Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence H. Stotter’

“A love letter to rare books” – revisiting To Put Asunder

January 15, 2015 1 comment


Academically, it gives a birds-eye view of where family law came from and how it developed to the point in its tradition as we know it today.

To Put Asunder is a “must read” for every practitioner who does not merely copy forms, but who practices law “to make a difference”—for clients as well as for self.

-Willard DaSilva, Family Advocate magazine*

Oak Knoll is pleased to announce that, in cooperation with the author Lawrence Stotter, we have significantly reduced the price of his legal history book To Put Asunder: The Laws of Matrimonial Strife (2011), from $150 to $95. We think you’ll find this a great deal for what one reviewer** called “a love letter to rare books and the history of family law publishing throughout history.”

To Put Asunder is a joy to behold: numerous full color illustrations, wide margins, and colored text are housed in an expertly-made binding, complete with ribbon bookmark. A recent review in Family Advocate magazine* declared, “From a visual perspective the book is a masterpiece,” and an earlier write-up on the AALL Spectrum blog** called it “one of the most visually appealing books I have ever read.”

In 2011, The New York Book Festival awarded To Put Asunder second place in its History division, a highly diverse, nationally competitive pool.


According to Stotter, To Put Asunder may well be the very first comprehensive Anglo-American literary history book written on family law in the twentieth century, or ever. It is the only book in print which provides an early history of family law publishing in both England and the United States prior to 1900, and it contains the first and only current bibliography on the subject since A Study of English Domestic Relations of Matrimony and Family Life, 1487-1653 (Chilton Latham Powell, 1917) and American Family Law and American Family History: A Bibliography (Institute for Legal Studies, 1984).

106293Family law has been overlooked academically – historically designated as “church law” rather than traditional common law, and therefore books such as Stotter discusses here are quite rare. The titles pictured on the dust jacket are, with the rare exception of a few antiquarian collectors and dealers, a reflection of books almost totally unknown to lawyers in general, and cannot be currently found in either public or traditional law libraries. These 16th and 17th century books, along with copies of nearly every English-language treatise on the subject published over four centuries, now reside in the Lawrence H. Stotter Collection at the Mortiz College of Law, Ohio State University.

In addition to bringing these rare books to light, Stotter draws attention to two little-known contributors to the field of family law, each of whom receives a chapter in the book. Henry Swinburne (England, 1551-1624) bridged the gap between ecclesiastical laws and English civil laws by writing in English rather than in the traditional Latin. Tapping Reeve (United States, 1744-1823)—whom Stotter considers the Father of American Law—established the first true law school in America, laying the foundation for legal structures in the United States and training many colonial lawmakers and justices.

It makes a great addition to any academic library with an emphasis on the history  of law or to any library with a strong collection of family law material.

– Lance Burke, AALL Spectrum blog**

Head over to our website to learn more about To Put Asunder, read an excerpt, and see the table of contents.

*  Willard DaSilva, editor emeritus of Family Advocate magazine, a publication of the American Bar Association. Review in Family Advocate. Summer 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 1).
** Lance Burke, reference/access services librarian, Elon School of Law. Review on AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) Spectrum blog.  Nov. 2011

An excerpt from To Put Asunder: The Laws of Matrimonial Strife

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The following excerpt comes from To Put Asunder: The Laws of Matrimonial Strife by Lawrence H. Stotter. Examining court proceedings, the policies of church and state, scholarly literature, and the anger and frustration of unhappy spouses, Lawrence Stotter reports on the path of the domestic relations laws adopted in Western civilization. This excerpt discusses the first legal bibliographies written in America.

American Legal Bibliography

If we date the origins of American legal literary history to the Mayflower Compact in 1620, then over two hundred years were to pass in America before an interest in legal bibliography was sufficient to result in a completed publication. This honor went to J.W. Wallace, born in Philadelphia in 1815, who learned the law from his father. Wallace was distinguished in his later years as a reporter for the Supreme Court of the United States from 1863 to 1875, during which time he published twenty-three volumes of reports of the high court. In 1844 Mr. Wallace, while serving as a Master in Chancery for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, published the book The Reporters, based upon essays written by him for the American Law Magazine. The book contained a chronology of the common law, chancery, and ecclesiastical reporters from the earliest times until the close of the reign of George II, with remarks. It is generally regarded as the first American legal bibliography.

The second American legal bibliography, entitled Legal Bibliography, or a Thesaurus of American, English, Irish, and Scotch Law Books, was published three years later in Philadelphia by J.G. Marvin. He attempted to identify the “most popular” law books from the earliest period until 1847. We now know that numerous titles were omitted from his work. However, it is still one of the most comprehensive works of its kind compiled as of that time, and contains almost five thousand entries.

Within a year of the publication of the last edition of The Reporters, the third major American legal bibliography was published: The Lawyer’s Reference Manual, by Charles C. Soule. The history of the impact of these bibliographies, and those that followed, on American law if reported in great detail in the book Anglo-American Legal Bibliographies: An Annotated Guide, by William L. Friend.

