Rare Books Blog

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!

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.”

Rare Book Librarian

January 3, 2009

Our Lewis Morris Collection is now part of the Libraries of Early America project on LibraryThing.com. As described by Jeremy Dibbell of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the coordinator of the Libraries of Early America Project, “Using the book-cataloging website LibraryThing.com, scholars from institutions around the country (including Monticello, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society and others) have begun the process of creating digital catalogs of early American book collections - the project covers anyone who lived in America and collected primarily before 1825.”

LibraryThing provides powerful tools for analyzing Morris’s library. The tag cloud, drawn from the subject headings in our catalog records, shows the subject strengths within the Morris Collection. You can also see how Morris’s library compares with other libraries, both early and modern. In addition, there is a biographical sketch and portrait of Morris.

Lewis Morris III (1726-1798), a 1746 graduate of Yale, was a prominent New York lawyer and statesman and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His law library, consisting of 113 titles in 104 volumes, was donated to the Yale Law Library in 1960 by three of Lewis Morris’ descendents: A. Newbold Morris (Yale Law School Class of 1928), Stephanus Van Cortlandt Morris, and George L. Kingsland Morris. Over half the books in the collection are also inscribed by Morris’ grandfather, Lewis Morris I (1671-1746), who was chief justice of New York (1715-1733) and governor of New Jersey (1738-1746).

Libraries of Early America will soon add another of our collections, the John Worthington Collection. Worthington (1719-1800) was a wealthy and influential lawyer practicing in 18th-century Springfield, Mass., who served for many years as king’s attorney of western Massachusetts and high sheriff of Hampshire County.

Thanks to Jeremy Dibbell and his Libraries of Early America collaborators!



Rare Book Librarian

December 31, 2008

To ring in the New Year, I’d like to acknowledge the outstanding gifts to the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s Rare Book Collection in 2008.

I begin with a superb letter written by the great Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall, in April 1835 (only a few months before Marshall’s death), to James Kirke Paulding, whose Life of Washington was published later that year. In the letter Marshall recounts how George Washington convinced him to begin his career in public service 37 years earlier. The letter is a gift from Charles J. Tanenbaum (LL.B. Yale 1937).

At right is an image of the last page with Marshall’s autograph; below is a transcription of the entire letter (postmarked Richmond, Virginia, April 4), followed by a list of resources.

J. K. Paulding esquire

New York


Your favor of the 22d of March was received in the course of the mail, but I have been confined to my room, and am only now resuming my pen.

The single difficulty I feel in complying with your request arises from my repugnance to any thing which may be construed into an evidence of that paltry vanity which, if I know myself forms no part of any character. To detail any conversation which might seem to intimate that General Washington considered my engaging in the political transactions of the United States an object of sufficient consequence to induce him to take an interest in effecting it, may look like boasting that I held a more favorable place in the opinion of that great man than the fact would justify. I do not however think that this, perhaps, fastidious feeling would justify a refusal to answer an enquiry made in terms entitled to my sincere acknowledgements.

All who were then old enough to notice the public affairs of the United states, recollect the arduous struggle of 1798 and 1799. General Washington, it is well known, took a deep interest in it. He believed that the real independence, the practical self government of our country, depended greatly on its issue[?] on our resisting the encroachments of France.

I had devoted myself to my profession, and, though actively and zealously engaged in support of the measures of his administration in the legislature of Virginia, had uniformly declined any situation which might withdraw me from the bar. In 1798 I was very strongly pressed by the federalists to become a candidate for Congress, and the gentleman of that party who had offered himself to the district [*], proposed to resign his pretensions in my favor. I had however positively refused to accede to the proposition, and believed that I could not be induced to change my determination. In this state of things, in August or September 1798 as well as I recollect, I received an invitation from General Washington to accompany his nephew, the late Judge Washington on a visit to Mount Vernon. I accepted this invitation and remained at Mount Vernon four or five days. During this time the walk and conversation in the Piazza mentioned by W. Lewis took place.

General Washington urged the importance of the crisis, expressed his decided conviction that every man who could contribute to the success of sound opinions was required by the most sacred duty to offer his services to the public and pressed me to come into the Congress of the ensuing year.

