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The following treatise, planned upon the order of the subject, opens with the acquisition of ship property, and those dealings with it, when acquired, which are recognised and sanctioned by law. It passes from this to the various relations of the owners in connection with such property -among themselves, with their agents, to the world at large, the mariners in particular, and generally to the owners of other ships that may be met with on the maritime highway. Thus far it comprises only those dealings and relations, legally considered, which begin and end immediately in the possession of this description of property, forming what may be regarded as the first grand division of the subject. The second division is concerned with the commercial purpose of ship-property, and all those obligations which are severally contracted by the owner and the freighter in the employment of it for that end, whether expressly stipulated between them at the first, or implied by law, from the relation thus formed, in connection with the course of
subsequent events. The subject, in this view of it, appears distinctively massed about a few centres, presenting for the investigation of it a plan that easily admits of the full discussion of particulars, whilst it naturally combines towards the general development of the whole, and is immediately accessible in any part of it to a mere stranger.
The complete conception of a work of this nature comprehends a variety of subjects not hitherto considered within the same treatise. Ships regarded as property, although engaging so large an amount of British capital, did not enter into Mr. Abbott's scheme. The General Maritime Law and the Law of Nations, touching international questions, have heretofore been dismissed with the casual notice of a few decisions ; and yet, as administered in the Prize Court, they affect shipping, and merchandise, and the profits of the carrying trade ; being universal in the applicability of their principles, and bearing sensibly, in their effect, upon the interests of communities, and the prosperity of a nation. Perceiving the importance of these and other subjects of inquiry to the work that I was meditating, I embraced the undertaking to the full extent, and have endeavoured to embody my conception in the following pages.
Upon the Maritime Law of Great Britain, more than on any other single subject, a writer is obliged, not needlessly
as to some it might appear, to multiply references to other systems of maritime law, and to the works of those who have commented upon them. This is due partly to the state in which our law is found, and partly to the purpose which it contemplates in common with other national maritime codes.
The law maritime of this country has been for centuries an unwritten law; and, notwithstanding recent legislation of an important character, it continues in the bulk to be an unwritten law still. The development of it during that period has been gradual, as there was occasion ; and the origin of much of it may be traced, by the similarity it bears, to what is familiarly known as the general maritime law of Europe. This general law exists nowhere as a written system. In all its leading principles, it is recognised by the jurists of every maritime country, and is transfused to some extent into every maritime code. Into our own system to a much greater degree it enters, not merely in the form of positive law, but as productive germ and animating spirit. Upon any question, therefore, still in controversy under the maritime law of this country, recourse to the principles of the general maritime law is both natural and common; and for the purpose of identifying any alleged principles with the general system appealed to for their authority, it is often indispensable to refer to the general