Rare Books Blog

May 5, 2009

John B. West & Co., The Syllabi, vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 21, 1876; reprint ed.; St. Paul, Minn., 1991).

John B. West & Co., The Northwestern Reporter, vol. 1 (1st ed.; St. Paul, Minn., 1879).

After the Civil War, the number of cases being reported rose astronomically. However, these case reports were still very slow to reach print; delays of months or years were not uncommon. Select reports sometimes appeared in newspapers but, as they were aimed at the general public, these were not always accurate. In 1876, John B. West began publishing The Syllabi, a weekly newsletter aimed at practicing attorneys in his home state of Minnesota. Its goal was to “furnish the legal profession of the state, with prompt and reliable intelligence.” It lasted for six months before evolving into book format, and then being renamed The Northwestern Reporter.

The Northwestern Reporter was the first of the National Reporter System case reporter series published by West Publishing Company. By 1887, eight years later, West reporters would cover every state jurisdiction. In addition to being timely and accurate, West reporters were the first to feature editorial enhancements such as summaries of court opinions. Although not present in this first volume, later volumes also incorporated Key Numbers from the new West Digest system.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

William Tothill (1560-1627), The Transactions of the High Court of Chancery, Both by Practice and President (London, 1671).

Although reports of Chancery cases had occasionally appeared in manuscript Year Books and various printed case reports, Tothill’s Transactions of the High Court of Chancery (1st ed. 1649) was the first printed collection devoted exclusively to Chancery cases. Van Vechten Veeder described them as “extremely brief and unsatisfactory, often giving merely a bare statement of the facts of a cases and the final decree, without any indication of the grounds of the judgment” (“The English Reports, 1292-1865,” 15 Harvard Law Review 1, 112 (1901)). Decent Chancery reports did not appear until the dawn of the 18th century.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Sir Francis Moore (1558-1621), Cases collected and reported by Sir Francis Moore (manuscript in Law French, 2 vols., 1621).

________, Cases Collect & Report per Sir Fra. Moore Chevalier, Serjeant del Ley … (2nd ed.; London 1688).

Sir Francis Moore was a prominent English barrister during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. This manuscript, completed by Moore the year he died, contains notes of significant cases he and others observed in the Courts of King’s Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, and Chancery between 1512-1621. The first page of the manuscript proclaims Moore’s authorship: “Ex Libro Francisci Moore Militis Servieu ad Legem script p[ro]pria manu ipius,” which roughly translates as “Manuscript of Francis Moore, Sergeant of Law, written by his own hand.”

Although printing was widespread by this time, it remained expensive. As a result, books with a limited audience continued to be distributed in manuscript form. Moore’s reports circulated widely in manuscript before they were first published in 1663.

This manuscript once belonged to the noted jurist Sir Matthew Hale (whose signature appears on an interior page to indicate ownership), and is among the 21 manuscript volumes from Hale’s library now in the Yale Law Library’s rare book collection. Hale’s second wife was Moore’s granddaughter.

The printed volume on display belonged to Samuel Hitchcock (whose signature appears on the title page), one of the founders of Yale Law School. It was part of the original collection of the Yale Law Library, and forms part of the Founders’ Collection.

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Sir Edmund Saunders (d. 1683), Les Reports du Tres Erudite Edmund Saunders … des Divers Pleadings et Cases en le Court del Bank le Roy (2 vols.; London, 1686).

Edmund Saunders authored the best law reports of the late 17th century, known for their accuracy and clarity. They set out the pleadings and give concise summaries of the facts, issues, arguments, and judgment. The overriding focus of the reports is with the law of pleading, at which Saunders was the acknowledged master. Later on, Saunders’ Reports was translated and annotated and became a classic textbook on pleading, although Saunders’ own text had largely disappeared by its last edition in 1871.

“Within the first decade after the Restoration there are several new reports, extending for the most part over the remainder of the Stuart period. Chief among them is Saunders (1666-73), who is universally conceded to be the most accurate and valuable reporter of his age. His work is confined to the decisions of the King’s Bench between the eighteenth and twenty-fourth years of the reign of Charles II. Saunders participated as counsel in most of the cases, and he reports them with admirable clearness. In general his reports resemble Plowden’s; but they are much more condensed. He gives the pleadings and entries at length, and follows in regular order with a concise statement of the points at issue, the arguments of counsel, and a clear statement of the grounds of the judgment. The work was subsequently enriched by the learned annotations of Sergeant Williams.” – Van Vechten Veeder, “The English Reports, 1292-1865,” 15 Harvard Law Review 1, 15 (1901).

