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Public Records

record, courts, written, parchment, documents and employed

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RECORDS, PUBLIC. Records, in the legal sense of the term, are contem poraneous statements of the proceedings in those courts of law which are courts of record, written upon rolls of parch ment. (Britton, c. 27.) Matters en rolled among the proceedings of a court, but not connected with those pro ceedings, as deeds enrolled, &c., are not records, though they are sometimes in a loose sense said to be " things recorded." In a popular sense the term is applied to MI public documents preserved in a re cognised repository ; and as such docu meats cannot be conveniently removed, or may be wanted in several places at the same time, the courts of law receive in evidence examined copies of the contents of public documents so preserved, as well as of real records. 'Comers ; RECORDER.] We may consider that as a record which is thus received in the courts of justice. The Act, for instance, abolished Henry VIII.'s court of mentation (of the revenues obtained from the suppression of the religious houses), declared that its records, rolls, books, papers, and documents, should thence forth be held to be records of the court of exchequer ; and accordingly we have seen many a document, originally a mere private memorandum, elevated to the dignity of a public record, on the sole ground of its official custody, and received in evidence as a record of the Augmentation-office. On the other hand, numbers of documents which were originally compiled as public records, having strayed from their legal re pository to the British Museum, have thereby lost their character of authen ticity. (Proceedings of the Privy Council, vol. v. p. 4, edited by Sir Harris Nicolas.) "Our stores of public records," says Bishop Nicolson, " are justly reckoned to excel in age, beauty, correctness, and authority, whatever the choicest archives abroad can boast of the like sort." (Pre face to the English Ristorixd Library.) Indeed, this country is rich beyond all others of modern Europe in the posses sion of ancient written memorials of all branches of its government, constitu tional, judicial, parliamentary, and fiscal, memorials authenticated by all the solemn sanctions of authority, telling truly, though incidentally, the history of our progress as a people, and handed down in unbroken series through the period of nearly seven centuries. The amount of

public care given to this subject during the last forty years, is shown by the ap pointment of successive commissions and committees of inquiry, by a cost in one shape or another amount ing to little less than a million of pounds sterling, and by the passing of an Act of Parliament designed to effect a thorough change in the system of keeping and using the public records.

The greater part of records are kept as rolls written on skins of parchment and vellum, averaging from nine to fourteen inches wide,* and about three feet in length. Two modes of fastening the skins or membranes were employed, that of attaching all the tops of the mem branes together bookwise, as is employed in the exchequer and courts of common law, whilst that of sewing each mem brane consecutively was adopted in the chancery and wardrobe.

The material on which the record is written is generally parchment, which, until the reign of Elizabeth, is extremely clear and well prepared. From that period until the present, the parchment gradually deteriorates, and the worst specimens are furnished in the reigns of George IV. and William IV. The ear liest record written on paper, known to the writer, is of the time of Edward II.

The handwriting of the courts, com monly called court-hand, which had reached its perfection about the reign of our second Edward, differs materially from that employed in chartalaries and monastic writings. As printing ex tended, it relaxed into all the opposites of uniformity, clearness, legibility, and beauty which it once possessed. The ink too lost its ancient indelibility; and, like the parchment, both handwriting and ink are the lowest in character in the latest times: with equal care, venera ble Domesday will outlive its degenerate descendants.

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