The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights, or The Woman’s Lawyer (1632)

The Balfour Halevy Special Collections has acquired an exciting new item, The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights, also known as The Woman’s Lawyer. Why is this exciting? The Woman’s Lawyer is the earliest work in English devoted to laws relating exclusively to women. Some particular topics include the age of consent, dower, hermaphrodites, polygamy, wooing, partition, chattels, divorce, descent, seisin, treason, felonies and rape. This 1632 text was authored anonymously, but is commonly attributed to either Thomas Edgar or Sir John Doderidge, an important legal figure during the reign of James I.

Though the title refers to “women’s rights”, its meaning is foreign to us who today think of suffrage, the fight for equality, and modern feminism when we hear the phrase. This book early on references the “especiall bane” suffered by women for Eve’s transgression in Eden, and takes this same sin as the reason “that Women have no voyse in Parliament, They make no Lawes, they consent to none, they abrogate none.” Here, women’s rights refers only to the rights of women in all their limitations, and is not a treatise for their advancement.

Nevertheless, the specific attention to the place of women in the law might be a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. Indeed, the work makes no judgment as to the correctness or morality of the laws contained therein, but only claims to collect them so that “profitable and usefull Learning […] be well knowne”. The editor laments the difficulty the law poses to the common person, and praises the author, who has made “this scattered part of Learning, in the great Volumes of the Common-Law-Bookes, and there darkly described, to be one entyre body, and more ready, and clearer to the view of the Reader”. The Norton Anthology generously describes how the work would “help women understand how the law impinged on them”, so this book may have, in compiling legislation related to women, simply highlighted the astounding injustice afforded them in the period. Bravo, anonymous author!

In addition to finding this book in our special collections, you can find an excellent digitized edition of the text via the London School of Economics library or, if you can dispense with page scans, a searchable text is available via the University of Michigan.

Alexander Buchanan (1798-1852) and His Books: Part 2: Early Canadian Legal Education

In my previous post, I talked about Alexander Buchanan, his place in Canadian history, and his library. In this post, I’d like to talk about one specific book from Buchanan’s collection, it’s special place in Osgoode’s Balfour Halévy Special Collections library. Also, I’d like to discuss a singular and exceptional document from Buchanan’s hand and its significance as a relic of early Canadian legal education.

The very first book on the shelf in our in our rare book room – with the appropriate call number A-0001 – is Buchanan’s personal copy of the 1809 edition of the Orders and Rules of Practice in the Court of King’s Bench, for the District of Quebec, Lower Canada (Quebec City, 1809). We know this was his personal copy not because the title-page is signed bears Buchanan’s signature, but also because of an inscription that perfectly traces the book’s provenance through four generations of Buchanan barristers:

“This book was given to me by my father Alexander Brock Buchanan. It belonged to his father Alexander Buchanan Q.C. when a student at law in Quebec. And I now give it to my son Erskine Buchanan Advocate. Oct. 28, 1933”.

The author of the inscription never names himself, but we can tell from his father and from his son that he must be Arthur William Patrick Buchanan, KC. It’s satisfying to me to know that he’s the one who wrote this little note because we can clearly perceive his interest in his ancestry, further evidenced by the two family histories he wrote and published for private circulation, The Buchanan Book (1911; available here online) and Later Leaves of the Buchanan Book (1929), both of which are also in our collection. The family tree included in the first volume allowed me to identify him as the author of the inscription, so I thank him for his aid in solving his own mystery.

Being the first book on the shelf in our collection is certainly a distinction; but another Buchanan book occupies an even more prestigious place in our rare book room. For some time now, Alexander Buchanan’s own personal manuscipt Common Place Book (1816) has been a feature in our window display.

commonplace book is a sort of notebook cum diary, a collection of significant or well-known passages that have been copied and organized in some way, often under topical or thematic headings, in order to serve as a memory aid or reference for the compiler. In the days before newspapers, public libraries and large personal libraries, commonplace books served as a means of collecting, organizing and storing information, so that it may be retrieved and used by the compiler, often in his or her own work.

