Tag Archives: Law and Humanities

Law and music, a history of norms and sensitivity

droitetmusique-smallWords from completely different domains can be used without even noticing their origin. Scholars conduct research but seldom think of conductors leading an orchestra or choir. A two-day conference in Aix-en-Province (June 30 and July 1, 2016) offers a rare chance to bring the two domains of law and music together. The title Droit et musique: Entre normes et sensibilité, “Law and Music, Between norms and sensitivity”, seems aptly chosen, even though anglophone readers should immediately be at their qui-vive to distinguish between sensibility and sensitivity.

In this post I will give you an impression of the themes to be addressed at this conference held at two locations in Aix-en-Provence, on June 30 at the Amphitheâtre Favoureu of the Faculté de droit et science politique, and on July 1 at the Musée Granet. I found the announcement about this conference at the events calendar Nomôdos, since last year a part of the French Portail universitaire du droit, where you can find also a section for law and culture (Droit et culture).

Two spheres

The two-day conference has two mottoes which link law and music to each other. Danielle Montet formulated reflecting on ancient history and philosophy the thought that both spheres, law and music, deal with composition. The law poses order on society, just like music supports a good disposition of things in the mind and in a city. The second motto stems from Norbert Rouland who wrote law is not the work of a legislator, enlightened or not, but an unconscious collective construction of the Volksgeist, mediated and interpreted by a lawyer. Composition and interpretation seem indeed shared features of law and music.

Let’s look at the program of the conference in Aix-en-Provence. The first day has as its central theme La musique revisitée par le droit, music revisited by law. In particular the section on philosophy and history has space for legal history. Maria Paolo Mittica looks at music and law in ancient Greece. Fouzi Rherrousse will speak about a musical movement within Islam. The Catholic codification of liturgical music in the nineteenth century is the subject of the contribution of Blandine Chelini-Pont. Emmanuele Saulnier-Cassia will present the musical interpretation of the fundamental rights of condemned people. Vassili Tokarev looks at the twin theme of musical criticism and legal criticism in Nietzsche’s work. Patricia Signorile will discuss the philosophical foundations of the connections between law and music.

In the other sections legal history does make less often an appearance. Marc Pena will take Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as a starting point for a paper about the realities and representation of Venice’s territory. Ugo Bellagamba looks at the uses of dissonance and musical resolution in operas about Tancredi from André Campra to Gioacchino Rossini to distill views and perspectives on the First Crusade. Interesting, too, is a paper by Antoine Leca about the judge Jean de Dieu d’Olivier, author of a treatise about the art of legislation, and his views on legal composition. It makes certainly curious about his Essai sur l’art de législation and its influence on French revolutionary and Restoration law. In Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, you can consult the editions of his work published in 1800 and 1815. Christian Bruschi will deal with Montesquieu and his views concerning music and society. Tchaikovsky as a failed lawyer and a succesful composer will be the subject of a paper by Anatoly Kovler.

Other contributors will take a more comparative point of view. Giorgio Resta will consider the way lawyers use musical metaphors. Alizée Cirino will discuss the problems of co-authorship of musical works, the possible clash of interests and the way rights are shared. André Roux looks at the relation between the French constitution and the national anthem. I remember the anecdote about the orchestral arrangement made by Hector Berlioz in 1830 of La Marseillaise which allegedly was banned by the French government because it was considered to be too rousing. At a concert in Utrecht decades ago with French revolutionary music by Méhul and Gossec Berlioz’s work indeed made a terrific impression.

It is possible to allude here to a Dutch link to the twin sisters law and music. At least one Dutch legal historian has all rights to feel himself familiar with music and the tasks of conducting, Not only is Jop Spruit the son of the Dutch conductor Henk Spruit (1906-1998), he actually worked a few years for the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The way Spruit led a team of Dutch legal historians translating the various parts of the Corpus Iuris Civilis does in a way resemble the activity of a conductor. In my view it is not entirely a coincidence Jop Spruit started this project, and more importantly, conducted it to a resounding end. You can read more about his life and career in an interview by Louis Berkvens and Jean-François Gerkens, ‘Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen (13). Interview met J.E. Spruit’, Pro Memorie 17//1 (2015) 3-47.

The choice of themes and even a strong preponderance of French subjects at the conference in Aix-en-Provence should work as an invitation to explore this theme yourself. There is more to find out beyond for example the musical background of Anton Thibaut, the German lawyer advocating the codification of German law. He had to face the powerful rhetorical and legal skills of Friedrich Carl von Savigny whose views against legal codification prevailed for many years in the early nineteenth century. This contribution can be only a prelude to the real music. Interpreting law and subjects in legal history is such a common practice that it is most welcome to reflect on this core activity from an unexpected angle.

