Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Heavily Annotated First Edition of Burn's Justice of the Peace

Today’s featured acquisition is a first edition of Richard Burn’s The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer. First published in 1755, Burn’s work is the most popular ever written on justices of the peace. This particular copy can provide researchers with great insights into how manuals like this were actually used. Our copy contains some 75 additional blank pages, most of which have been used as an appendix, adding cases and statutes under the headings from the book. There are also extensive marginal notes. Some are additions that the owner found useful to supplement the original text, while others are updates that refer to laws enacted after the time of publication. Some of the owner’s very legible notes can be seen in the photo above.
The extensive notes were presumably written by Richard Hopton of Canon-Frome, Hereford, whose bookplate appears in the front of both volumes. The Hopton family occupied a country house in the county of Herefordshire for centuries. Hopton himself was a lawyer in the area and would have been practicing at the time of publication. Worth mentioning is a schedule of fees for Herefordshire court officers, which is copied into the handwritten appendix in the first volume. 

Richard Burn was born in England in 1709. He attended school at Oxford, where he was later awarded a Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.). Burn went on to become justice of the peace for Westmorland and Cumberland counties. The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer was his first book. What made the work particularly groundbreaking was its unique layout. Tired of the arbitrary organization that had plagued justices’ manuals in the past, Burn laid out a new plan in the preface of the first volume: “The author proposeth in this book to render the laws relating to the subjects it treats of, a little more intelligible than hath hitherto been done” (v). He was evidently successful. Even Blackstone praised Burn’s work, noting that it included “every thing relative to this subject, both in ancient and modern practice, collected with great care and accuracy, and disposed in a most clear and judicious method” (bk 1 c.9 iii [354 (1771)]). Burn went on to edit the ninth through eleventh editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries. The thirtieth and final edition of Justice was published in 1869, eighty-four years after Burn’s death.

Thanks to Joe Luttrell at Meyer Boswell Books for his helpful description.

Norma Landau, “Burn, Richard (1709-1785),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
The Hopton Family and Their Book-Plates,” Journal of the Ex Libris Society, 1904.

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