It’s not certain when Buchanan began this commonplace book, but the title page is signed “May 1816”, when he was an 18-year-old student-at-law. In 1814, a year before his death, John Buchanan, Alexander’s father, had apprenticed Alexander to his friend Andrew Stuart, a Quebec City lawyer, who made a contractual agreement to see to the boy’s education for five years and to facilitate his call to the bar. After his father died, Alexander remained with his mentor, who now became his guardian. Having reached his majority in April 1819 and after being called to the bar in May, Buchanan without more ado (and not unlike many recent graduates today) used his inheritance to embark on a long trip that took him to England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. He returned to Lower Canada in the autumn of 1820, and from then on could concentrate on his career.

The Common Place Book includes Buchanan’s own notes and observations on the law, as well as extracts copied directly from the sources, made while he was studying. This latter practice was not uncommon when students could not necessarily afford their own books and if they did not have access to a library; there would in any case have been few printed law books to consult at this time in Canada. Consequently, Buchanan’s manuscript is a singular and valuable document of legal education in Canada 200 years ago.

This astounding document is in excellent condition. The neatness and regularity of Buchanan’s hand mean that it’s easy to read, even for me, who suffers from a severe palaeographic dyslexia. Buchanan numbered all the pages by hand, giving each page a an exact topical header:

 He constructed a detailed index at the rear of the book:

He even planned ahead and left blank spaces and pages in case he needed to add more notes later (a common practice):

When he ran out of room (a common problem), he improvised, using “overwriting”, also a common practice when paper was scarce and expensive, especially in the colonies:

This book’s best feature, in my opinion, is the handwritten Greek epigraph on the title-page:

The commonplace book itself seems slightly alien in today’s digital culture; and for me, these three lines emphasize the absolute disparity between today’s world and the world two hundred years ago, and especially between today’s students and students of Buchanan’s era. It’s a tired theme, but in the age of the microchip, this sort of practice shows exactly how people functioned without personal computers or the Internet. There was no HeinOnline, no Lexis or Westlaw, there was no law library, and there were Google hyperlinks to carry you to a specific document or immediately relevant site in the blink of an eye. One had to work, and work hard, to collect, organize and save for retrieval the information that was necessary for learning and examination.

Still, we shouldn’t presume we’re so very sophisticated with our iPhones and our smartwatches and our Tamagotchis. We think we live in an era of information overabundance, but this problem has always existed; and as Ann M. Blair explains in her excellent Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age, our predecessors simply employed different strategies, like the commonplace book, to meet it.

As I noted at the end of my last post, we so often find a bookplate or an inscription with a name that, if followed, will lead to naught. Thankfully, here with Buchanan’s books, the clues lead not to empty ghosts but to a fully fleshed character, a student-at-law and an advocate, progenitor of generations of lawyers, and a part of Canadian history. While these several books may not tell a story in themselves, the web of connections between them assuredly offers an impression of a life lived in the service of his country.

Alexander Buchanan (1798-1851) and His Books: Part 1

It may simply be an instance of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but it seems like everywhere I turn in our rare book room I run into vestiges of Alexander Buchanan.

As a reasonably important historical figure, it’s not surprising to see his name pop up here and there every now and then, but this barrage of six books is unprecedented.

So who was this Alexander Buchanan?

Alexander Buchanan was born in Gosport, England, on April 23, 1798. John Buchanan, Alexander’s father, emigrated with his family in 1802 and settled in Quebec City, where he was surgeon to the garrison, in 1803. In 1814, Alexander was apprenticed to Andrew Stuart, a Quebec City lawyer, and was called to the bar in 1819. He argued his first case before the Court of King’s Bench in Montreal in 1821 and subsequently settled there. He went into practice first with his mentor’s brother, James Stuart, a renowned Montreal lawyer and former Solicitor General; and, after the latter’s appointment as Attorney General, with the equally renowned Charles Richard Ogden, himself Solicitor General. In 1824, Buchanan married the conventiently-named Mary Buchanan, daughter of the British consul in New York. He was appointed King’s Counsel in 1835, and a judge of the Court of Requests and justice of the peace in 1839.

Buchanan is best known for his subsequent work as Chair of two important commissions of inquiry in 1842. The first was set up to revise the acts and ordinances of Lower Canada. Buchanan’s Report, which was presented in three sections from 1843 to 1845, incorporated the previously scattered laws into one volume; it recommended that these laws, which were in both French and English, be codified and translated to promote their dissemination, and resulting in the publication of the Revised Acts and Ordinances of Lower Canada in 1845.

