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The first edition of this series was published in 1882. When the writer was first appointed Professor of Elementary Common Law in the Union College of Law of Chicago in 1876, it became his duty, among other topics, to instruct successive classes in Blackstone's Commentaries He found it necessary to study harder probably than his students, and it was his practice to read pen in hand and to underscore and annotate the important passages. With every succeeding year these distinguishing marks and notes were extended and elaborated, and formed the basis of the system of differentiation of the text, which is the distinguishing feature of this series. For twenty-seven successive years this work continued with successive classes. In making this revision the distinguishing features of the text have been retained. In addition thereto, since the writer no longer appears in person before classes of students with oral explanations, it has been thought advisable to supplement the text with explanatory notes, not merely for the purpose of fortifying the text by authority, but to take the place as far as possible of the former oral expositions and thus make the text more understandable. At the same time references have been made to such text books and leading cases as seemed best adapted to develop and amplify the text. Instead of appending a glossary at the end of the book, such terms as seemed to need definition or explanation have been dealt with either in the text or notes as they occurred, all new matter in the text being included within brackets, thus: [ ). Maxims in foreign languages have been translated as they occurred. As the book is primarily intended for students, it has not been loaded down with cases, though it is believed that a reference to the elementary principles contained in this series with the authors and cases supporting them will be advantageous to every one interested in the study or practice of law. In the text, notes, and interpolated books and chapters written by the author, will, it is believed, be found a comprehensive though brief review of the whole body of English and American customary law, including statutes which by reason of their all but universal adoption have become a part of the general law of the land. To make these separate books and chapters exhaustive would require a library; but enough has been given to give a general though brief review of the subjects treated; and the student is referred to more exhaustive treatises for further explanations.
It must be borne in mind that this work is essentially an elementary treatise upon the common law. Long experience leads the editor to the conclusion that the best preparation for a student is a thorough knowledge of the common law, as distinguished from statutes; and that to attempt to incorporate in this treatise modern statutes would be harmful to the best interests of the student.
In absence of statutes to the contrary, the common law everywhere furnishes the rule of decision; it also furnishes rules for the interpretation and construction of statutes. The common law is a creature of slow growth; whereas statutes are too often ephemeral, multifarious and not well considered. Always begin an investigation, therefore, with the common law as a starting point, and read the statutes thereafter. Defer a study of the statutes until acquainted with the common law. This has been the rule of those learned in the law from the time of Lord Coke down to the present. It has always been a rule of conduct with the writer to be as willing to impart instruction to students as the students themselves were willing to receive instruction. The study of law is at best difficult to the beginner; and he who expects to excell must be prepared to devote years of unremiting toil to its study. To remove some of the obstacles and to make the first years of the novitiate of the student more pleasant and profitable is the real object of these volumes.
MARSHALL D. EWELL. Chicago, Illinois, January, 1915.
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION.
Blackstone's Commentaries deservedly constitute in this country the first book of the course of legal study usually prescribed for students of the law. Probably, however, every student who reads Blackstone is embarrassed by his own inability to distinguish obsolete or unimportant matter from the vital and fundamental principles of the law, and therefore does not know what parts demand the most attention, in order to fix them in his memory, and what may be dismissed with a more superficial examination. The object of this Abridgment is to relieve that embarassment, and thereby to lighten his labor and economize his time by directing his energies to what seems most worthy of attention. This has been attempted by eliminating obsolete and unimportant matter, by displaying leading principles in heavy-faced type, and by printing the more important parts of the text in small pica, while matter of minor importance as a rule has been printed in brevier. Doubtless there will be some difference of opinion as to what is of more and what of less importance, and is this respect this work only expresses the opinion of the Editor,— formed, however, after considerable experience in instructing young men just beginning the study of law. It frequently happened throughout the work that obsolete matter was so interwoven with matter of present importance that the plan indicated above could not conveniently be pursued. In such cases the obsolete matter has been indicated by the word “ obselete ” inclosed within brackets. Matter merely historical has in some instances been considered so important to a proper understanding of the present state of the law as to deserve more than a passing notice; such matter has accordingly been printed in the larger type. The principal difficulty has been in deciding what to omit. A large amount of obsolete matter, and matter merely historical, explanatory, or argumentative, has been omitted, but it is believed that everything important for the student to know has been retained. As a rule, the exact language of the Author has been preserved. Sometimes, however, mere verbal changes not affecting the sense have been made, in order to economize space. Great care has been taken to make no omission or alteration that would change the meaning of the text or render that meaning obscure, and matter entirely new is in every instance inclosed within brackets, thus: . The original paging has been indicated by figures in brackets placed at the end of the first complete sentence of each page of the Author appearing in this work. The notes of the Author and of previous editors have necessarily been omitted. To have retained them would have defeated the object of the volume. Occasionally, however, when thought necessary to explain a change in the law, to elucidate an obscure expression, or to direct attention to an authority throwing light upon the subject, a few words or a reference to an authority inclosed in brackets have been thrown into the text; but, for the reason already stated, no systematic attempt at annotation has been attempted. As Blackstone's Commentaries are perhaps the most important institutional work placed in the hands of students at law, more space has been devoted to them than will be given to any other work or subject in the series of which this forms the first volume. It is believed, however, that no more space has been given to the work of this Author than it justly deserves. To students pursuing their studies in an office, which in the majority of cases is equivalent to studying law alone, and to students in law schools when upon review or preparing for examination, it is believed that this Abridgment will prove especially serviceable; and it is principally for their use that its preparation has been undertaken. If it materially assists them in their labors, its purpose will have been accomplished.