Some Fascinating Cases from The Lawbook Exchange
Recent acquisitions at the Lawbook Exchange.
By Michael Stillman
The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., has issued its 44th catalogue, Law and Legal History, Recent Acquisitions. While the natural target for their catalogues are those either involved in or collectors of the legal profession, some of these books will snare a much wider audience. There are basically two types of books within the antiquarian section of a Lawbook Exchange catalogue. There are works that are primarily of note to those with a scholarly interest in the law. These are works that touch on the more esoteric legal topics, for example, laws on easements, shipwrecks, bankruptcy, medicine and the like. Such treatises will interest those with a particular concern for the field or who more generally collect antiquarian legal tracts. Then there are those books which retell cases of murder and mayhem and such. They appeal to anyone who has ever viewed Court TV, or watched Judge Larry determine the fate of the remains of poor Anna Nicole Smith with a combination of fascination, amazement, and horror. Is this really how our legal system works? We will focus more on some of the titles that might appeal to the Judge Larry in us, but with the note that there are also plenty of books available for those who would rather read an erudite law professor expound on the laws of insurance. Here we go.
G. Lathom Browne and C.G. Stewart put together this intriguing account in 1883: Reports of Trials for Murder by Poisoning; by Prussic Acid, Strychnia, Antimony, Arsenic, and Aconitia. Better dying through chemistry. Browne was a British lawyer, Stewart a chemist, and they state they hope this account of numerous 19th century cases of poisoning will "prove useful to the medical, as well as legal profession." Not to mention the murdering profession. The authors provide guidelines for detecting the use of poisons, which hopefully helped snare some of these notorious killers. Item 24. Priced at $250.
Here is another piece that might appeal to your more morbid intellectual curiosity: The Dying Speeches and Behavior of the Several State Prisoners that Have Been Executed the Last 300 Years. This actually doesn't refer to executions in the "last" 300 years but the previous 300 years, since it is almost three centuries old (1720). It describes the final hours of around a hundred British prisoners, including statements made from the scaffold. Most had been convicted of treason or heresy, and they include royalty and celebrities such as Mary Queen of Scots, King Edward, King Charles I, Sir Thomas More, and Sir Walter Raleigh. Item 29. $300.
Item 12 reports a most bizarre situation: The Surprising Case of Rachel Baker, Who Prays and Preaches in Her Sleep: With Specimens of Her Extraordinary Performances Taken Down Accurately in Short Hand at the Time; and Showing the Unparalleled Powers She Possesses to Pray, Exhort and Answer Questions, During Her Unconscious State. The Whole Authenticated by the Most Respectable Testimony of Living Witnesses. Wow!
Some Fascinating Cases from The Lawbook Exchange
Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial.
The book is attributed to one of these witnesses, the one who took it all down in shorthand, Charles Mais, Stenographer. Even as a young girl of 12, Rachel suffered fits of somnambulism, where she would speak in a trance-like state as she went off to sleep. By the age of 20, she was giving full sermons and discourses on theology, something thought beyond the capacity of an otherwise average young lady. Poetry and music were also among her sleepy creations, but preaching was her forte, leading to the epithet, "The Sleeping Preacher." Physicians were baffled by her case and never could come up with an explanation. Perhaps faking it? Her story was published in 1814. $150.
This item signaled the end of a remarkable career. Nebraska Senator William Jennings Bryan was nominated by the Democratic Party for president three times, and managed to lose them all. He was a stirring populist speaker, a man with a devoted following who captured the hearts of something in the mid-forties percent of the voting public. That isn't quite enough. Near the end of his life, Bryan took off for Tennessee to argue the state's position in the prosecution of schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution. This was the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" where Bryan squared off against famed trial lawyer Clarence Darrow for the defense. Darrow's examination of Bryan on the stand concerning contradictions in religion, portrayed in the fictionalized movie account "Inherit the Wind," is one of the greatest legal confrontations ever seen. However, it was all for naught. The Judge struck it all from the record, and only allowed the jury to consider whether Scopes had violated the law by teaching evolution. Even Darrow didn't argue that point, so he closed his case and prepared for appeal of the inevitable guilty verdict on the grounds of unconstitutional establishment of religion. He didn't even make a closing statement, which by Tennessee law prevented the prosecution from making a closing statement either. Bryan had prepared his closing defense of religion, but Darrow's move cleverly prevented him from ever delivering it. All that could be done was to publish Bryan's never delivered closing speech. Here it is: The Great Commoner's Last Speech: Prepared for Delivery in Closing Argument for the State in the Evolution case at Dayton, Tennessee, July 21, 1925. Tragically, Bryan, who was not well at the time, died just five days later. Scopes was convicted, and on appeal, the Tennessee court upheld the constitutionality of the law but overturned Scopes' conviction on a technicality. He was never retried, and it was not until 1968 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such statutes unconstitutional. Item 25. $75.
Item 55 concerns another famed American trial: The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti: A Critical Analysis for Lawyers and Laymen. This case is still debated, whether the Italian anarchists were innocent men convicted on account of prejudice, or guilty men, convicted with the assistance of prejudice. This is a 1954 reprint of the work, and is signed by Felix Frankfurter, renown U.S. Supreme Court Justice, who at the time assisted the defense during the appeals process. $550.
The Lawbook Exchange may be found online at www.lawbookexchange.com, telephone 732-382-1800.