The second commission was to inquire into the system of seigneurial tenure in Lower Canada. In this period of economic and political change (and some revolutionary ferment after the uprisings of 1838), many people were demanding that the system of seigneurial tenure be abolished or at least reformed. In his report, Buchanan came down on the side of those opposing seigneurial tenure, calling it a relic of “barbaric ages”, a system of servitude disastrous for agriculture and industrial development that no longer met the needs of the population, and he recommended it be abolished. Sadly, Buchanan, who died in 1851, did not live to see the final abolition of the seigneurial system in 1854.

Buchanan was a keen collector of books and built a large private library, which was a rare thing in the Canadian colonies of the day. The collection was was so significant that a catalogue of it was printed shortly after Buchanan’s death:

Catalogue of the library of thr [sic] late Alexander Buchanan, Esq., Q.C. : being one of the most select and complete collections of valuable books in this province comprising the principal and most important works on the civil, French, and English law; the Greek and Roman classics; standard works in English literature; and the productions of the principal writers in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese languages. Montreal : Printed by Wm. Salter & Co., St. James Street, 1852.

The catalogue has been digitized and is available online here. And though we don’t have a copy of the catalogue in our library, we do have one of the actual books listed in the catalogue. Our copy of the Dictionnaire des fiefs et des droits seigneuriaux utiles et honorifiques, par M. Renauldon (Paris: chez Knapen, 1765) is listed as item #215 in the catalogue and bears Buchanan’s autograph signature. His acquisition of this title is also a refection of his work as Chair of the commission on the seigneurial system, described above.

So often we find a bookplate or an inscription with a name that, if followed, will lead to naught.  Thankfully, here with Buchanan’s books, the clues lead not to empty ghosts but to a fully fleshed character and a part of Canadian history.

For more about Alexander Buchanan and his books in our library, stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of this post.

A Topsy-Turvy Image of the Lawyer-Client Relationship

With its classical symmetry, coffered ceiling, modern furnishings and book-lined walls, all suffused with old book smell (“A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”), the Canada Law Book Rare Book Room is a near perfect space and a wonderful place to work. The collection is not as large as Harvard’s or Yale’s, but it still provides ample opportunity for serendipitous discovery and consequent wonder. We recently recovered an 18th-century print of a very silly caricature, seemingly unsigned, that was donated to the library by former Osgoode Dean and York University President, Professor Harry Arthurs. The etching was in an old Plexiglas frame, completely yellowed. Fortunately, when removed from the frame, the print proved to be in perfect condition. Though the image looked vaguely familiar, none of us could identify it. Because of its obvious quality, we immediately determined to get the print expertly framed, to archival standard; but first, we wanted to identify the artist. This post is a short record of our investigations and what we learned about the picture and the artist.

The print is a small copper etching, 7 x 8.7 cm, of a curious sort. Held one way, it’s a picture of a “Lawyer”. But when you turn the image 180 degrees, it’s portrays a “Client” — a technique referred to as “topsy-turvy caricature”. There’s no signature on the plate, the only identification being the caption “The Lawyer” followed by the very small date “1790”; and when flipped, the caption “The Client” followed by “K 1790 347”. Here’s the image (from both directions):


I cease to be amazed by what can be found on the web and how effective it is for research. A quick Google search of the basic terms “the lawyer the client etching caricature” got immediate results. The sixth link on the first page of results was a review of the book Capital Caricatures: A Selection of Etchings by John Kay, by Sheila Szatkowski (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2007).  (The home site, Electric Scotland, is dedicated to books and information about “Scots, Scotland and the Scottish Diaspora”.) The review page not only reproduced the Lawyer-Client etching, but also provided basic biographical information about its creator, the great Scottish engraver and caricaturist John Kay (1742-1826).