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An age of lawyers and literature

Flyer The Age of LawyersThe power of words seduces every honest writer to do his or her very best to write in a unique way to convey what you want to say and to add to the expressive qualities of language and literature. Only seldom people succeed in achieving immortal fame and enduring influence on a living language. In this post I want to look at an author who conjured up scenes of unforgettable power using the language of his time in ways unheard of. In fact his works were in some periods considered too rough and therefore edited and censored. Together with the English of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible the works of William Shakespeare still have immeasurable influence on the English language and culture.

Shakespeare’s works have the power to stir our emotions and imagination. Until today his portraits of English kings and their courts influence our views of English history and royal circles. No doubt this year’s commemoration of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616 will bring a flood of activities and events. A few weeks ahead of the central day there is still a chance to look here in a more sober setting at some of the digital initiatives which try to shed new light on one of the greatest people in world literature. At least one of them, an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., focused on lawyers in Shakespeare’s age, but it comes into better relief surrounded by other projects of The Folger, and by a selection of recently launched online Shakespeare projects and digital projects dealing with Early Modern letters.

Surrounded by lawyers

Even without the Shakespeare connection the exhibition Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare’s Britain is really interesting. The Folger showed the exhibition from September 4, 2015 until January 4, 2016, but luckily there is an accompanying virtual exhibit. The concept for the exhibition was developed in cooperation with the Georgetown Law Library, a library with early printed legal books in its own digital collection. There are four main sections, Legal LivesThe Great Courts, Law and Communities and The King and the Law. In contrast to usual virtual exhibitions it has not been placed in a clearly defined corner or subdomain of the website, but as a seemingly unconnected item on the Folgerpedia, the website of The Folger for general information. More remarkable is the absence of illustrations. It took me some time before reaching the list of exhibitions at this library’s website. You can only applaud the inclusion of transcriptions of several exhibition items, but they yet have to appear for the fourth section. The very heart of the exhibition is an extended introduction to the materials put on show, to be read side-by-side with the list of items.

The four sections of Age of Lawyers give us a good idea of the world of Elizabethan lawyers. The first section looks at legal education, the Inns of Courts and the various legal professions. The various royal courts are the core of the second section. In the third section legal practice comes into view, its impact on daily life and local communities. The last section shows a great variety of subjects around the central theme of royal power, from major figures such as Francis Bacon and Edward Coke to subjects as Magna Charta and the influence of English developments on early American law and politics, with for example attention to Thomas Jefferson. The wealth of materials put on show in this virtual exhibition is impressive, and it is even more interesting to see how many of them come from the holdings of the Folger Shakespeare Library. In my opinion this virtual exhibition gives you a very valuable introduction to the legal history of England in the decades around 1600.

Logo Shakespeare Documented

The Folger is one of the institutions contributing to a major virtual exhibition of documents from and about Shakespeare, Shakespeare Documented. Documents, archival records and manuscripts from such institutions the National Archives (Kew), the Bodleian Library, the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – and from a host of other institutions worldwide – make this exhibition into a real gem. It amounts to a digital collection divided in four main categories: playwright, actor and shareholder; poet, family, legal and property records, and his seventeenth-century afterlife. With 186 of the nearly 500 items the category connecting to legal history is the second largest category of this exhibition. More documents and transcriptions will be added this year. You can search at will using a free text search or preset filters. Shakespeare’s involvement as a shareholder is mostly shown in the conflict about The Globe. It is really not feasible to pick here even among the highlights an absolute must. For me this virtual exhibit is a bridge between only reading Shakespeare’s works or searching your way among the vast literature on him. It also is in a very real sense the connection and life thread between the major projects presented here.

Close to the sources

The Folger Shakespeare Library offers more things online worth exploring. Among its latest projects is Shakespeare’s World, a crowdsourcing project of The Folger, the Zooniverse project for crowdsourcing and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). One of the objectives of this project is finding words that so far have not been included in the OED. People volunteering to cooperate can choose a genre to transcribe. At first the choice between recipes and letters seems a thing to wonder about, but recipes have not been among the resources used by the founders of the OED. Letters can show words less often used, new uses of words, and, perhaps more importantly for the aim of this post, they might show the impact of literary imagination. An apparent drawback is the lack of an overview of senders and recipients.

Private Libraries in Renaissance England (PLRE) is the Folger’s online adaptation of the printed version of this reference work. It is really a database that helps you to execute queries which you will want to check in the original edition. You can get a closer view of books from this period by looking at the section on bindings of The Folger’s LUNA image database.

