Rare Books Blog

January 15, 2014

One of the Library’s notable Taussig acquisitions is the first work devoted to the laws and rights of women in English law, and the only edition of that work. Published anonymously in 1632, The Lawes Resolutions of Womens Rights, or, The Lawes Provision for Woemen has sometimes—though inconclusively—been attributed to Sir John Doddridge (1555-1628), the Renaissance jurist, antiquarian and Justice of the King’s Bench. The editor of the work, signed as T.E. and sometimes associated with a “Thomas Edgar,” pleads ignorance about the identity of the original compiler, but notes that he has added cases and corrected mistakes. The role of T.E. in organizing the work may have been substantial, yet its genesis remains something of a puzzle.

Whatever the circumstances leading to publication, the writer(s) justified their work with a literary flair usually absent from law books.  As part of a brief conceit, the preface asks: “It’s enough, if what was before, be now so changed by Method and Application, that it shewes as new, and becomes more ready for Use…Why then should this Booke blush to shew it selfe?” Later the preface assures that the aim of the work is “A publique Advantage and peculiar Service to that Sexe generally beloved, and by the Author had in venerable estimation.”


Although The Lawes Resolutions does not advocate for women’s rights in a modern sense, it does represent a broad repertory of contemporary law.  The work draws together the “statutes and customs, with the Cases, Opinions and Arguments” which pertained in common law to women in the period. The five books cover the rights of an unmarried woman, or feme sole, the laws of marriage, the rights of widows and the ability to plead in court.  The work makes no apology for coverture, under which a woman’s legal status was subsumed to that of her husband during marriage, but also treats the wider legal capacity which women enjoyed as widows in common law.  A humorous side is shown again in the prefaces to the chapters, with such advice as “why mourn you so [young widows]…now you be free in libertie,” and in warnings against feckless suitors and heirs.  The work offers interesting insight into the legal status of women in early modern England, and is a wonderful addition to the Library’s holdings.

The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– RYAN GREENWOOD, Rare Book Fellow

Bookplate of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)
January 13, 2014

The Yale Law Library’s William Blackstone Collection, already the world’s best, was improved even more with 24 of the volumes we acquired from Anthony Taussig’s collection. One of the books was one that Blackstone himself owned: The Registrum brevium (London, 1531) , with the Blackstone bookplate shown here.

Our Blackstone Collection already included every edition of Blackstone’s Analysis of the laws of England, a synopsis of the lectures Blackstone gave at Oxford University which evolved into his Commentaries on the laws of England, the single most influential book in the history of Anglo-American common law. However, Taussig’s copies of the first edition (Oxford, 1756) and the sixth edition (Oxford, 1771) both contain extensive notes that appear to be by students. Taussig, himself an authority on Blackstone, believes the notes on the interleaving of the first edition might be from a student who actually attended Blackstone’s inaugural lectures, and thus represent an excellent research opportunity.

Blackstone is also remembered for reforming the Oxford University Press. Taussig writes that “Blackstone was an administrator of exceptional ability and ruthlessness. More or less single-handed he brought about the reform of the Oxford University Press between 1755 and 1758 despite the opposition of most of the Heads of the Colleges led by the Vice-Chancellor George Huddesford.” In To the Reverend Doctor Randolph, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford (Oxford, 1757?), Blackstone lists many “disagreeable truths” about inefficiencies and nepotism at the press. It is one of four pamphlets in the Taussig acquisition dealing with Blackstone’s reform campaign at Oxford.

Another eight pamphlets attack or support Blackstone’s position in the John Wilkes election controversy during his tenure in Parliament (1761-1770). Blackstone supported the expulsion of Wilkes, the political reformer, from the House of Commons. Blackstone’s critics accused Blackstone of contradicting the legal principles he put forth in his Commentaries. Other works in the Taussig acquisition reflect reactions to the Commentaries, and its influence on various areas of law practice and legal thought..

Finally, three volumes document Blackstone’s service on appeals panels for tax cases. The example below, from Cases on appeals concerning the duties on houses and windows, servants and inhabited  houses (London, 1780), is one of the earliest examples of an illustrated case report.

Cases on appeals concerning the duties on houses and windows, servants and Inhabited   houses (London, 1780).