John Kay was born near Dalkeith, Scotland, in 1742, to a stonemason and his wife. His father died when he was only six, and his mother sent him to apprentice to a barber at the age of 13. Six years later he set up shop in Edinburgh after paying his dues to the Society of Surgeon-Barbers in 1771, where he earned a good living “dressing the wigs and trimming the heads of a certain number of gentlemen every morning”. But he had always possessed a knack for sketching; and perhaps employment as a barber provided him ample occasion for the close inspection of human features and afforded him the opportunity to develop the analytic eye necessary for accurate portraiture and uproarious caricature. One of Kay’s customers, William Nisbet of Dirleton, took to Kay and desired to foster his talent. Nisbet supplied Kay with proper artistic materials for the first time in his life and supported Kay’s family as he became established. Nisbet died in 1782, but arranged for Kay to draw a yearly sum of money from his estate. Kay published his first caricature in 1784, when he was 42; and during a long and distinguished career produced portraits, sketches and caricatures of Scotland’s most important personalities and of Edinburgh’s celebrities and oddities. He worked steadily at his craft until his death in 1826. Kay is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

Our image, Kay’s “The Lawyer; The Client”, dates to 1790, in the first decade of his professional career. The British Museum tells us that Kay drew inspiration from a print published, though not necessarily executed, by John Wallis in 1789 , depicting “Moses and The Vicar” (a parish clerk and a parson), and which seems to come from a popular ballad of the period.

With the black hat and the wig, Kay’s etching uses the exact same elements and the same composition as that of Wallis. I can spot only two real differences. Most obviously, Kay labels the characters represented differently, changing “Moses and the Vicar” to “The Lawyer and the Client”. Along with the change in professions, Kay’s caricatures, with their wrinkles and warts, are considerably more satirical. It’s funny to think that despite the passage of time, public opinion on certain matters can remain remarkably obstinate. This wasn’t the only etching Kay produced in this satirical style (you can see another one here), suggesting that, thankfully, the law profession shouldn’t feel uniquely victimized. The great equalizers are death and the satirist’s pen.

To produce an etching, the artist scratches his drawing into a wax ground covering a metal plate, often copper, to create an intaglio design. When he’s completed his image, he soaks the plate in a bath of acid, which eats away at the exposed parts of the metal; that is, everywhere he’s scratched through the wax. After the acid bath, the artist scrapes away the remaining wax, inks the metal plate, and puts it to paper. Etching allows the artist greater freedom than engraving, as wax is much easier to manipulate than metal. Identifying the various types of prints can be tricky, but one thing you can look for is the impression the plate makes around the image, as etchings and engravings require an enormous amount of force to properly transfer ink from plate to paper. You won’t find this impression with woodblock or most modern methods of printmaking.

There’s one last issue to consider with regard to our print; namely, the “state” of the plate from which it was printed. Compared to a copy of the image online at the British National Portrait Gallery, ours seems identical, right down to the presence of three small dots in the bottom left when “The Lawyer” faces right side up; but there is one glaring difference. Ours  print has the number “347” in the bottom right corner when “The Client” is right side up, whereas the National Portrait Gallery’s does not. One other copy was also not numbered; and unfortunately, the British Museum record for the etching does not include an image with which we could compare ours.

I could find only one more copy online, and thankfully, this one solved the riddle. I believe our print was taken from the second volume of the two-volume collection A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by the Late John Kay, with Biographical Sketches and Illustrative Anecdotes, published after Kay’s death in 1837-1838, in which all images are numbered. The introductory notice to the first volume notes that that Kay tried unsuccessfully to publish a collected works in his own lifetime, and that after his and his widow’s death, his original plates came into the possession of Hugh Paton, the book’s compiler and publisher. Our presumption is that, for the collection, Paton had the catalogue number added to (ie, inscribed onto) each individual plate used for the published work. This would mean that our print was made after Kay’s death, from a late state of the original plate, with the numbering added. Of course, this knowledge does not make our print any less interesting.

Kay’s Lawyer and Client is currently the only work of art (other than the books) in the Canada Law Book Rare Book Reading Room, but only one of many in the law library. Next time you’re on a study break, take a stroll and admire our growing collection.

Election Special – Five True Patriot Tips from 1899

Our provincial election is coming up, but I’m sure that many of us are still scratching our heads and wondering which way to send our vote. As established by Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is our right as citizens to vote in federal and provincial elections, and it is our civic duty to choose responsibly. But politics is such a messy game, with mud slinging left, right, and sometimes up the middle, and it’s difficult to sort out the true from the false to make an informed decision.

If you’re like me and still weighing the choices before you, I found a pleasant little book in our Special Collections that might be of use. Canadian Citizenship: A Treatise on Civil Government was written in 1899 by John Millar, BA, the Deputy Minister for Education for Ontario. Millar wrote this book “to give young people a general outline of the Canadian system of government, and to urge the importance of that moral and intellectual training which forms the basis of good citizenship”.

