The Matter of Slavery

Cross-institutional collaborations can be very fruitful. The first workshop of “The Matter of Slavery in Scotland”–a collaboration between Professor Nuala Zahedieh of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Sarah Laurenson of the National Museums of Scotland–was was held on Friday 7 December, 2018. The workshop covered furniture, buildings, paintings, drawings and installations. It explored the use of exotic woods from the Caribbean and Americas in furniture making, the issue of the Melville Monument, a fascinating account of Sir William Allan’s painting of the slave market in Constantinople, a rich contextual discussion of the Glassford portrait, as well as the illustrations in Dr Jonathan Troup’s diary. In a full and remarkable day, it was interesting to hear about the new approaches to slavery to be taken by the National Trust for Scotland, as well as Graham Fagen’s account of his development of the performance of “The Slaves’s Lament”. The fascinating day was concluded by a quite brilliant lecture by Jennifer Anderson, of Stony Brook, on mahogany and slavery.

Your blogger has always been aware of the significance of material objects for this story, though like most historians, he has tended to focus on archival material understood in a narrower sense. Thus he participated a few years ago in the fascinating events organised by Glasgow Museums in 2014 that addressed the issue of slavery through objects, while on 3 March 2004 he gave a gallery talk at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in connection with their exhibition, Below Stairs, focusing on black servants perhaps held as enslaved. It was entitled “The Illustration of Race, Slavery and Black Servitude in 18th-Century Paintings”, and came about through the assistance he had already been given by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery  in getting illustrative material for his 6 December 2000 lecture, “The Scottish Law of Slavery”.

But this new project greatly extends the scope of discussion in a way both fruitful and stimulating. I certainly found my horizons expanded, and my thinking encouraged in new directions. All readers of this blog, interested in slavery, should consult the website of the project:

Image courtesy of The Matter of Slavery Project

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John Millar, his Russian Pupils, and the founding of the Moscow University Law School

As many readers of this blog will know, this blogger has had a long-standing interest in the work of John Millar, Regius Professor of Civil Law in the University of Glasgow from 1761-1801. In exploring aspects of Millar’s development of the curriculum, your blogger wrote an article about Millar’s two Russian pupils, “John Millar, Ivan Andreyevich Tret’yakov, and Semyon Efimovich Desnitsky A Legal Education In Scotland, 1761-1767”, initially published in 2001, in the volume Russia and Scotland in the Enlightenment, by the St Petersburg Centre for the History of Ideas 2001, edited by Tatiana Artemieva, Peter Jones, and Michael Mikeshin, and reprinted in the second volume of your blogger’s Selected Essays, published in 2015 by Edinburgh University Press, Enlightenment, Legal Education, and Critique, at pp. 219-37.

Of course, the two Russians were already known to the world of scholarship, largely because of interest in Adam Smith, with whom they had both studied. The fact that they also studied  with Millar and took law degrees at Glasgow had hitherto not been given any attention. But to your blogger this had seemed a matter of considerable importance, given their later careers as law professors, and given they spent more years with Millar than with Smith. A few years ago, a random search in ECCO under “Disputatio Juridica”, produced the theses of one of the students, Ivan Andreyevich Tret’yakov, persevered in the Bodleian Library. It was devoted to D. 2.4, de in ius vocando. Your blogger had not known of this survival when he wrote his original paper.

The prooemium, theses and annexa of the disputatio deserve further study. Tret’yakov is named as both auctor and respondens. The date and time of the intended public defence (21 May 1767 at 10 a.m.) have been inserted in ink onto the printed title page, though it seems likely that the defence did not take place as in April the two Russians were recalled and had to leave in haste, the University dispensing with the formal defence for the award of the degree. The author has dedicated his Disputatio to the famous Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov, minister of education, great patron, and one of the men behind the foundation of the University of Moscow.

Without a more careful study of the contents than is appropriate here, it is possible to say that it seems conventional enough in content, and modelled on the theses produced for admission as an advocate in Scotland. One would need to see the original to be certain, but the reproduction suggests it is a handsome, nicely printed work of nine pages, and finding it on ECCO allows the addition of a new title to the list of works printed by the famous Foulis brothers in Glasgow.

These thoughts are prompted by the recent republication in Econ Journal Watch (September 2018), at pp. 351-64, of “Adam Smith and His Russian Admirers of the Eighteenth Century”, by Michael P. Alekseev. This was originally published as an appendix to W. R. Scott, Adam Smith as Student and Professor (Glasgow, 1937), pp. 424-31, and was subsequently reprinted in Adam Smith Across Nations (Oxford), pp. 239-47 in 2000, with three other essays on Smith in Russia. It is interesting that Alekseev does not mention the connection with Millar, though it is mentioned in Dan Klein’s introduction.

