July 2014 Book of the Month: Law Quibbles by Anonymous (1726)


Title-page of Law Quibbles: Fellows’ Library R.9.9 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Law Quibbles promises to demystify jargon and expose abuses of legal practice for ‘the Publick Good’. Importantly, the treatise displays as much concern for civil law as it does for Georgian England’s notorious ‘Bloody Code’ of criminal punishments.

The work is presented as a dictionary of legal terminology, covering everything from lunacy to planning permission. Law French words such as ‘disseisin’ are defined, together with common English words that embody legal concepts.  For instance, ‘Beginning’ is explained in the typical style of a hypothetical situation: a legitimate sale of stolen cattle is invalidated because the beginning was unlawful.


Definition of ‘Disseisin’: Fellows’ Library R.9.9 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This edition was published in 1726, a time when the legal system was perceived as ‘increasingly exclusive, arbitrary, and self-serving’ (Lemmings). Law Quibbles was sold with other essays urging reform by improving laws, making bailiffs accountable and by ‘a thorough Regulation of the Practice of the Law’.

However, despite the title’s censorious tone, this tract is concerned more with explaining legal principles than criticising contemporary practice. The black letter headwords (a custom from which the term ‘black letter law’ is thought to derive) together with abbreviated legal references suggest that the text was intended for educating lawyers as well as laypeople.

Emma Jones (Graduate Library Trainee, 2013-14)

Sources and further reading

  • Catalogue record on SOLO
  • Lemmings, David. Professors of the Law: Barristers and English Legal Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Murray, David. Lawyers’ Merriments. Glasgow: J. MacLehose and Sons, 1912.
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