Grotius and the Dutch Jurists: the Bibliography Continues?

Guest Blog by Douglas J. Osler, research fellow of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, it was during World War II that work began on what was to become the seminal bibliography of the great Dutch jurist and founder of international law, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), to be published in 1950 under the joint authorship of Jacob Ter Meulen and P.J.J. Diermanse.[1] As librarians of the Peace Palace, renowned for its Grotius collection, the two bibliographers were fortunate in having the ideal location to carry out their great labour. But if their own library and nearby institutions provided a sure foundation, the completion of the structure took them further afield, for the editions of Grotius are protean, published all over Europe, and their surviving copies scattered throughout the world. The Peace Palace Library still preserves the extensive archive which reflects the long years of painstaking research, correspondence, requests for verification and photographic reproductions sent to libraries across the globe beyond the bibliographers’ immediate golden quadrangle of The Hague, Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht.

So great a task it was to locate a copy of every edition of Grotius’ works. The individual copy from which their description was drawn is scrupulously recorded by a library siglum appearing at the end of each entry in the bibliography: P.P. for the Peace Palace; K.B. for the Koninklijke Bibliotheek; U.A. for the University of Amsterdam, and so on. The list of libraries surveyed, the working archive, and of course the astonishing erudition shown in the notes of the bibliography itself, are reminders of the magnitude of the task which the two Peace Palace bibliographers accomplished in the days before photocopies and microfiche, let alone the Internet. So it is with no lack of respect or admiration that today one must draw attention to a feature which they themselves emphasise and one which it is crucial to confront.

Ter Meulen and Diermanse go into considerable detail on the complexities of the printing history of the first edition of Grotius’ masterpiece, the De iure belli ac pacis, published at Paris by the printer Nicolaus Buon in 1625 (TMD 565).  One sometimes hears talk of the first and second printings of the Paris edition, so it is important to be precise.  There is only one edition of Paris 1625; but there are differences within this printing, technically known as different states.  Briefly, one set of copies was apparently finished in something of a hurry, without the index, to meet the deadline for the Frankfurt book fair: a situation with which most of us are all too familiar. When the pressure was off, the index was duly prepared. But not only that; in the meantime Grotius had decided he wanted to make changes in his text, especially at the end – changes of sufficient compass to extend the work, which ends on page 785 in the “book fair state”, as we may call it, to page 786 in the revised version.

The matter is more complex, of course (and, I dare to predict, will prove to be more complex still when it is fully investigated), but it illustrates the essential point. Such differences would never have emerged from examining a single copy of the edition. We can take that further; the “book fair state” is in fact extremely rare, and so it was a triumph for the Peace Palace to secure a copy which had miraculously come on to the antiquarian book market in 2010.[2]  So rare is this state, in comparison to the others, that a bibliographer might not have found it after looking at two or three copies. Or indeed seven or eight … for only three copies of this state are known with certainty from among over fifty surviving copies of the first edition. In short, the fundamental principle is very simply that a bibliographer must always examine as many copies of an edition as possible. And this is because the much vaunted “standardisation of print” is a myth, or at best a half-truth, oft repeated, but misleading for all that; for behind every edition lies the possibility of widespread and significant variation among its surviving copies.

The phenomenon of variants or different states among the copies of a single edition clearly impinged itself on Ter Meulen and Diermanse over the course of their work. Indeed, the significance of the phenomenon is the main message of their short preface, otherwise consisting largely of acknowledgements. It is worth quoting in full as a succinct statement of the problem:[3]

“Nous voulons encore faire mention d’un problème bibliographique auquel, croyons-nous, on n’a pas toujours prêté l’attention nécessaire. Maintes fois nous avons pu constater que des exemplaires d’une même édition accusent des différences dans l’impression …  Il semble qu’on avait introduit, plus que l’on ne pense d’ordinaire, des modifications dans la composition pendant l’impression. Ces changements peuvent avoir été faits expressément par l’auteur ou le correcteur parce qu’on voulait en effet modifier le texte. Il se peu aussi que les imprimeurs aient dû reconstituer une partie (peut-être seulement une ligne) de la composition qui avait été détruite ou mutilée. La méthode, relativement lente autrefois, du tirage des feuilles sous la presse, favorisait naturellement la possibilité de tels changements. Notre travail bibliographique nous a montré qu’il serait important d’examiner à ce point de vue, plus qu’on ne l’a fait jusqu’ici, le livre du dix-septième et du dix-huitième siècle.”

