Nothing is or can be so fixed in mind, or fastened in memory, but in short time is or may be loosened out of the one, and by little and little quite lost out of the other: It is therefore necessary that memorable things should be committed to writing (the witness of times, the light and the life of truth) and not wholly betaken to slippery memory which seldom yields a certain reckoning:
And herein our present time is of all that ever was to future posterity the most ungrateful; For they of former…time…to the great benefit of themselves, of us, and our posterity, have faithfully and carefully registered in Books, as well the sayings as the doings which were in their time worthy of note and observation. For…and taking one example for all, how carefully have those of our profession in former times reported to ages succeeding, the Opinions, Censures, and Judgments of their reverend Judges and Sages of the Common Law: which if they had silenced and not set forth in writing, certainly as their bodies in the bowels of the earth are long age consumed, so had their grave Opinions, Censures, and Judgments been with them long since wasted and worn away with the worm of oblivion:
But we… are less careful, having better opportunity, are less occasioned, and being in greater necessity, are of all others the most negligent, whom neither the excellency and perfection of knowledge, a thing most pleasant, nor the practise thereof in furtherance of Justice, a thing most profitable (although one great learned and grave man hath made an entrance) can among so many in this flourishing spring time of knowledge move any other to follow his example:
The neglect whereof is in mine opinion many ways dangerous, For I have often observed, that for want of a true and certain Report the case that hath been adjudged standing upon the rack of many running Reports…hath been so diversely drawn out, as many times the true parts of the case have been disordered & disjointed, and most commonly the right reason & rule of the Judges utterly mistaken. Here out have sprung many absurd & strange opinions, which being carried about in a common charm, & fathered on grave & reverend Judges…Therefore as I allow not of those that make memory their storehouse, for at their greatest need they shall want of their store; so I like not of those that stuff their studies with wandering & masterless Reports, for they shall find them too soon to lead them to error.
In truth, reading, hearing, conference, meditation, and recordation, are necessary I confess to the knowledge of the common Law, because it consists upon so many, and almost infinite particulars: but an orderly observation in writing is most requisite of them all; for reading without hearing is dark and irksome, & hearing without reading is slippery and uncertain, neither of them truly yield seasonable fruit without conference, nor both of them with conference, without meditation & recordation, nor all of them together without due and orderly observation… And yet he that at length by these means shall attain to be learned, when he shall leave them off quite for his gain, or his ease, so one shall he (I warrant him) lose a great part of his learning:
Therefore as I allow not to the Student any discontinuance at all (for he shall lose more in a month than he shall recover in many:) So do I commend perseverance to all, as to each of these means an inseparable incident.
I have …observed the true reasons as near as I could, of such matters in Law…as have been adjudged upon great & mature deliberation; And as I never meant…to keep them so secret for mine own private use, as to deny the request of any friend to have either view or copy of any of them; So until of late I never could be persuaded… to make them so public, as by any entreaty to commit them to print:
… I have adventured to publish certain of their resolutions… for the help of their memory who heard them, and perfectly knew them, for the instruction of others who knew them not, but imperfectly heard…and lastly, for the common good, (for that is my chief purpose) in quieting & establishing of the possessions of many in these general cases, wherein there has been such variety of opinions.
In these Reports I have (of purpose) not observed one method, to the end that in some other Edition…I may follow the form that the Learned shall allow of, and will sequester mine opinion:
For it may be I should prefer those Reports which are less painful, more compendious, and yet (perhaps) no less profitable. I have added the pleadings at large: as well for the warrant, and better understanding of the cases and matters in Law, as for the better instruction of the studious Reader in good pleading, which Master Littleton says is one of the most honourable, laudable, and profitable things in the Law:…
To the Reader mine advise is, that in reading of these or any new Reports, he neglect not in any case the reading of the old Books of years reported in former ages, for assuredly out of the old fields must spring and grow the new corn,…