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Eighteenth-Century Session Papers & Hairdressers and Barbers

An earlier blog post – “Adam Smith and a Close Shave” – introduced the litigation of the Barbers of Edinburgh v. The Hairdressers of Edinburgh. and discussed a spoof or possible genuine Session Paper. Your blogger has discussed this with Professor Dan Klein of George Mason University Dept. of Economics in a podcast to be found at at

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Second ESCLH Postgraduate Conference

Second Postgraduate Conference in Comparative Legal History 27–29 June 2019, Augsburg University (Germany)

Call for Papers

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Inaugural Lecture Chair of Roman Law Paul J du Plessis

On 10th October, 2018, Professor Paul du Plessis gave his inaugural lecture in his Chair of Roman Law in the Playfair Libraryin Old College. The lecture was chaired by the Head of the School of Law, Professor Martin Hogg. The thrust of his argument concerned Roman law and its place in legal education in Scotland. As part of legal history more generally, he argued that our modern engagement with Roman law as a body of knowledge in Scotland had become dominated by contemporary narratives created in the 20th century in European legal history to justify the continued study of Roman law post codification. Since codification never occurred in Scotland, Roman law, therefore, fulfils a different function as the bulk of the unenacted Scottish “common law”. To study this body of law properly, we need an understanding of its history. And if we are to study history, then we need to be sensitive to modern debates about the nature of history and its purpose. We cannot continue with determinist ideas of history rooted in the 19th century.

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Forthcoming Legal History Events in Edinburgh

Readers of the Blog may be interested in the two forthcoming events.

The first is a Seminar on Thursday 25th October by Dr Emma Macleod of the University of Stirling on the subject of ‘How to Do a Treason Trial: Professor John Bruce and the Investigation of Precedent in the English and Scottish State Trials, 1793-1794’. The seminar will take place in seminar room 5, Chrystal Macmillan Building, starting at 5:15pm.

The second is the 4th Angus McIntosh Lecture of the Scottish Text Society to be given at
6.00pm, Monday 5 November, 2018, Project Room, 50 George Square, University of Edinburgh, when Professor Penny Fielding, Grierson Professor of English Literature, will lecture on “‘Evidence that Might Assist in a Further Research’: Testimony, Law and the Fate of Phillip Standsfield”.

This lecture starts from the 1688 Scottish trial of Philip Standsfield for murdering his father. The case became a cause célèbre, written about and analysed by literary writers including Scott and Hogg, and legal experts including Pitcairn, for the next 150 years. It raised questions of witness and evidence, and of the shift from the “medieval” and supernatural to “modern” legal practice. Professor Fielding is the leader of the University of Edinburgh’s annual “Spy Week”, and became interested in the case as a background to her work on espionage and the law.

All are welcome to this free public lecture. Please register your interest on Eventbrite:

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Gauls, the Sack of Rome, and Legal Dodges: Tony Thomas Seminar London, 30th Nov. 2018

This Blog is delighted to note that Dr Ulrike Roth of this University will be giving the Tony Thomas Seminar in the newly refurbished Bentham House on 30 November, 2018. Her title is “Third time lucky? The ‘history’ of a legal dodge and Roman republican historiography”. An abstract is included below.

When the Romans were attacked by the Gauls in 390 BC, and agreed to surrender, one of Rome’s greatest heroes – Marcus Furius Camillus – appeared just in time to stop the ransom exchange that the Romans had agreed with the Gauls – or so the story goes. Camillus challenged the ransom exchange on a constitutional basis, claiming that the agreement was invalid because it had been made by a magistrate of inferior status. A couple or three generations later, in 321 BC, the Romans were once more in a situation in which – according to their enemies (and Livy …) – they defaulted on an agreement. Livy makes the enemy leader exclaim that the Romans always “contrive to give the fraud some colour of legality”, citing specifically the situation in 390 BC (Livy 9.11.6-7):

Nunquamne causa defiet cur victi pacto non stetis? Obsides Porsinnae dedistis: furto eos subduxistis; auro civitatem a Gallis redemistis: inter accipiendum aurum caesi sunt; pacem nobiscum pepigistis, ut legiones vobis captas restitueremus: eam pacem inritam facitis. Et semper aliquam fraudi speciem iuris imponitis.

(Will you never, when you have been beaten, lack excuses for not holding to your convenants? You gave hostages to Porsinna – and withdrew them by a trick; You ransomed your City from the Gauls with gold – and cut them down as they were receiving the gold. You pledged us peace, on condition that we gave you back your captured legions – and you nullify the peace. And always you contrive to give the fraud some colour of legality.)

This paper first demonstrates the dependence of the constitutional aspect of Camillus’ interference in the Romano-Gallic ransom exchange in 390 BC on this later event, in 321 BC, and – second – the dependence of both legal dodges on a much later event still – in 137 BC. In consequence, a terminus post quem for the invention of Camillus’ “legal armoury” of 136 BC is suggested. The question thus raised is why it was important to attach this legal armoury to this Roman hero in the late Republic – and a tentative answer is given. The paper makes a contribution to our understanding of changes in the Roman handling of international agreements in the second century BC, Livy’s Ab urbe condita, and Roman historiography of the late Republic more broadly.

Those attending are advised to read the relevant passages of Livy in advance: 5.33-49.7, though for the idle it may be worth noting that chapters 47-49 are the most important ones for the purposes of the paper

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Adam Smith and a Close Shave?