In his book he touches upon all the important aspects of being a Canadian citizen at the turn of the century — the various types of government (Empire > Dominion > Province > Municipality > Self), what taxation is and why it exists, patriotism (both Canadian and British), and of course, looming “20th Century Problems” such as, large cities, strikes, intemperance, socialism, and non-essential government functions — all in all, quite a bit! For all its palpable idealism and heavy use of masculine-only pronouns, I’m tempted to see this book as a quaint relic from a simpler age before women’s suffrage, but I have to say that some of the values Millar espouses are nevertheless timeless. I found his chapter on political parties to be especially pertinent today, and today I’d like to share with you some True Patriot Tips from our forefathers that you can put to use at your local polling station.

#1. The Choice of a Party – “Every young man upon coming of age is called upon to vote for one of the great parties. Of course he will wish to vote for the best party. How shall he decide what is best? He should not vote for a party merely because his father votes for it, or because he hopes to secure an office at its hands, but should vote for the one that he thinks will act for the best interest of the country. He should make a careful study of the history and principles of all the great political parties, and learn what each has already done for the country, and what each proposes to do, and then decide for himself which one he will vote for. The principles of a party may be found in its platform. A very good way for a young man to choose his party would be for him to decide (without having the party name before him) which of the platforms of the great political parties contains the best principles, and choose the party that declares for those principles, no matter what may be its name.”

True Patriot Tip: Make an objective and informed decision!

#2 The Politicians – “The great number of the people have little time to spend in politics, that is, in the management of government. Beyond voting and occasionally attending a caucus or mass meeting to hear speeches, they are very apt to leave public business in the hands of a few persons. There comes, therefore, to be a class of men in every community who mostly manage the politics. They attend all the caucuses; they are put upon the party committees; they are chosen to go to the great State or national conventions which nominate candidates for office; they are ready and willing to take office themselves. They bring out their neighbors and friends to vote at elections, and work for their party. They are apt to think that they have earned the right to its honors and places if their party gets into power. Such men, who make politics their business, are called politicians. The name is given specially to those who make use of politics to serve or advance their own private interests. It is not usually given to those whose interest in public business is for the sake of the public welfare, and who do not seek place or office for themselves. The name, therefore, while it has not a positively bad meaning, is not one by which the most public-spirited men would choose to be called. The word statesmen better describes the higher class of wise and faithful public servants.”

True Patriot Tip: Down with politicians! Long live the statesmen (and stateswomen!)

#3. Independents – “Among men, as in the school-room, there are always some who ask questions and want to know the reason of things. As on the playground, some do not care always to go with the crowd, or even prefer to be by themselves. Such as these, who think for themselves, and dare to stand alone, make the independents in politics. Sometimes they are wrong-headed, or unsympathetic, or unsocial. They may make mistakes, as the wisest men sometimes do; but it is important to have independent men in every community. They are likely to prefer the good of their country to the success of their party. They will not act with their party, or will leave it, if it is wrong. If the other party changes, as parties sometimes change, and advocates measures that they believe in; if they change their own minds as sensible men sometimes must, or if the other party puts forward better candidates, or if a new party arises, the independent voters are willing to act wherever they believe that they can best secure the public welfare. They therefore help to keep the great parties right.

It will be observed, however, that in a great country, with millions of voters, no individual can effect much with his vote unless he joins somewhere with other who think with him. And although a few patriotic men, if banded together, like the old Greek phalanx, may form a new party, or change the direction of the old party, or hold the balance of power between parties, and accomplish a reform, yet the man who stands by himself, and only finds fault or votes alone, is in danger of throwing his vote away.”

True Patriot Tip: Think for yourself!

#4. Loyalty to party – “After a man has voted for and worked with the same political party for some years, he becomes attached to it, and it is difficult, sometimes, for him to vote for any other party. He becomes a party man — a partisan. If he leaves his party he is pretty sure to offend his party associates, who call him traitor, or mugwump, or some other harsh name. Yet there are times when it is the duty of a good citizen to vote against his party. When he believes the principles of his party are no longer good for his country, or when he is asked by it to vote for dishonest, or dangerous, or incompetent men, it is his plain duty to refuse to do so. In such a case he is called upon to decide, not between one party and another, but between a party and his country. It is a question of patriotism, or love of country. In times of war a man’s love for his country is tested by his willingness to fight and die for it, but in times of peace his patriotism is tested by his willingness to vote right, whatever may be his interests, or prejudices, or party ties.”

