Bureaucracy: Disciplining


One of the primary functions of bureaucratic forms like the dictionary, encyclopedia or collection of statutes is to build disciplinary structures. Bureaucracy works toward consolidating the policies and procedures of institutions, governments, and specific professional fields like medicine or law. But defining the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge often entails ordering and controlling people and things, and thus discipline in the Foucauldian sense. Bureaucracy sets the parameters of modern academic and scientific disciplines, and in doing so subjects us to regimes of power that have no clear origin or agent.

The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England: Concerning High Treason, and other Pleas of the Crown, and Criminall Causes

This edition of the third part of Edward Coke’s Institutes of the Laws of England was published in 1648. Like all of Coke’s other works, these materials played an important role in the seventeenth-century English turn toward modern notions of legal authority that rejects idiosyncrasy. Whereas the practice and very processes of law had previously depended upon the independent and often inconsistent decisions of individual leaders or jurists, Coke advocated a more systematic and consistent legal practice based on knowledge distilled from the history of English common-law decision-making. His Institutes represented a repository of this distilled wisdom that was composed alongside an equally important and influential set of reports of specific cases that Coke had observed and taken part in.

Where Coke’s Reports concern themselves with documents significant particular actions and decisions in law, the Institutes consolidate principles from particulars. One motive for shifting law onto an ostensibly more solid base of received wisdom was that English law could thereby imitate the more rigid form of civil law employed by ancient Romans. Rather tellingly, Coke’s book takes its title from Justinian’s Institutes, a sixth-century codification of Roman law. Justinian’s influence can be seen in the extensive detail found in Coke’s Institutes as well as in its reformist inclinations. The parts of Coke’s Institutes on display here differ, however, from those of Justinian as they deal with public laws that serve to organize the state. For their part, Justinian’s Institutes dealt only with private, individual law, or the ways in which lawyers could abide within an already established public law (Helgerson 236). As such Coke’s Institutes imitated certain aspect of written Roman law while providing precedent for idea of consistent public law that proved vital to development of legal institutions in early modern England, British America, and the early United States.

Most of Coke’s Institutes were not published until after his death. This delay stems from a basic political reason: they championed the rule of law—the “artificial reason” of judges (Boyer)—over other kinds of civil and governmental authority. This vision of a world bound together by an idealized code would animate many portentous legal battles in centuries to come; and this vision was not easily accepted in Coke’s own time. In Coke’s opinion, expressed both to King Charles I personally and within his Institutes, only judges and lawyers could accurately interpret the law (Bodet 469). This contention caused Charles I to seize Coke’s manuscripts after his death in 1634, although Parliament released and published these manuscripts seven years later (Helgerson 237).

The third and fourth parts of Coke’s Institutes are structured according to a system of reference. Coke divides his treatises into parts, each treating a particular aspect of English law. Each part is then divided into smaller sections that expand upon the meaning of formerly used words. These explanations most often involved precedents cited by Coke. For example, in his explanation of what constitutes treason, Coke references the definition and parameters given within the 1352 English Magna Carta (Bodet, 471). This kind of referential practice represented the law as a system evolving organically and perfected over time rather than as an imposition granted ascendancy without consensus. By consolidating legal principles as existing beyond individual authorities, the Institutes position the nation’s legislation and judicial decisions as above (rather than synonymous with or beneath) monarchic power. For law to gain such ascendance it must, as Coke’s writings demonstrate, have an observable consistency that can be documented, communicated, and referred to when needed.

Ironically, given the rationality and order Coke privileged, many prominent figures of English law such as James Stephens, Lord Keeper North, and William Blackstone criticized what they perceived as a sense of disorderliness inherent in the structure of Coke’s Institutes. In his own time, Coke claimed that this kind of disorder actually aided in the reader’s education insofar as he had to decipher the order and reason behind the written law for himself (Helgerson 242). The system of evidentiary cross-references makes the Institutes suitable for formal education in law, but it could also provide non-professionals with information regarding how legitimate judicial processes ought to move forward.

Although the first part of the Institutes played a much more influential and immediate role in English law, those accused of treason often cited the third part of Coke’s Institutes in their defense throughout the second half of the seventeenth century. This kind of appeal had virtually no influence on the outcome of such cases (Bodet 473). The third part of the Institutes did, however, aid in granting the accused an actual, if ineffectual, voice during their court trials. Previous to the third part’s publication, the accused played no active role during their trial (Bodet 471).

Find The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England: Concerning High Treason, and other Pleas of the Crown, and Criminall Causes in the UNT Libraries Catalog.

Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was an English writer, well known as a poet, playwright, essayist, and biographer. He has been described as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history” (Rogers), and by the time he reached the age of 55 he presided over a literary club that included among its members many of the most influential men and women in eighteenth-century English culture. Johnson’s ride to this height was not an easy one, but it was advanced enormously by his work as an innovative lexicographer. Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was first published in 1755. It was modeled on older glossaries and dictionaries, but undertook the task of capturing words and their meanings in a new way and with an uncommon scope. The production of the book was funded by a consortium of London publishers who contracted Johnson, a poor pamphleteer and journalist at the time. After nine years of work by Johnson and six assistants the work listed more than 40,000 words with detailed definitions and illustrative quotations.The Dictionary proceeded steadily through common words as well as the new-fangled jargons employed by science and other ascendant professions. Beyond its comprehensiveness, the Dictionary also broke ground by being the first to illustrate the meaning of words through quotations drawn from printed books to show already extant instances of usage. Johnson’s methods capture language made lively and multi-dimensional by its historical development even as he seeks to control and fix both spelling and usage.

Johnson’s efforts eventually earned him the Master of Arts degree from Oxford that he had pursued for many years, and the title page of the first edition acknowledged that fact (Lane 128-129). Although there was criticism at the time, it has been described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship…ever performed by one individual who laboured under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time” (Bate 240). For nearly 150 years, it was used as a model for countless other dictionaries but was eventually superseded by the publication of The Oxford English Dictionary (Lynch 1).

Johnson’s original version was a immense book, with pages that were almost 18 inches tall and 10 inches wide—20 inches across when opened. It contained 42,773 entries. It sold for £4 10s—about $6.51—which is currently equivalent to approximately £350, or more than $555 in 2014 currency. Miniature versions—the equivalent of the paperback format—were much more affordable and sold vigorously. The example on display is an early United States printing based on the 14th English edition. The first American printing of this edition appeared in Boston in 1804. This 1806 volume measures 3.5 x 5.5 inches, and contains 276 pages of 2-column text along with an engraved frontispiece of Dr. Johnson, signed “Edwin sc,” for David Edwin (1776-1841), the engraver. Bound in brown leather, it features stamped gold accents and lettering, with a maroon accented title area on the spine; the text was published by Thomas & Whipple and printed in by Newburyport by Greenough & Stebbins, Nov 1806. This book repackages Johnson’s monumental project of setting the standards of the English language into a portable, affordable, pocket edition marketed to New England audiences. What it relinquishes of the breadth of Johnson’s original it makes up for by using Johnson’s authority as a platform for making two other less illustrious reference works—concerned with heathen deities and important historical events—by one now-forgotten Reverend Joseph Hamilton available to its readers.

Find Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language in the UNT Libraries Catalog.


Ladies, listen up! Are you suffering from battology? Are you too docible, not docible enough? An educational hiration preventing you from feeling quite at ease among your friends or would-be lovers? Glossographia’s cosmical definitions can help you with the hard words hurting your (hopefully!) pretty head. But don’t take my word for it. This now-fragile copy, bound in cracked oxblood leather, fits discreetly in a satchel. In 1851, Eleanor Nancy Tanner was given it by her mother, who, with Mr. Blount, it may be presumed, noticed a continued presumptuousness and far fetching of words. Designed for the “common” reader and user of “hard words” (like Eleanor), Blount’s lexicographical work Glossographia sought to discipline certain speakers and the language they employed.

The Glossographia was first printed and sold in 1656 (British Library). This third edition was published in 1670, the same year that Blount’s most famous, or, at least, most re-printed, work appeared on the book market once again, another treatise on the use of the English language, The Academy of Eloquence: Containing A Compleat English Rhetorique, Exemplified Common Places and Formula’s digested into an Easie and Methodical Way to speak and write fluently, according to the Mode of the present Times: With Letters both Amorous and Moral Upon emergent Occasions (1654). A similar work to Blount’s, the English Dictionary: or an Interpreter of Hard English Words by Henry Cockeram, was first published in 1623; this was the first book of its kind to use the word “dictionary” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). These several works exemplify what have been called “literary guides” (Ezell 450), which might be more familiarly related to a modern reader as the earliest versions of Reader’s Digest, a kind of ‘Language and Literature for Dummies.’

The “hard” words included in Blount’s dictionary are borrowed or antiquated words; Blount names Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Teutonick, Belgick, British, and Saxon as source languages. During the seventeenth century a debate raged among lexicographers about the propriety of adopting foreign words into the English language (Francoeur, 7). Blount took the side of “openness” in the debate over borrowed words (Francoeur, 7), although he chides common users of hard words for their displays of affectation and for attempting to confuse their listener rather than promote understanding (Blount, “To the Reader”). Blount also elucidates specialized terms drawn from “‘Divinity, Law, Physick, Mathematicks, War, Musick, Architecture; and other Arts and Sciences” since he recollects his frustration when encountering such in his own scholarly endeavors and being unable to divine their meanings from the context (Blount, “To the Reader”). Blount’s claim to have captured some of the words for his dictionary in the ‘wild’—that is, in real, literary texts—has been substantiated through scholarship under the purview of the OED, and it affirms his understanding of the importance of the authenticity of dictionaries—that their words must “actually occur in the literature” (Schafer, 406). In fact, scholarship has shown the Glossographia to contain two words which were used in English literature and which no other dictionary had defined before, even though Blount credits many preceding dictionaries and lexicographers for providing the material for the majority of his text (Schafer, 406, 405). Like Johnson’s Dictionary a century later, Blount’s work forms part of the long lineage of disciplining language as a mean of empirically legitimating emergent fields of professional activity.

