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LECTURE V. – THE BAILEE AT COMMON LAW.

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So far the discussion has been confined to the general principles of liability, and to the mode of ascertaining the point at which a man begins to act at his own peril. But it does not matter to a man whether he acts at his own peril or not, unless harm comes of it, and there must always be some one within reach of the consequences of the act before any harm can be done. Furthermore, and more to the point, there are certain forms of harm which are not likely to be suffered, and which can never be complained of by any one except a person who stands in a particular relation to the actor or to some other person or thing. Thus it is neither a harm nor a wrong to take fish from a pond unless the pond is possessed or owned by some one, and then only to the possessor or owner. It is neither a harm nor a wrong to abstain from delivering a bale of wool at a certain time and place, unless a binding promise has been made so to deliver it, and then it is a wrong only to the promisee.

The next thing to be done is to analyze those special relations out of which special rights and duties arise. The chief of them — and I mean by the word "relations" relations of fact simply — are possession and contract, and I shall take up those subjects successively.

The test of the theory of possession which prevails in any system of law is to be found in its mode of dealing [165] who have a thing within their power, but not own it, or assert the position of an owner for with regard to it, bailees, in a word. It is therefore, as a preliminary to understanding the common-law theory of possession, to study the common law with regard to bailees.

The state of things which prevailed on the border between England and Scotland within recent times, and which is brought back in the flesh by the ballad of the Fray O'Suport, is very like that which in an earlier century left its skeleton in the folk-laws of Germany and England. Cattle were the principal property known, and cattle-stealing the principal form of wrongful taking of property. Of law there was very little, and what there was depended almost wholly upon the party himself to enforce. The Salic Law of the fifth century and the Anglo-Saxon laws of Alfred are very full in their directions about following the trail. If the cattle were come up with before three days were gone, the pursuer had the fight to take and keep them, subject only to swearing that he lost them against his will. If more than three days went by before the cattle were found, the defendant might swear, if he could, to facts which would disprove the claimant's loss.

This procedure was in truth a legal procedure; but it depended for its beginning and for its execution on the party making the claim. From its "executive" nature, it could hardly have been started by any other than the person on the spot, in whose keeping the cattle were. The oath was to the effect that the party had lost possession against his will. But if all that a man had to swear was that he had lost possession against his will, it is a natural conclusion that the right to take the oath and make use of [166] the procedure depended on possession, and not on ownership. Possession was not merely sufficient, but it was essential. Only he who was in possession could say that he had lost the property against his will, just as only he who was on the spot could follow the cattle. /1/

This, so far as known, was the one means afforded by the early law of our race for the recovery of property lost against one's will. So that, in a word, this procedure, modelled on the self-redress natural to the case which gave rise to it, was the only remedy, was confined to the man in possession, and was not open to the owner unless he was that man.

To this primitive condition of society has been traced a rule which maintained itself to later times and a more civilized procedure, that, if chattels were intrusted by their owner to another person, the bailee, and not the bailor, was the proper party to sue for their wrongful appropriation by a third. It followed that if the bailee, or person [167] so intrusted, sold or gave the goods in his charge to another, the owner could only look to the bailee, and could not sue the stranger; not from any principle in favor of trade, intended to protect those who bought in good faith from parties in possession, but because there was no form of action known which was open to him. But as the remedies were all in the bailee's hands, it also followed that he was bound to hold his bailor harmless. If the goods were lost, it was no excuse that they were stolen without his fault. He alone could recover the lost property, and therefore he was bound to do so.

In the course of time this reason ceased to exist. An owner out of possession could sue the wrongful taker of his property, as well as one who had possession. But the strict liability of the bailee remained, as such rules do remain in the law, long after the causes which gave rise to it had disappeared, and at length we find cause and effect inverted. We read in Beaumanoir (A.D. 1283) that, if a hired thing is stolen, the suit belongs to the bailee, because he is answerable to the person from whom he hired. /1/ At first the bailee was answerable to the owner, because he was the only person who could sue. Now it was said he could sue because he was answerable to the owner.

All the above peculiarities reappear in the Anglo-Norman law, and from that day to this all kinds of bailees have been treated as having possession in a legal sense, as I shall presently show.

It is desirable to prove the native origin of our law of bailment, in order that, when theory comes to be considered, modern German opinion may not be valued at more than its true worth. The only existing theories on [168] the subject come from Germany. The German philosophers who have written upon law have known no other system than the Roman, and the German lawyers who have philosophized have been professors of Roman law. Some rules which we think clear are against what the German civilians would regard as first principles. To test the value of those principles, or at least to prevent the hasty assumption that they are universal, toward which there is a slight tendency among English writers, it is well to realize that we are dealing with a new system, of which philosophy has not yet taken account.

In the first place, we find an action to recover stolen property, which, like the Salic procedure, was based on possession, not on title. Bracton says that one may sue for his chattel as stolen, by the testimony of good men, and that it does not matter whether the thing thus taken was his own property or another's, provided it was in his custody. /1/

The point of especial importance, it will be remembered, was the oath. The oath of the probi homines would seem from the letter of Bracton to have been that the thing was lost (adirata), and this we are expressly told was the fact in a report of the year 1294." Note that where a man's chattel is lost (ou la chosse de un home est endire), he may count that he [the finder] tortiously detains it, &c., and tortiously for this that whereas he lost the said thing on such a day, &c., he [the loser] came on such a day, &c. [169] (la vynt yl e en jour), and found it in the house of such an one, and told him, &c., and prayed him to restore the Sing, but that he would not restore it, &c., to his damage, &c.; and if he, &c. In this case, the demandant must prove (his own hand the twelfth) that he lost the thing." /1/

Assuming that as the first step we find a procedure kindred to that of the early German folk-laws, the more important question is whether we find any principles similar to those which have just been explained. One of these, it will be remembered, concerned wrongful transfer by the bailee. We find it laid down in the Year Books that, if I deliver goods to a bailee to keep for me, and he sells or gives them to a stranger, the property is vested in the stranger by the gift, and I cannot maintain trespass against him; but that I have a good remedy against the bailee by writ of detinue (for his failure to return the goods). /2/ These cases have been understood, and it would seem on the whole rightly, not merely to deny trespass to the bailor, but any action whatever. Modern writers have added, however, the characteristically modern qualification, that the purchase must be bona fide, and without notice. /3/ It may be answered, that the proposition extends to gifts as well as to sales by the bailee, that there is no such condition in the old books, and that it is contrary to the spirit of the strict doctrines of the common law to read it in. No lawyer needs to be told that, even so qualified, this is no [170] longer the law. /1/ The doctrine of the Year Books must be regarded as a survival from the primitive times when we have seen the same rule in force, unless we are prepared to believe that in the fifteenth century they had a nicer feeling for the rights of bona fide purchasers than at present.