Your blogger has been reading Jesse Norman’s excellent new biography of Adam Smith, entitled Adam Smith: What He Thought and Why it Matters (London: Allen Lane, 2018). The author manages to convey Smith’s thought with admirable clarity and elegance. It is an important, well-written, and accessible contribution that deserves to be widely read. As the author reminds us, Smith was famously troubled by conspiracies of merchants and tradesmen against the public, through, for example, among other methods, the creation of monopolies of rights to work in various employments.

The eighteenth-century world was one in which fashionable gentlemen wore wigs. Smith himself is obviously bewigged in the well-known Tassie Medallion of 1787 that provides our only reliable image of him. To accommodate a tight fitting wig, a man might need to shave his head. Portraits of men in relaxed clothing, such as gowns or banyans, often show them wearing turbans to cover their shaven heads, as they have discarded their wig for comfort. In the University of Edinburgh there is a splendid Raeburn portrait of Professor John Robison in a wonderful striped gown and a turban. The University also possesses a portrait of David Hume in formal clothes but wearing a turban. Raeburn also painted the aged Thomas Reid wearing a wonderful red turban. All of these shaven heads and wigs, as well as the fashion for women to have elaborate high hair involving hair pieces and extensions,  produced a world in which there was a great need for wigmakers and hairdressers, and, by 1789, there were apparently 89 master hairdressers in Edinburgh. But there was an important question: could they shave their clients?

In a world of electric and safety razors, it is very difficult to remember that shaving was once a skilled task. Roman legal texts on the action for damage to property discuss the death of a slave because a barber had set up his apparatus near a place where men were paying ball. For a man to agree to be shaved with an old-fashioned straight razor was indeed to agree to be very vulnerable. He has to allow another open access to his throat with a very sharp blade. This is no doubt why British people think of the legend of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street; but there is a similar legend from medieval Paris about a barber and the production of human charcuterie.

The ancient profession of barber was once linked with the practice of surgery in the middle ages. Barber surgeons were important medical practitioners. Thus, James IV granted a charter to the Incorporation of Barber Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1505. This protected their privileges. By the end of the seventeenth century, the professions of barber and surgeon were clearly separated, and, under an agreement 1722, a separate incorporation of barbers was established in Edinburgh, with certain distinct privileges, notably that those who wished to practice shaving had to be members of the incorporation, to which a fee had to be paid. The incorporation claimed to have authority over those practicing the art of barbering in Edinburgh and various outlying districts. It was jealous of its privileges and can be found suing those who practised the trade without its permission in, for example, the Canongate and elsewhere.

The barbers of Edinburgh became particularly worried about the practices of hairdressers and wigmakers. They had started litigation against them in the 1740s, with a decree in 1750; they had recommenced litigation against the wigmakers and hairdressers in 1756, gaining a decree in 1761. Finally there was a lawsuit that ended in 1789 with a decree in favour of the wigmakers. At issue was the barbers’ privilege of shaving.

Records of the litigious barbers’ suits can be found in Session Papers, the NRS, and the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. On the database of Eighteenth-Century Collections Online can be found what purports to be the “Second Edition” of a Session Paper entitled “Information for the Hairdressers in Edinburgh; Against the Barbers of Edinburgh”, drawn up by Hew Dalrymple, and printed in 1758. This appeared during the actual litigation, and the date is roughly right for an actual advocation of the litigation on a point of law from the Court of the Bailies of Edinburgh to the Court of Session with the matter then being taken on Report by the Lord Ordinary to the Inner House. The Information seems absolutely correct in what it says. The language, however, seems exaggerated and the account given almost comical, at least to modern tastes, as if the paper contains a parody of the arguments for freedom of trade (in this case, shaving), which has led to a suggestion that it is indeed a parody and not a real Session Paper. Further research is needed to determine one way or the other. The Session Paper, real or not, does, however, very clearly present the argument of the hairdressers and wigmakers against the monopoly of the barbers. Whether the Paper is genuine, or indeed a parody prompted by the actual litigation intended to emphasise through comedy the case against the restriction on shaving, it dramatically presents the argument against pointless trade privileges and restrictions, ones indeed seen as constituting a conspiracy against the public interest.

Professor Daniel B. Klein of the Department of Economics of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, editor of Econ Journal Watch, has just published a reprint of this ostensible Session Paper with an introduction:

From a broader perspective, the litigation was just one small part of the end of the monopolies of the trade guilds and the birth of a more modern economic world, the world for which Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations. The Session Paper, genuine or not, contributed to the discussions that led to that end.

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Surrey Roman Law 5 October

With the approach of the Inaugural Lecture of our own Professor of Roman Law, Paul du Plessis, it is worth reminding readers of this blog that Francesco Gigli of Surrey, will be giving a lecture on 5 October entitled “The Jurist’s Mind”, which focuses on the fact that the study of Roman law is about the future as well as the past.

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Inaugural Lecture: Roman Law Edinburgh

This is to remind readers of this blog that Professor Paul du Plessis will give his inaugural lecture on 10 October. The poster is below.


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