The Taussig Collection: William Blackstone

Bookplate of Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)

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

 

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