The next point in logical order would be the degree of responsibility to which the bailee was held as towards his bailor who intrusted him. But for convenience I will consider first the explanation which was given of the bailee's right of action against third persons wrongfully taking the goods from his possession. The inverted explanation of Beaumanoir will be remembered, that the bailee could sue because he was answerable over, in place of the original rule, that he was answerable over so strictly because only he could sue. We find the same reasoning often repeated in the Year Books, and, indeed, from that day to this it has always been one of the commonplaces of the law. Thus Hankford, then a judge of the Common Bench, says (circa A.D. 1410), /2/ "If a stranger takes beasts in my custody, I shall have a writ of trespass against him, and shall recover the value of the beasts, because I am chargeable for the beasts to my bailor, who has the property." There are cases in which this reasoning was pushed to the conclusion, that if, by the terms of the trust, the bailee was not answerable for the goods if stolen, he would not have an action against the thief. /3/ The same explanation is repeated to this day. Thus we read in a well- known textbook, [171] "For the bailee being responsible to the bailor, if the goods be lost or damaged by negligence, or if he do not deliver them up on lawful demand, it is therefore reasonable that he should have a right of action," &c. /1/ In general, nowadays, a borrower or hirer of property is not answerable if it is taken from him against his will, and if the reason offered were a true one, it would follow that, as he was not answerable over, he could not sue the wrong-doer. It would only be necessary for the wrong-doer to commit a wrong so gross as to free the bailee from responsibility, in order to deprive him of his right of action. The truth is, that any person in possession, whether intrusted and answerable over or not, a finder of property as well as a bailee, can sue any one except the true owner for interfering with his possession, as will be shown more particularly at the end of the next Lecture.

The bailor also obtained a right of action against the wrong-doer at a pretty early date. It is laid down by counsel in 48 Edward III., /2/ in an action of trespass by an agister of cattle, that, "in this case, he who has the property may have a writ of trespass, and he who has the custody another writ of trespass. Persay: Sir, it is true. But [172] he who recovers first shall oust the other of the action, and so it shall be in many cases, as if tenant by elegit is ousted, each shall have the assize, and, if the one recover first, the writ of the other is abated, and so here."

It would seem from other books that this was spoken of bailments generally, and was not limited to those which are terminable at the pleasure of the bailor. Thus in 22 Edward IV., counsel say, "If I bail to you my goods, and another takes them out of your possession, I shall have good action of trespass quare vi et armis." /1/ And this seems to have been Rolle's understanding in the passage usually relied on by modern courts. /2/

It was to be expected that some action should be given to the bailor as soon as the law had got machinery which could be worked without help from the fresh pursuit and armed hands of the possessor and his friends. To allow the bailor to sue, and to give him trespass, were pretty nearly the same thing before the action on the case was heard of. Many early writs will be found which show that trespass had not always the clear outline which it developed later. The point which seems to be insisted on in the Year Books is, as Brooke sums it up in the margin of his Abridgment, that two shall have an action for a single act, — not that both shall have trespass rather than case. /3/ It should be added that the Year Books quoted do not go beyond the case of a wrongful taking out of the custody of the bailee, the old case of the folk-laws. /4/ Even thus [173] the right to maintain trespass is now denied where bailee has the exclusive right to the goods by lease or lien; /1/ although the doctrine has been repeated with reference to bailments terminable at the pleasure of the bailor. /2/ But the modified rule does not concern the present discussion, any more than the earlier form, because it still leaves open the possessory remedies to all bailees without exception. This appears from the relation of the modified rule to the ancient law; from the fact that Baron Parke, in the just cited case of Manders v. Williams, hints that he would have been prepared to apply the old rule to its full extent but for Gordon v. Harper, and still more obviously from the fact, that the bailee's right to trespass and trover is asserted in the same breath with that of the bailor, as well as proved by express decisions to be cited.

It is true that in Lotan v. Cross, /3/ Lord Ellenborough ruled at nisi prius that a lender could maintain trespass for damage done to a chattel in the hands of a borrower, and that the case is often cited as authority without remark. Indeed, it is sometimes laid down generally, in reputable text-books, that a gratuitous bailment does not change the possession, but leaves it in the bailor; /4/ that a gratuitous bailee is quasi a servant of the bailor, and the possession of one is the possession of the other; and that it is for this reason that, although the bailee may sue on [174] his possession, the bailor has the same actions. /1/ A part of this confusion has already been explained, and the rest will be when I come to speak of servants, between whom and all bailees there is a broad and well-known distinction. But on whatever ground Lotan v. Cross may stand, if on any, it cannot for a moment be admitted that borrowers in general have not trespass and trover. A gratuitous deposit for the sole benefit of the depositor is a much stronger case for the denial of these remedies to the depositary; yet we have a decision by the full court, in which Lord Ellenborough also took part, that a depositary has case, the reasoning implying that a fortiori a borrower would have trespass. And this has always been the law. /2/ It has been seen that a similar doctrine necessarily resulted from the nature of the early German procedure; and the cases cited in the note show that, in this as in other respects, the English followed the traditions of their race.

The meaning of the rule that all bailees have the possessory remedies is, that in the theory of the common law every bailee has a true possession, and that a bailee recovers on the strength of his possession, just as a finder does, and as even a wrongful possessor may have full damages or a return of the specific thing from a stranger to the title. On the other hand, so far as the possessory actions are still allowed to bailors, it is not on the ground that they also have possession, but is probably by a survival, which [175] explained, and which in the modern form of the an anomaly. /1/ The reason usually given is, that a right of immediate possession is sufficient, — a reason which the notion that the bailor is actually possessed.

