Monday, July 25, 2011

Treasures in the Stacks

While browsing the shelves in the Rare Book Room, I came across this 1887 edition of The Comic Blackstone, originally published in London in 1846 and written by Gilbert Abbott à Beckett. This edition was revised and expanded by Gilbert's son, Arthur William à Beckett, who, like his father, was a barrister at Gray’s Inn. The Comic Blackstone is a parody of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. Like that famous work, this one consists of an introduction and Parts I–IV (The Rights of Persons, The Rights of Things, Of Private Wrongs, and Of Public Wrongs).

The ten full-page colored illustrations in this edition are by Harry Furniss, and include the illustration to the right, entitled "The Study of the Law." A woman appears to be taking notes on the history of the law, as a parade of characters marches backward in time--from Queen Victoria and the Comic Blackstone in the upper left-hand corner to Julius Caesar and Roman law in the bottom left-hand corner. The book is bound in a highly decorative cloth that represents a trend in nineteenth century England and America; it was previously featured in a Spring 2010 exhibit called "Books and Their Covers: Decorative Bindings, Beautiful Books," curated by Karen Beck.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Acquisition--The Law of Married Women in Massachusetts

This volume was published in Boston in 1878 and written by two members of the Suffolk County Bar Association, Charles Almy and Horace Fuller. In this book, Almy and Fuller dissect the contemporary state of the law as it pertains to married women in the areas of contractual powers, real estate, criminal liability, divorce, child custody, wills and intestacy and many others. The photo to the left captures the first page of the chapter on criminal liability, in which the authors discuss the legal presumption that a married woman's criminal act is not of her own will but rather is a result of her husband's coercion.

The introduction challenges Blackstone's statement that "[e]ven the disabilities which the wife lies under are for the most part intended for her protection and benefit; so great a favorite is the female sex of the law of England." In the introduction, the authors trace the development of Massachusetts law with regard to the rights of women, from a 1787 statute that allowed for conveyances of real estate and contracts of married women when their husbands had absented themselves from the state, to an attempt by the General Court in 1877 and 1878 to pass a bill legalizing contracts between husbands and wives.