Would it be wrong to detect something of hindsight here, a conviction that had grown, could it be, with the experience of compiling the bibliography? An increasing awareness of the problem can perhaps also be detected in Robert Feenstra’s celebrated series of bibliographies of the Dutch jurists. The first volume on the law professors of the University of Leiden, published in 1984, records, like Ter Meulen and Diermanse on Grotius, only the single copy used for the description, whereas subsequent volumes have an extensive list of library copies for each entry. But even so it was impossible to record systematically all the relevant copies in the many libraries included in the project. And if instead of a mere siglum for the library, one were to go on to provide the shelf-mark, and then begin the task of identifying all the individual characteristics of the copy – the “copy-specific features” – such as binding, provenance, ex libris, imperfections, annotations, and so on, the result would soon outgrow the confines of the traditional book format, requiring page after page merely to list the copies of each edition. Fortunately, the solution to the problem now lies to hand: the online data bank, affording not only the necessary space, but also the revolutionary feature of a bibliography which lives and moves, able to expand as further copies are located and more information on each copy emerges from subsequent investigation. Bibliography, then, not as heroic, definitive, published book, but as living, growing, open-ended, collaborative effort.

I am currently seeking to establish a project along these lines through a Census of the Roman-Dutch Law. This encompasses all Dutch jurists between the foundation of the Republic and 1800, and all Dutch editions of foreign jurists published in the Netherlands in the same period. Its hallmark is the systematic recording of all copies of the relevant works in a select set of libraries. It includes Grotius’ legal works: the Mare liberum (1609); the De iure belli ac pacis (1625); the Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche rechts-geleertheyt (1631); the Florum sparsio ad ius Iustinianeum (1642) and (trespassing on his theologica-politica) the De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra (1647; written 1618). The objective of the Census is not a critical or analytical bibliography, but rather the provision of information on the location of copies, itself the first step and necessary foundation of any bibliography. At the same time, I seek to inspect at least one copy of every imprint, both to effect a standardised description and also to record a “profile”, a series of signature positions which permits the identification of edition and issue. In fact, the practice of “re-issuing” a previous edition, that is to say, attaching a new title-page with a new imprint (crucially bearing a current date) to a backlog of unsold sheets, is far from uncommon in Dutch legal printing. Less frequent, but more intriguing, are the cases of two different editions hiding behind a single imprint, which the profile is also able to detect. The Census currently numbers some 1,200 jurists (or other headings) and 7,000 imprints, with a multiple of copies of each imprint – ranging from two of the three known surviving copies of the first published work of the other pioneer of international law, Cornelius van Bynkershoek (1673-1743), published at The Hague in 1697 but unknown in any Dutch library, to over ninety copies of the same jurist’s great work on international law, the Quaestionum juris publici libri duo, published at Leiden in 1737.

From my current research in the magnificent collection of Grotiana at the Peace Palace, a single example will illustrate the importance of inspecting more than a single copy of a work. From 1680 onwards, a series of octavo editions of the De iure belli ac pacis were divided between two publishers and issued with two parallel imprints, as Amstelaedami, apud Janssonio-Waesbergios, 1680 (TMD 582) and Hagae Comitis, apud Arnoldum Leers, 1680 (TMD 583). These issues differ only as regards the imprint; a portion of the print-run of the edition was assigned to each publisher, bearing his name, in the proportion which had been agreed between them.  However, Ter Meulen and Diermanse noticed a complication in the 1701 edition, issued with the twin imprints Amstelodami, apud Janssonio-Waesbergios, 1701 (TMD 592) and Amstelodami, apud viduam Abrahami a Someren, 1701 (TMD 593). Examining a copy in the Peace Palace, they noted that the first eight gatherings of the Van Someren issue were actually those of the 1689 edition on which the two publishing houses had collaborated twelve years previously.  “La veuve de Van Someren avait peut-être encore la première partie des feuilles du texte de l’édition de 1689 de sorte qu’elle n’avait besoin que des autres feuilles de la réimpression de 1701″ (TMD 593).  Which rather begs the question …  At any rate, before we reflect further on this énigme typographique, as they call it, we are now in a position to inspect a second copy of the Van Someren imprint which the Peace Palace has acquired in the meantime.  This copy in fact corresponds precisely to the Van Waesberghe issue, without the strange phenomenon of the eight initial gatherings from the 1698 edition.  The next step, then, will be to look at further copies of the (rare) Van Someren imprint (Oxford, Harvard, Library of Congress).  But one thing can already be said with certainty: mixed gatherings from different editions in a single copy is no unique phenomenon in the endlessly variable world of print.

