Rare Books Blog

May 4, 2009

[Year Books, 20-45 Edward III.] Liber Assisarum (manuscript in Law French, ca. 1450).

The origin of our case reports lies in the late 13th century, with what are now called the “Year Books.” The Liber Assisarum, shown here, is a collection of Year Book cases in the court of King’s Bench in 1347-1372.

The Year Books are quite different from modern case reports. They say little or nothing about the facts, or who won. What interested the anonymous reporters was the debate between advocates and judges, a sort of tentative oral pleading that has been compared to lightning chess. The Year Books seem to have had some connection (still unclear) with legal education at the Inns of Court, but they were also used by bench & bar.

As more or less verbatim records of legal debates between named individuals, the Year Books are virtually the only historical sources that capture voices from the Middle Ages.

Maitland on the Year Books

“Today men are reporting at Edinburgh and Dublin, at Boston and San Francisco, at Quebec and Sydney and Cape Town, at Calcutta and Madras. Their pedigree is unbroken and indisputable. It goes back to some nameless lawyers at Westminster to whom a happy thought had come. What they desired was not a copy of the chilly record, cut and dried, with its concrete particulars concealing the point of law: the record overladen with the uninteresting names of litigants and oblivious of the interesting names of sages, of justices and serjeants. What they desired was the debate with the life-blood in it: the twists and turns of advocacy, the quip courteous and the countercheck quarrelsome.” – Sir Frederick Maitland, 17 Selden Soc. xv.

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 4, 2009

[Year Book, 27 Henry VIII.] De termino Pasche anno regni Regis Henrici Octaui. XXVII (London, 1556).

Printers began publishing Year Book cases in the 1480s. Two and a half centuries of Year Book reporting came to an end with the cases from 27 Henry VIII (1535), shown here. Lawyers, judges and students did not stop reporting cases. The transition from Year Book reports to our modern case reports was gradual, and coincided with a shift from oral to written pleadings.

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 4, 2009

Edmund Plowden (1518-1585), Les Commentaries, ou Reportes de Edmunde Plowden un Apprentice de le Comen Ley (London, 1571) [with] La Second Part de les Reports, ou Commentaries … (London, 1610).

Edmund Plowden’s Commentaries was the first of the “nominative reporters,” reports cited by the reporter’s name. His reports claim many other “firsts.” They were the first to include the names of the parties in the headings, providing a citation method that lawyers follow to this day. Plowden was the first reporter to prepare his reports for the press. His was the first collection of leading cases, “annotated by an editor at the head of the profession, which by including the pleadings … enabled them to be studied in the context of litigation” (Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law). Reprinted numerous times, they were required reading for law students. In terms of their accuracy, organization, and balance, they were unsurpassed for centuries.

Highly respected and successful as a lawyer, Plowden was kept from the bench by his loyalty to the Catholic faith.

The copy on display is the first edition of 1571. An early hand altered the publication date to 1599, the date of the fourth printing; perhaps it was a bookseller “refreshing” his stock.

Commentaries on Plowden’s Commentaries

“In almost all of the Cases which I have undertaken to report, before they came to be argued, I had Copies of the Records, and took Pains to study the Points of Law arising thereupon, so that oftentimes I was so much Master of them, that if I had been put to it, I was ready to have argued when the first Man began; and by this Method I was more prepared to understand and retain the Arguments and the Causes of the Judgments. And besides this, after I had drawn out my Report at large, and before I had entered it into my Book, I shewed such Cases and Arguments, as seemed to me to be the most difficult, and to require the greatest Memory, to some of the Judges or Sergeants who argued in them, in order to have their Opinion of the Sincerity and Truth of the Report.” – Edmund Plowden, preface to his Commentaries

“What Coke was to hail as those ‘exquisite and elaborate’ Commentaries were thus quite unlike anything that had previously been produced. It was not just that they were the first reports which had been carefully prepared for the press and published in the reporter’s lifetime, … nor even that they included only cases that had been brought to final judgment… For the Commentaries was also a book of leading cases, annotated by an editor at the head of the profession, which by including the pleadings (previously collected only in books of entries) enabled them to be studied in the context of litigation.” – Biographical Dictionary of the Common Law

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.

March 5, 2009

Here are a few of the highlights from our acquisitions in the past three months.


For our growing collection of illustrated law books:


We have acquired several law-related children’s books to join the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection donated by Professor Morris L. Cohen, including:


The American Trials Collection grew by 28 titles, including:


Additions to our William Blackstone Collection included:


And a few odds & ends:

 

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

March 5, 2009

Close to 30 students from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy toured the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on March 4, 2008, during their visit to the Yale Law School. The students are jointly enrolled in the legal studies program at the University of Pisa.

