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A book without a preface is an anomaly. Custom demands a preface, even though it be brief as the posy of a ring; and every writer finds at least when his book is finished, if not before, the benefit and expediency of paying the tax, and of availing himself of the opportunity thereby afforded, to apologise for the sins of omission, and commission, of which he has been guilty, and to propitiate, as far as possible, by a statement of what he wished to have done, the favorable judgment of the public upon what he has actually accomplished.
If the Editor of the present volume has at all succeeded in the object at which he aimed, he flatters himself that the work will be found (with deference be it spoken) eminently useful and instructive to two great classes of readers. The former comprising those who do go to court; the latter those who do not. The former will find in it, if not all the necessary rules for their guidance, at least many useful and available pieces of information ; and the latter that knowledge which, if it answer no other end, will at all events, to a certain degree, contribute to their escape from the “parlous state" in which honest Touchstone demonstrated all those to be, who have never been at court. Why, if thou never was't at court, thou never sawost good manners—if thou never saw good
manners, then thy manners must be wicked ; wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd !"
The sin, which awakened the wrath of this motley counsellor, was the sin of ignorance, and that, it is the end and aim of the present work to remove ; but as good manners, radiating from their common centre, the Court, are now somewhat more rife in the world than they were when Shakspeare wrote, and as the high character of the Court no longer justifies the dictum of the satirist,
“ Exeat Aula
Qui vult esse pius” — it has not been deemed advisable to touch upon the subject of courtly virtues, or to weary the reader with any of those goodly moralizations, and, what the profane of the present day might perhaps designate, twaddling ethics, which are to be found in the “ Treatise of the Court, or Instructions for Courtiers ; digested into two books. Written in French by the noble and learned Jurisconsult Monsieur Denys de Refuges, Councellor of Estate, and many tymes Ambassador (in foraigne parts) for ye two last. French Kings his Masters ;” which treatise was, in the reign of James the First, deemed by Master John Reynolds worthy of being “ done into English” for the benefit of the country gentlemen of
Instead of following the path pointed out by this great authority, the Editor, yielding no less to his own views, than to the utilitarian spirit of the present day, has proposed to himself, merely to give some account of the nature, origin, duties, and peculiar privileges of the several ranks of the Nobility, of the various Great Officers of State, of the higher Official Appointments, and, though last not least, of the members of the Royal Household. In carrying out this plan, he has, on the one hand, endeavoured to avoid, as far as possible, too
great minuteness of detail, in order that the reader might be spared the infliction of such bulky folios, and portly quartos, as the writers of Germany and France have devoted to the history of “ Hofrecht,” and “ Cérémonial ;” while, on the other, he has sought to irrigate the occasional dryness of the matter in hand, by the introduction of such historical and biographical anecdotes, as serve at once to illustrate the subject, give variety to the work, and justify him in saying to the reader, as did the learned author of the “ Jocular Tenures”
“Lege-Ride-Disce." But as, notwithstanding the Editor's endeavours to avoid the two extremes of brevity and diffuseness, the various articles which are here collected together, illustrative of the power of the Crown and of Parliament, of the gradual formation of the Nobility, and of the constitutional origin and modification of the various executive Officers of the State, can scarcely hope to rise unscathed from the Procrustean bed of criticism; he begs to submit to the candour of his readers two observations. Such as consider the several heads of his subject too long, will, he hopes, do him the justice to believe, that he has not “ bestowed all his tediousness upon their worships.” While to those who may have expected further information than is here presented to them, he begs to offer an excuse in the novelty of his undertaking. “ It is remarkable," says Sir Harris Nicolas, “ that while the Statute and Common Law of the country have been illustrated by some of its most learned writers, the origin, history, and duties of several of the highest offices of the Crown have been, comparatively, neglected.”—“ Nor are the omissions of Coke, Blackstone, and other jurists on that subject, supplied by any writer whatever.”
To supply, in some measure, this deficiency, is the object of
the present volume. That it may do so effectually, can only be accomplished by the co-operation of those who will kindly enable the Editor to correct his errors, and fill up his omissions ; should the favour of the public afford him the opportunity of doing so, by the publication, at some future time, of an edition of his work, still more worthy of the Illustrious Patronage with which it has been honoured.
The Editor's last but not least pleasing duty, is to offer his best thanks to his kind friend John Bruce, Esq. Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, but for whose ready assistance, and valuable hints, the work would have wanted much of whatever merit the reader may now be pleased to ascribe to it.