Rare Books Blog

August 2, 2022

Back to School: Highlights from the Rare Book Collection

An exhibition welcoming incoming and returning students, on view in the Danzus-Panziger Rare Book exhibition area, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Level Two

August 1-31, 2022

–Batman’s Yale Law School diploma, in the original art work by Sal Amendola, ca. 1974
–Copy-editing the Gettysburg Address, in the Yale precursor to the Harvard Bluebook, Yale Law Journal, 1921
–Law students in class, ca. 1495
–A rare copy of Christopher Columbus Langdell, A selection of cases on the law of contracts (1871), the earliest American citator
–Chained book, from a 17th-century library
–The Sterling Law Library, as photographed after its opening in 1931
And a selection of Justices of the United States Supreme Court, as figured by The Green Bag Bobblehead Series.



Image of scrapbook, with manuscript postmortem accounts, newspaper clippings, and other materials
May 6, 2022

The Rare Book Collection has acquired two manuscript notebooks kept by Ludwig Freyberger, physician and early expert pathologist at the turn of the 20th century in England.   Originally from Austria, where he trained in Vienna as a physician, Freyberger was a prominent London physician and barrister-at-law at the Middle Temple.  Nominated as an expert pathologist in 1902 by John Troutbeck, Coroner for the City and Liberty of Westminster, Freyberger kept detailed notes of his postmortem investigations, recording both his own notes on the cause of death and the jury’s verdict.  Covering 1902-3 and 1908, the notebooks touch on Freyberger’s findings both in notorious trials, such as the case of George Chapman–a convicted serial killer, named as Jack the Ripper by an inspector working with the case–and in the daily trials overseen by the courts of Westminster.  Freyberger’s notes highlight the differences between the causes of death and the meanings ascribed to those deaths by the criminal justice system, for instance “wilful murder,” in the case of the woman who died from pneumonian and septic blood poisoning following an illegal abortion.

The expert witness was by no means a straightforward role in the early 20th-century British court. Freyberger’s notebooks document a moment of historical transition towards an idea of “scientific” analysis in the criminal justice system, one politicized and vocally contested by many of his fellow physicians and members of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons.  

Acquired from Jarndyce, the notebooks offer an unusual moment of insight into the view of the expert witness in an early 20th-century English court.  They also add to the Rare Book Collection’s extensive documentation of official and popular perspectives on the trial, ranging from holdings of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Sessions through tabloid accounts of abortion, murder, and other criminal trials in popular reporting.

engraved plan of Newgate Prison, Dublin, with accompanying table
May 6, 2022

A new acquisition from Maggs: George Warner, “Paper Relating to the Prisons in Dublin” (London: Luke Hansard, 1819), with an engraved plan of Newgate Prison.

In 1819, the Dublin Alderman, George Warner, wrote this detailed survey of prison conditions in Dublin in order to criticize the proposal for a new jail.  Rather than build a new prison, Warner recommended that the sessions court meet instead on a weekly rather than fortnightly basis: “as our law presumes every one innocent until proved to be guilty of some offense, it appears to be a very desirable object that all persons should be kept as short a time in confinement before trial as the necessary forms of justice will allow.”

The work includes a detailed engraving of Newgate Prison, detailing the venereal hospital; cells, hospitals, kitchens, and yards for women, men, and felons; “dark cells”; and other aspects.  

Warner describes a state of crisis in Dublin prisons, following the terrible famine and typhus epidemic of 1817-1819, and the “general distress which has pervaded the whole country.”  This edition of the paper was printed in London, “Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 30 March 1819.”

Photograph of miniature book, shown with pencil for scale
May 3, 2022

In 1839, the English Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, published this pocket-sized devotional work, intended for distribution to women prisoners in France.  Fry was a dedicated advocate for prison reform and a founding member of the Ladies’ Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate, reconfigured in 1821 as the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners.   Between 1838 and 1843, Fry made five visits to European prisons.   

Published in French, and intended for women prisoners, Fry’s Textes ou sujets de méditation, pour l’année (ca. 1839) counted out the year in 365 short daily readings, with the recommendation that each be read and memorized, first thing after rising each morning.  The opening above shows the first reading, for “1 JOUR. 1 SEM. 1 Mo. (Jan. 1),” taken from Psalm 90, verse 9:  “Nous consumons nos années comme une pensée.  Ps. Xc. 9.” [Psalm 90 KJV, “We spend our years as a tale that is told.”].   Fry inscribed this copy:  “donne par [Madame] Elisabeth Fry, elle meme. Ce 25 Juillet 1839 [Given by Madame Elizabeth Fry, herself. This July 25 1839].  

Acquired from Justin Croft, the work offers an unusual instance of rehabilitative reading, as envisioned by a Quaker English woman for French women prisoners.  It adds to the Rare Book Collection’s holdings on the history of English prison reform movements, which include works such as Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: Or, the Inspection-House (1791) and Charles Dickens’ observations on Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, published in his American Notes (1842). 

September 9, 2021

In April 1972, the French theorist Michel Foucault made a detour from a campus trip to the State University of Buffalo to visit the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York.  Attica, the prison, was by then already “Attica,” the site of the violent series of events of September 9-13, 1971.  Watched on television, read in the news, “Attica” was consumed by audiences across America and around the world. 

Fresher, More Recent Tragedies’” traces some of the responses to the events of Attica, situating them within the media history of prison observations in American popular culture.  Foucault’s visit resulted in the publication of Surveiller et punir / Discipline and Punish (1975), his statement on the relationship of state power to the control of the individual.  Following Foucault to Jeremy Bentham’s inspection principle and to Charles Dickens’ visit to the panopticonical Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the exhibition explores the ephemeral media by which popular culture has engaged with the events of Attica and American prison culture. 

Frederick Douglass observed in 1857 that power conceded nothing without a demand.  In his Doonesbury strip for November 28, 1971, Garry Trudeau responded that power also waits for attention to turn elsewhere, to the next news cycle, and to “fresher, more recent tragedies.”

Kathryn James
Rare Book Librarian

Singularia Ludovici Romani (Paris, 1510)
May 1, 2021

The forlorn figure adorning Lodovico Pontano’s Singularia (1510) reflects some of my emotions on this, my last day as the Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to work in a library that aspires to be the best academic law library in the world.

In an interview on the Yale Law School website, I was asked what makes our Rare Book Collection special to me. I’ll simply repeat my answer here:

For me, it is the human element that pervades every aspect of the collection. Books produced before the Industrial Age are handmade objects, often bearing the marks and scars of their use and their movement from one hand to another. Our collection bears the imprint of the professors and librarians who formed it, beginning with the Founders (Staples, Daggett, and Hitchcock), followed by law librarians such as Albert Wheeler, Frederick Hicks, Samuel Thorne, and Morris Cohen. It is a collection I have had the privilege of enhancing and sharing with students, faculty, and scholars, with the support and encouragement of past library directors Blair Kauffman and Teresa Miguel-Stearns, my supervisor the incomparable Fred Shapiro, and the finest academic law library staff in existence. At their best, collections such as ours are profoundly social instruments.

I will only add one more thank-you, to the librarian and scholar who inspired me to become a librarian, who collaborated with me on numerous projects, and who has been an unfailing source of advice, and support: my wife Emma Molina Martín del Campo de Widener. Un beso, mi amor.

Thanks to all whom I have worked with for a wonderful fifteen years. I’ll miss you.

Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian

Rare Book Librarian




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