The point which is essential to understanding the common-law theory of possession is now established: that all bailees from time immemorial have been regarded by the English law as possessors, and entitled to the possessory remedies. It is not strictly necessary to go on and complete the proof that our law of bailment is of pure German descent. But, apart from curiosity, the doctrine remaining to be discussed has had such important influence upon the law of the present day, that I shall follow it out with some care. That doctrine was the absolute responsibility of the bailee to the bailor, if the goods were wrongfully taken from him. /2/

The early text-writers are not as instructive as might be hoped, owing to the influence of the Roman law. Glanvil, however, says in terms that, if a borrowed thing be destroyed or lost in any way while in the borrower's custody, he is absolutely bound to return a reasonable price. /3/ So does Bracton, who partially repeats but modifies the language of Justinian as to commodatum, depositum, and pignus; /4/ and as to the duty of the hirer to use the care of a diligentissimus paterfamilias. /5/

[176] The language and decisions of the courts are perfectly clear; and there we find the German tradition kept alive for several centuries. I begin with the time of Edward II., about 1315. In detinue the plea was that the plaintiff delivered the defendant a chest locked with his key, that the chattels were in the chest, and that they were taken from the defendant together with his own goods by robbery. The replication was that the goods were delivered to the defendant out of enclosure, and Fitzherbert says the party was driven to that issue; /1/ which implies that, if not in the chest, but in the defendant's custody, he was liable. Lord Holt, in Coggs v. Bernard, /2/ denies that the chest would make any difference; but the old books agree that there is no delivery if the goods are under lock and key; and this is the origin of the distinction as to carriers breaking bulk in modern criminal law. /3/ In the reign of Edward III., /4/ the case of a pledge came up, which seems always to have been regarded as a special bailment to keep as one's own goods. The defence was, that the goods were stolen with the defendant's own. The plaintiff was driven to reply a tender before the theft, which would have put an end to the pledge, and left the defendant a general bailee. /5/ Issue was taken thereon, which confirms the other cases, by implying that in that event the defendant would be liable.

Next I take a case of the time of Henry VI., A.D. 1455. /6/ [177] was an action of debt against the Marshal of the Marshalsea, or jailer of the King's Bench prison, for an escape of a prisoner. Jailers in charge of prisoners were governed by the same law as bailees in charge of cattle. The body of the prisoner was delivered to the jailer to keep under the same liabilities that cows or goods might have been. /1/ He set up in defence that enemies of the king broke into the prison and carried off the prisoner, against the will of the defendant. The question was whether this was a good defence. The court said that, if alien enemies of the king, for instance the French, released the prisoner, or perhaps if the burning of the prison gave him a chance to escape, the excuse would be good, "because then [the defendant] has remedy against no one." But if subjects of the king broke the prison, the defendant would be liable, for they are not enemies, but traitors, and then, it is implied, the defendant would have a right of action against them, and therefore would himself be answerable. In this case the court got very near to the original ground of liability, and distinguished accordingly. The person intrusted was liable in those cases where he had a remedy over against the wrong-doer (and in which, originally, he was the only person who had such a remedy); and, on the other hand, his liability, being founded on that circumstance, ceased where the remedy ceased. The jailer could not sue the soldiers of an invading army of Frenchmen; but in theory he could sue any British subject who carried off the prisoner, however little it was likely that he would get much satisfaction in that way.

A few years later the law is stated the same way by the famous Littleton. He says that, if goods are delivered to [178] a man, he shall have an action of trespass if they are carried off, for he is chargeable over. /1/ That is, he is bound to make the loss good to the party who intrusted him.

In 9 Edward IV., /2/ Danby says if a bailee received goods to keep as his proper goods, then robbery shall excuse him, otherwise not. Again, in a later case /3/ robbery is said not to be an excuse. There may have been some hesitation as to robbery when the robber was unknown, and so the bailee had no remedy over, /4/ or even as to robbery generally, on the ground that by reason of the felony the bailee could not go against either the robber's body or his estate; for the one was hanged and the other forfeited. /5/ But there is not a shadow of doubt that the bailee was not excused by an ordinary wrongful taking. "If the goods are taken by a trespasser, of whom the bailee has conusance, he shall be chargeable to his bailor, and shall have his action over against his trespasser." /6/ The same point was touched in other passages of the Year Books, /7/ and the rule of law is clearly implied by the reason which was given for the bailee's right to sue in the cases cited above.

The principle was directly decided in accordance with the ancient law in the famous case of Southcote v. Bennet. /8/ This was detinue of goods delivered to the defendant to [179] keep safely. The defendant confessed the delivery, and set up he was robbed of the goods by J.S. "And, after argument at the bar, Gawdy and Clench, ceteris absentibus, held that the plaintiff ought to recover, because it was not a special bailment; that the defendant accepted them to keep as his proper goods, and not otherwise; but it is a delivery, which chargeth him to keep them at his peril. And it is not any plea in a detinue to say that he was robbed by one such; for he hath his remedy over by trespass, or appeal, to have them again." The above from Croke's report implies, what Lord Coke expressly says, that "to be kept, and to be kept safe, is all one," and both reports agree that the obligation was founded on the delivery alone. Croke's report confirms the caution which Lord Coke adds to his report: "Note, reader, it is good policy for him who takes any goods to keep, to take them in special manner, scil. to keep them as he keeps his own goods, ... or if they happen to be stolen or purloined, that he shall not be answerable for them; for he who accepted them ought to take them in such or the like manner, or otherwise he may be charged by his general acceptance."

Down to this time, at least, it was clear law that, if a person accepted the possession of goods to keep for another even as a favor, and lost them by wrongful taking, wholly without his fault, he was bound to make good the loss, unless when he took possession he expressly stipulated against such a responsibility. The attempts of Lord Holt in Coggs v. Bernard, and of Sir William Jones in his book on Bailments, to show that Southcote v. Bennet was not sustained by authority, were futile, as any one who will Study the Year Books for himself may see. The same principle was laid down seven years before by Peryam, [180] C. B., in Drake v. Royman, /1/ and Southcote's Case was followed as a leading precedent without question for a hundred years.