After the very natural declaration of distrust in my ability to do any good, I told him that I had made large pecuniary engagements which required close attention to my profession, and which would distress me should the emoluments derived from it be abandoned. I also mentioned the assurance I had given to the gentleman then a candidate, which I could not honorably violate.

He thought that gentleman would still willingly withdraw in my favor, and that my becoming a member of Congress for the present, would not sacrifice my practice as a lawyer. At any rate the sacrifice might be temporary.

After continuing the conversation for sometime, he directed my attention to his own conduct. He had withdrawn from office with a declaration of his determination never again, under any circumstances, to enter public life. No man could be more sincere in making that declaration, nor could any man feel stronger motives for adhering to it. No man could make a stronger sacrifice than he did in breaking a resolution thus publicly made, and which he had believed to be unalterable. Yet I saw him, in opposition to his public declaration, in opposition to his private feelings, consenting under a sense of duty, to surrender the sweets of retirement, and again to enter the most arduous and perilous station which an individual could fill.

My resolution yielded to this representation after remarking that the obligation which had controuled[?] his course was essentially different from that which bound me - that no other man could fill the place to which his country had called him, whereas my services could weigh but little in the political balance, I consented to become a candidate, and have continued, ever since my election, in public life.

This letter is intended to be private, and you will readily perceive the unfitness of making it public. It is written because it has been requested in polite and obliging terms, and because I am willing, should your own views induce you to mention the fact derived from W. Lewis, to give you the assurance of its truth.

With my great respect I am Sir

your obed.t serv.t

J Marshall

  • Three English law reports in our Rare Book Collections bear Marshall’s inscriptions and marginal notes: Hobart’s Reports (London, 5th ed. 1724), Strange’s Reports (London, 1755), and Vernon’s Chancery Reports (London, 1726-1728). We also have vol. 1 of the abridged edition of Marshall’s Life of George Washington (Philadelphia, 1832), inscribed by Marshall to his fellow Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson.
  • James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860) was a prominent early American author who later served as Secretary of the Navy. See his biographical sketch in Wikipedia. There are several biographies of Paulding, the most recent being Ralph M. Aderman & Wayne R. Kime, Advocate for America: The Life of James Kirke Paulding (Susquehanna University Press, 2003).
  • The 1848 Aberdeen edition of Paulding’s Life of Washington is available in Google Books; a brief mention of Marshall’s meeting with Washington (without using Marshall’s name) is on pages 260-261.


Rare Book Librarian

November 1, 2008

The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library

Papal States. Gli statuti dell’agricoltura con varie osservazioni, bolle, decisioni della S. Ruota, e decreti intorno alla medesima (Rome 1718). Acquired with the Albert S. Wheeler Fund, May 2008.

(View the Papal States on a map: “Stato Pontificio”.)

The agricultural statutes of Rome were first collected during the pontificate of Gregory XII in the early 1400s, and underwent several revisions and reforms before they were promulgated for the last time in 1848. Yale Law Library owns six different editions of this wide-ranging collection of regulations and advice of use to lawyers, agriculturalists (agronomo), and rural merchants in the Papal States. The 1718 edition shown here was the first to be translated from Latin to Italian, and includes a twenty-six page illustrated treatise on locusts.


Exhibit Curators

“The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library” is on display October 2008 through February 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

November 1, 2008

The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library

“The outstanding acquisition of the year”

The Yale Law Library owes its superb collection of early Italian statutes to a generous alumnus, an opportunistic librarian, and a “learned Italian lawyer.”

John A. Hoober (Law 1891), an attorney and industrialist in York, Pa., led a fund drive that raised a hefty acquisitions endowment for the Yale Law Library in 1942, much of it from Hoober’s own pocket. When legal historian Samuel Thorne took over as Law Librarian three years later, he had an ample book budget and a buyer’s market in war-torn Europe. Thorne’s report for the 1945-46 academic year included the following under the heading “Notable Purchases”:

“The outstanding acquisition of the year was the notable collection of Italian statuta, numbering almost nine hundred volumes, purchased from a learned Italian lawyer who had brought it, over a period of fifty years, to its present completeness. It contained fifty-two manuscripts of the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, nine incunabula, and many sixteenth-century editions, more than a few unknown to Luigi Manzoni whose ‘Bibliografia statutaria e storica italiana’ is the standard bibliography of the class.”

