The Faithful Councellor, or the marrow of the law, in English.Peter Jones
Rare, Important and an Embarrassment.
When we received the first and second editions of Sheppard’s Faithful Councellor (see our Special Reserve listing) we discovered in the back of the Second edition of 1653 a bit of a mystery, namely Part II of the Faithful Councellor (1654). According to ESTC both the 1653 Second edition and the 1654 Part II are only held in a very small number of institutions and that they have rarely, if ever, come up for auction. Given the importance of William Sheppard to law reform in the Commonwealth, why the rarity for Part II and for the second edition of Part I?
With the declaration of the Commonwealth in 1649, there was a movement to make “the law” more available and understanding to the common man. Therefore towards the end of 1650 the Rump Parliament ordered that all legal records and literature be translated into English.
Sheppard was excited about this new direction, as it gave him a reason to pursue one of his goals, that of compiling a legal encyclopedia, written in the vernacular. With the Rump’s authority (two years earlier he had dedicated a religious work to the rump) he produced in 1651 The Faithful councellor, or the marrow of the Law in English, published by authority. This 500 page abridgement was intended to show ‘how any action may be warrantably laid in the…law for relief in most cases of wrong done’
In 1651 the popularity of the Commonwealth was declining and Sheppard being a champion of the new order included introductory remarks in the Faithful Councellor that were a celebration of the new political state and the legal profession that would serve it. His dedication to the judges of the new central courts affirmed his optimism in the future of the state ‘that wants nothing but age to make it happy’ and he encouraged the members of the bench to lead the transition towards a settlement in which the commonwealth would be ‘crowned with religion, peace and plenty’. He elaborates upon his faith in the law’s potential to provide correctives to injustices in the progress towards general reform in his message to the reader where he wrote, ‘Most men…speak too much of the maladies and distempers of the times; but give me a man that can…advise and give a remedy.’ He offered the work ‘as friend of the commonwealth’ in the hope that ‘with all faults, the book might still be useful and profitable’. Acts and ordinances as recent as October 1650 were included and it is clear that the manuscript was rushed into print for immediate use without having been properly arranged by the author or provided with clear headings to the printer. Even so the Faithful councellor marked the dawn of a new type of legal literature.
The faithful councellor was written to be used as a reference guide for lawyers, students and potential litigants. The author warned the public against going to law without first engaging a learned lawyer, and that his descriptions were written to help simplify and clarify the law, but that there would be a continuing need for a trained professional to guide litigation through the courts.
A second edition of the Faithful councellor was published in 1653. The reset type for the entire text indicates that the book had clearly been a popular success (and thus the first edition is the most available edition on today’s market). An error in pagination had been corrected, but in all other respects the two editions were identical.
In 1654 an entirely new work by Sheppard was published under the title, The second part of the faithfull councellour: or, the marrow of the law in English. In which is handled more of the useful and necessary heads of the common law. This book was a deep embarrassment to Sheppard who explained to his readers in the introduction that his publishers had disappointed him.
‘…and finding my former labors have had so good acceptance among you, I was drawn to make these public also. And in order thereunto I delivered my papers (with this promise) that they should first be perused, corrected & methodized by some able man, I not having time nor strength my self to do it, but they are printed, and thus is not fully done as I could have wished.’
The Faithful councellor II was never republished in the same form. Sheppard publicly and in print “trashed” his publishers (and by association the value of Faithful councellor II) suggesting that it was only printed as there was a strongly felt need in the first year of the protectorate to print in English any available descriptions of the law in order to provide a stable legal base to enhance the new government’s appearance of legitimacy. Sheppard, as an established author of legal texts and a new member of the administration, was an obvious contributor to the growing body of legal literature translated into the vernacular. But the author himself recognized that the printing of this book in March 1654 in the form in which it appeared was premature. Two years later the contents were rearranged under alphabetical heads and the entire text of the Faithfull councellor II, was incorporated into the Epitome (1656) along with that of Faithfull councellor I.
We can only imagine the situation of the times, with the author discouraging the purchase of Part II and with his promise to publish a larger corrected compilation shortly, his Epitome (1656), sales of the second edition of Part I and Part II must have struggled. Many copies would certainly have remained unsold and later destroyed, as anticipation of the larger Epitome kept potential buyers sidelined for a few months. Once Epitome was released it made these earlier efforts redundant and a source of embarrassment to both Sheppard and the authorities. The quick production of Epitome two years after Faithful councellor II, driven by Sheppard’s need to correct the faults of these earlier publications, explains the scarcity of both the second edition of Part I and the very great rarity of Part II.
The Faithfull councellor, I and II, while clearly lacking in organizational strength were the most ambitious in scope of all his early legal works. These problems were corrected when the texts were republished, greatly enlarged, under the title Epitome in 1656. With the faithful councellor (1651 and 1654), Sheppard can be credited with having compiled one of the earliest legal encyclopedias. This type of law literature would not achieve its fullest development until the end of the eighteenth century when Comyns and Bacon brought to maturity the form that originated with Sheppard.
Much of the material in this blog is based on Nancy Matthews excellent book, William Sheppard, Cromwell’s Law Reformer, Cambridge 1984.