In 1913 a noteworthy event had a significant impact on the history of Anglo-American legal bibliography. The Harvard Law School purchased, en bloc from his estate, the legal library of George Dunn, an English lawyer, scholar, and collector of early printed books. The acquisition of the Dunn collection, in the words of Roscoe Pound, transformed what had been the largest collection of early English law books in the United States, maintained in the Harvard Law School Library, into one “far beyond the possibility of rivalry.” The purchase was accomplished largely through the efforts of Joseph Henry Beale, a member of the Harvard Law School faculty since 1890. Professor Beale then undertook a catalogue of all the holdings of the Harvard Law School Library from the earliest books in print until the year 1600. His effort, first published in 1926 under the auspices of the Ames Foundation, entitled A Bibliography of Early English Law Books, remains to this day one of the most important, comprehensive, and detailed compilations of early English law books ever written. Professor Beale, who was neither a trained librarian nor an experience bibliographer, simply went through the laborious process of identifying each of the volumes appearing on the shelves, one by one. He made the following comments at the outset of his bibliography:

Sins of omission and of commission in this book are better known to the author than they can be to any user. The author is neither a trained bibliographer not an experienced copyist. He had no sufficient chance to examine the books in any large library except that of the Harvard Law School…With no qualifications and few opportunities, it may be asked why did the author attempt the task? The answer is simple if not sufficient; because no one else had done it or seemed likely to do it. The work claims no scientific merit; it is only a check-list by which those who handle law-books of the period may estimate their wares.

Click here to view more on To Put Asunder: The Laws of Matrimonial Strife.

“I wanted to produce something different and special that would stand the test of time”

July 26, 2011 Leave a comment

To Put Asunder: The Laws of Matrimonial Strife by Lawrence H. Stotter is a fascinating history of marriage and divorce law and contains one of the most extensive bibliographies on the topic published to date. It is richly illustrated in full color, beautifully designed, and includes five appendices and one hundred pages of bibliographic sources. Read to see why Stotter decided to write this book and how he formatted the text to create a book that could be useful to people in many areas of study.

As a practitioner and collector of literary works relating to matrimonial matters for over 30 years, I repeatedly inquired of book dealers of antiquarian books as to the existence of a bibliography of the early works in the field of my interest which I could hopefully acquire for my collection. I carefully reviewed each catalog periodically received from various booksellers, finding in general a large void in the subject matter.

I thus decided to assemble one myself. It was approximately twenty years ago while I was attending a planning conference of Past Chairmen of the American Bar Family Law Section that the subject of writing a new “History of Divorce” in western society became a topic of discussion. I believe it was Henry Foster, a professor of family law at NYU, who brought to our attention the recently published Road to Divorce, England 1530-1987, and raised the need for such a work about the history of divorce in early American legal activities.

Several of those present had written “Case Law” books which they used in their classes. The point was raised that “non-do-it-yourself” legal literature of this nature was most helpful in giving “real life” to the case book approach to teaching family law. It was suggested that a new history of this subject would make an excellent supplemental reference and text book to dovetail with a case law book, and would also serve as a text for special seminars,  advanced classes, or interested family law students.

After some thought, the idea took root, and I began the process of devoting time for research and development of a manuscript. With a full-time practice, finding spare time was a hit or miss process. Over the next ten years, I predicted and expected that someone else would produce a new bibliography or a new divorce history in the US. To my surprise, neither occurred.

Then, around ten years ago, I introduced myself to Christine Taylor at the offices of Wilsted & Taylor Publishing Services in Oakland, California. I appeared there with literally hundreds of pages of manuscript, lists of book titles, and names and events from research covering many centuries of family law-related events. We spent several hours reviewing my materials, during which I was able to illustrate that I had pulled together text and data that was interesting from a lay-persons point of view, as well as to lawyers, and that I had gathered together material that was, even for lawyers, new, long forgotten, generally unknown, or overlooked in any known law-related publications concerning family (divorce) law published in England or the United States prior to the twentieth century.

We then discussed my goals that I wanted to produce something different and special that would stand the test of time. Christine expressed the belief that it would be an exciting challenge for her firm, but would take time and patience. We agreed, and began the process of editing, revising, checking research, designing, illustrating, rewriting, and meeting every few months. We elected to cross traditional borders by molding history with commentary, reference with opinion, coloring footnotes, expanding the margins, and choosing appropriate typographic embellishments.

As we clarified the text, we began to shape the text so that it would satisfy the primary interest of lawyers involved with academic or research goals, while still appealing to a general audience of readers of history devoted to issues of marriage and/or divorce. We then searched and selected the most desirable paper, end-papers, and a cover which were consistent with my expressed original intent and would, we felt, complement and enrich the book as a whole. Lastly, we gave personal attention to insure that the book was bound according to the best practices of binder craftsmanship.

-Lawrence H. Stotter

It sounds like a great deal of time and effort went into the making of this book. Thank you for sharing your story, Lawrence! Click here for more information on To Put Asunder.