True Patriot Tip: Mugwumps be darned, a leopard CAN change his spots!

#5. Political duty – “In closing this account of our party organizations and their operation, emphasis should again be laid on the absolute duty of every citizen to consider his citizenship a public office, and the benefits which he derives from his life in the State as creating an obligation on his part to lend honest assistance towards rendering the political life of his community as high and as pure as possible. This means his active, intelligent and disinterested participation in the political affairs of his country. As far as possible, he is to co-operate with that party which he honestly considers to represent the best public policies, for in such co-operation his efforts will yield the greatest fruit. But where there is no party to which he can conscientiously give his allegiance, independence in politics is his duty.”

True Patriot Tip: Get out there and exercise your right to vote!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed these tips. Read the rest of Millar’s book online here on the Internet Archive. You won’t regret at least skimming it.

Questions about voting? Check out Elections Ontario.
Where are your polling stations? Find out here.
Learn about Ontario’s registered political parties here.
Keep up with media coverage of the election at the CBC here.

Glanvill’s Tractatus: The First Treatise on English Law (ca 1188, First Print Ed 1554)

Glanvill, Ranulf de, 1130-1190. Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Anglie. Londini : In aedibus Richardi Totteli, 1554. [1st edition].

― Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae. Londini : postant venales apud J. White et E. Brooke, 1780. [3rd edition].

“Here begins the treatise on the laws and customs of the realm of England, composed in the time of King Henry the Second when justice was under the direction of the illustrious Rannulf Glanvill, the most learned of that time in the law and ancient customs of the realm.

Not only must royal power be furnished with arms against rebels and nations which rise up against the king and the realm, but it is also fitting that it should be adorned with laws  for the governance of subject and peaceful peoples…” – Prologue, Glanvill’s Tractatus de Legibus et Consuetudinibus Regni Anglie (trans. GDG Hall)

Anyone who works with aged items is given to thinking, every now and then, that they (be they librarian, curator, researcher, etc.) are a little bit like Indiana Jones. That’s why they got into the business, right? Every quotidian object is to them an “artefact” or “relic”, and they daily expect a little note to fall out of a book that will dash them off on a swashbuckling adventure through the Levant. And, the worst of these delusions, they probably think they’re as rugged and robust as Harrison Ford. Well… I can dream can’t I?

While these whip-snapping, snake-hating exploits are purely the stuff of cinema, I’ve found that one silver screen principle holds true: like the Holy Grail in Prof Jones’ Last Crusade,, sometimes the most amazing things come in the most unassuming packages. Take, for instance, our recently-acquired first edition (1554) of Glanvill’s Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae (Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England).

The work, completed ca 1188, in the reign of Henry II, is generally considered to be the earliest treatise on the English common law. The first print edition was published in London by Richard Tottel in 1554, and we also have a rather nice copy of the 1780 third edition (which was called the “best edition” by William Thomas Lowndes in his great Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature). Two of quite a series of editions.

Our 1554 first printed edition is a surprisingly small octavo (8vo) and rather unassuming.

Our copy has an original early, contemporary leather binding, recently rebacked, with a blind-stamped and sadly illegible coat of arms on the front.
Our copy is the only copy of this work in Canada and one of only 9 documented copies in North American libraries.The book is rare and valuable enough that we have provided it with its own form-fitted box, a sort-of VIP booth of the book club. Very exclusive. Very posh.

Our copy has exceptionally wide margins and some annotations on the title page and throughout the text.

According to GDG Hall in his translation of the work, Glanvill’s Tractacus may not actually have been written by Glanvill, but his name is invoked in the tract’s incipit (which may not be original), it was written during Glanvill’s tenure as Chief Justiciar of England during the reign of Henry II, and the work has been called Glanvill since the 13th century; so it is customarily referred to by his name instead of its more plentiful title.

Glanvill, like Coke on Littleton, is an important “book of authority”. Though the exact definition of this phrase is difficult to pin down, these texts may be considered guiding lights in the law, and modern courts consider them to have the same authority as a case of the same period in which it was written . Glanvill is of note among these books of authority as the very first of them; in fact, it has the added distinction of being the first ever detailed exposition of the English Common Law, as noted by Sarah Tullis in her excellent essay “Glanvill after Glanvill: The Afterlife of a Medieval Legal Treatise”. As an added distinction, we’re pleased to note that this significant work in our collection is the only copy in Canada.

