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The most important difference between this edition of Bacon's Professional Works and its predecessors results from a careful collation of all accessible MSS., which, with the occasional correction of obvious blunders, has, I believe, made many passages of the text intelligible for the first time.
It will be found also to differ from the common cditions by the addition of two Legal Arguments, one of which has been before published in the Collectanea Juridica, and of a paper on Bridewell Hospital, which has been printed in the Reports of the Charities Commission; and by some minor variations in the miscellaneous part of the collection.
The preface to each piece gives such information as I have been able to gather tending to elucidate its history and purport; and I have added notes (more freely than I originally intended), most often where former commentators, in MS. or in print, had suggested questions, but sometimes on difficulties which have occurred to myself.
More than this did not seem to be required, and indeed would scarcely have been justifiable in an edition of Bacon's collected Works, when we look to the character of these professional pieces and consider the very subordinate position they occupy in the history of his own literary activity, and the comparatively small influence which, on that if on no other account, they can be supposed to have exercised on the progress of English Law.
None of them were published in Bacon's lifetime. Four Arguments of Law, with a dedicatory preface, were prepared by him for publication, - apparently as part of a larger collection,during the period when he was Solicitor and Attorney General, professedly as specimens of forensic eloquence, and mainly, one may suppose, with a view to establishing or enhancing his own professional reputation. Ilis rapid rise and other avocations may account for the design having been drept; and at all events we have no evidence that it was actively pursued after 1616. The argument for the Postnati, and some papers relating to the Union, were also corrected by him; but, whether intended for publication or not, they seem to have been collected with a view to furthering that great design of State rather than with any permanent literary purpose.
None of the other works come to us direct from Bacon's hand. Their importance and claims to be considered authentic are various.
The Use of the Law appears to me to possess no value, antiquarian or other, at the present day; and in my preface to it I have given my reasons for believing it to be spurious.
There is some obscurity about the date, as a whole, and the dress, of the Marinus of the Law, which I have noticed in the preface; but any how, besides its intrinsic merits, it is all that we have, and must be taken as the representative, of a work by which Bacon hoped to obtain reputation as a lawyer rivalling with Coke', and which from 1596 to the close of his life he was offering as his own contribution towards that great Instauration of the English Laws, the promotion and direction of which would seem to have been, next to that other Instauration of Natural Science, the most persistent of his nobler aims.
That other scheme, even as an exposition of principles, remained a fragment, and was to a great extent abortive (as I think Mr. Ellis has made it clear), partly because it was premature and based on a misconception and underrating of the conditions and difficulties of the problem, and partly from an inaptitude in Bacon for accurate experimental research. His failure in Law Reform dues not appear to me traceable to any similar cause. A Digest of English Law on the principles laid down in the 8th Book De Augmentis and in the Proposal for Amending the Laws is surely conceivable even now, and would seem the very work for which the times between the middle of Elizabeth's reign and the end of James's were specially fitted. The Year Books were closed and roughly digested by Fitzherbert and Brooke, and the statute laws lay within very manageable compass. Historically, all authoritative maxims of Law were to be extracted from these definite materials; and the theoretical principles necessary for reconciling what was inconsistent and modifying what seemed absurd or unsuitable to the times were
| Proposal for amending the Laws of England.