Thus the circle of analogies between the English and the early German law is complete. There is the same procedure for lost property, turning on the single question whether the plaintiff had lost possession against his will; the same principle that, if the person intrusted with the property parted with it to another, the owner could not recover it, but must get his indemnity from his bailee; the same inverted explanation, that the bailee could sue because he was answerable over, but the substance of the true doctrine in the rule that when he had no remedy he was not answerable; and, finally, the same absolute responsibility for loss, even when happening without fault on the part of the person intrusted. The last and most important of these principles is seen in force as late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth. We have now to follow its later fortunes.

A common carrier is liable for goods which are stolen from him, or otherwise lost from his charge except by the act of God or the public enemy. Two notions have been entertained with regard to the source of this rule: one, that it was borrowed from the Roman law; /2/ the other, that it was introduced by custom, as an exception to the general law of bailment, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. /3/

I shall try to show that both these notions are wrong, that this strict responsibility is a fragmentary survival from the general law of bailment which I have just explained; [181] the modifications which the old law has undergone were due in part to a confusion of ideas which came the displacement of detinue by the action on the case, in part to conceptions of public policy which were read into the precedents by Lord Holt, and in part to still later conceptions of policy which have been read into the reasonings of Lord Holt by later judges.

Southcote's Case was decided in the forty-third year of Queen Elizabeth (A.D. 1601). I think the first mention of a carrier, pertinent to the question, occurs in Woodlife's Case, /1/ decided four or five years earlier (38 or 39 Eliz., A.D. 1596 or 1597). It was an action of account for merchandise delivered to the defendant, it would seem as a factor ("pur merchandizer") — clearly not as a carrier. Plea, robbery at sea with defendant's own goods. Gawdy, one of the judges who decided Southcote's Case, thought the plea bad; but Popham, C. J. said that, though it would not be a good plea for a carrier because he is paid for his carriage, there was a difference in this respect between carriers and other servants and factors.

This is repeated in Southcote's Case, and appears to involve a double distinction, — first between paid and unpaid bailees, next between bailees and servants. If the defendant was a servant not having control over the goods, he might not fall within the law of bailment, and factors are treated on the footing of servants in the early law.

The other diversity marked the entrance of the doctrine of consideration into the law of bailment. Consideration originally meant quid pro quo, as will be explained hereafter. It was thus dealt with in Doctor and Student /2/ when the principle was still young. Chief Justice [183] Popham probably borrowed his distinction between paid and unpaid bailees from that work, where common carriers are mentioned as an example of the former class. A little earlier, reward made no difference. /1/

But in Woodlife's Case, in reply to what the Chief Justice had said, Gawdy cited the case of the Marshal of the King's Bench, /2/ stated above, whereupon Popham fell back on the old distinction that the jailer had a remedy over against the rebels, but that there was no remedy over in the case at bar.

The other cases relied on were some of those on general bailment collected above; the same authorities, in short, on which Southcote's Case was founded. The principle adopted was the same as in Southcote's Case, subject only to the question whether the defendant fell within it. Nothing was said of any custom of the realm, or ever had been in any reported case before this time; and I believe this to be the first instance in which carriers are in any way distinguished from any other class of persons intrusted with goods. There is no hint of any special obligation peculiar to them in the old books; and it certainly is not true, that this case introduced one. It will be noticed, with reference to what follows, that Popham does not speak of common carriers, but of carriers.

Next came Southcote's Case /3/ (43 Eliz., A.D. 1601), which presented the old law pure and simple, irrespective of reward or any modern innovation. In this and the earlier instances of loss by theft, the action was detinue, counting, we may presume, simply on a delivery and wrongful detainer.

[183] But about this time important changes took place in the procedure usually adopted, which must be explained. If the chattel could be returned in specie, detinue afforded no satisfaction for damage which it might have suffered through the bailee's neglect. /1/ The natural remedy for such damage was the action on the case. But before this could be made entirely satisfactory, there were certain difficulties to be overcome. The neglect which occasioned the damage might be a mere omission, and what was there akin to trespass in a nonfeasance to sustain the analogy upon which trespass on the case was founded? Moreover, to charge a man for not acting, you must show that it was his duty to act. As pleadings were formerly construed, it would not have been enough to allege that the plaintiff's goods were damaged by the defendant's negligence. /2/ These troubles had been got over by the well-known words, super se assumpsit, which will be explained later. Assumpsit did not for a long time become an independent action of contract, and the allegation was simply the inducement to an action of tort. The ground of liability was that the defendant had started upon the undertaking, so that his negligent omission, which let in the damage, could be connected with his acts as a part of his dealing with the thing. /3/ We shall find Lord Holt recognizing this original purport of assumpsit when we come to Coggs v. Bernard. 0f course it was not confined to cases of bailment.

But there was another way besides this by which the defendant could be charged with a duty and made liable [184] in case, and which, although less familiar to lawyers, has a special bearing on the law of carriers in later times. If damage had been done or occasioned by the act or omission of the defendant in the pursuit of some of the more common callings, such as that of a farrier, it seems that the action could be maintained, without laying an assumpsit, on the allegation that he was a "common" farrier. /l / The latter principle was also wholly independent of bailment. It expressed the general obligation of those exercising a public or "common" business to practise their art on demand, and show skill in it. "For," as Fitzherbert says, "it is the duty of every artificer to exercise his art rightly and truly as he ought." /2/

When it had thus been established that case would lie for damage when occasioned by the omission, as well as when caused by the act, of the defendant, there was no reason for denying it, even if the negligent custody had resulted in the destruction of the property. /3/ From this it was but a step to extend the same form of action to all cases of loss by a bailee, and so avoid the defendant's right to wage his law. Detinue, the primitive remedy, retained that mark of primitive procedure. The last extension was made about the time of Southcote's Case. /4/ But when the [185] same form of action thus came to be used alike for damage or destruction by the bailee's neglect and for loss by a wrong-doer against whom the bailee had a remedy over, a source was opened for confusion with regard to the foundation and nature of the defendant's duty.

