Brittany (France), ca. 1510
HLS MS 73
Notes made by E.B.A., July-Sept. 1920
Edward Brinley Adams
Volumes 1 and 2
Red Set Small Manuscript, Box 27, Folder 6
In July 1920 on a book-buying mission to France, Edward Brinley Adams, Librarian of the Harvard Law School Library (HLSL) from 1913 to 1922, arrived in Paris “after a seemingly interminable journey.” His penciled notes, scribbled in two blank exam notebooks, provide a glimpse into his visits over several weeks to various Parisian booksellers, noting prices and orders for books on French law. Adams also traveled to Germany. In a separate typescript account of the trip Adams stated: “I found so much to do in France and Germany that I did not attempt to go outside those countries.”
One of the first booksellers he visited was Honoré Champion whose “shop on the quai Malaquais is not imposing but seems stuffed full of books.” There he purchased a manuscript of the “très ancienne coutume de Bretagne” noting that Champion was “to send it at once with some other books to HLS.” That manuscript— now called HLS MS 73—and at least fifty other volumes of French law, arrived in Cambridge that fall.
French customary law—essentially local legal customs—was based on royal legislation, Roman, canon, and Frankish law. Initially conveyed orally, manuscript versions of the Coutume de Bretagne probably appeared in the early fourteenth century and the first printed edition was published in Paris in 1480. HLS MS 73 was most likely written about 1500, and possibly based on a printed edition. As in many such volumes, the “coutume” of Brittany is followed by subsidiary texts. HLSL has almost 900 separate editions of pre-Revolution coutumes, over 50 of them from Brittany.