Efforts to discover the identity of the “learned Italian lawyer” who sold his splendid collection to Yale have so far come up empty.

The collection has been supplemented by two major acquisitions from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Their Roman-Canon Law Collection, placed on permanent loan at the Yale Law Library in 2006, included twenty-two volumes of Italian treatises and judicial opinions. An additional sixty volumes were acquired in Fall 2008 as part of the Bar’s Foreign Law Collection. In addition, book dealers in the U.S. and Europe have supplied individual volumes of statutes for Ancona, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Monteregale, Novara, Riviera di Salo, Sicily, Rome, Trento, and Vicenza.

Exhibit Curators

“The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library” is on display October 2008 through February 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Illustration: Statuta provisiones et ordinamenta magnificae civitatis Ferrariae (2nd ed.; Ferrara, 1534).

November 1, 2008

The Flowering of Civil Law: Early Italian City Statutes in the Yale Law Library

One of the main reasons for organizing this exhibit is to encourage students and scholars to use the Yale Law Library’s outstanding collection of early Italian statutes. All of the volumes in the collection are represented in our online catalog, MORRIS. Feel free to contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian; see the Rare Books homepage for contact information.

Below is a selective list of online resources, bibliographies, and publications on early Italian statutes.

Online resources


  • Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica (Italy). Catalogo della raccolta di statuti, consuetudini, leggi, decreti, ordini e privilegi del comuni, delle associazioni e degli enti locali italiani, dal medioevo alla fine del secolo XVIII (Roma: Tipografia del Senato, 1943- ). Eight of the nine volumes have been published so far, and when it is complete it will be the most comprehensive bibliography of early Italian statutes. The entire set is available online at the website of the Biblioteca del Senato, along with updates to the earlier volumes. The Yale Law Library has a copy, which is currently shelved in the Rare Book Librarian’s office.
  • Leone Fontana, Bibliografia degli statuti dei comuni dell’ Italia superiore (3 vols.; Torino: Fratelli Bocca, 1907). The Yale Law Library has a copy.
  • Luigi Manzoni, comp., Bibliografia statutaria e storica italiana (2 vols. in 3; Bologna: G. Romagnoli, 1876-1892). Volume 1 covers statutes; volume 2 (which our library lacks) covers local histories. The Yale Law Library’s copy is currently shelved in the Rare Book Librarian’s office.
  • Statuti italiani: riuniti ed indicati dal conte Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani (2 vols.; Pavia: Prem. Tipografia successori fratelli Fusi, 1907). This entire collection is now in the library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and it is probably the only early Italian statute collection in the U.S. that rivals the Yale Law Library’s collection. The catalogue is available online, but stops with entries for the letter M.

Books and articles

  • Mario Ascheri, “Beyond the Comune: The Italian City-State and Its Inheritance,” in The Medieval World (Peter Linehan & Janet L. Nelson eds.; London: Routledge, 2001), 451-468. “[T]he sections of statutes relating to public law have every right to be treated as constitutional history, even if their wide dispersion, mutability and multiplicity make them difficult to study. Paradoxically, it is their very richness that is responsible for the comparative neglect they have suffered. … The city-states were the precursors of the majoritarian principle. In order to delimit the activities of different governmental agencies they introduced systems of checks and balances. They pioneered measures designed to depoliticise judges and the administration of justice and to moderate the excesses of their officials.”
  • George Bowyer, A Dissertation on the Statutes of the Cities of Italy (London: Richards and Co., 1838). Although 170 years old, it is so far the only full-length book in English on early Italian municipal statutes. The Yale Law Library has a copy in its collection, and it is also online in Google Books.
  • Carlo Calisse, A History of Italian Law (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1928). Translated by Layton B. Register, with introductions by Frederick Parker Walton and Hessel E. Yntema. Volume 8 in the Continental Legal History Series. The book is a translation of parts of Calisse’s Storia del diritto italiano, and was described in a contemporary review as “a long and complicated book.” The Yale Law Library has a copy.
  • Kenneth Pennington, “Law Codes: 1000-1500,” in Dictionary of the Middle Ages 7 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986), 425-431.


Rare Book Librarian

Illustration: Perugia (Italy), Statuta augustae Perusiae (Perugia, 1523-1528).


Subscribe to Rare Books Blog