New Exhibit: Annotated Imprints II: The Jurisprudence of Cannibalism in Fuller’s ‘Case of the Speluncean Explorers’

This is the second in a series of posts about annotated books held by Georgetown Law Library’s Special Collections. This post features an annotated copy of the 1949 Temporary Edition of Lon Fuller’s ‘The Problems of Jurisprudence’ textbook from the Judge Charles E. Wyzanski Collection.

Learning and practicing the law exposes both students and practitioners to difficult issues that sometimes defy easy answers. Law professors regularly craft hypotheticals in attempts to encourage students to discuss such issues. There are surely few more difficult than those faced by survivors of catastrophes struggling to stay alive in the face of insufficient supplies of food and water. Lon Fuller’s now iconic Case of the Speluncean Explorers has become a classic hypothetical for discussion in jurisprudence courses since it was published in the Harvard Law Review in February 1949. Based loosely on the infamous 19th century cannibalism murder trials of shipwreck survivors in Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, 14 L. Rep. 273 (Q.B. Div. 1884), and U.S. v. Holmes, 26 F. Cas. 360, 1 Wall. Jr. 1 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1842) (No. 15,383), the Case of the Speluncean Explorers asks students to ponder whether a murder has in fact taken place under such circumstances. How might a sitting judge actually rule in such a case?

Georgetown Law Library is fortunate to hold the personal library of Judge Charles E. Wyzanski (1906-1986), which contains a suggestive answer in his annotated copy of Fuller’s Problems of Jurisprudence. Judge Wyzanski began his legal career by clerking for Judge Augustus Noble Hand from 1930-31 and then for Judge Learned Hand in 1932. He then became a leading New Deal lawyer in the Roosevelt administration’s Department of Justice, first as Solicitor of Labor from 1933-35 and then as Special Assistant to the Attorney General in the Office of the Solicitor General from 1935-37. He returned to private practice until 1941 when he was appointed to the District Court for the District of Massachusetts by President Roosevelt. During his tenure on the court from 1941 to 1986 Judge Wyzanski ventured into academia four times. He was a Harvard Lecturer in Government in1942-43, an MIT Lecturer in Law in 1949-50, a Lecturer in Law at Stanford from 1949-1951, and a Visiting Professor of Law at Columbia in 1974. Judge Wyzanski’s annotated copy of Problems of Jurisprudence likely dates from his lectureships at MIT and Stanford.

Judge Wyzanski’s annotated copy of Fuller’s Problems of Jurisprudence

An exhibit containing this book and Judge Wyzanski’s holding is currently in the Special Collections display case outside Williams 210. All of Judge Wyzanski’s books can be found in the library catalog by searching for the collection title – Judge Charles E. Wyzanski Collection.

To access these and other rare and historical acquisitions, contact Erin Kidwell, Curator of Legal History Collections –, or Hannah Miller, Special Collections Librarian –; or, Special Collections – You can also visit us in Special Collections (Williams 210) Monday – Friday from 10am to 6pm.

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