Logo EMMO - EWaerly Modern Manuscripts Online

Another project is in the development phase. As for now Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) has not yet resulted in a separate website. Since 2014 a lot of workshops and events has been organized. You will find the links section particularly useful, with for example an overview by The Folger of links concerning Early Modern English palaeography and digitized manuscripts.

fdtlogo

For my brief introductions to some of The Folger’s own digital projects I use the overview in the Folgerpedia. Personally I would prefer to have this overview on the main website of The Folger, but I suppose we are dealing here with a kind of planetary system around it. The Folger has also prepared a dedicated website for Shakespeare’s works, Folger Digital Texts. For quick reference and easy access this collection is very welcome, even though scholars might want to have a version under PhiloLogic or similar linguistic tools. For this you can turn to Early Modern Print, a project of the Washington University, St. Louis, MO, and the Early English Books Online-Text Creative Partnership. You will find here tools to gain insights into changes in word frequencies, KWIC (Key Words In Context) and a N-gram browser. The very example of KWIC in this project shows results for the word slander, which might inspire legal historians, too, to have a look at it. This overview at The Folger of digital projects and tools, even the subscription-only resources most times only accessible at research libraries, is actually a splendid nutshell guide to the study of Renaissance England. The University of Chicago provides us with a special subdomain to use its Philologic technology on editions and adaptations of Shakespeare.

Lives and letters around Shakespeare

Banner Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

If lawyers played such a large role in Shakespeare’s life you will probably want to know more exactly which lawyers, and more generally which people were closest to Shakespeare. On my journeys around the web I found recently the website Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. The aim of this Anglo-American project is collecting and visualizing data which show you the Early Modern social network. After registration you can download data, and also add new data. Everyone can look at the visualizations or relationships. Bacon (1561-1626) was originally also trained as a lawyer. Even if a similar website could already exist for Shakespeare it becomes quickly clear that you can immensely benefit from using this website when researching Shakespeare’s entourage, especially when you fortify your results with the letters of the project for Shakespeare’s World and the virtual exhibition Shakespeare Documented.

Choosing Bacon is just an example of the many projects dealing with English letters and correspondents. The most generous portal to them is certainly Cultures of Knowledge: Networking the Republic of Letters, 1550-1750 (University College London). Perhaps its main offspring, and certainly one closely connected to the theme of this post, is the project Early Modern Letters Online under the aegis of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where you can search directly in letters written in many countries. Some of the resources at Cultures of Knowledge stem from the Lives and Letters project developed and led by the late Lisa Jardine. Among its projects is the edition of the correspondence of Francis Bacon, the main resource behind Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. For those wanting to look at more online projects dealing with letters the overview at Digitizing Correspondence should quench a lot of your thirst, and you might also contemplate the examples of interfaces for these projects. If you add to this wealth the links page at Cultures of Knowledge you can start to investigate for yourself the epistolary culture of Early Modern Europe. Going back to the subject of this post it is the project for the letters of Edmund Spenser which comes close to the sphere of action of William Shakespeare.

Celebrating Shakespeare

How can one avoid the obvious things around Shakespeare and have a fresh look at him? The Folger has created its own list of quatercentenary online projects. When preparing this post I thought about the manifold activities of another American research library, The Newberry in Chicago. Among nearly fifty online educational resources you might have a look at three virtual exhibitions concerning William Shakespeare, Marriage and Family in Shakespeare’s England, Shakespeare’s Romans: Politics and Ethics in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the Utopias of the European Renaissance, the last item providing me with a connection to my recent blog post about More’s Utopia.

Instead of going to one of the sections of library websites about their copy of the First Folio, an object for which the label Holy Grail seems almost too simple, it is possible to have a look at digitized First Quartos and to compare various editions. They bring you closer to the times of Shakespeare himself than the posthumous First Folio. However, if you had rather stay with a time-tested resource, there is all reason to visit the section Discover Literature: Shakespeare of the British Library’s website with for example an article by Liza Picard on crime and punishment in Elizabethan England. Andrew Dickson looks at the only existing literary manuscript with Shakespeare’s handwriting, The Booke of Sir Thomas More. The play contains a plea for tolerance towards immigrants, and I cannot help feeling touched by the poignancy of this subject. More was a man for all seasons, and Shakespeare is indeed a writer for all times! The play seems to have been never performed during his life. In the project England’s immigrants 1350-1550: Resident Aliens in the Late Middle Ages curated by the universities of Sheffield (HRI Online) and York in cooperation with the National Archives at Kew you can find out about 64,000 persons coming to England during two centuries.

Drawing of The Swan. London, by Buchelius

Drawing of The Swan theatre, London, 1596 – Aernout van Buchell, Adversaria – Utrecht, UB, ms. 842, fol. 132r – image: http://objects.library.uu.nl

The customary Dutch view shown here has in fact figured here in 2013, but without the famous illustration. The image has been used in countless printed publications. Aernout van Buchell (Buchelius) (1565-1646), an antiquarian scholar from Utrecht, copied a drawing around 1596 of The Swan theatre in London (Utrecht, UB, ms. 842, fol. 132 r). In my earlier post where I wrote about Buchelius you can find the links to more digitized manuscripts of this author.

