Collection of rare English legal manuscripts and books goes to Yale University
Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School are pleased to announce the acquisition of the Anthony Taussig Collection of English Legal Manuscripts and Printed Books, an extraordinary collection of English manuscripts and printed books from the 13th through the 19th century. The manuscript collection will reside at the Beinecke Library, and the printed collection at the Lillian Goldman Law Library.
Together, these form the world’s most extensive private collection ever assembled for the study of the cultural and intellectual history of law in England, with particular strengths in the period, from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, when English legal thought emerged as a key global influence. In breadth and depth, the manuscript collection adds to the Beinecke Library’s already rich holdings for English social history in the early modern period, including the Osborn Collection of English Literary and Historical Manuscripts and the Boswell Family Papers.
Some highlights from the manuscript collection include:
- A “pocket-sized” manuscript copy of the Magna Carta, from the 14th century.
- An early 14th-century manuscript copy of Britton, the first summary of English law in Norman French.
- A late 13th-century manuscript of English jurist Henry de Bracton’s De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae (“The Laws and Customs of England”), the only copy known to have been still in private possession.
- The main surviving archive of the manuscript notes papers and correspondence (with a few annotated printed books) of Sir Michael Foster, an 18th century justice of King’s Bench.
- A collection of correspondence by and relating to William Blackstone, 18th-century English jurist and politician, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England was the single most influential book in the history of Anglo-American common law.
- The letter-book of some 207 letters written to William Tidd, 18th-century English special pleader and legal writer.
- Manuscript pocket diaries, with detailed notes on income and expenditures, from the 17th-18th centuries.
The printed books represent a portion of Taussig’s entire collection. The acquisitions build on the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s already extraordinary holdings for William Blackstone, the most comprehensive in the world, with another 23 titles. They also significantly strengthen holdings in the fields of bankruptcy, commercial law, and law reform. WorldCat, the worldwide database of library catalogs, shows that 19 of the Taussig books are the only copies in North American libraries, and 9 of these are the only copies in any WorldCat library.
The Law Library’s acquisition of printed books was made possible by a generous grant from the Yale Law School’s Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund.
The more noteworthy printed books include:
- The first printed book of English law, a 1481 abridgment of statutes.
- The first justice of the peace manual (The boke of Iustyces of peas, 1506).
- The first edition of Blackstone’s famous Oxford lectures of 1759, annotated by a student who attended the lectures.
- The first English book on women’s legal rights (The lawes resolution of womens rights, 1632).
- The first English legal bibliography (Thomas Bassett’s Catalogue of the common and statute law-books of this realm, 1671).
- A pamphlet from the famous Sommersett case of 1772 that outlawed slavery in the British Isles, annotated by the English abolitionist Granville Sharp, who financed the litigation.
The acquisition is the culmination of discussions that the Lillian Goldman Law Library initiated with Taussig five years ago, over the eventual disposition of his collection. “The Beinecke Library’s offer to acquire the entire manuscript collection was decisive,” said Professor Blair Kauffman, the director of the Law Library.
Anthony Taussig has been one of the pre-eminent collectors in the field of English law over the past thirty-five years. A contributor to Katharine Pantzer’s Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, he is a member both of Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, and of the Council of the Selden Society. In 2007, the Selden Society published A Catalogue of the Legal Manuscripts of Anthony Taussig, compiled by Taussig and his colleague, the eminent legal historian Sir John Hamilton Baker. Taussig’s achievements as legal bibliographer, collector, and historian have “earned him the distinction of being an STC location,” writes Nicolas Barker, in a review essay published in The Book Collector (2008), adding that “everything that he has acquired has its place in a clear vision of how the English law, mainly the common law, worked from the Middle Ages to the present day.” Kathryn James, Beinecke Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts, described the acquisition as “a stunning collection for research into English intellectual and social history, in a period when England was transformed from a remote European province into the world’s leading imperial power.”