Page 46

Fall 2005


Knowledge of the Law youngest man ever to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was one of the founders of Harvard Law School and a professor, jurist and celebrated author who, as a matter of passing interest, embarked upon a legal career “for lack of apparently anything better to do.” His prodigious output of commentaries on the law soon inspired other jurists to set pen to paper.

“There is no jewel in the world comparable to learning and no learning so excellent for both Prince and subject as knowledge of laws.” — Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634) In an absence of legal texts, and with that thought in mind, Sir Edward proceeded to write his four-volume treatise, Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England, so named because he intended that “they should institute and instruct the studious, and guide him in a ready way to the national laws of England.” Volume 1 was the first law book to arrive in the colonies in 1647 and has been referred to by succeeding generations of lawyers as Coke on Littleton (Littleton on Tenures, published in 1482, was the first law book to be printed in England).

At the founding of the Willamette College of Law in 1883, knowledge of the law required burning the midnight oil to read the works of Bispham, Blackstone, Chitty, Cooley, Greenleaf, Kent, Parsons, Pomeroy, Story, Washburn and Wharton, along with a limited number of statutes and a rapidly expanding number of court opinions. When the first encyclopedia of American law, Cyclopedia of Law and Practice, was published in 1900, approximately 750,000 American court opinions already had been published.

A century later Colonial lawyers added another four-volume set to their sparse libraries, namely, Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. Sir William’s lectures at Oxford, many of which were written late at night with a bottle of port before him in order to “correct or prevent the depression sometimes attendant to close study,” provided the impetus for this monumental achievement.

By 1920, Professor Fred Hicks, Yale law librarian, noted that “the books themselves, breaking all restraint, advancing in ever-widening array, and losing few by the wayside, seem about to overwhelm the whole legal profession by sheer weight of numbers. They must be subdued to order and put to work to avoid chaos.” And so they have.

On this side of the Atlantic, James Kent (1763-1847) did for American jurisprudence what Blackstone did for England. He was the first professor of law at Columbia Law School, a New York Supreme Court justice and author of Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, yet another four-volume set.

In the 21st century, the great meteoric shower of law literature begun in the 1880s now continues to light up the night sky in cyberspace, and knowledge of the law is advanced through a wide spectrum of legal resources available through our Web page at

Joseph Story (1779-1845), a contemporary of James Kent, was the eldest of 18 children and at age 32 the 46

Willamette Lawyer | Fall 2005 • Vol. V, No. 2  

Willamette’s Pioneering Law and Government Program

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