In truth, there were two sets of duties, — one not peculiar to bailees, arising from the assumpsit or public calling of the defendant, as just explained; the other, the ancient obligation, peculiar to them as such, of which Southcote's Case was an example. But any obligation of a bailee might be conceived of as part of a contract of bailment, after assumpsit had become appropriated to contract, the doctrine of consideration had been developed, (both of which had happened in Lord Coke's time,) it seemed unnecessary to distinguish nicely between the two sets of duties just mentioned, provided a consideration and special promise could be alleged. Furthermore, as formerly the defendant's public calling had the same effect as an assumpsit for the purpose of charging him in tort, it seems now to have been thought an equally good substitute for a special promise, in order to charge him in assumpsit. In Rogers v. Head, /1/ the argument was, that to charge one in assumpsit you must show either his public calling at the time of the delivery, or a special promise on sufficient consideration. This argument assumes that a bailee who received goods in the course of a public employment, [186] for instance as a common carrier, could be charged in this form of action for a breach of either of the above sets of duties, by alleging either his public calling or his reward and a special promise. It seems to have been admitted, as was repeatedly decided before and since that case, that one who was not a common carrier could have been charged for non-delivery in a special action; that is, in case as distinguished from assumpsit.

Suppose, next, that the plaintiff sued in case for a tort. As before, the breach of duty complained of might be such damage to property as had always been sued for in that form of action, or it might be a loss by theft for which detinue would formerly have been brought, and which fell on the bailee only by reason of the bailment. If the goods had been stolen, the bailee's liability rested neither on his common calling nor on his assumpsit and his neglect, but arose from the naked facts that he had accepted a delivery and that the goods were gone, and in such cases it ought to have been enough to allege those facts in the declaration. /1/ But it was very natural that the time-honored foundations for the action on the case in its more limited application should still be laid in the pleadings, even after the scope of the action had been enlarged. We shall have to inquire, later, whether the principles of Southcote's Case were not also extended in the opposite direction to cases not falling within it. The reasons for the rule which it laid down had lost their meaning centuries before Gawdy and Clench were born, when owners had acquired the right to sue for the wrongful taking of property in the hands [187] and the rule itself was a dry precedent likely to be followed according to the letter because the spirit had departed. It had begun to totter when the reporter cautioned bailees to accept in such terms as to get rid of it. /1/

Accordingly, although that decision was the main authority relied on for the hundred years between it and Coggs v. Bernard whenever a peculiar responsibility was imposed upon bailees, we find that sometimes an assumpsit was laid as in the early precedents, /2/ or more frequently that the bailee was alleged to be a common bargeman, or common carrier, or the like, without much reference to the special nature of the tort in question; and that the true bearing of the allegation was sometimes lost sight of. At first, however, there were only some slight signs of confusion in the language of one or two cases, and if the duty was conceived to fall within the principle of Southcote's Case, pleaders did not always allege the common or public calling which was held unnecessary. /3/ But they also adopted other devices from the precedents in case, or to strengthen an obligation which they did not well understand. Chief Justice Popham had sanctioned a distinction between paid and unpaid bailees, hence it was deemed prudent to lay a reward. Negligence was of course averred; and finally it became frequent to allege an obligation by the law and custom of the realm. This last deserves a little further attention.

There is no writ in the Register alleging any special obligation of common carriers by the custom of the realm. But the writ against innkeepers did lay a duly "by the [188] law and custom of England," and it was easy to adopt the phrase. The allegation did not so much imply the existence of a special principle, as state a proposition of law in the form which was then usual. There are other writs of trespass which allege a common-law duty in the same way, and others again setting forth a statutory obligation. /1/ So "the judges were sworn to execute justice according to law and the custom of England." /2/

The duties of a common carrier, so far as the earlier evidence goes, were simply those of bailees in general, coupled with the liabilities generally attached to the exercise of a public calling. The word "common" addressed itself only to the latter point, as has been shown above. This is further illustrated by the fact that, when the duty was thus set forth, it was not alleged as an obligation peculiar to common carriers as such, but was laid as the custom of law of common hoymen, or lightermen, &c., according to the business of the party concerned. It will be noticed that Chief Justice Holt in Coggs v. Bernard states the liability as applicable to all bailees for reward, exercising a public employment, and mentions common hoymen and masters of ships alongside of, not as embraced under, common carriers. It will also be noticed in the cases before that time, that there is no settled formula for the obligation in question, but that it is set forth in each case that the defendant was answerable for what he was said to have done or omitted in the particular instance. /3/

[189] Returning now to the succession of the cases, Rich v. Kneeland is the next in order (11 Jac. I., A.D. 1613). It was an action on the case (tort), against a common hoyman. In Croke's report nothing is said of custom; but the declaration avers that the defendant was a common bargeman, that the plaintiff delivered him a portmanteau, &c. to carry, and paid him for it, and that the defendant tam negligenter custodivit, that it was taken from him by persons unknown, — like the second count in Morse v. Slue, below. The plea was demurred to, and adjudged for the plaintiff. A writ of error being brought, it was assigned that "this action lies not against a common bargeman without special promise. But all the Justices and Barons held, that it well lies as against a common carrier upon the land." If we follow this report, it seems at the first glance that importance was attributed to the common calling. But as the loss was clearly within the principle of Southcote's Case, which required neither special promise nor common calling for its application, and which remained unquestioned law for three quarters of a century later, the court must have referred to the form of action employed (case), and not to the liability of the defendant in some form of action (detinue). The objection was that "this action lies not," not that the defendant not liable, "without special promise." Even thus narrowed, it rather countenances the notion that allegations which were necessary to charge a man for damage happening through his neglect, in the more ancient and use of this action, were also necessary in this new [190] extension of it to a different class of wrongs. As it was now pretty clear that case would lie for a nonfeasance, the notion was mistaken, and we shall see that it was denied in subsequent decisions. /1/

According to Hobart's report, it was alleged that the defendant was a common hoyman, to carry goods by water, for hire, &c., that by the custom of England such carriers ought to keep the goods, &c., so as they should not be lost by the default of them or their servants, &c. "And it was resolved that, though it was laid as a custom of the realm, yet indeed it is common law." This last resolution may only mean that the custom of the realm and the common law are the same thing, as had been said concerning innkeepers long before. /2/ But the law as to innkeepers, which was called the custom of the realm in the writ, had somewhat the air of a special principle extending beyond the law of bailment, inasmuch as their liability extended to goods within the inn, of which they had not the custody, and the court may have meant to make an antithesis between such a special principle and the common law or general law of bailment governing the present case.

