Law Dictionaries from The Lawbook Exchange

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Law Dictionaries from The Lawbook Exchange


By Michael Stillman

"It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward. Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths of Learning and Genius, who press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other authour may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach..."    
               Samuel Johnson
With that happy thought, The Lawbook Exchange begins its catalogue of Law Dictionaries. This is not a compendium of light reading. There are no Shakespeares in this field. Your children will not want you to read these passages to them at bedtime. Nonetheless, these books are critical to our ability to live together in civilized societies. If we are a nation laws, not men, then these are the books which define who we are. Through them, we can trace our histories, values, and evolution. They are exceptionally important, even if they operate in the background of most of our lives.

While these books are important to us all, we imagine their greatest appeal will be to those connected to the field of law. That could be collectors, but may also be practitioners as well. Even law books centuries old may still be used by attorneys today to settle some obscure questions outside of the commonplace. Indeed, this catalogue comes in two sections. The first is of antiquarian law dictionaries, while the second offers the Lawbook Exchange's recent reprints of old law dictionaries. Old legal works are reprinted in modern times as they still are of practical use.

A law dictionary is usually a bit more expansive then the term "dictionary" may imply. You may want to think more in terms of encyclopedias than Noah Webster. Most provide far more than simple definitions. They are designed to explain concepts and their applications. They are guide or "how-to" books for those who practice law. Today, they can still assist in the practice, provide information for the historian, or classic books for the collector.

We will now mention a few of the antiquarian books being offered. The titles will probably not be familiar to most, but those intimately involved with the law or legal history will likely recognize them. Many of these books, because of their usefulness, ran to a great many editions. While firsts are likely most desirable to collectors, later editions may be more useful for those who practice law, while the differences between editions can be most informative to historians.