Of course much more can be said, and has already been said this year. Today I looked briefly at the fine aggregator of Early Modern blogs created by Sharon Howard. If you follow her tag for Shakespeare at Early Modern Commons you will find already dozens of celebratory articles. Hopefully you will appreciate the urgent need to restrict myself here to only a few dozen projects. A search for Shakespeare at Early Modern Resources brings us ten online resources mentioning him. No doubt Sharon Howard will soon add a number of the new Shakespeare projects to Early Modern Resources.

However large and inviting the temptation to end here with one of the countless proverbial words of Shakespeare I had rather invite you to look yourself again and again at this writer whose works breathed life into the English language. His imagination both as a playwright and poet is at many turns so powerful that its glow will last as long people care for the right words which do justice to the humanity living in his works.

A postscript

One of the possible follow-ups to this contribution is looking in more detail at Shakespeare’s plays and the role of law. You can get a taste of this subject by looking at free accessible recent articles in the journals Law and Literature and Law and Humanities.

Musing upon liberty and law

While musing myself on themes suitable for a new post on my blog at least one subject offered itself last week in my mailbox. An antiquarian bookshop with stores in Brooklyn, NY and Stevenson, MD, sent me a message about nineteenth-century manuscripts for sale. One of the items attracted my attention because of a remarkable series of subjects touching on law, history and liberty brought together in a manuscript note by a well-known American author. Here I will try to focus on two questions which call out for an answer. Do these subjects really combine so easily and naturally as this author assumed? How can legal historians bring them into discussion again? Here I would like to share with you my first impressions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the law

Ralph Waldo Emerson, manuscript notes on liberty

The manuscript at the center of this post is a two-page note written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) in 1855. Both the website of the antiquarian firm and their mail message point out this text features in Emerson’s book English Traits (1856). From Emerson Central, one of the online portals to Emerson’s texts, I take the quote at stake here:

Magna-charta, jury-trial, habeas-corpus, star-chamber, ship-money, Popery, Plymouth-colony, American Revolution, are all questions involving a yeoman’s right to his dinner, and, except as touching that, would not have lashed the British nation to rage and revolt.

Emerson had studied theology at Harvard. He had visited England in 1833 and 1847, and France in 1848 during the year of revolutions all over the European continent. My first impression of this sentence from the chapter “Ability” of English Traits is that of someone applauding the steady character of the British who do not let them foil into violent actions for some goal, however lofty or urgent. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, revolts in medieval England, the break with Scotland and the Dissolution of the Monasteries are conspicuously absent, and I choose here only a few themes. Instead of character I should perhaps say “nature”, taking the lead from Emerson’s famous essay Nature (1836/1849). In his even more famous address The American Scholar (1837) he urged writers to break away from literary conventions and to find their own voice. Some twenty years later love for things British seemed to be very real. Emerson definitely wrote in the century of the nation-state, and his opinions might be both fired and coloured by feelings of national pride, influenced also by personal experiences. His use of the words Saxon and Scandinavian race is distinctively mainly for the apparent conviction it carries, and not only for its factual imprecision. To all appearances Emerson shared here a Whig view of British history, one long and unbroken road to liberty. Emerson was a poet, too, and we should acknowledge that his vision of the United Kingdom is visionary, perhaps even utopic. Historical facts or their reassessment do not alter the poetic view expressed by Emerson.

For a first online orientation concerning Emerson the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is very helpful. You can execute illuminating textual searches in Emerson’s writings in the digital edition created by the University of Michigan, and continue your research at RWE.org. The nature of this blog post is a very simple first impression, a first look at a resource which surely can be studied in more depth.

Great events

The core of Emerson’s note to be discussed here is the combination of familiar subjects for legal historians: Magna Carta, the trial jury, the Habeas corpus rule, the Star Chamber, the Plymouth colony and the American Revolution. In the image above you can spot that the ship money figured immediately after Magna Carta, but in the published text it has been moved to a fifth place. The fight against Catholic influences and the creation of the Anglican Church is concisely evoked by the word “popery”. The ship-money was the tax levied by Charles I of England between 1629 and 1640 without parliamentary consent. Once upon a time such subjects might have been included at least in continental capita selecta lectures about British history, but they more probably were and are at the heart of an introductory course in British legal history taught anywhere in the Anglo-American world. By the way, law is not forgotten among the digital resources presented at The Plymouth Colony Archive.

Next year legal historians will face the celebrations around 800 years Magna Carta. The original copies will be shown in exhibitions, sometimes far from their present location. Cultural institutions such as the British Library will rightfully exhaust themselves to show their treasures and to appraise them anew. Hopefully historians can take a distance from preconceived opinions and look at their own prejudices, and help explaining how and why some themes in legal history gained their iconic importance.

