In memoriam: Morris L. Cohen (1927-2010)
I am one of many, many people who are mourning the loss of Morris L. Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Law at Yale Law School and the director of its Law Library from 1981 to 1991. I join with them in extending my condolences to his wife Gloria and their family. The Lillian Goldman Law Library has set up a tribute page with links to eulogies and other resources.
I beg leave to add a eulogy on behalf of the community of rare law book librarians and collectors that Morris so lovingly nurtured throughout his career. I take as my text the list of "bibliographic beatitudes" that Morris included in a 1982 article on our Blackstone Collection ("Blackstone at Yale," Yale Law Report, Spring/Summer 1982, 18-20).
- "Blessed are the book collectors for they preserve the printed word." Morris and David Warrington (Librarian for Special Collections, Harvard Law Library) trained dozens of librarians and collectors through their week-long summer course, "Collecting the History of Anglo-American Law," at the University of Virginia's Rare Book School; note the glowing reviews in the course evaluations. He began the rare book collection at the University of Buffalo Law Library that now bears his name (the Morris L. Cohen Rare Book Collection). He played a major role in shaping the special collections of the law libraries he headed at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and here at Yale. The collection of law-related children's books that Morris and his son Dan formed is inspired, creative book collecting at its finest, an example of what Colin Franklin called "book collecting as one of the fine arts."
- "Blessed are the library donors for they support the pursuit of knowledge." Morris donated his collection of law-related children's books to our Rare Book Collection, christened as the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection. But he didn't stop there; he asked me to continue adding to it, and I have gleefully complied. He loaned books for a number of exhibits, most notably to Boston College Law Library ("Collectors on Collecting" and "Law & Order Made Amusing")and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Morris was also a generous scholar, sharing knowledge and contacts. Several of his younger proteges will recall him going to bat for them at legal history conferences when their papers drew sharp responses.
- "Blessed also are the bibliographers for they bring order to the works of scholarship and make them accessible." The monumental seven-volume Bibliography of Early American Law (1998-2003) is perhaps the capstone of Morris's illustrious career, the product of three decades of work by Morris and a legion of collaborators and research assistants. The annotations and superb indexes make it THE essential tool for researching early American legal literature. In publications such as “Administration of Rare Materials” (in Mueller & Kehoe, Law Librarianship, a Handbook,
1983), Morris literally wrote the book on rare law book librarianship,
and promoted the importance of historical collections in academic law
libraries. He was the leading evangelist for bringing rare law book collections out of storage rooms and directors' offices and making them integral parts of academic law libraries. The Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries honored his contribution by establishing the Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition, "to encourage scholarship in the areas of legal history, rare law books, and legal archives, and to acquaint students with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and law librarianship."
By his own standards, Morris Cohen was thrice-blessed. All who knew him were blessed as well.
Rare Book Librarian
Gloria & Morris Cohen at Morris's 80th birthday party, 2 Nov. 2007.
Yale Daily News features the Rare Book Collection
The Yale Daily News published an excellent feature on the Rare Book Collection, "Amid legal scholarship, some wacky stacks", on the front page of its March 26, 2010 issue. Thanks to reporter Danny Serna and photographer Joseph Breen for the considerable time and skill they invested. They were especially intrigued by our illustrated legal materials, such as the Supreme Court bobbleheads, law-related comic books, and the Morris Cohen Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection. Not many rare book collections are chacterized as "wacky." They meant it as a compliment and I take it as a compliment. Wacky is good!
Rare Book Librarian
Books from the Morris Cohen Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection. Photograph by Joseph Breen, Yale Daily News.
Reception honors Morris Cohen and his gift
Over 50 of Professor Morris L. Cohen's friends gathered on December 2 to honor him and the gift of his Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection to the Lillian Goldman Law Library's Rare Book Collection.
Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Law at the Yale Law School, is one of the most influential law librarians of the 20th and 21st centuries. He was the director of the Lillian Goldman Law Library from 1981 to 1991, and previously was director of the law libraries at Harvard (1971-1981), the University of Pennsylvania (1963-1971), and the University of Buffalo (1961-1963). He is the author of Bibliography of Early American Law (7 vols.; 1998- ), a landmark in legal bibliography, and numerous other treatises and articles.
In his brief remarks, Professor Cohen told how the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection began in the 1960s as a collaboration with his son Daniel, who collected early English and American children's books. By the time he donated the collection in 2008, it contained over 200 law-related children's books from the 18th century to the present. There is no other collection like it in the world. It provides valuable insights into how popular views of the legal system have evolved over the centuries. It also demonstrates Professor Cohen's originality and skill as a collector.
The books themselves are simply delightful. At right is an image from one of my favorites, The Quarrel and Lawsuit Between Cock Robin and Jenny Wren (London, ca. 1840).
When Professor Cohen donated the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection, the library promised to continue adding to the collection. We have added close to a dozen additional titles so far, and look forward to adding more. The most recent acquisitions include A Modern Newsboy at the Constitution Convention: A Short Play to be Used in a Constitution Day Program for High Schools in Cooperation with the Elementary Grades by J.M. Wilkoff (Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1937), and an illustrated biography of the famous Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius aimed at young readers, Het leven en de lotgevallen van Hugo de Groot by A.C. Oudemans (Amsterdam, 1835).
For more information on the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection, including a complete list of the books donated by Professor Cohen, see "Morris Cohen Donates Children's Law Book Collection to Law Library" in the Yale Law School's News & Events listings.
Thank you, Morris, for this collection and for all that you've done for me and the Law Library!
Rare Book Librarian
Professor Stephen Wizner, Professor Morris L. Cohen, and Gloria Cohen at the reception honoring Cohen's gift of the Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection.