Yale Libraries Purchase Largest Private Collection of English Law
- by Michael Stillman
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Lillian Goldman Law Library, both of Yale University, have combined to purchase the largest library of 13th-19th century English law in private hands. The collection was put together over many years by Anthony Taussig, a successful English barrister (courtroom lawyer) who developed a passion for legal history. Taussig has written bibliographies and given talks at numerous locations over the years on the subjects of his collection. While Yale has purchased several hundred of his manuscripts and books, Taussig still retains part of the collection.
The manuscripts will be going to the Beinecke Rare Book Room while the printed books will be housed by the Law Library. The Law Library has been discussing the eventual placement of his collection with Mr. Taussig for the past five years. When the Beinecke joined in to acquire the manuscripts, the purchase of the collection became feasible.
Among the manuscripts acquired by the Beinecke is a pocket-sized 14th century copy of the Magna Carta. Perhaps it was useful to carry this in your pocket in case the King tried to arbitrarily ship you off to the Tower. There is a copy of Henry de Bracton’s De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae, the last copy in private hands of this 13th century manuscript which was the first serious attempt to codify English law. There is also a collection of correspondence by and relating to William Blackstone, the 18th century jurist whose Blackstone's Commentaries is undoubtedly the most important English legal treatise ever written, still quoted and cited to this day.
Among the books to be kept at the Goldman Law Library is a whole host of firsts. There is the first printed book of English law from 1481, the first edition of Blackstone's 1759 Oxford lectures, annotated by a student who attended, the first English book on women's legal rights (1632) and the first English legal bibliography. There is also a pamphlet from the 1772 Sommersett case that outlawed slavery in Britain (although not in the colonies). This copy was annotated by English abolitionist Granville Sharpe, who financed the slave Sommersett's appeal for freedom.
The price for the collection was not released.