Rare Books Blog

August 22, 2008

John Cowell’s The Interpeter, or Booke Containing the Signification of Words was the most respected English law dictionary of the 17th century, despite the controversy that greeted its appearance in 1607. It went through eight editions between 1607 and 1727, testimony to its popularity and usefulness.

However, the early editions have an interesting quirk. The entry for “Testament (testamentum)” directs the reader to “See Will”, but when you turn to the W’s, there is no entry for “Will”! Cowell has sent his readers down a blind alley, or what librarians and indexers call a “blind reference.”

This is a particularly surprising error given the author. John Cowell (1554-1611) was a doctor of civil law, or a “civilian” in the nomenclature of English law, in contrast to the practitioners of the English common law who practiced in the common law courts. Civilians practiced in the ecclesiastical courts of England, and thus wills and estates were part of the bread-and-butter of their practice. For a civilian like Cowell to completely omit any coverage of testaments and wills is odd, to say the least.

Even odder is that for decades no one bothered to fix the error. The 1637 and 1658 editions of The Interpeter were basically reprints of the 1607 edition. Finally, in 1672, Thomas Manley of the Middle Temple published an enlarged edition with a half-column definition for “Testament” and a brief paragraph for “Will.”

Thanks to my friend Mr. Harold I. Boucher of San Francisco for calling to my attention the case of Cowell’s missing “will.” Mr. Boucher, a retired attorney, has himself published both on Cowell (King James’s Suppression of The Interpreter and Denouncement of Dr. Cowell, 1998) and on the history of wills (California Living Trusts and Wills: What You Must Know Before You Make a Will, 1994; How to Live and Die with California Probate, 1970).

The image of the title page from the 1607 edition of The Interpreter comes from the John Cowell page in the Law Dictionary Collection website provided by Rare Books & Special Collections, Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin. It appears here with their permission and with my thanks to Elizabeth Haluska-Rauch, Head of Special Collections.


Rare Book Librarian

July 5, 2008

 A quick round-up of new sources for legal history on the web…

From Prof. Robert C. Palmer, University of Houston: “The Anglo-American Legal Tradition website now has available the acquisitions from Spring 2008.  The site contains about 2.1 million frames of documents from the U.K. National Archives from the years 1218 to 1650. If you have not used the site in the last few months, you will find it much more user-friendly … The main document series on the site are CP40 (court of common pleas plea rolls), KB27 (court of king’s bench plea rolls), KB26 (king’s bench and common pleas plea rolls from Henry III), E159 and E368 (exchequer memoranda rolls), C33 (chancery orders and decrees), CP25(1) (feet of fines), DL5 (duchy decrees and orders), and REQ1 (court of requests orders and decrees) … The AALT website runs through the O’Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston under a non-commercial license from the U.K. National Archives.”


Legislación Mexicana, offered by the Biblioteca Daniel Cosio Villegas of the Colegio de México, is a project to digitize the contents of an essential work for the legal history of 19th-century Mexico, Legislación mexicana: ó, Coleccion completa de las disposiciónes legislativas expedidas desdé la independencia de la República [1821-1906] / ordenada por Manuel Dublán y José María Lozano (42 vols.; México, 1876-1912). Thanks to the Philobiblos blog for the heads-up.


The 1582 edition of the Corpus Juris Canonici has been put online by UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library. This edition is known as the “Correctores Romani” edition, because it was prepared by a Vatican-appointed panel of editors charged with ridding the text and gloss of corruptions that had crept in over the centuries. The site also features corrected, expanded and searchable versions of indexes to the Liber Extra and its gloss.


From Vicenç Feliú, Paul M. Hebert Law Center Library, Louisiana State University: “On the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Digest of 1808, the Paul M. Hebert Law Center’s Center for Civil Law Studies has published an electronic version of the Digest of the Civil Laws now in Force in the Territory of Orleans (enacted on March 31, 1808) on its Civil Law Online website … The original French and the English translation can be viewed separately or together on the same screen … In addition, the manuscript notes of 1814, attributed to Louis Moreau-Lislet who, with James Brown, drafted the Digest, are available on this website. These notes are extracted from the De la Vergne Volume, a copy of the Digest bound in 1808 with interleaves between the English text on the left and the French text on the right. The manuscript notes on the interleaves give reference mainly to Roman and Spanish laws, but also mention French sources, such as Domat and Pothier … This volume belonged to the de la Vergne family for generations, and is presently in possession of Mr. Louis V. de la Vergne.” I add my congratulations to my good friend Louis de la Vergne for helping make this project possible.


From the University of Georgia: “The Civil Rights Digital Library promotes an enhanced understanding of the Movement by helping users discover primary sources and other educational materials from libraries, archives, museums, public broadcasters, and others on a national scale. The CRDL features a collection of unedited news film from the WSB (Atlanta) and WALB (Albany, Ga.) television archives held by the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia Libraries. The CRDL provides educator resources and contextual materials, including Freedom on Film, relating instructive stories and discussion questions from the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, and the New Georgia Encyclopedia, delivering engaging online articles and multimedia.”


