Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 1. The Beginnings of English Legal Literature

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XIII. Legal Literature

§ 1. The Beginnings of English Legal Literature

IN order to treat at all adequately the subject of legal literature in the seventeenth century, it seems necessary to make a rapid survey of the writings of the earlier periods—indeed, to go back to the very origines juridicales, and that for two reasons. First, because English law, even more than English liberty, had “broadened down from precedent to precedent”; so that the key to the legal literature of the seventeenth century has to be sought among the records of its predecessors. Secondly, because the great law-writers of the Stewart era—whether, as in the case of Selden, drawn by the spirit of science, or whether, as in that of Coke, driven by the condition of the system of law which they were administering, and by the exigencies of party politics—were antiquaries, whose works consisted largely of commentaries upon the legal scriptures of their patriarchal forerunners. Hence, if we desire to understand either the principles of Stewart law or the nature of the legal literature of the seventeenth century, we must go back to the sources.