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It is strange that so great a figure as Lord Mansfield should have filled so small a place in the literature of English law. Since Lord Campbell's entertaining but partial life, no attempt has been made to estimate his achievements.
The present book offers to supply the omission. It is an essay in judicial biography. It seeks to reveal Lord Mans£eld's personality through the medium of his judgements and to set it in perspective against the background of the eighteenth century.
Separate chapters are devoted to his reforms in Procedure and Evidence, to his rationalization of Commercial Law and Quasi-Contract, to his contest with orthodox views in Contract and Property; and the opportunity is taken to examine his judicial technique and to estimate his influence on the future development of the law.
...from the Preface In 1797 Mr John Holliday, of Lincoln's Inn, published a life of Lord Mansfield. He approached his task with reverence. He had, 'during four revolving years, been in expectation of some abler pen attempting the delineation of so exalted a character', and he would have 'resigned his materials to any gentleman desirous of signalising himself in the annals of biography and of twining round his brow a wreath of no small estimation'.
But a resolution, which might otherwise have faltered, was fortified when he recalled the educational value of his work. 'To the Tyros at the bar and to the students looking up to it, he begged leave to recommend that, after a cursory view of the whole, they would be pleased to impose something like a task on themselves, of not only reading, but of seriously studying, one of the three divisions of this work in one or other of the legal vacations in the year.'
They would thus 'discover close analytical reasoning, adorned with a happy facility of expression, clear conceptions and just conclusions, which could not fail amply to recompense the attention they should give to the speeches which flowed from the tongue of the British Tully.' By perseverance in study, they might 'probably rise above mediocrity and disdain to creep with Timaeus'.
Mr. Holliday indulged a liberality of language and of sentiment beyond the aspirations of a less spacious age. But he perceived, in the pressure of personality, a factor in the development of law which has not obtained due appreciation from his successors. It is especially surprising that so great a figure as Lord Mansfield should have filled so small a space in professional literature.
The present book seeks to supply the omission. It is offered as an essay in judicial technique, as an experiment in legal biography. A catalogue of Lord Mansfield's work would fatigue the attention; but it is impossible to estimate his qualities and achievements without the frequent citation of his judgments. If I have borrowed too freely from this source, I may be allowed to recall the experience of a famous litigant, who had refused to 'let his hapless subject speak for himself', and who had 'retold his cherished stories as if they were his own, sometimes with heavy hand brushing off the bloom'. I would gladly avoid a similar reproach.
I must accept complete responsibility both for the matter and for the manner of the book. But my gratitude is due to Dr. G. C. Cheshire, D.C.L., Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, who read the whole of the manuscript and by whose advice and criticism I have greatly benefited. C.H. S. F. Oxford July 1936