, which gives the original phrases something of that relief and prominence, which are necessary to produce a distinct and durable impression on the modern reader. Many words and phrases occur in the original, which were strong and definite enough for the Romans to whom Cicero wrote, but which would not strike into the apprehension and realization of the English reader, had we not developed and expanded their latent energies, by certain paraphrastical illustrations, calculated to elicit familiar associations, ideas, and images of truth, which come home to men’s bosom and business in real life as it is.
Many of these terms are of so technical a nature in Cicero’s laws, that we never met with any thing more difficult and obscure in all Latinity. Yet we hope in the great majority of instances, to have hit their meaning with sufficient precision. Where we have not done so, we shall willingly submit to the emendations of any scholars who can propose more perfect renderings.
In order to make this a more complete introduction to the study of law, we have endeavoured in the notes to illustrate the text by numerous extracts from authors who have treated of the various branches of legislation,—divine, natural, national, canonical, civil, and municipal. Such passages, though they possess no claim to originality, will be found of much service in familiarly introducing the student to the Justinian Institution and the diversified spheres of jurisprudence.
Certain it is, that at the present moment, our more literary lawyers are reviving an interest in the laws of which Cicero treats, and especially the civil laws of Rome, whose important connection with modern codes is more and more felt. As an instance of the improved state of our literature in this respect, we may particularly mention Mr. Hayward’s translation of Savigny’s history of the civil law, and the admirable critiques on the subject principally borrowed from recent German authors, in the New Classical Dictionary of Antiquities, published by Taylor.
It may be safely stated with respect to Cicero’s Treatise on Laws, that it is calculated in an eminent degree to give the legal student that religious and moral elevation of thought and feeling, which so especially befits the higher order of lawyers and gentlemen.
We cannot sufficiently admire the divine and transcendent ethics which Cicero has interwoven with his legal lucubrations. They are scattered through all this treatise, like sunbeams through the atmosphere, bright in themselves, and brightening all around them. Nor will our admiration of these resplendent fragments of eternal truth be lessened, by finding them often connected in the course of the work with those remnants of Gentile superstition, which even Cicero’s mind was not heroic enough to annihilate, but which, for us, have been annihilated by the lapse of ages.
Every man, says the proverb, owes a debt to the profession in which he has been enrolled. Our portion of this debt we have in some measure sought to liquidate, by the publication of the present volume of Cicero’s laws. It is calculated to do much good, and little evil; and the more attentively it is perused, the more will the spirit of the reader become ennobled and enlightened, and rise above the vices and chicaneries that bring inevitable disgrace on those who practise them.