The cataloguing project is going reasonably smoothly, I’m pleased to say! I’ve been faced with lots of illegible/very faint scribbles in volumes. They may be an indication of the book’s provenance, or they may just be some scribbles. It’s a bit of an irrelevance, really, because I can’t tell what they say anyway. Not even with a magnifying glass and my specs on. I wish I could though–it might be a bit scandalous!
But one thing I can state with some certainty is that I don’t envy the early 18th century law scholars at Trinity Hall. Especially if I had to encounter the countless indexes and lists and dates and facts included in the books I’ve been cataloguing lately. This morning, then, I was surprised and delighted to open a book which wasn’t just another long series of law digests, a book which not only wasn’t another contender for the insomniac’s Book of the Year award, but was actually really quite interesting. And not just because of the picture of the chap that wrote it:
It’s an impressive beard, you must admit, and I like his hat.
The book in question was The English Works of Sir Henry Spelman. It’s an anthology of Spelman’s works, in two volumes, though bound together in one. It was only after a good few minutes of hunting for the second volume that I realised this. Interestingly, most of the works were published posthumously, and these volumes were edited by an unnamed individual (also known as Edmund Gibson). I wish that knowing this would constitute proof of my missed vocation as a detective, but in fact it was reported by the record on the ESTC at the British Library. Gibson was also the Bishop of Lincoln at the time when these volumes were published back in 1723.
Spelman seemed like quite an interesting chap. Again, not just because of the beard. There’s lots of information about him on the Oxford DNB. His dates are a bit iffy, but most sources I’ve looked at suggest c. 1564-1641. He was a Cambridge man, taking his BA from Trinity College at the age of 18, before going to Furnival’s Inn, and then later Lincoln’s Inn, for law. He didn’t last long though. Apparently the hard slog required for a career in law wasn’t something that particularly appealed, so he chose a slightly less lucrative path, and undertook to research and study the history and antiquities of the laws of England. And I can’t say I blame him—to me that sounds far more interesting. So he was an historian and an antiquarian, and from what I’ve read of his works today, a bit of a theologian as well.
The works included in these volumes, then, aren’t about the laws themselves but are a series of expositions about what underpins the laws, and inevitably that tends to lead Spelman back to the ancient laws (divine, natural and human), to Scripture and to the church fathers (my favourite, St Augustine, is mentioned a good few times, which has endeared Spelman to me even more!) Even his focus is religious in nature—he seems to be keen on examining the relationship of the law and the church, with the contents of his work revealing emphases on tithes, church property, and the respect due to churches. Now, I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing revolutionary in what Spelman is saying, but his writing is richly historical and theological in its approach, and impassioned enough to suggest that these are things he genuinely cared about.
I finished cataloguing this book earlier today, and my heart sank a little as I got to the end of checking the MARC21 punctuation. Not even in the slightest because I enjoy the punctuation, but because I figured that I was heading straight back to the tedium of the dreary old digest. But no! Because here is an engraving of the author of the next book I’m going to be cataloguing. He looks like a fascinating old soul. Tomorrow might just be looking up.