Edmund Saunders’ life is one of the few rags-to-riches stories of English law. Born into abject poverty, he taught himself to be a clerk and eventually entered the Middle Temple. His skill as a special pleader earned him a lucrative practice, but he lived simply. A contemporary, Roger North, described him as a heavy drinker and “a fetid mass that offended his neighbors at the bar in the sharpest degree.” He was kind, witty, honest, and idolized by law students: “I have seen him for hours … with an audience of students over against him, putting of cases and debating so as suited their capacities and encouraged their industry.”

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Sir John Popham (1531?-1607), Reports and Cases Collected by the Learned, Sir John Popham, Knight, Late Lord Chief-Justice of England (London, 1656).

Popham’s Reports is but one of “the flying squadrons of thin reports” published in the mid- to late 17th century, and exemplifies their shortcomings. Popham himself can’t be blamed because he died a half-century before their publication, and probably never intended for them to be published. They were taken from a manuscript of unknown quality, and supplemented with a number of later cases. They were among many case reports translated (often badly) into English following the Commonwealth’s ban on the use of Law French in the courts. Many judges rejected them as having no authority, and banned their citation in court.

Sir John Popham was one of the most colorful of the law reporters, if the stories about him can be believed. As a child he was supposedly kidnapped and raised by gypsies, and worked his way through law studies at the Middle Temple as a petty thief. As a barrister, however, Popham rose through the ranks. By 1581 he was speaker of the House of Commons and Attorney General, and in 1592 he was made Chief Justice of King’s Bench. He was known as a strict but fair judge, and presided over the trials of the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. He was also one of the promoters of the Jamestown colony in Virginia.

 

“Indigested crudities”

“A multitude of flying reports (whose Authors are as uncertain as the times when taken, and the causes and reasons of the Judgements as obscure, as by whom judged) have of late surreptitiously crept forth; whereby … we have been entertained with barren & unwarranted Products … which not only tends to the depraving of the first grounds & reason of our Students at the Common Law, & the young practitioners thereof, who by such false Lights are misled, … but also to the contempt of our Common Law itselfe, and of divers of our former grave and learned Justices and professors thereof, whose honored and revered names have in some of said Books been abused and invocated to patronize the indigested crudities of those plagiaries.” – Sir Harbottle Grimston, preface to The Reports of Sir George Croke (1657)

“See the inconveniences of these scambling reports, they will make us to appear to posterity for a parcel of blockheads.” – Holt C.J., Slater v. May, 2 Raymond 1072 (1704)

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

 

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

Sir James Burrow (1701-1782), Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King’s Bench … (5 vols.; London, 1766-80).

Burrow’s Reports established the modern pattern of what a law report should contain: the reporter’s statement of the facts, a summary of the arguments of counsel, and the court’s judgment.

Burrow had collected notes on King’s Bench cases for some time, and was prompted to publish them after being subjected to “continual interruption and even persecution by incessant application for searches into my notes, for transcripts of them, sometimes for the note-books themselves (not always returned without trouble and solicitation), not to mention frequent conversations upon very dry and uninteresting subjects, which my consulters were paid for considering, but I had no sort of concern in.”

“Burrow’s Reports, therefore, may, in their department, fairly be called ‘works of art,’ – … case, arguments, and opinion – going out to the bar separate in form as distinct in nature, each from the other; each complete in itself, but having, one with all, exact and reciprocal adaptation, and presenting so a full, harmonious, but never redundant whole.” – John W. Wallace, The Reporters Arranged and Characterized (4th ed. 1882).

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

May 5, 2009

W. T. S. Daniel (1806-1891), A Letter to Sir Roundell Palmer … on the Present System of Law Reporting, Its Evils, and the Remedy (London, 1863?).

W. T. S. Daniel was active in many areas of law reform, and in 1863 he began working for a better system of law reporting. There was wide dissatisfaction with the existing system. The authorized reports were tardy and expensive, prompting competition from weekly legal newspapers. Daniel outlined his solution in this open letter to his ally, Attorney General Sir Roundell Palmer. His efforts resulted in the creation of the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting, which began issuing an official series of reports under the auspices of the bar, which continues to this day.

Daniel presented this copy to “Th. Carlton”, and also amended the title.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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