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BRACTON DE LEGIBUS ET CONSUETU
Edited by George E. Woodbine, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1915. Volume 1.
ONE who in the last thirty-five years, not to speak of more usual themes, has seen more of treaties with North American Indians than of Bracton cannot speak competently of the detail of this monumental work. Indeed the case probably is not unlike that of the Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine periods written by the late Professor Sophocles, of which it was said that there was only one man in Europe who could criticize it. That one in this case may be my friend. Sir Frederick Pollock, but it certainly is not I. But some things may be said. The history of the law is of much importance to the understanding of the law, even apart from its significance in the more disinterested study of anthropology. Bracton is a work of the very highest value for the theme. There is no edition that gives us anything like an adequate approach to the unknown original, that lets us see the variations of the better manuscripts, or that opens to us a solution of the problems of the text. The little but important world that these questions interest has been praying
* Yale Review, 1915.
for years that someone might undertake Professor Woodbine's task.
Now the man has come. Backed by a generous gift of money he makes the more splendid one of his life. For he already has devoted years and expects to devote many more to bringing his work to an end. The first volume, now published, proves the thoroughness, the all but exhaustive collection of apparatus (that two manuscripts have been missed is no fault of his), and the critical aptitude that he commands. It contains a study of the pedigree of the texts with diagrams illustrating their probable relations to their source and to one another, and an analysis of the addiciones. It illustrates the infinity of detail that the editor has scrutinized with microscopic eye. It shows the interest of the results to which his researches point. At this stage perhaps the only thing really proper to be dwelt upon is the nobility of spirit, the heroism of the scholar that the undertaking exhibits. Those who at any time have spent fewer months than Professor Woodbine already has spent years upon details, fired with the faith that one day they would disclose the organic line of life that made them great, those who remember Browning's picture of his imaginary hero of letters in "A Grammarian's Funeral,” who
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
Dead from the waist down, will salute with a soldier's respect for a soldier this real man who is achieving honor by sacrificing self as fully as did the Grammarian and to a greater end.
it objectivity is the fact that I find my fellow man to a greater or less extent (never wholly) subject to the same Can't Helps. If I think that I am sitting at a table I find that the other persons present agree with me; so if I say that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. If I am in a minority of one they send for a doctor or lock me up; and I am so far able to transcend the to me convincing testimony of my senses or my reason as to recognize that if I am alone probably something is wrong with my works.
Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cock-sure of many things that were not so. If I may quote myself again, property, friendship, and truth have a common root in time. One can not be wrenched from the rocky crevices into which one has grown for many years without feeling that one is attacked in one's life. What we most love and revere generally is determined by early associations. I love granite rocks and barberry bushes, no doubt because with them were my earliest joys that reach back through the past eternity of my life. But while one's experience thus makes certain preferences dogmatic for oneself, recognition of how they came to be so leaves one able to see that others, poor souls, may be equally dogmatic about something else. And this again means scepticism. Not that one's belief or love does not remain. Not that we would not fight and die for it if important — we all, whether we know it or not, are fighting to make the kind of a world that we should like - but that we have
NATURAL LAW *
It is not enough for the knight of romance that you agree that his lady is a very nice girl — if you do not admit that she is the best that God ever made or will make, you must fight. There is in all men a demand for the superlative, so much so that the poor devil who has no other way of reaching it attains it by getting drunk. It seems to me that this demand is at the bottom of the philosopher's effort to prove that truth is absolute and of the jurist's search for criteria of universal validity which he collects under the head of natural law.
I used to say, when I was young, that truth was the majority vote of that nation that could lick all others. Certainly we may expect that the received opinion about the present war will depend a good deal upon which side wins (I hope with all my soul it will be mine), and I think that the statement was correct in so far as it implied that our test of truth is a reference to either a present or an imagined future majority in favor of our view. If, as I have suggested elsewhere, the truth may be defined as the system of my (intellectual) limitations," what gives
* Suggested by reading Francois Geny, Science et Technique en Droit Positif Privé, Paris, 1915. (Harvard Law Review, Vol. XXXII.) (1918.)
1 Ante, Ideals and Doubts.