The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


 The common law common-placed : containing, the substance and effect of all the common law cases dispersed in the body of the law (London, 1726)
January 8, 2014

Giles Jacob (1686–1744), the leading legal writer of his age, was notable less for his style—Alexander Pope lampooned him in his Dunciad, calling Jacob “the blunderbuss of the law”—than for the variety and influence of his work. Jacob was prolific, and some of his efforts aimed to reach relatively new markets. The Students Companion, or, Reason of the Law (1743), like Jacob’s The Common Law Common-Placed (1726), were among a growing number of printed books intended to help law students with their studies. The Students Companion organized and digested statutes and cases, while The Common Law Common-Placed served as a ready commonplace book and reference guide for legal terms. The latter also attracted critics who felt that printed study aids took away the useful work of manual notetaking.

Jacob branched into areas that had not been treated in print before. His Lex Mercatoria, or, The Merchant’s Companion (1718), was the first guide written by a common lawyer in English on the subject of the law merchant, or customs of foreign trade.  The work was published by Edmund Curll, a successful Londoner whose mercenary publishing tactics also earned him the barbs of Pope. Both Curll and Jacob feuded with Pope publicly and in literary form for his separate invectives against them. Jacob’s law publishing career remained profitable, and his final work, Every Man his Own Lawyer (1788), a guide for citizens involved in litigation, was a great success. The Library’s 1788 edition of Every Man his Own Lawyer is one of two acquired from the Taussig collection, and contains an interesting new preface complaining against the introduction of English as the language of court and the abrogation of court hand. 

Even in 1788, Jacob’s editor defended the deceased writer against Pope’s criticism: if he was a blunderbuss, the many editions of his works “were of good report.”

From the Taussig collection the Library has acquired twenty-seven editions of Jacob’s works.

The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– RYAN GREENWOOD, Rare Book Fellow

The Law against Bankrupts, or, A Treatise Wherein the Statutes against Bankrupts are Explained (London, 1694)
January 3, 2014

Works on bankruptcy are well represented among the Taussig acquisitions. What might be called early English bankruptcy law established procedures against debtors who transferred property to friends as they fled to ecclesiastical asylum. By the time of Henry VIII, bankruptcy law had evolved to reflect the basic principles of a summary collection and division of assets among all creditors. Other provisions targeted the friends who fraudulently sheltered assets. Later legislation, and the enforcement of bankruptcy laws, could be harsh: bankrupts were increasingly imprisoned and could face corporal punishment, and criticism of English bankruptcy laws abounded into the modern era.

The Library’s acquisitions include two of the earliest English works devoted to the subject. John Stone’s The Reading upon the Statute of the Thirteenth of Elizabeth, Chapter 7, Touching Bankrupts (1656) and Thomas Gooding’s The Law against Bankrupts; or, A Treatise Wherein the Statutes against Bankrupts are Explained (1694), join later works critical of bankruptcy laws, including the anonymous Considerations on the Present Administration of the Bankrupt Laws (1795), and John King’s Oppression Deemed No Injustice Towards Some Individuals (1797), in which King took up his own cause in bankruptcy.


In the eighteenth century, the commissioners who ran bankruptcy proceedings also became a target of criticism, something seen in Considerations on the Present Administration of the Bankrupt Laws. The work sets out four basic recommendations for improving the laws: 1) proceedings under bankruptcy commissions should be more attentive and deliberate; 2) property should be better preserved and more justly divided among creditors; 3) all money received and paid under commissions should be investigated; and 4) mercy should be shown toward deserving bankrupts.

The great English judge Lord Mansfield thought that bankruptcy statutes were something of an embarrassment in common law; nevertheless, the law grew in complexity in the eighteenth century and led to detailed treatments like Cooke’s The Bankrupt Laws, 2 vols. (1793), which the Library has also acquired from Taussig.

The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– RYAN GREENWOOD, Rare Book Fellow


December 27, 2013

The Lillian Goldman Law Library’s 2013 holiday card features an image from one of this year’s acquisitions. The image is the headpiece from the opening chapter in Friar Lorenzo Mascambrone’s Degli asili de’ Christiani ragionamento (Roma: Camera Appostolica, 1731). The book is a vigorous defense of the Catholic Church’s right to grant sanctuary to fugitives, published at a time when Catholic governments were protesting that the Church was coddling criminals and traitors under the guise of sanctuary, and thus threatening public order.

