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An Account of the Most Important Records of Great Britain
And the publications of the Record Commissioners together with other miscellaneous, Historical and Antiquarian Information compiled from various printed books and manuscripts By C. P. Cooper in two volumes (1832)


It was the intention of the Compiler to prefix to the ensuing sheets a statement of the various facts and circumstances connected with the Public Records, under the different heads of “Access,” “Calendars,” "Transcripts,” “Security,” “Employment of Clerks,” &c., which are scattered through the numerous and unwieldly volumes, both printed and manuscript, that owe their birth to the Parliamentary Inquiries, instituted during the last century, into the state of the Archives of the Kingdom. The utility of such a statement is evident; and it is probable that it would prove not less instructive than useful, as it would show that abuses are as inveterate in the subordinate, as in the superior, departments of the Government, and, when concealed from the public eye, are often propagated and increased by the very measures, that were designed for their diminution, or destruction. Every passage of the Report of 1800 exhibits evils, to which the lapse of thirty years has only served to give a more luxuriant and a more vigorous growth; and even the ancient Reports of 1719 and 1732 indicate many corrupt practices, that still exist, in despite of “Recommendations” and “Orders” made and reiterated by Committees and by Boards, and with which, notwithstanding the long-continued efforts of their predecessors, the present Commissioners on the Public Records are compelled now to grapple.

Some progress had been made in this statement, when the Compiler found that it would swell the present volume to a most inconvenient size; and he has therefore determined to reserve it for a separate work, which will be exclusively devoted to the important branch of the labours of the Record Board comprehended by the foregoing titles. This work he does not altogether despair of being able to complete in the course of the next long vacation, the only period during which his professional avocations afford him the leisure requisite for such an undertaking. In the mean time, should the reader have entertained the hope, that the present work would embrace a more general view of the proceedings of the Record Board, he is entreated to accept the assurance, that if the following pages are silent respecting the abuses in question, it is not, at least, because they are less known than those, which are there exposed to his observation.

The Compiler cannot, however, permit these volumes to appear unaccompanied by the declaration, that his enlarged acquaintance with the state of the Public Records has produced no change in the opinions, which he ventured to express before his reluctant acceptance of the troublesome and most unprofitable office, that he now holds, had brought within his reach a mass of unpublished materials, until then unexplored and inaccessible. His conviction has for many years been, and it still is,—that the genuine materials for the History of this Country lie buried in the sepulchral vaults and chambers of the Tower, the Chapter House, the Pipe Office, and the Rolls Chapel—that the dark cloud, that has so long rested upon those repositories, conceals the origin and early progress of our judicial institutions and our Parliament— and that the most esteemed general and local histories, that we possess, abound with numberless and the grossest errors, and as little resemble the truth, as the pleasing, but fanciful, theories of Montesquieu, Blackstone and Delolme represent our actual constitution.

The Compiler, too, cannot refrain from hazarding a few very brief remarks upon the course, which it appears expedient, that the existing Commissioners on the Public Records should pursue with reference to the two grand objects of their work, premising only that such remarks must be considered as those of an individual writer, and entirely void of official authority, or sanction.

The two great objects, without the attainment of which, the labour of the Commissioners must be unprofitable and useless, are—I. More ready access to the Records. II. Preservation of their contents, by means of the press, or transcription.