While Blount, as a British lexicographer, was certainly working to taxonomize the English language, his Glossographia could also be read as resisting social hierarchies coded in language in the seventeenth-century. From its prefatory materials, the book seems to intend to empower a class of people previously unacquainted with very much learning or culture: it is designed to promote “at least the semblance of literary sophistication” in its readership (Ezell, 451). Which class of people, and even which gender, Blount envisioned himself helping is a subject of some debate; but, be they “‘young male gallants’” or “Ladyes, Gentlewomen, Schollers, and Strangers” (Ezell, 451), none could be expected to have boasted a very advanced level of education prior to the rise of the middle class in the seventeenth century (Ezell, 450). Blount addresses an audience which was not from “an elite literary culture” (Ezell, 451) and thus his “literary entertainment” is designed for those readers who were more than functionally literate but by no means scholarly, and who had surplus income as well as time to sit and read (Ezell, 451).

This compact tome is quite old; the pages, significantly yellowed, or rather browned, with age, are even older than its second, replacement cover and binding would suggest. The cover is leather but ragged and decayed; its binding, imperfectly re-stitched, causing the pages to lay slightly askew, is still quite tight, with the exception of the first couple of pages having come totally detached. The pages of the prefatory materials, fourteen pages in all, are, inconveniently, left unnumbered, with page 1 being the start of the dictionary itself, its first word: abacted.

Find Glossographia in the UNT Libraries Catalog.

The Shame of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports

In 1895, the well-known playwright, author, and poet, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was sentenced to two years of imprisonment at hard labor for gross indecency. Six years after his death in 1900, this compilation of “short hand reports” surfaced, titled The Shame of Oscar Wilde. Using excerpts from questioning and testimony, this book recounts selected details from the convoluted trials Wilde was involved in. It details the court proceedings and testimonies in both the libel trial against the Marquis of Queensberry and the ensuing criminal cases of sodomy and gross indecency against Wilde, which resulted in his conviction.

These transcripts are contextualized by a lengthy preface by literary scholar Charles Grolleau, which wrestles with the questions of how to interpret Wilde’s works in light of the scandal, how to reconcile Wilde’s genius with his moral depravation, and whether Wilde ought to be regarded with disdain or sympathy. Amongst these concerns, the preface attempts to divorce the writer from the man, as Grolleau writes, “My object in this preface is not to write the life of Wilde. I have only to do with the Writer, for the Man is yet too much alive and his wounds have scarcely ceased bleeding!” (xviii). Grolleau’s Preface oscillates between lauding Wilde’s craft and judging Wilde’s personal life. Although Wilde is elevated to one of “the chosen race whom the ‘spirit of the hour’ had laid his magic wand,” he is simultaneously criticized for his inability to subscribe to societal norms of Victorian England (much of the text details, in the fashion of a tabloid, his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas). The fluctuation between these two modes creates an unsteady reading. One cannot be certain which mode of the text, praise or criticism, is meant ironically.

While the account of the trial is replete with moral indignation and condemnation of Wilde’s character, the narration clearly revels in the scandalous details produced by the testimony and exploits them for as much shock-value as possible. Many of these excerpts highlight Wilde’s tendency to subvert prosecutor’s questions. The text ends with an account of Wilde’s last book and his last years in Paris by “A,” presumably written by Lord Alfred Douglas. Taken as a whole, The Shame replicates the bureaucratic form of the trial transcript in order to convey how the law functions to discipline both sexuality and literary expression, and to demonstrate Wilde’s failed resistance to bureaucracy.

The 1906 edition of The Shame courted an audience driven by two prominent motives: persons interested in learning more about what was on one of the most sensational sexual scandals of the time, and bibliophiles interested in collecting luxury editions of book printed in limited numbers and, ostensibly, outside the conventional channels of book production and marketing. The scarcity and singularity of the artifact reflects aspects of its contents. The book from UNTs collection on display here is a facsimile edition from the 1950s that originally sold for $10.00. It reproduces the content but not material condition of scarcity or luxury of the 1906 edition, which was advertised as having been printed privately in Paris in run of 550 books made from handmade paper.

Find The Shame of Oscar Wilde: From the Shorthand Reports in the UNT Libraries Catalog.

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