In The Popes and European Revolution (1981), Owen Chadwick summarized Mascambrone’s argument: “The right to punish does not derive from revenge but must intend to reform, it is inseparable in moral law from compassion. … Sanctuaries, however they are at times misused, tend to a chance of reformation. And if this is the duty and interest of the State, how much more is it the duty of the Church? Would a mother chase away a starving child, or fail to protect it from a wild animal? How much more barbarous would bishops be if they chase out of church men who have come to them seeking refuge and comfort?”

The image reinforces the book’s argument. On the left, the female cherub is seated in peaceful Nature. She points out the scales of Justice to the male cherub, holding the fasces (symbol of the magistrate’s power) as he cowers amid the ruins of human civilization. The image recalls the words of The Federalist, No. 51: “Justice is the end of government.”

Happy New Year to all!

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

Headpiece, Degli asili de' Christiani ragionamento 1731

December 22, 2013

Trained at Lincoln’s Inn, William Lambarde (1536–1601) showed early ability as an antiquarian and became a leading publisher of books on English law. He wrote his Eirenarcha, or Of the Office of the Iustices of Peace (1582), while serving, from 1579, as a Justice of the Peace in Kent. It became one of the most authoritative justice of the peace manuals in the period, being reprinted twelve times before 1620. As a genre, the manuals shed important light on the local administration of law in England and the growing reach of royal law enforcement. Lambarde’s guide describes in detail the duties of the office and the law a justice administers, with frequent reference to statutes and to Fitzherbert’s earlier, influential work on the subject, among others. The Library’s copy, acquired from the Taussig Collection, is a rare first edition.   

As a scholar interested in the history of English law, Lambarde became associated with the circle of Archbishop of Canterbury and leading antiquarian Matthew Parker. Lambarde’s greatest work on legal history, the Archeion, or, A Discourse upon the High Court of Justice in England (1635), traces English common law and government to an early Anglo-Saxon past, as part of an appeal to institutional continuity which found support among antiquarians and a more popular, lawyerly audience. Lambarde’s labors on the judicial circuit and as a scholar eventually led to advancement. At the end of his life, after working in chancery under his friend Sir Thomas Egerton, he was appointed keeper of the records in the Tower of London.

From the Taussig collection the Library has acquired twelve editions of Lambarde’s works.

The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– RYAN GREENWOOD, Rare Book Fellow

The Law of Trade, or, A Digest of the Law Concerning Trade, Commerce, and Manufactures (London,
December 19, 2013

From the Taussig collection the library has acquired a number of rare volumes dealing with commercial law. Most date to the eighteenth century, and many offer insights into the practices of local English merchants and the statutory and case law which regulated them. The volume, Points in Law and Equity (London, 1792), aims to aid merchants who lacked “information as to many of the points of law” concerning the “immense” volume of commerce that passed daily throughout England. Organized as a digest with alphabetically-arranged precepts excerpted from statutes and case reports, it advises that promissory notes, where money is knowingly lent for the sake of gambling, are void (37); or that a factor (or commercial employee) to whom a balance is due, has a lien on the goods of the owner in the employee’s possession (96). A contemporary work, The Law of Trade, or A Digest of the Law, gives a fuller summary of important case law on legal questions relating to merchants and trade. Our volume has no place or date—though it was published probably around 1800—and has not been located in other libraries.      

Several of the books on commerce and merchant law are more international in scope. The Lex Mercatoria Rediviva, or the Merchant’s Directory (London, 1751?), deals with aspects of trade familiar since the medieval period, including bills of exchange and maritime insurance, but also treats complex contemporary cases and guides merchants through the intricacies of trade in foreign countries. The work is a terrific resource for studying the laws and customs in force in European countries in the mid-eighteenth century, and a good source for the products and economies merchants navigated as they traveled between ports and inland markets.

The Taussig acquisitions were funded in large part by a generous grant from Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.

– RYAN GREENWOOD, Rare Book Fellow   


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