852: Rare – Sentenced to a whisker frizzling

imagePopular nineteenth century trial publications are one of the gems of the Special Collections department.

Recently, a very rare and decidedly unusual trial came to light: Trial of Sanballet … before the Categorical Court of Pawing Pleas. Printed in “Growlville” in the year “0000”, this anonymous pamphlet was purchased by the Library in 1914. It is one of only two known copies.

Sanballet was, in fact (or rather, in fiction), a cat, “a huge black and white grimalkin … vagrant, and of no ostensible occupation” accused of extracting “sundry carious substances” from an offal-barrel. The lively account of the trial, rich with puns and literary allusions, ends with Sanballet pronounced guilty of looking into the barrel and sentenced to a unique punishment as in seen in the image to the left.

The pamphlet’s publication history remains a mystery. Sanballet’s tale comprises only about half of the publication’s 16 pages. In the several humorous, unrelated pieces that follow, occasional lines of poetry and references indicate it was probably printed in Boston after about 1822.

A digital copy of Trial of Sanballet is available to Harvard subscribers through The Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926.

Post contributed by:
Mary Person
Rare Books Cataloger

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