English Medieval Legal Documents AD 600 - AD 1535: A Compilation of Published Sources. Prepared by Hazel D. Lord, Senior Law Librarian, University of Southern California School of Law: “The goal of this project is to create a collaborative database on the published sources of English medieval legal documents, and to provide links to the growing number of online sources currently being developed.”



Rare Book Librarian


June 14, 2008

Among the most uncommon and interesting of our trial pamphlets is Isaiah Lanson’s Statement and Inquiry, Concerning the Trial of William Lanson, Before the New Haven County Court, November Session, 1845, probably printed in New Haven in 1846. Ours is the only copy recorded in the online library dabase, WorldCat.

William Lanson was an African American and a successful New Haven construction engineer. He extended Long Wharf in 1810, built the East Haven Bridge, and helped develop Wooster Square. He also owned the Liberian Hotel. He was arrested repeatedly for allegedly illegal activities at the hotel, and put on trial for operating a house of ill repute.

In this pamphlet, Lanson’s son Isaiah comes to his father’s defense. He asserts that “If Mr. L. had been a white man, he would have had at least some advantages which he has not had. Some evidence of his would have been taken as good. We have no hesitation in saying that the jury were in a measure prejudiced.” Isaiah Lanson sets out an impassioned but also well-documented defense of his father’s conduct and reputation.

The pamphlet provides considerable information on the operation of a boarding house, and life in New Haven’s African American community in the early 19th century. It also provides evidence that African Americans in New Haven were not only literate but also sophisticated in their employment of print media.

Rare Book Librarian

June 11, 2008

Robert F. Blomquist surveyed 426 law professors who have taught legal history for his paper, Thinking About Law and Creativity: On the 100 Most Creative Moments in American Law (Valparaiso University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-04, May 2008). Below I've extracted the books and articles that appear in Blomquist's top 100. I provide links for those books that are in the Yale Law Library's online catalog, MORRIS. Legislation and court cases make up the majority of the list, and I did not include these, although arguably The Federalist (1788) is a component of the #1 creative moment, "The Constitution of the United States (1787) and the ratification debates (1787-1788)."

You can find a brief critique of Blomquist's paper on Mary Dudziak's Legal History Blog.

Most Creative Books in American Law...

15. James Kent, Commentaries on American Law (1826-30).
16. Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833).
17. Christopher Columbus Langdell’s initiation of the case method of study at Harvard Law School initiated by his casebook, A Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (1871).
18. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law (1881).
27. Benjamin Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921).
43. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).
44. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949).
46. Charles Reich, The Greening of America (1970).
54. Richard Posner, Economic Analysis of Law (1973).
55. Hart & Sacks, The Legal Process (1958).
68. Al Gore, Earth in the Balance (1992) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006).
79. The Politics of Law (1982).

Most Creative Law Review Articles in American Law...

45. Justice Douglas’ dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972) (citing Christopher D. Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?--Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, 45 Southern California Law Review 450 (1972).
75. Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, Right to Privacy, 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890).

Rare Book Librarian

June 1, 2008

Spring 2008 has been a busy season for acquisitions in the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection.

The American trials collection grew by thirty titles in Spring 2008. These included The Fall River Tragedy: A History Of The Borden Murders (1893); a bizarre recreation of the Lindbergh kidnapping (Criminal File Exposed!, 1933): the Amistad trial (New England Anti-Slavery Almanac, 1841; see image ar right); the adultery trial of the Rev. Joy Fairchild (Boston, 1845); censorship of abolition literature (Remarks on the Decision of the Appeal Court of South-Carolina, in the Case of Wells, 1835), sidewalk preaching in New York City (Account of the Trial of John Edwards, 1822); Rev. Henry Ward Beecher’s adultery trial (True History of the Brooklyn Scandal, 1878), and murder trials aplenty (The Most Foul and Unparalleled Murder in the Annals of Crime: Life and Confession of Reuben A. Dunbar, 1851; Account of the Short Life and Ignominious Death of Stephen Merrill Clark, 1821; Trial of Henry G. Green, for the Murder of His Wife, 1845; Trial of Rev. Mr. Avery, 1833; Report of the Trial of William Henry Theodore Durrant, 1899).

Seven titles were added to the William Blackstone Collection. The most notable is an apparently unrecorded variant of Eller 180, Commentaire sur le code criminel d’Angleterre (2 vols., 1776), still in its original paper wrappers. Two somewhat ephemeral items testify to Blackstone’s role in debates through the years. Our Legal Heritage (2001), by Judge Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of Alabama who lost his judgeship for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom, contains a lengthy excerpt from Blackstone with commentary by Judge Moore. An 8-page pamphlet by the English mystic John Ward is titled This penny book proves clearly that the bishops and clergy are religious imposters, who falsely pretend to an extraordinary commissio[n] from Heaven, and terrify and abuse the Peop[le] with false denunciations of judgment, and as suc[h] by the present laws of England, according [to] Blackstone’s Commentaries, vol. IV, p. 62, a[re] liable to fine. imprisonment, and infamo[us] corporeal punishment. This pamphlet also contains a true song, of 18 verses, against priestcraft and oppression to be sung to the tune of the Vicar and Moses (Birmingham, 1832).

