Rare Books Blog

March 12, 2012

 

Medal awarded to deputies of Catherine II’s Legislative Commission. Private Collection

The Legislative Commission summoned to Moscow has been seen as a “major, highly personal political experiment” formed by election and intended to represent the “estates” of the Russian Empire (I. de Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (1981), p. 139). Representation was accorded to state institutions, landowners, and social groups not otherwise included in the first two categories. Deputies were paid a salary, enjoyed certain privileges and immunities, and were awarded a badge of office that nobles were entitled to incorporate in their coats of arms.

Each member of Catherine the Great’s Legislative Assembly was awarded a medal in commemoration of their participation, such as the one exhibited here.

Aware that much of her population was illiterate, including some deputies elected to the Legislative Commission, Catherine II composed her Nakaz in a style suitable for reading aloud, imparting to the text an “urgent rhythm” in imitation of Montesquieu’s series of short staccato chapters in his Spirit of the Laws. The entire text was read aloud to the assembled deputies, who were said to have received the text with rapture. Many were moved to tears.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. Instruction donnée par Catherine II., impératrice et législatrice de toutes les Russies: a la commission établie par cette souveraine, pour travailler à la rédaction d’un nouveau code de loix, telle qu’elle e été imprimée en Russe & en Allemand, dans l’Imprimerie Impériale de Moscow. Lausanne: François Grasset & Comp., 1769. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

This is the last of three French editions of the Nakaz, testimony to the wide interest in Catherine’s law reform project in Western Europe. The translator was the Swiss historian Joseph Anton Felix von Balthasar. The year this edition appeared, the French crown placed the “libertine” Nakaz on its list of prohibited books.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. Armorial bookplate, engraved. Text: Catherine Alexievna II, | Imperatrice de toutes les Russies. Second half 18th century, after 1762. Irene D. Andrews Pace Memorial Collection, Haas Family Arts Library Special Collections, Yale University

Catherine II was a voracious reader and formed a substantial personal library. Two bookplates are attributed to her collections, neither of which has been actually found in a book. The present plate is the only copy known and came to Yale from Irene D. Pace, a well-known American bookplate collector.

See: News from the Yale Library 10 (1996), 2.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

Blackstone, Sir William (1723-1780). Istolkovaniia angliiskikh zahonov [Commentary on English Laws of Mr. Blackstone]. Moscow, 1780-82. 3 vols. Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

Catherine II became aware of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) through the French translation. It became her bedside book, replacing Montesquieu, and greatly influenced her ideas on law and administration. Only volume I of Blackstone was translated into Russian, at her behest by S.E. Desnitskii (c. 1740-1789), the Glasgow-educated first Russian professor of law, and A.M. Briantsev (1749-1821). While Catherine had a special need for the book, it was part of her larger commitment to translations expressed in the establishment of a Society for the Translation of Foreign Books, which survived until 1783 and which she subsidized handsomely.

Among the 700 pages of notes which Catherine II took while reading Blackstone were drafts for a High Court of Justice. On her trip to the Crimea in 1787 Catherine II took her notes on Blackstone and her Nakaz with her to compare the two texts and work on further plans for constitutional reform. Her scheme for a High Court of Justice drawn from Blackstone seemed to combine legislative features of Parliament in England with judicial elements. Her contemplated High Court would have chambers consisting of appointed councilors and assessors elected by the local nobility, urban dwellers, and State peasants.

Blackstone wrote approvingly of Catherinian reforms in penal law:

“Was the vast territory of all the Russias worse regulated under the late Empress Elizabeth, than under her more sanguinary predecessors? Is it now under Catherine II less civilized, less social, less secure? And yet we are assured, that neither of these illustrious princesses have, throughout their whole administration, inflicted the penalty of death; and the latter has, upon full persuasion of its being useless, nay, even pernicious, given orders for abolishing it entirely throughout her extensive dominions.” – William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 4, p. 10.

See: I. de Madariaga, Catherine the Great: A Short History (1990).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 12, 2012

 Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832). Izbrannyie sochinieniia Ieremii Bentama. Tom Pervyi. [Selected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Volume One. Introduction to the Bases of Morality and Legislation. Basic Principles of a Civil Code. Basic Principles of a Criminal Code], transl. A.N. Pypin & A.N. Nevedomskii. Preface by Iu. G. Zhukovskii. St. Petersburg, 1867. Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

Jeremy Bentham, the noted jurist and legal philosopher, spent nearly all of 1786 in Russia, visiting his younger brother Samuel (1757-1831), who was in Russian service for more than two decades. The two brothers were unusually close, Jeremy supporting Samuel financially, morally, and intellectually. Samuel made important contributions to Russian industry, shipping, naval victories, and commerce. The two brothers corresponded frequently.


While in residence at the estate of Prince G.A. Potemkin (1739-1791) at Krichev in modern Belarus, Jeremy Bentham composed and sent back to London for printing his celebrated Defence of Usury (1787) and commenced work on his ideas for a modern penal institution, eventually published as his Panopticon (an outline of which appeared in 1790). The Benthams were close to the Russian Ambassador in London, S.R. Vorontsov (1744-1832), and the family of Admiral N.S. Mordvinov (1754-1845).

M.M. Speranskii and Emperor Alexander I were attracted by Bentham’s early writings in French on codification and invited Bentham’s secretary, Etienne Dumont (1759-1829), to St. Petersburg to supervise a translation of Bentham’s writings on codification into the Russian language (published in three volumes, 1805-1810, omitting only Bentham’s strictures on press censorship). Every major law reform in Russia through the end of the Imperial Period was attended, in one fashion or another, by a translation and publication of one of Bentham’s works.