Whatever doubts some of Croke's language might raise, standing alone, the fact remains indisputable, that for nearly a century from Woodlife's Case the liability of carriers for loss of goods, whether the custom of the realm or the defendant's common calling was alleged or not, was placed upon the authority and was intended to be decided on the principle of Southcote's Case.

[191] Symons v. Darknell 1 (4 Car. I., A.D. 1628) is precisely in point. The declaration was, that, by the common law, every lighterman ought so to manage his lighter that the goods carried therein should not perish. "And although no promise laid, it seemed to the court that the plaintiff should recover; and not alleging that defendant was common lighterman was no harm. Hyde, C. J., delivery makes the contract." This did not mean that delivery was a good consideration for a promise; but, as was laid down in Southcote's Case, that delivery, without a special acceptance to keep only as one's own goods, bound the bailee to keep safely, and therefore made it unnecessary to allege either an assumpsit or the defendant's common calling. Whitlock, J. called attention to the fact that the action was tort, not contract. "Et en cest case ... Southcote's Case fuit cite."

The same rule is stated as to bailments in general, the same year, by Sergeant Maynard arguendo in Williams v. Hide, /2/ again citing Southcote's Case.

In Kenrig v. Eggleston /3/ (24 Car. I., A.D. 1648), "case against a country carrier for not delivering a box," &c., of which he was robbed, nothing was said about custom, nor being a common carrier, unless the above words imply that he was; but it was laid down, as in Southcote's Case, that "it must come on the carrier's part acceptance" if he would lessen his liability as bailee.

Nichols v. Moore /4/ (13 Car. II., A.D. 1661) was case against a "water carrier," between Hull and London, laying a delivery to him at York. It was moved in arrest of [192] judgment, that the defendant did not undertake to carry the goods from York to Hull. "But notwithstanding this per totam curiam, the defendant shall be charged on his general receipt at York, according to Southcote's Case."

It is fair to mention that in Matthews v. Hopkins /1/ (17 Car. II.)the declaration was on the custom of the realm against a common carrier, and there was a motion in arrest of judgment, because there was a misrecital of the custom of the realm, and the defendant was not alleged to have been a carrier at the time of the receipt, and also because counts in trover, and in case on the custom, were joined. Judgment was arrested, it would seem on the latter ground, but the court continued: "And, although the declaration may be good without recital of the custom of the realm, as Hobart says, still it is the better way to recite it."

We now come to the great case of Morse v. Slue /2/ (23 & 24 Car. II., A.D. 1671, 1672). This was an action against the master of a ship lying in the river Thames, for the loss of goods intrusted to him. The goods in question were taken away by robbers, and it was found that the ship had the usual guard at the time. There seem to have been two counts, one on the law and custom of England (1 Vent. 190), for masters of ships "carefully to govern, preserve, and defend goods shipped, so long as said ship should remain in the river Thames" (2 Keb. 866); "to keep safely [goods shipped to be carried from London beyond sea] without loss or subtraction, ita quodpro defectu of them they may not come to any damage" (1 Vent. 190); "to keep safely goods delivered to them to carry, dangers [193] of the sea excepted" (2 Levinz, 69; the exception last was perhaps drawn by the reporter from the usual bills of lading referred to in argument). The second count, which is usually overlooked, was a special count "on delivery and being stolen by his neglect." /1/

The case was twice argued, and all the reports agree, as far as they go, in their statements of the points insisted on.

Holt, for the plaintiff, maintained: /2/ 1. That the master receives goods generally, citing Southcote's Case, and that in "only guardian in socage who hath the custody by law, who factor who is servant at the master's dispose, and so cannot take care, are exempt." 2. That the master has a reward for his keeping, and is therefore a proper person to be sued. 3. That the master has a remedy over, citing the case of the Marshal of the King's Bench. /3/ That the mischief would be great if the master were not liable, as merchants put their trust in him, and no particular default be shown, as appears by the bill of lading, and, finally, that neglect appeared.

On the other side, it was urged that no neglect was found, and that the master was only a servant; so that, if any one was liable, the owners were. /4/ It was also suggested that, as there would have been no liability if the goods had been taken at sea, when the case would have within the admiralty law, it was absurd that a different rule should govern the beginning of the voyage from would have governed the rest of it. /5/

[194] On the second argument, it was again maintained for the plaintiff that the defendant was liable "at the common law on the general bailment," citing Southcote's Case, and also that, by the Roman and maritime law, he was liable as a public carrier and master of a ship.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Chief Justice Hale. It was held that, the ship being within the body of the county, the admiralty law did not apply; or, according to 1 Mod. 85, note a, "the master could not avail himself of the rules of the civil law, by which masters are not chargeable pro damno fatali"; that the master was liable to an action because he took a reward; that "he might have made a caution for himself, which he omitting and taking in the goods generally, he shall answer for what happens." /1/ The case of Kenrig v. Eggleston /2/ seems also to have been referred to. It was further said that the master was rather an officer than a servant, and in effect received his wages from the merchant who paid freight. Finally, on the question of negligence, that it was not sufficient to have the usual number of men to guard the ship, but that it was neglect not to have enough to guard the goods, unless in case of the common enemies, citing the case of the Marshal, which it will be remembered was merely the principle of Southcote's Case and the common law of bailment in another form. /3/

It will be observed that this case did not go on any special custom, either as to common carriers or shipmasters, but that all the arguments and the opinion of the court assumed that, if the case was to be governed by the common law, and not by the milder provisions of the civil [195] law relied on for the defence, and if the defendant could be regarded as a bailee, and not merely a servant of the owners, then the general law of bailment would apply, and the defendant would be charged, as in Southcote's Case, "by his general acceptance."

It can hardly be supposed, however, that so enlightened a judge as Sir Matthew Hale would not have broken away the Year Books, if a case had arisen before him where property had been received as a pure favor to the plaintiff, without consideration or reward, and was taken from the defendant by robbery. Such a case was tried before Chief Justice Pemberton, and he very sensibly ruled that no action lay, declining to follow the law of Lord Coke's time to such extreme results /1/ (33 Car. II., A.D. 1681).