The first of anything often seems like a revolution, and that’s precisely the term English legal scholar Edward Jenks chooses to describe what Glanvill did to the administration of justice in England. Tullis too characterizes the appearance of Glanvill as a revolution, citing the “explosion of legal thinking and precedents” that appeared in its wake. Glanvill was particularly useful because it introduced writs. Issued in the name of the sovereign, these formal orders compelled the parties to do or refrain from some specified act. As Tullis notes, however, “Glanvill’s practical functionality . . . was at once its greatest strength and weakness”, and this same explosion of legal thought soon overwhelmed its source and Glanvill lost its position as the pre-eminent English law text. Magna Carta appeared about 25 years later in 1215, and Bracton’s De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae about 20 years after that.

Under these circumstances, Tullis imagines that such a text as Glanvill should have been quickly forgotten and relegated to the status of a quaintly curious artefact early on in its history, but this was not the case. Instead, the book achieved a status that was quite the opposite: authority. Glanvill was continuously copied in manuscript form for decades after its appearance in the 1180s, even when it was clearly superseded by more recent and advanced law. “Ironically,” notes Tullis, for a time “Glanvill was cited with ever-increasing frequency in court as the law it contained became ever more obsolete.” By the 14th century, Glanvill ceased to be copied, but what manuscripts still existed were still highly valued.

The treatise was first printed in 1554. Though by this time Glanvill had largely fallen out of use, it may have remained an obscurity were it not for the efforts of another prominent English jurist, Sir Edward Coke. The “earliest reported citations [to Glanvill] after printing all occurred in Sir Edward Coke’s Reports . . . dating from 1587 [to] 1615.” For Tullis, “the importance of the treatise’s first printing cannot be overstated… [for] it was undoubtedly at this point that the text’s status as a legal classic was first publicly cemented.” Coke’s use of the treatise sparked a renewed interest in it, and Glanvill has since been cited in the English court as recently as 1992.

Perhaps we can think of Glanvill today as an authority emeritus. For its period it remains the definitive text, but today it can rest easy in retirement relieved of its burdensome duties and  knowing that we’ll only need to consult it every now and then. Of course, a real appreciation is best left to the expert, so as Tullis concludes, Glanvill’s

“general scope and elements of the speculative within the strict parameters of concise procedural practicality therefore enabled it to remain useful or at least worth referencing long after it might have been entirely superseded or rendered merely a historical curiosity. Even if the Common Law itself moved in some respects away from Glanvill, and the scheme of justice it represented, it is clear that it would be wrong to see the treatise’s life as coming to an end either with the dissemination of Bracton, or with the production of its last manuscript copies or indeed with the end of the Middle Ages; instead, Glanvill lived on long after Glanvill.”

Size Matters

Over the past few months, members of the law library staff, myself included, have been preparing to reorganize our special collections.

Now, as all savvy library users know, libraries generally organize their collections and shelve their books by subject. You’re all familiar with the Library of Congress classification system, used in academic libraries throughout the English-speaking world, and have probably heard of the Dewey Decimal System, used in public libraries and school libraries. Here at Osgoode, we use the “KF Modified” Canadian adaptation, a slight variation of the Library of Congress classification developed and maintained at Osgoode specifically for Canadian law collections and widely used in law school, law firm and courthouse libraries in Canada. These library classification systems categorize books by subject and assign a specific, uniform “call number” to each book so that, theoretically at least, all books on a given topic will be found shelved together in the library. This approach facilitates the browsing of even extensive library collections, making possible those serendipitous moments when you find the book you need beside the one you thought you needed. It’s not magic, folks: it’s library science.

Classified systems that organize books by subject are appropriate for open collections where anyone can roam the aisles browsing the stacks for books; but for closed special collections, especially of old, sometimes rare and often fragile books, shelving the books according to subject can lead to problems. At the heart of the matter is the deep enmity that books of different sizes bear toward each other. They don’t play nicely together when sitting on the shelf. As Jane Greenfield explains in her book, The Care of Fine Books, “A large book shelved beside a small one eventually splays out.” Not only that, but “the exposed area also fades even if not exposed to strong light.” Common sense.

