Institutions of the criminal Law in Scotland. For the Use of Students who attend the Lectures of Alexander Bayne, J. P.

Edinburgh: Printed by Mr. Thomas and Walter Ruddimans, and sold by Mr. William Monro … 1730.

12mo, pp. 191, [1]; brown dampstain to foot of A1-3 and last two leaves, else a good copy in contemporary calf, rubbed, headcaps chipped, spine label wanting; ownership inscription to upper corner of front free endpaper: ‘James Boswell / 1775’, with his note at the end ‘Bought at the auction of Belamaduthie’s Books for 1/4’.


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First edition of scarce summary of Scottish criminal law by the first professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University, designed to serve as lecture notes to his students. General headings from Sedition to Incest, Murder and Wilful Fire-Raising also include explanations of some more specifically Scottish legal terms – hairship, or plunder of cattle; stouthreif, or the threat of violence during the commission of a robbery; wadset, a mortgage; and hamesucken, assault on a person in their own dwelling place.

As a lawyer Boswell was diligent if often unenthusiastic, despite his involvement in several celebrated cases (mostly recently a landmark case in copyright law on which he published The Decision of the Court in Session, upon the Question of literary Property, 1774). In the spring of 1775 he had moved to London for a term to begin the process of transferring to the English bar, but ‘my father’s coldness to me, the unsettled state of our family affairs, and the poor opinion which I had of the profession of a lawyer in Scotland, which consumed my life in the mean time, sunk my spirits woefully’, although he did have the opportunity to socialise frequently with Johnson. He was back in Edinburgh by June.

Boswell bought this copy of Bayne’s Institutes from the sale of the library of his near-contemporary William Mackenzie, fifth laird of Belmaduthie (1735–1774), a fellow advocate and examiner in Civil Law at the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. Boswell had met Mackenzie at Kames on 24 October 1762, describing him then as ‘a young gentleman of Inverness-shire, very genteel and well-bred and obliging’, and they would have crossed paths in the courts since then. We have not been able to trace the auction of his library but it was presumably held in Edinburgh in the second half of 1775. Neither Mackenzie nor Boswell would have studied under Bayne, but he was known by Kames, who discussed him and his eccentricities with Boswell in March 1778 – Kames was very dismissive of Bayne’s capacities as a lawyer.

Despite his literary connections Boswell was not as active a book collector as either his father or his son, though he did have bibliophilic tendencies, and was more concerned than Johnson with books as objects. He kept some books in his father’s library at Auchinleck, but his copy of Bayne’s Institutes was almost certainly part of his personal ‘town house’ library in Edinburgh, which came with him to London in 1786. It was acquired too late to appear in the manuscript catalogue of circa 1771, and does not feature in the later partial catalogue of the Auchinleck books or in Biblotheca Boswelliana, the 1825 auction of his son Jamie’s books. Indeed it remained in the family by descent until it was sold in the final disposition of books from Malahide Castle, in May 1976, where it was part of lot 1369, the Boswell inscriptions going unnoticed. It is hence listed by Terry Seymour as among the books with possible Boswell provenance in Boswell’s Books (2016), the most exhaustive study to date of the libraries of the various members of the Boswell family. Seymour does list another work by Bayne in the main catalogue – Notes for the Use of Students of the Municipal Law 1731, with Boswell’s ownership inscription dated 1774 (sold at Walpole Galleries in 1920 and thence untraced).

Seymour, Boswell’s Books 4252.