About the same time, the defendant's common calling began to assume a new importance. The more important alternative allegation, the assumpsit, had the effect in the end of introducing the not intrinsically objectionable doctrine that all duties arising from a bailment are founded on contract. /2/ But this allegation, having now a special action to which it had given rise, was not much used where the action was tort, while the other averment occurs with increasing frequency. The notion was evidently gaining ground that the liability of common carriers for loss of [196] goods, whatever the cause of the loss might be, arose from a special principle peculiar to them, and not applicable to bailees in general. The confusion of independent duties which has been explained, and of which the first trace was seen in Rich v. Kneeland, was soon to become complete. /1/ Holt became Chief Justice. Three of the cases in the last note were rulings of his. In Lane v. Cotton /2/ (13 Will. III., A.D. 1701), he showed his disapproval of Southcote's Case, and his impression that the common law of bailment was borrowed from Rome. The overthrow of Southcote's Case and the old common law may be said to date from Coggs v. Bernard /3/ (2 Anne, A.D. 1703). Lord Holt's famous opinion in the latter case quotes largely from the Roman law as it filtered to him through Bracton; but, whatever influence that may have had upon his general views, the point decided and the distinctions touching common carriers were of English growth.

The action did not sound in contract. The cause was for damage to the goods, and the plaintiff sued for a tort, laying an assumpsit by way of inducement to a charge of negligence, as in the days of Henry VI. The plea was not guilty. But after verdict for the plaintiff, there was a motion in arrest of judgment, "for that it was not alleged in the declaration that the defendant was a common porter, nor averred that he had anything for his pains." Consideration was never alleged or thought of in the primitive assumpsit, but in the modem action of contract in that form [197] it was required. Hence, it was inferred that, wherever an assumpsit was laid, even in all action of tort for damage to property, it was the allegation of a contract, and that a consideration must be shown for the undertaking, although the contrary had been decided in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. /1/ But the motion did not prevail, and judgment was given for the plaintiff. Lord Holt was well aware that the use of an assumpsit was not confined to contract. It is true that he said, "The owner's trusting [the defendant] with the goods is a sufficient consideration to oblige him to a careful management," or to return them; but this means as distinguished from a consideration sufficient to oblige him to carry them, which he thought the defendant would not have been bound to do. He then expressly says, "This is a different case, for assumpsit does not only signify a future agreement, but, in such cases as this, it signifies an actual entry upon the thing and taking the trust upon himself"; following the earlier cases in the Year Books. /2/ This was enough for the decision, and the rule in Southcote's Case had nothing to do with the matter. But as the duty of common carriers by reason of their calling was now supposed to extend to all kinds of losses, and the doctrine of Southcote's Case was probably supposed to extend to many kinds of damage, it became necessary, in a general discussion, to reconcile or elect between the two principles.

The Chief Justice therefore proceeded to distinguish between [198] bailees for reward exercising a public employment, such as common carriers, common hoymen, masters of ships, &c., and other bailees; denied the rule in Southcote's Case as to the latter; said that the principle of strict responsibility was confined to the former class, and was applied to them on grounds of public policy, and that factors were exonerated, not because they were mere servants, as had always been laid down (among others, by himself in arguing Morse v. Slue), but because they were not within the reason of the rule.

The reader who has followed the argument so far, will hardly need to be convinced that this did not mean the adoption of the Praetor's Edict. There is further evidence at hand if required.

In the first place, as we have seen, there was a century of precedents ending with Morse v. Slue, argued by Holt himself, in which the liability of masters of ships, hoymen, carriers, &c. had been adjudicated. Morse v. Slue is cited and relied on, and there is no hint of dissatisfaction with the other cases. On the contrary, they furnished the examples of bailees for reward exercising a public calling. The distinction between bailees for reward and others is Chief Justice Popham's; the latter qualification (exercising a public calling) was also English, as has partly appeared already, and as will be explained further on.

In the next place, the strict rule is not confined to nautae, caupones, and stabularii, nor even to common carriers; but is applied to all bailees for reward, exercising a public calling.

In the next place, the degree of responsibility is precisely that of bailees in general, as worked out by the previous decisions; but quite unlike and much more severe [199] than that imposed by the Roman law, as others have observed. /1/

And, finally, the exemption from liability for acts of God or the public enemy is characteristically English, as will be proved further on.

But it has been partially shown in this Lecture that the law of to-day has made the carrier's burden heavier than it was in the time of the Year Books. Southcote's Case, and the earlier authorities which have been cited, all refer to a loss by robbery, theft, or trespass, and hold the bailee liable, where, in theory at least, he has a remedy over. It was with reference to such cases, as has been seen, that the rule arose, although it is not improbable that it would have been applied to an unexplained loss; the writ against innkeepers reads absque subtractionie seu amissione custodire. In later times, the principle may have been extended from loss by theft to loss by destruction. In Symons v. Darknoll /2/ (4 Car. I.), already cited as decided on the authority of Southcote's Case, the goods were spoiled, not stolen, and probably had not even perished in specie. Before this time, the old rule had become an arbitrary precedent, followed according to its form with little thought of its true intent.

The language of Coggs v. Bernard is, that "the law charges the person thus intrusted to carry goods as against all events but acts of God and the enemies of the king." This was adopted by solemn decision in Lord Mansfield's time, and it is now settled that the common carrier "is liable for all losses which do not fall within the excepted [200] cases." /1/ That is to say, he has become an insurer to that extent, not only against the disappearance or destruction, but against all forms of damage to the goods except as excepted above.

