This review comes a little late for this book was published in 1952. But viewed from the perspective of the centuries this is a rather small delay. The volume concerns law lectures delivered at the Inns of Court during the 15th century. The first lecture by Henry Spelman was delivered in 1452. That is 33 years before the Battle of Bosworth: so you have entered Wars of the Roses territory. In that troubled period the lawyers kept going. The Inns of Court carried out the legal training for the bar during this period so you are transported into the thick of legal training.
I was struck by a number of things.
First, by how little has changed in the way law lectures are delivered. The law may have changed but the way the discussion of it is structured has changed less than one might have expected.
Second, by how dense, structured and compacted the lectures were: being the main source of knowledge for the students. No concerns about students managing their own learning here.
Third, by how the emphasis seems to have been not on delivering an original lecture or giving one’s own view of a topic, but rather on delivering an established body of knowledge in an expected manner. Changes were made but slowly and seem to have been bolted onto the text as the years went by.
Fourth, that in true medieval fashion, disputants turned up to lectures to chip in and debate points of contention. It all looks rather polite and well organised on the page – but human nature suggests that it might have been more chaotic in practice- and these lectures might have been something of an ordeal for the lecturers.
Fifth, that the lectures were delivered in law French. This edition, mercifully, has a really good translation into English on the page facing the French text.
Though much is different – no textbooks, no handouts and definitely no PowerPoint slides – the French (and Aristotle) are right: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.