So the first objective of listing the copies of editions of early-printed books is to create the necessary conditions for the construction of a critical bibliography, and the objective of a critical bibliography is to establish the text.  But after determining what the author actually wrote, and how he may have altered this over time, the second and closely allied objective of the historian is the investigation of the dissemination of the author’s work and its message.  Here, too, the record of all surviving copies can prove invaluable.  Grotius himself may have written just two years after its publication that he was unconcerned whether the De iure belli ac pacis was read in Rome,[4] but modern historians are much more interested to know how and when his great work, immediately placed on the Index of the Inquisition donec corrigatur, circulated in Italy.

An edition of the De iure belli ac pacis of 1719 (TMD 599) is unusually devoid of place of printing and publisher’s name, not without good reason as it emerges. My Census, normally replete with copies held by the libraries of The Netherlands, Germany, Scotland and South Africa, registers not one of these locations (other than the Peace Palace) for this imprint.  Instead, it records 27 copies in a country normally conspicuous for its very scarce representation of Grotius editions: Italy. In fact, the type reveals that this is indeed an Italian edition, confirming the clue of the dedication by an anonymous advocatus Neapolitanus.  So it is clear from this anonymous edition that in Italy in 1719 it was still advisable to be very circumspect about printing works from the Protestant North.

What might be considered the true “Italian editions” were not printed in Italy at all, but at Lausanne in 1751-52 (TMD 608) and 1758-59 (TMD 609). These very substantial, five-volume editions survive in many copies and clearly had a wide dissemination.  But the letter of dedication of the publisher is to the praenumeratoribus Italis, the Italian subscribers, and the Census reveals an unparalleled 23 copies of the 1751-52 edition in Spanish libraries, and no fewer than 52 in Italian libraries. In short, even after all the possible distortions of the intervening centuries, which can be filtered out by applying an elementary statistical calculus, the current location of copies can provide basic historical evidence about the dissemination of a work in the past.

Of course, the historian will want to go on to examine the truly historical evidence of book circulation, preserved in the form of book-lists, catalogues, testamentary inventories and the like surviving from the 17th and 18th centuries.  Above all, there is the evidence of the provenance contained in the books themselves – ex libris, dedications, bookplates, etc.  The binding, too, preserves vital evidence.  Early-printed books were generally sold as sheets to be bound by the purchaser, so the codicologist is able to identify precisely where a copy was located at the moment of its binding.

The Peace Palace has three copies of the 1751-52 Lausanne edition. One is in a French binding, another in an Italian binding, with the confirmatory inscription Neap. 1768 on a fly-leaf of the first volume: so the latter set was in Naples not so many years after its publication.  And the third copy? Oh dear! At some point this has been rebound in an expensive modern leather binding: a well-meaning attempt to preserve the book for posterity in a suitably dignified form, but one which has effectively destroyed it as an object of historical enquiry. Of the 1758 Lausanne edition the Peace Palace has a single copy. This copy contains the ex libris of Francesco Bottoni; the book-label of Jo. Baptista Filonus; and the book-stamp of Camillo Marcolini: sufficient corroboration, as the lawyers would say, that it circulated south of the Alps before finding its permanent home in The Hague.

In an academic world in which the accepted practice of scholars (relying on the standardisation of print, of course) is still to use whatever random edition of an early-printed work lies to hand – increasingly whatever digitized version happens to be available on the Internet – to insist on the primacy of the copy rather than the edition might seem a bridge too far.  But in the conviction that the current scholarly principle of “any old edition will do” is ipso facto discredited, the task now lying before us is to build on the great achievements of the past, to carry on the work of Ter Meulen and Diermanse and, remaining in the field of legal history, of Robert Feenstra. These scholars have together bequeathed to us comprehensive and accurate lists of the imprints of the early-printed editions of the Roman-Dutch jurists, an achievement not to be underestimated. The task now is to take these pioneering works forward for the next generation, specifically to add the record of surviving copies, and to make this information generally available on the Internet, both as the ideal vehicle for storing and publishing such material, and also as a forum which invites the collaboration of other members of the scholarly community, indispensable for the accomplishment of such an undertaking.


[1] Jacob ter Meulen et P.J.J. Diermanse, Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (La Haye, Martinus Nijhoff, 1950).  References to the entries in the bibliography are cited in the present note as TMD.

[2] See Henk Nellen, Grotius’s Memory Honoured. On the Acquisition of the First Edition of De Iure Belli ac Pacis by the Peace Palace Library, Peace Palace Library, The Hague, 2012.

[3] Ter Meulen et Diermanse, op. cit., from the Préface, at page V.

[4] Henk Nellen, op. cit., page 9, note 42.

Librarian's choice

A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection

Relevant PPL-keywords for further research

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