The process by which this came to pass has been traced above, but a few words may be added here. The Year Books, even in dealing with the destruction (as distinguished from the conversion) of chattels in the hands of a bailee, always state his liability as based upon his fault, although it must be admitted that the language is used alio intuitu. /2/ A jettison, in tempest, seems to have been a good plea for a factor in the time of Edward III.; /3/ but that cannot be relied on for an analogy. The argument from the Marshal's case /4/ is stronger. There it appears to have been thought that burning of the prison was as good an excuse for an escape as a release by alien enemies. This must refer to an accidental fire, and would seem to imply that he was not liable in that event, if not in fault. The writs in the Register against bailees to keep or carry goods, all have the general allegation of negligence, and so do the older precedents of declarations, so far as I have observed, whether stating the custom of the realm or not. /5/ But a bailee was answerable for goods wrongfully taken from him, as an innkeeper was for goods stolen from his inn, irrespective of negligence. /6/

It is true that the Marshal's case speaks of his negligent [201] keeping when the prisoners were released by rebels, (although that was far less likely to result from negligence, one would think, than a fire in the prison,) and that after Lord Coke's time negligence was alleged, although the goods had been lost by wrongful taking. So the writ against innkeepers is pro defectu hujusmodi hospitatorum. In these instances, neglect only means a failure de facto to keep safely. As was said at a much later date, "everything is a negligence in a carrier or hoyman that the law does not excuse." /1/ The allegation is simply the usual allegation of actions on the case, and seems to have extended itself from the earlier declarations for damage, when case supplanted detinue and the use of the former action became universal. It can hardly have been immaterial to the case for which it was first introduced. But the short reason for disbelieving that there was any warrant in the old law for making the carrier an insurer against damage is, that there seem to be no early cases in which bailees were held to such a responsibility, and that it was not within the principle on which they were made answerable for a loss by theft.

Having traced the process by which a common carrier has been made an insurer, it only remains to say a word upon the origin of the admitted exceptions from the risk assumed. It has been seen already how loss by the public enemy came to be mentioned by Chief Justice Holt. It is the old distinction taken in the Marshal's case that there the bailee has no remedy over.

With regard to the act of God, it was a general principle, not peculiar to carriers nor to bailees, that a duty was [202] discharged if an act of God made it impossible of performance. Lord Coke mentions the case of jettison from a Gravesend barge, /1/ and another of a party bound to keep and maintain sea-walls from overflowing, as subject to the same limitation, /2/ and a similar statement as to contracts in general will be found in the Year Books. /3/ It is another form of the principle which has been laboriously reargued in our own day, that parties are excused from the performance of a contract which has become impossible before breach from the perishing of the thing, or from change of circumstances the continued existence of which was the foundation of the contract, provided there was no warranty and no fault on the part of the contractor. Whether the act of God has now acquired a special meaning with regard to common carriers may be left for others to consider.

It appears, from the foregoing evidence, that we cannot determine what classes of bailees are subject to the strict responsibility imposed on common carriers by referring to the Praetor's Edict and then consulting the lexicons under Nautoe, Caupones, or Stabularii. The question of precedent is simply to what extent the old common law of bailment still survives. We can only answer it by enumerating the decisions in which the old law is applied; and we shall find it hard to bring them together under a general principle. The rule in Southcote's Case has been done away with for bailees in general: that is clear. But it is equally clear that it has not maintained itself, even within the limits of the public policy invented by Chief Justice [203] Holt. It is not true to-day that all bailees for reward exercising a public calling are insurers. No such doctrine is applied to grain-elevators or deposit-vaults. /1/

How Lord Holt came to distinguish between bailees for reward and others has been shown above. It is more pertinent here to notice that his further qualification, exercising a public calling, was part of a protective system which has passed away. One adversely inclined might say that it was one of many signs that the law was administered in the interest of the upper classes. It has been shown above that if a man was a common farrier he could be charged for negligence without an assumpsit. The same judge who threw out that intimation established in another case that he could be sued if he refused to shoe a horse on reasonable request. /2/ Common carriers and common innkeepers were liable in like case, and Lord Holt stated the principle: "If a man takes upon him a public employment, he is bound to serve the public as far as the employment extends, and for refusal an action lies." /3/ An attempt to apply this doctrine generally at the present day would be thought monstrous. But it formed part of a consistent scheme for holding those who followed useful callings up to the mark. Another part was the liability of persons exercising a public employment for loss or damage, enhanced in cases of bailment by what remained of the rule in Southcote's Case. The scheme has given way to more liberal notions; but the disjecta membra still move.

Lord Mansfield stated his views of public policy in terms [204] not unlike those used by Chief Justice Holt in Coggs v. Bernard, but distinctly confines their application to common carriers. "But there is a further degree of responsibility by the custom of the realm, that is, by the common law; a carrier is in the nature of an insurer .... To prevent litigation, collusion, and the necessity of going into circumstances impossible to be unravelled, the law presumes against the carrier, unless," &c. /1/

At the present day it is assumed that the principle is thus confined, and the discussion is transferred to the question who are common carriers. It is thus conceded, by implication, that Lord Holt's rule has been abandoned. But the trouble is, that with it disappear not only the general system which we have seen that Lord Holt entertained, but the special reasons repeated by Lord Mansfield. Those reasons apply to other bailees as well as to common carriers. Besides, hoymen and masters of ships were not originally held because they were common carriers, and they were all three treated as co-ordinate species, even in Coggs v. Bernard, where they were mentioned only as so many instances of bailees exercising a public calling. We do not get a new and single principle by simply giving a single name to all the cases to be accounted for. If there is a sound rule of public policy which ought to impose a special responsibility upon common carriers, as those words are now understood, and upon no others, it has never yet been stated. If, on the other hand, there are considerations which apply to a particular class among those so designated, — for instance, to railroads, who may have a private individual at their mercy, or exercise a power too vast for the common welfare, — we do not prove that the [205] reasoning extends to a general ship or a public cab by calling all three common carriers.

If there is no common rule of policy, and common carriers remain a merely empirical exception from general doctrine, courts may well hesitate to extend the significance of those words. Furthermore, notions of public policy which would not leave parties free to make their own bargains are somewhat discredited in most departments of the law. /1/ Hence it may perhaps be concluded that, if any new case should arise, the degree of responsibility, and the validity and interpretation of any contract of bailment that there may be, should stand open to argument on general principles, and that the matter has been set at large so far as early precedent is concerned.

I have treated of the law of carriers at greater length than is proportionate, because it seems to me an interesting example of the way in which the common law has grown up, and, especially, because it is an excellent illustration of the principles laid down at the end of the first Lecture. I now proceed to the discussion for the sake of which an account of the law of bailment was introduced, and to which an understanding of that part of the law is a necessary preliminary.


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