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Book Review: A Bibliography of Abridgments, Digests, Dictionaries and Indexes of English Law to the Year 1800, 42 Yale Law Journal 299 (1932)


WHEN Lord Coke, in the preface to one of his Reports, advised law students to seek the fountains, he was drawing a distinction between the "books at large," namely law reports and statutes, and abridgments of them. Of the latter, including indexes and dictionaries, one hundred items had already been published. His advice, good when given, and still good, did not, however, reduce the demand for such books, for they continued to be published and used. Cowley lists 294 of them published before 1800, and their present day bibliographical descendents are among the most important facilities required by the lawyer. Such books are now accepted as necessities, not as substitutes for the "books at large," but as means of approach to them. Without them, search in the multiplicity of source books would be an endless task. In Coke's day, some abridgments were themselves source books, because they digested cases not available in printed reports. Since the distribution of reports and statutes was not wide, as compared to later practice, a legitimate demand existed for substitutes for them. Moreover, the latter responded to a human trait, still evident in the habits of lawyers, leading them to seek the path of least resistance by accepting the work of others in lieu of their own.

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