After viewing our exhibit, The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library, they came into the Rare Book Room to see more of our Italian legal treasures. These included one of the first books printed in Naples, Tractatus seu apparatus de testibus by Albericus de Maletis (1471); a collection of portraits of early Italian jurists, Antoine Lafrery’s Illustrium jureconsultorum imagines (1566); Friar Paolo Attavanti’s Breviarium totius juris canonici (Milan, 1479), the first printed book with a portrait of the author; Antonino Ganini’s Il legista versificante (Naples, 1752), an elementary legal textbook in verse; Comentario sul codice criminale d’Inghilterra (Milan, 1813), an Italian translation of Book IV of Blackstone’s Commentaries; and Nuovo codice della strada (Milan, 1959), the Italian traffic code with humorous cartoons by the French illustrator Albert Dubout.

We had a great time. Thanks to all those who made the visit possible: Marina Santilli (Senior Research Scholar, Yale Law School); Caterina Sganga and Andrea Bertolini (LLM students at Yale Law School and graduate students at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna); and my Law Library colleagues Teresa Miguel, Dan Wade, Ryan Harrington, and Evelyn Ma.

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

 

February 9, 2009

Ten students from the Yale Law School’s Linkages Program visited the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on February 4. These law students from Argentina, Brazil and Chile spend three weeks participating in classes, conducting research, presenting papers, and taking field trips.

Their stop in the Rare Book Room was part of a tour of the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Among the items they saw was a fascinating Spanish incunable, Ordenanzas Reales de Castilla (Salamanca, 1500), in which an early owner used doodles to visually index the laws. They also saw the oldest item in the collection, which is two fragments of an illuminated 11th-century manuscript, recycled as binding material for our copy of the Flos testamentorum by Rolandinus de Passageriis (Padua, 1482), a guide to drafting wills.

To all our colleagues in the Linkages Program, ¡Bienvenidos!

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

January 26, 2009

Our books often have interesting stories behind them. One example is the fine set of Blackstone’s Commentaries (4 vols.; London, 1830) recently donated  by Mr. Mordecai K. Rosenfeld (Yale Law Class of 1954).

Mr. Rosenfeld is known for the witty and insightful essays he wrote for the New York Law Journal beginning in 1979. The story of our Blackstone begins when a collection of his essays was published in 1988 by the University of Georgia Press, under the title The Lament of the Single Practitioner: Essays on the Law. Here’s how Mr. Rosenfeld told the story in a 1990 essay, “Time to Answer”:

“The book … received, I am happy to say, much praise, but I shall recount only one instance, the praise that it received in an essay written for the Times (of London) Literary Supplement by a Mr. Eric Korn… I was so touched that my book would be mentioned in the TLS … that I wrote a note to thank the author. The note was written, of course, on my office stationery, and that, as we shall see, was my undoing.
     “A few days later I received a response from London. Mr. Korn wrote to me and asked if, perchance, I knew of a lawyer in New York who might help him with a legal problem. Not being able to say that I knew no one, I wrote back offering to undertake the task myself, whatever it was. The only condition I imposed was that I would not, under any circumstances, accept a fee.
     “My offer was promptly accepted. Mr. Korn, it seemed was not only an essayist but also an antiquarian book dealer. His book store … had participated in an Antiquarian Book Fair in New York and had sold a fine rare book to an apparently prosperous lady for $1,350. The apparently prosperous lady paid with two checks … on both of which she stopped payment as soon as Mr. Korn had left New York to return home. In accepting the case, I assumed that if I wrote a lawyer letter, payment would be prompt…”

However, collecting the payment turned out to be not so simple for Mr. Rosenfeld. He was obliged to sue in small-claims court, where he had never litigated. In “Time to Answer”, he recounts his embarrassment as he made several false starts. When he was finally ready to collect a default judgment, he had to ask the bank’s attorney, again, for guidance:

“He couldn’t believe that I didn’t know what had to be done, and inquired again if I was really a lawyer. When I assured him that I was, he asked which law school I had graduated from, but I was ashamed to tell him because my particular law school, Yale, takes inordinate (but undeserved) pride in the intellectual abilities of its graduates, and so I told him that, frankly, I couldn’t remember. Said Mr. Mancuso, ‘Mr. Rosenfeld, I’m not surprised.’”

The full story of Mr. Rosenfeld’s initiation into small-claims litigation is in “Time to Answer,” published in A Backhanded View of the Law: Irreverent Essays on Justice (Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow Press, 1992). But the essay does not mention that Mr. Korn, in lieu of a fee, sent Mr. Rosenfeld the London 1830 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries as a token of his gratitude. This is the set that Mr. Rosenfeld donated to the Lillian Goldman Law Library in October 2008. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Korn at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair. He retains a high opinion of Mr. Rosenfeld’s legal abilities.

The 1830 Commentaries is a lovely set, still in its original boards and with the pages untrimmed. Our thanks to Mordecai Rosenfeld for this very welcome addition to our William Blackstone Collection, the world’s most comprehensive collection of Blackstone.

And for your reading pleasure, I highy recommend Mr. Rosenfeld’s essays in Lament of the Single Practitioner and Backhanded View of the Law, described by Eric Korn as “beautifully adept jabs at legal idiocies.”

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

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