852 RARE: The Weekly Special – The Labors of a 19th-Century Treatise Writer

852 RARE: The Weekly Special – The Labors of a 19th-Century Treatise Writer

Cover of Henry John Stephen's manuscript, The Principles and Practice of the Laws of England

Cover of Henry John Stephen's manuscript, The Principles and Practice of the Laws of England

In this age of blogging, tweeting, yammering, and self-publishing, anyone and everyone is an author. A treasure in our manuscript collection vividly reminded me that this was not always so. Last week, I happened upon a thick manuscript attributed to Henry John Stephen, entitled The Principles and Practice of the Laws of England with Their Recent Alterations, ca. 1840.  This manuscript is a draft of Stephen’s treatise, the New Commentaries on the Laws of England (partly founded on Blackstone), which was published in London between 1841 and 1845.

What a lot of work it was to write a treatise in 1840! Though the intellectual labor remains the same, the mechanics of authorship were completely different. Stephen wrote his entire manuscript by hand and edited it heavily. Nearly every page is replete with crossouts, edits, and additional notes glued in, as seen here:

Edited pages from Henry John Stephen's manuscript

Edited pages from Henry John Stephen's manuscript

Another thing that has changed is the permanence of an author’s work product. Unlike today, there was no danger of format migration in Stephen’s time. He drafted his treatise on quires of 12 unbound sheets, which were folded in half and nested to make booklets of 24 leaves each. By the end of Stephen’s labors, his stack of paper rose about 5 inches high:

Fore Edges of Henry John Stephen's manuscript treatise

Fore Edges of Henry John Stephen's manuscript treatise

The paper and ink have survived the centuries beautifully, as has Stephen’s treatise, which exists in print, online . . . and in this wonderful manuscript.

 

 

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