Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Preface to the Reader. - Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I
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The Preface to the Reader. - Sir Edward Coke, Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I 
The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 1.
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The Preface to the Reader.
Nothing is or can bee so fixed in mind, or fastened in memorie, but in short time is or may bee loosened out of the one, and by little and little quite lost out of the other: It is therefore necessarie that memorable things should be committed to writing (the witnesse of times, the light and the life of trueth) and not wholly betaken to slippery memorie which seldome yeeldeth a certain reckoning: And herein our present time is of all that ever was to futureposterity the most ungratefull; For they of former (though not of such florishing time) to the great benefit of themselves, of us, and our posterity, have faithfully and carefully registred in Bookes, aswell the sayings as the doings which were in their time worthie of note and observation. For omitting others, and taking one example for all, howe carefully have those of our profession in former times reported to ages succeeding, the Opinions, Censures, and Judgements of their reverend Judges and Sages of the Common Lawes: which if they had silenced and not set forth in writing, certainely as their bodies in the bowells of the earth are long agoe consumed, so had their grave Opinions, Censures, and Judgements been with them long sithence wasted and worne away with the worme of oblivion: But wee, as justly to bee blamed, as the thing it selfe to bee bewayled, having greater cause, are lesse carefull, having better oportunity, are lesse occasioned, and being in greater necessitie, are of all others the most negligent, whom neither the excellencie and perfection of knowledge, a thing most pleasant, nor the practise thereof in furtherance of Justice, a thing most profitable (although one great learned and grave man1 hath made an enterance) can among so many in this flourishing spring time of knowledge move any other to follow his example: The neglect whereof is in mine opinion many waies dangerous, For I have often observed, that for want of a true and certain Report the case that hath been adjudged standing upon the racke of manie running Reports (especially of such as understood not the state of the Question) hath been so diversly drawne out, as many times the true parts of the case have been disordered & disjointed, and most commonly the right reason & rule of the Judges utterly mistaken. Hereout have sprung many absurd & strange opinions, which being caried about in a common charme, & fathered on grave & reverend Judges, many times with the multitude, & sometimes with the learned receive such allowance, as either beguile or bedasil their conceits & judgements. Therfore as I allow not of those that make memory their storehouse, for at their greatest need they shall want of their store; so I like not of those that stuffe their studies with wandring & masterlesse Reports, for they shall find them too soone to lead them to error. In troth, reading, hearing, conference, meditation, & recordation, are necessary I confesse to the knowledge of the common Law, because it consisteth upon so many, & almost infinite particulars: but an orderly observation in writing is most requisite of them all; for reading without hearing is darke and irksome, & hearing without reading is slipperie and uncertaine, neither of them truly yeeld seasonable fruit without conference, nor both of them with conference, without meditation & recordation, nor all of them together without due and orderly observation: Scribe sapientiam tempore vacuitatis tuae.2 And yet he that at length by these meanes shall attaine to be learned, when he shall leave them off quite for his gaine, or his ease, so one shall he (I warrant him) lose a great part of his learning: Therefore as I allow not to the Student any discontinuance at all (for he shall lose more in a month than he shall recover in many:) So doe I commend perseverance to all, as to each of these meanes an inseparable incident. I have sithence the xxii. yeere of her Majesties Raigne, which is now xx. yeeres compleat, observed the true reasons as neere as I could, of such matters in Law (wherein I was of Councell, & acquainted with the estate of the Question) as have been adjudged upon great & mature deliberation; And as I never meant (as many have found) to keepe them so secret for mine owne private use, as to denie the request of any friend to have either view or copy of any of them; So til of late I never could be perswaded (as many can witnes) to make them so publique, as by any intreaty to commit them to print: But when I considered how by her Majesties princely care and choice, her Seates of Justice have beene ever for the due execution of her Lawes, furnished with Judges of such excellent knowledge and wisdome (whereunto they have attained in this fruitfull spring time of her blessed raigne) as I feare that succeeding ages shall not affoord successors equall unto them, I have adventured to publish certaine of their resolutions (in such sort as my little leasure would permit) for the helpe of their memory who heard them, and perfectly knew them, for the instruction of others who knew them not, but imperfectly heard of them, and lastly, for the common good, (for that is my chiefe purpose) in quieting & establishing of the possessions of many in these generall cases, wherein there hath bin such variety of opinions. In these Reports I have (of purpose) not observed one methode, to the end that in some other Edition (if God so please) I may follow the forme that the Learned shall allowe of, and will sequester mine opinion: For it may be I should preferre those Reports which are lesse paineful, more compendious, and yet (perhaps) no lesse profitable. I have added the pleadings at large: as well for the warrant, and better understanding of the cases and matters in Law, as for the better instruction of the studious Reader in good pleading, which Mast. Littleton saith3 is one of the most honorable, lawdable, and profitable things in the Law: I wish the continuances had bene omitted, and yet some of them also are not without their fruite. To the Reader mine advise is, that in reading of these or any new Reports, hee neglect not in any case the reading of the old Books of yeares reported in former ages, for assuredly out of the old fields must spring and grow the new corne, And so I conclude with the Poet:
[1. ]Edmundus Plowden.
[2. ][Ed.: Leisure gives the scribe the chance to acquire wisdom. (Taken from Ecclesiasticus 38:25.)]
[3. ][Ed.: Later editions here note a reference to Littleton §534 and 1st Institute, pp. 303, 332b.]
[4. ][Ed.: Since, reader, you do not publish your own, use and approve these: either do not carp at ours or else publish your own. (Allusion to Martial, Epigrams, 1.91.2.)]
[5. ][Ed.: Farewell.]