Old books for contemporary readers

Garland 2

Readers can find an extensive collection of paper books on the second floor of the Taylor Library & EDC. Nowadays, when there is a significant shift from physical resources to online collections, our general law book collection is less busy than it was.

Undergraduate students mainly use Heavy Demand items on their course reading lists. These are textbooks, monographs, or anthologies of various fields of law. Dissertation time is probably the first time when many of them venture upstairs, and have a more thorough look around the general law collection. This is not the case with the postgraduate and especially research students who tend to use this collection more regularly. As they have to demonstrate a deeper knowledge of their chosen fields, they need more rigorous research and wider reading on their topics.

The general law collection is an ideal source of information. Covering almost every possible area of the law, it provides books, research papers, pamphlets, folios, etc. Not all materials are in English. The collection houses a quite unique Roman law section, with books written in Latin, German or French. The oldest books go back to the turn of the 19th century. [See Pandekten (1800) written by Carl Georg von Wachter (1797 -1880) and Oscar Eberhard Siegfried von Wachter (1825-1902)].

Among the old books, there are a few very well-known publications. If someone is studying law, some books are surely unmissable, like An institute of the law of Scotland: in four books: in the order of Sir George Mackenzie’s Institutes of the law by John Erskine (1695-1768); Commentaries on the law of Scotland respecting crimes by David Hume (1757-1838) or Principles of the law of Scotland by George Joseph Bell (1770-1843).

Of course, not all old books are as rare or as famous as the ones just mentioned. But all of them are important in their own way, and are excellent for historical studies or just providing a historical perspective for a given legal research. To rediscover the hidden treasures of the general law collection, and to highlight a few interesting items there, we are launching a new series of posts. Our aim is to introduce old books to contemporary readers.

The first book chosen is entitled The Court of Session Garland. It is an anthology compiled by James Maidment (1793-1879), and makes for a very lighthearted reading. The author was a prominent Advocate on genealogical cases and a friend of Sir Walter Scott. He also proved himself as a historian, poet and literary collector. Maidment’s personal library was so huge (more than 5000 items at the time of his death) that the auction for the sale of the collection lasted more than 15 sessions in 1880, and raised about £4,500. [See Oxford Dictionary of National Biography]

The Court of Session Garland is a collection of humorous writings (anecdotes, songs, sonnets, epigrams, literary sketches) written by – among others – Scottish lawyers of the era (lawyers, advocates, judges). The individual pieces were selected by Maidment, and then published by Thomas G. Stevenson in Edinburgh in 1839. Of course, the book is neither a serious legal nor a sophisticated literary work, its importance lies in its significance for cultural history. The book offers a fascinating and original insight into the life of early 19th century legal professionals. It sheds a humorous light on the Scottish Bar.

And, to spark your interest in the publication, here are a few quotes from the book:

I.

“EPIGRAM ON THE LATE HUGO ARNOT. ESQ. ADVOCATE.

Written by the Honourable Henry Erskine.

The Scriptures assure us much may be forgiven
To flesh and to blood, by the mercy of heaven ;
But I’ve searched all the books, and texts I find none
That extend such forgiveness to skin and to bone.*

*Hugo was so attenuated as to be almost a walking skeleton, – had he lived till the year 1825, he might have proved a formidable rival to the living skeleton of that period. One day he was eating a split dried haddock, commonly called a spelding, when the reputed author of these lines came in, – “You see,” says Hugo, “I am not starving,” “I must own,” observed Henry Erskine, “that you are very like your meat.”

II.

 “SONG,

BY WILLIAM ERSKINE, ESQ. ADVOCATE.

William Erskine, afterwards Lord Kinneder, was the son of the Reverend William Erskine, Minister of Muthil, -he was admitted Advocate in 1790, was appointed Sheriff-Depute of Orkney 6th June 1809, and promoted to the Bench, on the resignation of Lord Balmuto, on the 29th January 1822; -he died on the 14th of August following; -he was the intimate friend of Sir Walter Scott, and author of several small poems, amongst which are Supplementary Verses to Collins’ Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands, which possess great poetical merit.

1.

O say not Cynthia, maid divine !
That vain our vows must ever prove,
That far from thee I still must pine,
For fortune is the foe of love,
And blissful dreams and visions bright.
Ah ! yield not to the fiend despair,
Nor dash with shades of deepest night,
The scenes our fancy form’d so fair.
Far, far from hollow splendor flee,
And live with innocence and me.

2.

Come, view the vale, my peerless maid,
Where lost to all but thee I dwell,
Where nature’s beauties deck the shade
That hides thy lover’s lowly cell.
See, peace, the cherub, wanders here,
See, independence guards my store,
And truth, and hope, and love are here,-
My Cynthia can’st thou wish for more ?
Then haste from hollow splendor flee,
And dwell with innocence and me.”

 

Now, you can read the parody of the previous poem here:

“PARODY ON THE PRECEDING,

BY GEORGE CRANSTON, ESQ. LORD COREHOUSE.

1.

O say not William, youth divine,
In vain your company I seek,
That far from me to-day you dine,
Tho’ you were ask’d on Thursday week.
Your leisure hours, your eves of rest,
O give not to some stupid drone,
Nor be the dull Dunsinnan’s* guest,
For you had better yawn alone.
Far, far from Lords of Session flee,
And dine with Thomson,† and with me.

2.

Come, view the meal, my peerless blade,
Which Annie’s gentle cares afford,
Two chickens from the Cowgate head,
To grace your George’s simple board,-
And peas,-the pudding crowns my cheer,-
Potatoes purchas’d at the door,
And greens, and tarts, and ham, are here,-
My William can’st thou wish for more?
Then haste, from Lords of Session flee,
And dine with Thompson and with me.”

* Sir William Nairn, Bart. Lord Dunsinnan,-his Lordship was admitted advocate 11th March 1755, made a Lord of Session 9th March 1786, and of Justiciary, 24th December 1792. He resigned the latter appointment in 1808, the former in 1809, and died at Dunsinnan House on the 20th of March 1811. He was uncle of the celebrated Katherine Nairn, who was convicted, 14th August 1768, of being art and part guilty with her brother-in-law, Lieutenant Patrick Ogilvie, of the murder of her husband, Thomas Ogilvie of Eastmiln, as also of an incestuous intercourse with her said brother-in-law. She, (by her uncle’s assistance, as was reported,) escaped from prison, and thus avoided the gallows; but her paramour was executed. In a Magazine for 1777 she is said to have taken refuge in a Convent at Lisle, “a sincere penitent”.

† Thomas Thomson, Esq. Deputy-Clerk-Register, and one of the Principal Clerks of Session.”

III.

“SONNET

TO PATRICK ROBERTSON, ESQ.

Patrick ! Thou whom no man or mother’s son,
From Rydal northward to thine own Strathspey,
The grave can better temper with the gay ;
Who art in truth a double-barrell’d gun,
One barrell charg’d with law, and one with fun ;
Accept the customary votive lay,
On this the festive, though the thoughtful day,
When time another cycle hath begun,
Spite of the working of “ the people’s bill,”
May thy quaint spirit long impart its zest
Unto thy daily life–making the year
One constant merry Christmas–seasoning still
The learning of the law with well-tim’d jest,
And meditation pale, with purple cheer.

W—— W—DS—TH.

R——- l M——nt,
Jan. 1836

Fishy

 

Taylor Library Team
lawlib@abdn.ac.uk

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