The thing that struck me most about Emerson’s words is the vitality of history and the value attached to it, even when admittedly the nineteenth century was the century of history par excellence. The two pages with his notes show in a very immediate way – notice the fluency of his hand! – how he saw himself as part of a living continuity. Whatever the reasons behind the American Revolution it followed nevertheless the example of a country with a long experience of institutions safeguarding liberty.

The website of the antiquarian firm gives a five number amount of money as the prize of Emerson’s note. The prize of liberty and the just course of law and justice is beyond any prize. Legal historians should honour the history of liberty by pointing to its prime examples, to the grave and grim periods and events threatening liberty, to mistakes and opportunities recognisable in our days, too.

The 1855 manuscript of Emerson – with a 1875 carte de visite photograph of Emerson – is for sale at the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop

Nicolas Le Floch, chasing crime in eighteenth-century Paris

Sometimes I write here about historical subjects and their presentation on television. It is much rarer to find an example of the reversed, a television series which becomes the subject of historical debate. French scholars will organize a one-day symposium about the series running since 2008 on France 2 featuring Nicolas Le Floch, a police commissioner in eighteenth-century Paris. The call for papers at Calenda attracted my attention, thanks to the Frühe Neuzeit blog for Early Modern history. Is it typically French that I cannot find here the date of the event which no doubt will take place in Paris, and only the deadline of the call for papers, October 31, 2012? In this post I will inform you about the series, the books behind it, and the aims of the symposium.

The Maigret of the Enlightenment?

Nicolas Le Floch -Jerôme Robart - photo France 2

Nicolas Le Floch works in Paris during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774). His first appearance is in 1761, during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) between France and England. Le Floch works for De Sartine, the lieutenant-general of the French royal police force. Not only this war, but also royalists opposing the Jansenists and the Jesuit order form the background of the various stories and events in the series.

The French series is actually based on a number of novels by Jean-François Parot. On the website of France 2 he explains his view about the idea of a series around an imaginary police commissioner. Parot does not want to recreate a faithful picture of Paris in the eighteenth century, but he admits that a number of details help us imagining the surroundings in which Le Floch worked. The website proceeds with a number of maps of Paris, presents a number of dishes and recipes mentioned in the various installments as in the original novels, gives even a glossary of words and terms used in the series, and introduces you also to various prostitutes figuring in the series. The website amounts to a veritable portal around Nicolas Le Floch, including merchandise, a forum and a photo gallery, an overview of all installments and a page on Facebook. The signature tune of the lavishly produced series, a nice pastiche of late eighteenth-century music, is as memorable as that of a Maigret series!

Jean-François Parot has created his own website on Nicolas Le Floch. His novels featuring Le Floch have been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. Inevitably some elements shown on the series website return here, too. Even if you dislike detective series you can enjoy the maps of Paris and the images of buildings which feature in his stories. One of the strengths is the careful list of credits for the images used on the website. This “Sources iconographiques” section is really instructive. Getting the credits for images right is not a task easily accomplished.

Law and fiction

The French scholars preparing the colloquium Fiction policière et série télévisée : Nicolas Le Floch, un “expert” au temps des Lumières do not keep Parot’s novels and the fictionalized crime series at a wide distance, but view it as an opportunity to ask questions about the way the series has been created. The first four installments followed more or less Parot’s novels, the following four are not directly founded on them. The central question helps to look at Le Floch from a wider perspective than just checking the historical correctness of the situations depicted and the details adduced. What was the position and role of police officers like Le Floch? How did one perceive his job? What status did someone charged with his tasks really have? For this series it will lead to looking at his cooperation with inspector Bourdeau, Sanson, the hangman, and his chef, Le Sartine, and more general the way he moves in public society, both in high circles and in the Paris underground. Other themes will be the relation between fictionalization for television and faithfulness to historic facts and surroundings, the freedom (“franchise”) of fictional persons and the freedom in developing a series, the use of language, and the choice of venue and public for the series: is France 2 the only possible channel for this series? The producers of the series have bought the right to create new adventures for Le Floch as they see fit.

Personally I would like for example to discuss the uses of music in this and similar series, stylishly composed for the series or existing period music. Remembering some of the BBC television series recreating novels by Jane Austen the art of getting things also musically right merits attention, too.

Natalie Zemon Davis published in 1987 her study Fiction in the archives. Pardon tellers and their tellers in sixteenth-century France. In order to get a lettre de rémission, a pardon for their crimes, suspected criminals had not only to tell the truth but more importantly a convincing story. The series with Le Floch is a challenge to legal historians to tell the story of crime and persecution in eighteenth-century Paris as imaginatively, vigorously and utterly compelling by the sheer force of truthful historic representation as novelist Parot and the creators of this French historic crime series have thus far succeeded in doing. The call for papers at Calenda points to several new French studies on history and fiction.

