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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New Acquisitions: Clarence Darrow Collection

The Law Library’s nationally preeminent Clarence Darrow Collection has recently grown through several notable acquisitions and donations. 

The Library has acquired four volumes of Herbert Spencer’s nine-volume System of Synthetic Philosophy from an online auction held by Sotheby's. The volumes, published in 1890 and 1891, come from Clarence Darrow's personal library. Each volume features Darrow's bookplate and signature. 

Spencer (1820-1903) was an English philosopher and political and social theorist who was enormously influential in his time. He is credited with coining the phrase “survival of the fittest” after reading Darwin. In his 1864 work, The Principles of Biology, Spencer wrote: "[t]his survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called 'natural selection.'" 

In his later essay, "Why I Am An Agnostic," Darrow wrote, "man has always speculated upon the origin of the universe, including himself. I feel, with Herbert Spencer, that whether the universe had an origin - and if it had - what the origin is will never be known by man." It was a good chance that we were able to acquire books that Darrow not only owned, but that he read and that influenced him. Darwin's theory of evolution was at the heart of the famous Scopes Trial in 1925, in which Darrow argued against creationism, and it formed a central part of his pessimistic philosophy. Relatively recently, we also obtained a copy of the Reply Brief and Argument for the State of Tennessee from the Scopes Trial, to complement our copy of John Scopes' lawyers' briefs.

In addition to these volumes, the Library was fortunate to acquire by donation Darrow's personal set of Illinois Reports, formerly held by a law firm in Illinois. Many of the volumes show Darrow’s name on the spine, and a number include underlining in the text.

Finally, the Library has continued to expand its collection of Darrow photographs, spanning his life and career, and has collected another series of public debates and essays that Darrow participated in and penned, particularly in the 1920s, when Darrow was at the peak of his celebrity as a public intellectual and American iconoclast.  

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections, and Mike Hannon, Associate Director for Access Services & Digital Initiatives

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