Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Manuscript-Enhanced Index in a Seventeenth-Century Book of Legal Reports

As I mentioned in my post two weeks ago (on the Center's annotated copy of the English-Latin language aid Janua linguarum), we own several books with manuscript enhanced indices and word lists. Today's post showcases a seventeenth-century English law book and an early owner's annotations to its index. Although largely instrumental in purpose (i.e. adding indexical entries for topics of interest to the reader), these annotations allow for the partial reconstruction of a reading experience, in this case revealing overlooked aspects of the book (at least in terms of the index) the reader considered important.

(NB: here is a link to the Picasa Web album versions of these pics. The link puts you at the first in the series (of all the pics ever posted on this site). Picasa has stronger zoom functionality than the browser, and so is a better tool for viewing the marginalia.)

note the ownership inscription of "W. Coryton" in the top right-hand corner
Sir Richard Lane, Reports in the Court of Exchequer: beginning in the third, and ending in the ninth year of the raign of the late King James. London: Printed for W. Lee, D. Pakeman, and G. Bedell, 1657
[4], 199, [5] p. ; 30 cm. (fol.); Wing L340; contemporary sheep binding

The Middle Temple barrister Sir Richard Lane (bap. 1584, d. 1651) devoted much of his legal career to the Court of Exchequer, and it is those experiences that formed the basis for this posthumously published book of legal reports. According to D.A. Orr's ODNB article on Lane, the book "contain[s] an important report of Chief Baron Sir Thomas Fleming's opinion in Bate's case (1606)," as well as other important cases from the early seventeenth-century.

The Center's copy of Lane's Reports bears evidence of early ownership and use. While a few minor manuscript notes appear in the book's margins, the lion's share of its annotations come at the end of the book, in the "exact Table of Principall Matters contained in this Booke." A former owner—perhaps the "W. Coryton" who signed his name on the title page (not the politician who lived from 1580-1651)—added dozens of new manuscript entries to the index, reflecting various legal actions and concepts he encountered while reading. 

These are personal annotations, meant for the private use and reference of the owner; as such, they were written quickly in a free italic hand without an eye to appearance or presentation. In fact most manuscript annotation of printed books in this period was executed in such a manner, a situation that poses certain challenges to modern readers and scholars. If these pages were closely cropped, as is the case with scores of early printed books surviving today, the annotations may have been cut in half and rendered illegible. While the margins survive intact in this case (probably because the book hasn't been rebound since the mid-seventeenth century, the date of the sheepskin binding), the difficult hand nonetheless makes it tough to decipher this annotator's notes. 

It would take me too much time to transcribe all the notes in this book's index, but one example will suffice to demonstrate their typical style and content. (I am also no expert on law or the history of law, so I am focusing entirely on what this annotation reveals about reading and indexing processes.)

This note (taken from the bottom of the page shown above) reads:

"action personall dyes with the person. 93. 107." [italic letters expand scribal abbreviations]

By beginning his note with the word "action," our annotator imitates the type of index entries established in the printed "Table" (most of the entries in "A" are "actions"). He also uses several abbreviations in order to expedite the process of note-taking and fit his entries onto the small patch of available writing space. This note clearly references content on pages 93 and 107. Among other things, page 93 (end of a report on the case of "[Thomas] Wentworth and others against Stanley") reads "if the party die before the penalty inflicted, this shall not be inflicted at all," as well as "if any person shall dye, no seisure [of property] shall insue, or be continued." Page 107 (in a report of "Halseys case touching Recusancy") refers to a Jacobean statute that "giveth no penaltie without conviction, so that the death of the party before conviction dischargeth all." 

The owner's note, and indeed all of his notes, enhance the book and make it more useful, if not to a general reader than definitely for "W. Coryton," reflecting his specific tastes and legal interests. The index's remaining three pages  contain comparably extensive manuscript annotations, which I will not explicate further at this point.


I am not sure if any scholars have written much on annotated indices in early modern law books, but it seems these items could illuminate both the historical practice of law-book reading and the book history of early modern indexing.

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