Even if you would prefer to label Nicolas Le Floch under the heading of Law and Humanities, it is a reminder that “doing the real thing”, research into criminal history during the Ancien Régime, will ultimately lead to an interpretation, a representation or reconstruction of a particular part of the past. Any paper, article, book or video presents not the past itself, but a view of the past guided by your questions, views and background. Scholarly research, too, creates an image of the past. We had better learn to use images creatively, too, instead of depreciate and deplore such series. Those who have followed Downton Abbey on television will remember how legal historians were asked to scrutinize the representation of the entail featured so prominently in this series. Readers of Austen’s Pride and prejudice have met with the entail, too, and this list can be easily expanded.

A Dickens and legal history round-up

In the English-speaking world some authors have truly contributed to the world’s most acclaimed literature. When an Englishman wants to say something which rings in the mind long afterwards, he can choose at will in the works of Shakespeare, in the majestic English of the King James Bible, or turn to a nineteenth-century writer, and in particular to Charles Dickens (1812-1870). On Internet and in real life – the sequence is deliberate! – his bicentenary has been celebrated on February 7, 2012. For this celebration the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography granted temporarily free access to the biographic article on Dickens, which is normally only accessible for subscribers at this link.

Charles Dickens by Frith, 1859

Charles Dickens in his Study (1859) – painting by William Powell Frith; London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Is it possible for legal historians to avoid the impression made on Dickens by his fathers’ imprisonment in the Marshalsea Prison or to get a better understanding of English law without always referring only to Bleak House? Surely no lesser luminary than William Searle Holdsworth (1877-1944) paved the road to this novel with his Charles Dickens as a Legal Historian (1928; reprint Union, N.J., 1995). The American 1929 edition has been digitized at the University of Michigan. The subject had been treated earlier by Thomas Alexander Fyfe, Charles Dickens and the Law (London 1910; digitized at the Internet Archive). The Law and Lawyers of Pickwick: a lecture by Frank Lockwood, also available online, appeared already in 1894. Without forgetting these well-trodden paths it is surely possible to bring Dickens and law together in many of his publications, often on the background, but certainly time and again as forceful and inimitable as elsewhere in his oeuvre. With fifteen years Dickens worked as a solicitor’s clerk, and later as a court reporter. Later on his friend and first biographer John Forster could help, too, from his legal background. This post is an Internet round-up for Dickens and legal history, with also a small Dutch tribute.

A Dutch tribute

In 2000 Jan Antoni Ebbinge Wubben defended at Utrecht University his Ph.D. thesis on Literatuur en recht: Charles Dickens en gevangenschap wegens schulden [Literature and law: Charles Dickens and debt imprisonment]. Remco van Rhee’s review in the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis 71 (2003) 465-467, is rather critical of this Dutch writer in the field of law and literature. I had expected this thesis would be present in the Igitur digital repository of Utrecht University. Instead I can only find one article in Dutch by Ebbinge Wubben in The Dutch Dickensian Special. He points for instance to Dickens’ omission in The Pickwick Papers to mention the fees to be paid for the salary of the jailers of the Fleet Prison, an omission due to the fact that the Marshalsea Prison was exceptional having salaried jailers, and that he did not remember from his own experience the payment of fees. In his review Van Rhee wrote that the thesis by Ebbinge Wubben was one of the first Dutch contributions in the field of Law & Literature. I am indebted to Ton Lenssen for his comment with information about his own work in this field.

As a former president of the international Dickens Fellowship Jan Lokin, until 2009 professor of Roman law at Groningen University, is as no other Dutch legal historian able to portray the position of Dickens in the Victorian society and to assess the relation between his works, English law and society at large. Audiences of the Studium Generale, the general program of Utrecht University, had the luck to hear Lokin during Autumn 2011 in four lectures on Dickens, just ahead of the bicentenary. You can watch the four lectures online, download a collection of blog posts on his lectures and look at an overview of Dickens’ works with short remarks on literary influences on Dickens and his impact on modern authors. A Dutch firm will launch this month cd’s with recordings of these lectures. Among Dutch magazines the Groene Amsterdammer presented on January 4, 2012 a number of articles about Dickens. The presence of a list of Dickens ten best novels is in the best unorthodox tradition of this journal, but in the end everyone will have his of her favorites and dislikes according to personal taste and appreciation. The journal offers the possibility of a week-long online access to these articles, otherwise only subscribers can view them online. All this is in Dutch. If you would like to watch four lectures in English online you might enjoy the four lectures given at Gresham College, London in 2006 on Dickens and the law.

