Friday, September 25, 2015

New Acquisition: A Legal Commonplace Book

This commonplace book, published in London in 1680, is attributed to Samuel Brewster. It is succinctly titled A Brief Method of the Law. Being an Exact Alphabetical Disposition of All the Heads Necessary for a Perfect Common-Place. Books of this type were used as a tool for the study and retrieval of law. The owner was meant to follow the structure of the book and fill it in, or “common-place” it, with notes and precedents. The book is organized into an alphabetical outline of legal topics, from “Abatement del breve” to “Wreck”. The blank interleaves in our copy were filled in extensively by an English law student or lawyer; the language of the notes varies between English, Latin, and Law-French.

In his History of English Law, Holdsworth discusses the utility of commonplace books in the study of law at this time, making specific reference to Brewster's work. According to Holdsworth, the typical law student “was thrown upon his own resources; and that consequently the method of getting and assimilating a knowledge of law, which was universally recommended and generally followed, was the making of a commonplace book under alphabetical heads.”

In addition to his considerable notes in the text, the owner also copied a lengthy indenture into the first several pages of the book, indicating an intent to use this as a precedent book as well.

Thank you to Michael von der Linn at Lawbook Exchange for the description on which this post is based.

Holdsworth, William. A History of English Law. Vol. 6: 601.

This post was drafted by BC Law Library intern, Liz Walk. 

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