A good example of bad shelving

For maximum protection and better preservation, books are best organized by size. If books of similar size are shelved together, they lend each other support on the shelves, preventing the warping of bindings and exposing as little of their covers as possible to light. They should be shelved tightly enough that they support each other, but not so tight that you have difficulty removing them from the shelf. Naturally, since our special collections are exclusively composed of items that are either old, rare, valuable, or otherwise notable, we don’t want the bindings to warp or fade. We need to do our due diligence to take care of them, and that includes shelving them properly.

The two ends of the size spectrum, with a quarter for scale.

Until now, the Osgoode Hall Law School Library’s special collections had been classified and the books shelved according to subject. This was not an ideal situation for the books. Since our rare books stacks were closed and accessible only to library staff, we did not need to facilitate browsing by the public. Generally, these books will only be accessed when a patron specifically requests them, having first located them using the online library catalogue. For us and especially for the books, the benefits of shelving by size outweigh the disadvantages. So, we determined to reorganize our now extensive special collections by size.

Once this shelving scheme was decided, we needed to implement an appropriate system. Greenfield broadly categorizes books using terms that historically referred to the “format” of the book – folio, quarto, octavo, etc – which is a function of how printers folded sheets of paper to create books of different sizes. (Take a look here for more explanation and some useful illustrations, although I have to admit it’s a little tricky to understand without actually folding sheets of paper yourself). Greenfield distinguishes four sizes: miniature or small books under 10 cm; octavo books up to 28 cm in height; quarto, up to 40 cm; and folios over 40 cm. We felt these four categories didn’t quite suit our needs. In this scheme, both books 29 cm tall and 39 cm tall fall under the designation of quarto, but that still leaves 10 cm for the taller book to warp over the smaller book. We devised our own scheme that allows for not four, but ten sizes of books(!), outlined in this handy-dandy chart.

With ten sizes available to us, we only have to worry about a potential difference in size of 3 cm (1.2 inches) in any one group. Even then this 3 cm difference is unlikely to occur, as each range contains a spectrum of sizes from the minimum to the maximum heights. In group A, we have books 15 cm in height, 18 cm in height, and everything in between.

Size Matters 7.JPG

To begin reorganizing our collection by size, we first cleared a substantial section of our compact shelving, as it’s common sense and common practice to have a destination ready for your books before you start moving them. Then, we labelled our empty stacks with these letter-sizes. We know that most of our books fall within the B-D ranges, so we only allotted one stack for minis and As, while many more stacks were set aside for Cs and especially Ds. We also have a separate section of deeper shelving to accommodate books larger than D (which, when you think about it, is really no different than an oversize section you’d find in many libraries using the LC or Dewey).

Once we had the shelves properly prepared, we needed to assign a new call number for each book based on its size. The call numbers will look something like “A-0054” or “C-0283”, those books being the fifty-fourth and two hundred eighty-third books in their size range, respectively. If there are more than 9,999 books in any size range, the letter size will become A1 instead of just A. If you see a call number with an “X” after the letter, as in “BX-0121”, it means that the book is shelved not in the compact stacks but in our rare book reading room –the Canada Law Book Rare Book Room.

Of course, we need to know each book’s size before we assign it a call number, but we can’t waste our time holding a ruler up to each volume. To speed up the process, we built ourselves a book-board (which for my money looks like it belongs in MoMA alongside Mondrian and Rothko). Behold:

Size Matters 6.JPG

I find numbers to be eccentric and challenging concepts, so I’m happy to see that someone’s nailed them down to physical reality by covering a plank of wood with the exact measurements of each letter size, all colour-coded. Now all I have to worry about are colours and letters, and I can handle that.

Size Matters 4.JPG

We have only to place a book in the board’s corner to determine its size exactly and know exactly where on the shelf it belongs. Wherever the top of the book falls, that’s its location letter. This books an “E”.

Size Matters 5.JPG

Simple, effective, and highly recommended for any library undertaking a similar project.

Finally, organizing the special collections by size has the added benefit of maximizing the space available for shelving the collection. Each shelf is always completely full, and shelves can be adjusted to uniform heights for each size category, maximizing the number of shelves in each bay of shelving. It’s a pity the stacks are closed to the public and you can’t admire the orderly elegance of the Osgoode special collections.