Another 18 volumes of Italian statutes and related treatises were acquired, including statutes of Vicenza (1675), Trento (1640), and Milan (1800), as well as ordinances for the notaries’ guild of Cremona (1597), the Bergamo marketplace (1701), the legal profession in Bergamo (1795), and the pawnbrokers of Vicenza (1676). The 1718 edition of the agricultural statutes of Rome, Gli statuti dell’ agricoltura, includes illustrations of the life cycle of locusts.

In all, thirty of the titles acquired in Spring 2008 sported illustrations. San Antonio tax attorney Farley P. Katz donated two long-sought French codes filled with colorful and humorous images by the illustrator Joseph Hémard: the deluxe edition of Code général des impôts directs et taxes assimilées (1944; see image at right), and Code civil: Livre premier, Des personnes (1925). Katz recently published a study of Hemard’s tax code that reproduces several of the illustrations: “The Art of Taxation: Joseph Hémard’s Illustrated Tax Code,” 60 Tax Lawyer 163 (2006). We acquired two more illustrated French codes perhaps inspired by Hémard: the Code Napoléon rendered into verse with 60 risqué woodcuts by Pierre Noël (1932-33), and the Code Pénal (1950) with illustrations by Jean Dratz (1950). The Coutumes generales d’Artois (1756) has eight large woodcuts depicting the judicial process. Joost de Damhoudere’s Practycke in criminele saecken (1642) has dozens of woodcuts depicting crimes and criminal procedure.

I highlighted gifts from Mrs. Beverly M. Manne and Mr. Harold I. Boucher in previous posts, and I am happy to repeat my thanks again.


Rare Book Librarian

May 29, 2008

I recommend two recent meditations on the present and future roles of rare book libraries and special collections:

Both Darnton and Turner argue that today's digital information world makes rare books & manuscript collections more important, and not simply as mines for content creators.

Several of my favorite "oldies but goodies" in this vein are by Daniel Traister at the University of Pennsylvania.

Finally, two blogs worth checking out:

  • On Bibliophagist the rare book dealer Garrett Scott encourages "low-spot collecting" (see The Gee-Whiz Factor) and muses on The Modern American Library, as well as extolling the virtues of the Bug-House Poet.
  • BibliOdyssey, dedicated to "Books - Illustrations - Science - History - Visual Materia Obscura - Eclectic Bookart", is a consistently satisfying feast for the eyes and the mind, as well as an instructive exercise in data mining. The curator, Paul K. of Sydney, brings together an incredible variety of graphic material in books, manuscripts, advertising, and ephemera from around the world.

Rare Book Librarian

May 19, 2008

The Yale Law Library has finished cataloging the Roman-Canon Law Collection of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (ABCNY). This means that all of this rich and valuable collection is accessible to researchers via the Law Library’s online catalog, MORRIS.

A round of applause is due to Susan Karpuk and the two catalogers who worked under her direction on this project, Ruth Alcabes and Maureen Hayes. Susan described this cataloging project in a recent article, “Processing a Large Acquisition of 16th-19th Century Roman-Canon Law Books at the Yale Law Library,” LH&RB 14:1 (Winter 2008), which is available online at <http://www.aallnet.org/sis/lhrb/>.

The Law Library is grateful for the generous support from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund, Yale Law School, for funding the acquisition and cataloging. Thanks also to Richard Tuske, Director of Library Operations at the ABCNY, and to the ABCNY’s Board of Directors, for making this acquisition possible.

The ABCNY’s Roman-Canon Law Collection contains 1197 titles in 1754 physical volumes, and arrived in August 2006 on permanent loan. Its acquisition represents a quantum leap in our already strong holdings in Roman and canon law, making the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection one of the premier libraries for research in European legal history.

The work pictured at right, Martin Sánchez’ Arbor dividui et individui (1538) is one of several that are the only copies in U.S. libraries according to WorldCat. The oldest imprint is a 1501 compilation of the regulations for the Papal Chancery. The collection also includes one manuscript volume, an 18th-century digest of Roman-Dutch law.

There are 80 volumes of the decisions of the Rota Romana, the Vatican’s highest court and for centuries one of Europe’s most important courts. There are 16 collections of consilia, the legal opinions given out (for a fee) by leading jurists at the request of institutions, rulers and others.

The collection is valuable not only for legal history but for the history of the book. Many of the early volumes retain their original bindings. Six of the volumes were once academic prizes, presented to outstanding students in the 17th-18th centuries in elegant bindings. The bindings and ownership marks suggest that most of the books were originally in German or Austrian collections. The ABCNY acquired many of the volumes in 1904 from the library of Konrad von Maurer (1823-1902), professor at the University of Munich and an influential historian of Scandinavian law.

I could go on and on about the treasures and curiosities in the ABCNY’s Roman-Canon Law Collection. I’ve highlighted some of the individual volumes in recent posts and there is more to come. For now, you can browse the entire collection via a collection-level record in our online catalog, MORRIS. Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.


Rare Book Librarian


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