Before I ventured to write about Dickens I had the impression a Dutch contribution would serve only to bring coals to Newcastle, but after a check in the Bibliography of British and Irish Legal History (Aberystwyth University) I have learned that you will not find there any article or book between 1977 and 2005 with Dickens in its title, and only two articles concerning the Marshalsea in Early Modern history. A check for the terms debt and imprisonment yields five articles which put debt imprisonment clearly into a wider perspective than just Dickens’ experience and his views of society and law. W.R. Owens and P.N. Furbank, ‘Defoe and imprisonment for debt: some attributions reviewed’, Review of English Studies 37 (1986) 495-502, neatly indicates another major figure in English literature, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). The Aberystwyth bibliography helps to give you guidance for Defoe with two more articles, P.J. Rawlings, ‘Defoe and street robberies: an undiscovered text’, Notes and Queries 30 (1983) 23-26, and M. Quilter, ‘Daniel Defoe : bankrupt and bankruptcy reformer’, Journal of Legal History 25/1 (2004) 53-73. The National Archives present since 2008 on their website a talk by David Thomas on Dickens and the debtors’ prison.

A virtual round-up

The Law and Humanities Blog is perhaps one of the more obvious points to look for information concerning the Dickens bicentenary. Christine Corcos has indeed written a short celebratory post in which she refers to a number of fairly recent articles in American law journals, and to the list of titles provided by Daniel Solove in his bibliography on law and literature. By the way, in this bibliography you will meet a selected number of other writers. On February 8, 2012, Corcos pointed to a tribute by Michael Ruse for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Corcos gave her post the title of a famous Dickensian indictment of law: The Law is a Ass – a Idiot. Ruse succeeds in showing it is not just Bleak House where Dickens brings a vivid picture of law, figures at courts and legal doings. Earlier the Law and Humanities Blog had already five other posts referring to Dickens. One of them mentions the study by Gary Watt, Equity Stirring: The Story of Justice Beyond Law (Oxford-Portland, Or., 2009). Among much else Watt proposed a new theory about the naming of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in the Chancery case in Bleak House.

With nearly thousand pages Bleak House is certainly one of Dickens’ most substantial novels, but to me his greatness and his very position as a classic writer is that you can read and reread his work, and change your opinions about them without losing your admiration. In Kant & Co: literatuur als spiegel van het recht [Kant & Co.: literature as a mirror of law (Amsterdam 2011) Hans Nieuwenhuis, one of the Dutch lawyers to write often about the relation between law, literature and philosophy, stressed the fact that literary works about law in its many forms gain their importance by the interplay between the author’s imagination and creative powers, his perceptions of law and his philosophical position. In the case of Dickens – absent in Nieuwenhuis’ latest volume of essays – the philosopher looming in the background is probably Jeremy Bentham and his utilitarianism.

Dickens did not only write novels. In his American Notes (1842) he describes his impressions of the United States where he visited a number of prisons. Scholars have judged his description as biased. Perhaps the degree of bias is exactly what makes them so interesting. The idea to compare Dickens’ views and remarks with the views expressed by Alexis de Tocqueville is not new, but it helps indeed to put both men into perspective. Did the two ever meet each other? Hugh Brogan opened in Alexis de Tocqueville. A Life (New Haven-London, 2004) a chapter with a scene from The Pickwick Papers where a Count Smorltork is introduced “gathering materials for his great work on England”.

Dickens versus Lawyers

Money had great importance for Dickens, and in this field the memory of his father’s debt certainly haunted him. You can read in the London Gazette of December 24, 1824, the official announcement of John Dickens’ insolvency. In the New York Times Joseph Tartakovsky wrote on February 7, 2012 a brief essay with the nice title ‘Dickens v. Lawyers’. Dickens was keen in defending the rights to his work and pursued several times infringements in court. The New York Times offers in the Times Topics section a well-stocked overview of its own articles and pieces concerning Dickens since the mid-nineteenth century, combined with a selection of links to major institutions for Dickens’ heritage. The author of the essay notes that Dickens introduces legal subjects in eleven of his fifteen novels, another reason not to focus only on the novel with the portrait, nay indictment of the Court of Chancery. Bleak House appeared in serialised installments between 1852 and 1853. In 1842 the Court of Chancery Act was passed by Parliament which cut an end to some of the red tape and overlong procedures.

Wolf Reuter, a German attorney specialising in labor law, blogged, too, on February 7 about Dickens. He neatly pointed to the fact that in Dickens’ time labor law was still in its infancy. He quotes in the title of his post Dickens’ verdict “The law is a bastard” from Great Expectations. Reuter refers to the special photo album on the website of the Daily Telegraph showing Dickens’s London around 1870, a world mostly vanished and hard to imagine nowadays but for the many movies and television series inspired by Dickens, which have made us familiar with the surroundings of old London and with the looks of Londoners. The Daily Telegraph has covered the bicentenary with a nice sprinkle of articles.