The present volume contains Bentham’s classic treatise on codification. First published in 1803, the edition shown here appeared soon after the celebrated Russian judicial reforms of 1864, in a fresh translation and with additional materials added from the Collected Works of Bentham edited by Sir John Bowring (1792-1872) and the French versions of Dumont. Only volume one appeared.

 

See: Ian Christie, The Benthams in Russia: 1780-1791 (1993).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 12, 2012

The post-Soviet era of Russian history has made the legacy of the pre-1917 era newly relevant in ways unimaginable. It is not merely a country recovering historical experience suppressed or distorted for ideological reasons during the Soviet regime, but a country seeking to modernize partly on the basis of its earlier legal legacy. A transition to the legal foundations of a market economy is happening before our eyes in Russia, partly an adaptation of foreign legal experience and institutions, partly the preservation and re-adaptation of those elements of Russian legal experience that are essential in the twenty-first century, partly the pioneering of new legal approaches to achieve a transition that is without precedent in human experience.

This exhibition contains principal landmarks of the pre-1917 era, drawing upon the riches of Yale University and augmented by a loans from the Harvard Law School Library and a private collection. So far as we can determine, this is the first occasion in the United States that an exhibition has been mounted on this topic. Wonderful exhibitions devoted to Russian relations with the west or to elements of Russian history generally have omitted law and the legal system.

The notes which follow situate each book in the fabric of Russian legal history. As a general observation, it may be observed that the systematization of legislation is among the larger contributions that Russian law has made to civilization. The story of that contribution is well told by the materials here.

In accordance with normal Russian practice, the relevant titles and other data are provided in Library of Congress transliteration, short form.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

Iaroslav I (c. 978-1054), Russkaia Pravda. [Bound with:] Ivan IV, the Terrible (1530-1584), Note on the Sudebnik of Tsar Ivan Vasil’evich. Russia, 18th century manuscript. Private Collection

Virtually all surviving documents from the Kievan period of early Russian and Ukrainian history are legal texts of one kind or another. The earliest are peace treaties concluded between Kievan Rus and Byzantium in or about 907, 911, 944, and 971. The supposition is compelling that the Slavic peoples inhabiting the lands of what became Kievan Rus had rules for interpersonal and interclan or intertribal behavior long before Kievan princes consolidated their authority.

The Russkaia Pravda (also known as Lex Russica) is the earliest surviving compilation of Russian laws. Whether it is a creative codification or a reduction of customary law to written form continues to be debated. So too does the extent to which the substance of the Russkaia Pravda, which contains striking parallels with aspects of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon law, was the result of mutual influence or an independent development.

No contemporary versions of the Russkaia Pravda survive; there are only three texts prior to the fifteenth century and ninety-two texts dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The traditional approach is to consider that there exist three versions of a single law (Russkaia Pravda, Expanded Pravda Russkaia, and Short Pravda Russkaia), but it is conceivable that each version may comprise an autonomous enactment. The initial version, believed to date from the reign of Iaroslav the Wise, began with the rules of blood feud, which the Expanded version relates was abolished by Iaroslav’s sons and replaced by a system of monetary compositions. Matters addressed were stealing, interest, custody of property, suits for money, shipwreck, beekeeping, succession, oaths, slavery, and ownership. The versions suggest that the Prince’s court played a minor role in prosecution and litigation. The system relied upon party initiative; there were no permanent judges, merely officials who presided over proceedings. There was no appeal, no systems of courts, no legal profession, no legal commentaries. Nor can we be certain of the territorial jurisdiction of the Russkaia Pravda.

In the manuscript exhibited here the Russkaia Pravda is accompanied by commentary on what has been called the first national Russian law code, the Sudebnik of 1497, here represented by an expanded and polished version from 1550. The Sudebniks are essentially manuals of procedure and to some extent of criminal law. The few articles devoted to civil law may reflect the inability of the compilers to consolidate satisfactorily the diversity of local rules. The extent to which the Sudebniks created new rules of procedure or embodied pre-existing patterns is much debated. The evidence of judgment charters prior to 1497 suggests that the transition to a vertical system of justice with a hierarchy of courts and judges was a gradual process rather than an innovation in 1497. The 1550 Sudebnik is known only through forty later copies, of which thirteen are of the sixteenth century. The text was adopted with the participation of the Boyar Duma in 1550 and confirmed by the Stoglav Assembly in 1551. Consisting of 99 or 100 articles, depending upon which copy is consulted, this document had no official title. The 1550 Sudebnik lay the foundations of a Russian administrative system at the central and local levels, reflecting the enhanced stature of the Tsar and the further centralization of power in Russia.

On exhibition is a previously unrecorded 18th-century manuscript of the short version of the Russkaia Pravda and the 1550 Sudebnik, with notes by V.N. Tatishchev (1686-1750), regarded by some as the first proper historian in Russia. He began editing the Russkaia Pravda in 1738, but it was published for the first time in Russia only in 1786, long after his death. Five other manuscript versions of the short version of the Russkaia Pravda are known with Tatishchev notes, all from the eighteenth century and all held by St. Petersburg institutions. The version exhibited here differs from the printed authoritative text in the numbering of clauses and in the precise text of the Tatishchev notes.

See: W.E. Butler, Russian Law (3d ed. 2009), Chapter 2; D.H. Kaiser, The Growth of Law in Medieval Russia (1980); D.H. Kaiser, The Laws of Rus’: Tenth to Fifteenth Centuries (1992).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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