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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
THOMAS LORD PARKER,
BARON OF MACCLESFIELD,
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE
MY LORD, THE following Treatise, containing that part of the law, which is peculiarly under the administration of the chief justice of England, I presumed, in regard to the subject of it, to think of presenting to your Lordship; which your goodness having been pleased to permit, it is with the less uneasiness that I venture to make it public; for I could not hope to introduce it into the world with greater advantage than under your protection.
This was the real ground of my ambition to dedicate it to your Lordship, and not to give myself an opportunity of publishing how much I honour those wonderful talents that have raised you to so high a station. A private character indeed may be set forth to advantage, and many virtues in it be made known by an address of this nature, which might otherwise have lain for ever concealed; but your Lordship’s is public and conspicuous, and can appear nowhere with so much lustre as when you sit in judgment, where that vast genius you are blessed with shines forth to all the world, adorned with all the improvements that human heart can furnish, and supported with the greatest courage and integrity.
And nothing less, my Lord, could give you that command of all the variety of business which comes before you, and that facility with which you dispatch it. The most intricate points of law, that have for ages lain in confusion and obscurity, when they fall under your Lordship's consideration, receive such light, are stated and explained with such exact inethod, and such propriety and beauty of expression, that the most polite composi. tions appear not more elegant, nor the most demonstrative more convincing. This, my Lord, is the agreeable part of the exercise of your authority, being no violence to that general humanity which you delight to shew to all mankind. But the duties of your office require you sometimes to put on another character, and to shew the awful face of justice, to curb the rage of an unruly people, and to fright them into their duty by the terrors of the law; and it is with pleasure all good men see your Lordship pursue the prevailing vices of the age with such zeal and indignation, that crimes no longer appear less odious for being fashionable, nor are they more secure from punishment for being popular.
These, my Lord, are blessings which the whole nation shares in, and have an influence upon all parts of the civil'administration. But we, who have the honour to attend your Lordship at the bar, are in a more particular manner to acknowledge our obligations for that candour and condescension with which you treat us. The encouragement you give to our weak endeavours, no less engages our affections, than your comprehensive knowledge and clear and accurate judgment command our reverence and esteem.
Such goodness charms all that approach and feel it; and it was with universal joy we saw your Lordship's firmness to the present establishment, and great services to your country, distinguished lately by an accession of honour from His Majesty, whose wisdom in conferring his favours has eminently appeared, by the many signal benefits the nation has received from those W' have the honour to serve him. I am with greatest respect,
- My Lord,
NOTHING is more common than to hear those who have taken only a superficial view of the Crown-law, charge it with numberless hardships and undistinguishing rigour; whereas those, who have more fully examined it, agree that it wants nothing to make it admired, for clemency and equity, as well as justice, but to be understood. It is so agreeable to reason, that even those who suffer by it, cannot charge it with injustice; so adapted to the common good, as to suffer no folly to go unpunished, which that requires to be restrained : and yet so tender of the infirmities of human nature, as never to refuse an indulgence where the safety of the public will bear it: it gives the prince no power, but of doing good, and restrains the people from no liberty, but of doing evil.
It would be needless therefore to say any thing of the usefulness of this treatise, could I be so happy as any way to come up to the design of it, which was to vindicate the justice and reasonableness of the laws concerning criminal matters, and to reduce them into as clear a method, and explain them in as familiar a manner, as the nature of the thing will bear..
Had any of the great men, who formerly have written on this subject, gone through the whole law relating to it, all farther attempts of this kind had been unnecessary. The treatise published under the name of Sir Matthew Hale, is indeed very useful, and written in a clear method, and with great learning and judgment; but it is certainly very imperfect in the whole, and seems to be only a model or plan of a work of this kind, which is said to have been intended by him.
SIR EDWARD Coke's Third Institute is also a treatise of great learning, and not unworthy of the hand that produced it; but yet seems by no means a complete work, many considerable heads being either wholly omitted in it, or barely touched upon.
The treatise of Sir William STAUNDFORDE seems to be writ with great judgment, but he takes in a very small compass, scarce mentioning any offences under felonies.
· As for the Treatises of LAMBARD, CROMPTON, Pulton, and Dalton, they, having an eye chiefly to the direction of justices of the peace, and treating of the Crown-law no farther than as it concerns them, are far from being complete systems of it.
Upon the whole, I apprehend that none of the authors beforementioned were so perfect, but that, by reducing all the laws relating to this subject under one general scheme, they might generally be understood with much less difficulty than they have hitherto been. This it was induced me to write on this subject, and I hope to finish the whole in Two Books; proposing in this First to shew the nature of criminal offences; and in the Second, the manner of bringing offenders to punishment.
THE FIRST VOLUME
Pleas of the Crown.