I. More ready access to the Records. That the mouldering obscurity, in which the most precious archives of the kingdom have so long reposed, has not been favourable to their preservation, is obvious from a comparison of the present contents of the principal offices with the numerous Calendars framed during the course of the 16th and 17th centuries. Many thousands have decayed and perished in the catacombs in which they were entombed, and no inconsiderable number have been purloined. Early measures then should be taken for carrying into effect the recommendation, so often, and hitherto so uselessly, made, for the demolition of the barrier, which the necessities, or the avarice, of the keepers, or their clerks, has interposed between the Records and the public. Of the precise nature of the measures, the best adapted to effectuate this design, it is not possible at present to speak with certainty. The following, however, appear to be those, which are the most likely to lead to a successful and safe result—Istly. To separate documents chiefly literary and historical from those of a purely legal nature, and to transfer the former to the British Museum. Such transfer must, of course, be accompanied by such modification of our present absurd law of evidence as would be necessary to prevent any inconvenience, that might otherwise result from the change of custody. 2dly. To require that the clerks should attend in the different offices six, or seven, hours a day, and should devote their whole time to the arrangement of the Records and the formation of Indexes, and to fix their emoluments upon a scale proportioned to their new duties. 3dly. To concentrate the Records of a certain age and description in some repository of convenient access, to be erected after the manner of the General Register House, Edinburgh. The Rolls Estate presents a most convenient situation for such a building; and it would not perhaps be difficult to show, that this valuable and extensive property is capable of affording sites not only for a General Record Office, but for two Equity Courts, Chambers for the Judges, for Barristers, &c. It is not impossible, too, that the sum of money requisite for the completion of the different edifices, large as it must be, might be raised by mortgage of the estate: a most important circumstance at a period when all hopes of parliamentary aid are said to be chimerical. The more modem and bulky Records, to which reference is most frequently made, should be preserved in some place adjoining the offices where the daily business of the Courts, to which they belong, is ordinarily transacted.

II. Preservation of the Contents of the Records by Printing, or Transcribing.—Under this head the Compiler ventures to make the following brief suggestions and remarks:—Istly. Measures should be adopted that all the most rare and important Records in the different Offices be accurately transcribed. Transcription is more economical than printing, and in numerous cases it is fortunately as efficacious, at least for all useful purposes. Valuable as our Records are, they are valuable only to those persons, who have made them the object of peculiar study and pursuit, and industriously acquired the keys to the various ciphers in which they are composed. Such persons form a distinct, but not a numerous, class; and it would be easy to show that to them a faithful transcript of a Record placed in the Museum, would be frequently more acceptable than a printed volume. 2dly. In order to ensure a succession of skilful transcribers, a school should be established for teaching young men the languages and the characters in which our ancient rolls are written, who should be employed as Copyists in the offices, and should eventually be promoted to the situation of Clerks, Deputy Keepers, &c. as vacancies might occur. The enormous sums paid for the copies (teeming with errors) from which the published works were printed, leave no doubt that an immense saving would have been effected in the expenditure of the Record Board, had such an institution been founded by the Commissioners of 1800. The exertions too of the present Commissioners would not have been paralyzed from the dearth of persons, competent to perform the humble and unex-pensive, but most important and useful, task of correct copyists. 3dly. It should be remembered that the arrangement of Records, the compilation of Calendars, the investigation of the duties and emoluments of the officers, and the reform of some notorious but deeply-rooted abuses, constitute the great and primary object of the Commission, and that “the printing of certain of the more ancient and valuable amongst the Records,’' is enjoined only as a secondary work. The rule should therefore be adopted, that no publication, which cannot be terminated in a reasonable time, and at a moderate expense, should for the future be undertaken without the express authority of Parliament —an authority, which the debate upon the Materials for the History of Britain leaves no doubt, would always be granted upon a proper representation. With regard to works of a less bulky and costly description, it is obvious that those should be selected, which are not likely to become the subject of private enterprise, or speculation. One point remains—the incomplete works—and these present a difficult question, in the solution of which, it is hoped, the present volumes will be found to afford some assistance.

It is necessary to state—that the Additions and Notes made by the Compiler to the different articles, comprised in the ensuing pages, are uniformly distinguished by brackets, and are purposely restricted to certain details respecting the Records and the publications of the Record Board, which, whatever utility they may possess, will certainly not contribute to the entertainment of the reader—that the Compiler has carefully abstained from all remarks of a historical, or literary, character, even in those instances where his reading would have enabled him to correct inaccuracies—that from the nature of the work, the numerous references are necessarily printed without alteration and without verification—and that the frequent and manifest discrepancies, contradictions, and errors, in fact, construction, and language, appearing in the books, or manuscripts, that have furnished the materials, are equally preserved.

C. P. C.
Lincoln’s Inn, 29th February, 1832.

You can download the two volumes here...

Volume 1  |  Volume 2


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