I had promised to guide you here to online resources on Dickens. One of the major gateways for British history is Connected Histories a number of databases with one search action, among them the proceedings of the Old Bailey. It soon becomes clear that you have to filter the search results most diligently because Charles Dickens and his father John Dickens did have their namesakes. However, one user has been so kind to create a kind of portfolio with five Dickensian search results. You can find more, in particular in the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers and in a number of pamphlets. The results with images from the British Museum is a valuable reminder that you cannot imagine Dickens without vivid illustrations such as the ones by “Phiz”. One can search these images also directly in the collection database of the British Museum. Strangely an advanced search at Connected Histories for Dickens as a surname and Charles as Christian name yields no results at all…

Nineteenth-century London

London Lives is one of the databases included at Connected Histories, but this project focuses on the period 1690-1800. A real search for online information about scientific literature on Dickens can start safely at the Institute of Historical Research, London. Its website indicates many directions for your research. The Centre for Metropolitan History, London, points for example to the project Locating London’s Past, where you can trace locations on a map from 1746. The links collection of this centre leads you to many other local and regional institutions with holdings on London’s history. The London Metropolitan Archives offer in particular online access to records concerning family and parish history. Perhaps the Guildhall Library has not so much to offer online, but it is good to remember its rich collection in English law reports. By the way, the web presence and visibility of these two cultural institutions within the very large City of London website is only just sufficient. King’s College London gives an online presentation of its Dickens collection, with among other items the Mirror of Parliament, a journal of parliamentary records for which Dickens wrote reports. Using British History Online you will easily find a few hundred search results for Charles Dickens in the digitized source editions available at this website. The National Register of Archives lists 43 archival collections with materials from or pertaining to Dickens. In particular letters can surface anywhere or form the subject of a celebratory text. The Old Library of Trinity Hall, Cambridge holds a letter by Dickens about the study plans of his son Henry who did go to Cambridge to study law, a letter well worth a blog post.

Another resource deserves highlighting here, the Newgate Calendar, one of the bestselling books in England between 1750 and 1850. The title Newgate Calendar is an umbrella term for a number of books appearing from 1702 onwards. The website mentions a fair selection of them and introduces them briefly. In these books you will find the tales about criminals imprisoned at the Newgate Prison, stories the British public loved and loves to hear and read until now. The stories told in them depict criminals, their trials and fate most vividly. In my opinion the success of Dickens’ portrayals of villains and victims has been considerably prepared by them, and also by the stories presented in British newspapers and broadside ballads, two subjects about which I have written here earlier.

Law in Victorian literature

Dickens is not the only author from the Victorian Age to write into his novels accounts of the workings of the law. Anthony Trollope does look at Anglican ecclesiastical law in the novels of his Chronicles of Barsetshire. Reading William Thackeray and Thomas Hardy is every bit as interesting, and with them you are reading some of the greatest novelists. Yet Dickens has made a deeper impression than any of them. Many critics have reproached Dickens with attacking social evil and situations just after they had been changed fundamentally. Critics have also often said Dickens was not accurate in his descriptions of legal matters. Even if this is true, they miss the point that Dickens did not want to write legal or social reform proposals, but in a way he did help to promote public interest and support for them. In his marvellous book on the Victorian age The Victorians (London 2002) A.N. Wilson gets rid of a lot of small talk about Dickens. Wilson is sure that deliberately or not Dickens showed the fabric of human society in its overwhelming impact during the Industrial Revolution, often through the eyes of children or powerless persons who cannot see things clear. He shows the abruptly modern dislocation of people in new urban environments, and the inscrutable and ruthless way some of the few mighty and rich dealt with the poor part of Benjamin Disraeli’s two nations.

Dickens can be sentimental, but more often he is most gripping. For me Dickens’ novels show every now and then a rule of law developed into a rule unto itself and a bane for those trapped by it. Not the cold dissection and description of situations as a sociologist would do, but a fictionalized representation of society and almost symbolic portrayal of the lives of ordinary and marginal people is Dickens’ goal. If lawyers still should read Dickens, others should do this as well, because it is life touched by the machinery of law that you can find in his writings. Dickens makes abundantly clear that the rule of law and its institutions can become a terrible thing when closed off from the real world.

More blog posts celebrating Dickens have appeared this week, and I have not traced nor mentioned all of them here. Let me end this post about the web celebrations of the Dickens bicentenary with a positive note: the interest in Dickens and his novels might be a sign that people still will make time for immersing them into the world of Victorian England. Thanks to the remarks of a helpful staff member of a bookshop in Utrecht I could say here more about Dutch legal historians and their views of Dickens. We will need the guidance of well-trained booksellers, librarians and industrious scholars to keep in touch with the lives and the legal life enshrined by Dickens.

More online exhibitions and resources