Samuel Parsons Scott

Samuel Parsons Scott (8 July 1846 – 30 May 1929), known as S. P. Scott, was an American attorney, banker and scholar.[1] He was born in Hillsboro, Ohio, where he received a classics-based education at the Hillsboro Academy; he went on to earn his A.B. degree from the Miami University in 1868, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and obtained his A.M. degree from the same institution the following year.[2] Scott was licensed to practice law in 1868 and was an attorney for several years in Leavenworth, Kansas and in San Francisco, but he left the practice of law in 1875 to return to Hillsboro and the family banking business.[3] Thereafter, he also traveled in Europe, studied, and wrote.[4] Late in his life, he served for many years on the editorial staff of the American Bar Association's Comparative Law Bureau.[5]


In the early 1860s, Scott wrote many articles about his travels in Spain and then reworked them into his first book, Through Spain, which was published in 1886.[6] Scott demonstrated his growing interest in the history and culture of Europe during the Middle Ages and late antiquity in his work of popular scholarship The History of the Moorish Empire in Europe, which remains in print.[7] He followed that in 1910 with his translation of early medieval Spanish law The Visigothic Code.[8] The remainder of Scott's scholarship was not published until after his death in 1929. In 1931, after years of lobbying by Charles S. Lobingier, the American Bar Association's Comparative Law Bureau published Scott's Las Siete Partidas, an English translation of the law code ordered by Alfonso X of Castile, which was well received and was reprinted in 2001.[9] In 1932 Scott's executors published his The Civil Law—the first English translation of the entire Corpus Juris Civilis.[10]

Unfortunately, Scott did not base his translation of the Corpus Juris Civilis on the best available Latin versions, and his work was severely criticized.[11] The noted English legal historian W. W. Buckland wrote that Scott "...had at his disposal an adequate latinity and has produced a version written in an English which can be read with pleasure. But much more than that was needed, and the work cannot be said to satisfy these further requirements."[12] Buckland went on to say of some errors he noted: "These and many others like them would have disappeared if Mr. Scott had survived to see his work through the press..."[13] But there were more fundamental problems with Scott's translation. Another commentator pointed out that while Scott had a good command of classical literary Latin, he was an amateur, operating on his own and that, moreover, "He did not use Mommsen's great critical edition of the Digest...limiting the usefulness of the translation...[and that] [a]lthough Scott's work was published in 1932, it shows no knowledge of any of the impressive achievements of Roman law scholarship made since the middle of the nineteenth century."[14] Ironically, at the same time Scott was creating his solo translation, Fred H. Blume also was working by himself to translate Codex Justinianus and the Novellae Constitutiones, two parts of the same compilation ordered by Justinian I, Eastern Roman Emperor.[15]

Death and legacy

Late in life, Scott became reclusive—probably due to the controversy surrounding the voluntary liquidation of his bank and a desire to spend more time writing.[16] When he died of pneumonia in 1929, at age 83, he left his 8,000-volume library and most of his large estate to the Jefferson Medical College to endow a library; this is now the Scott Memorial Library at Thomas Jefferson University.[17] Despite the negative critical reception for some of his writings, on the whole they amount to an impressive achievement. Las Siete Partidas in particular has stood-up well to the test of time.[18]


  1. For an extensive description of Scott's life and work, see Timothy G. Kearley, "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," 10 "Roman Legal Tradition" 1 (2014) available at; see also Robert T. Lentz, "The Samuel Parsons Scott Memorial Library" in Part IV: University Components and Activities . . . Thomas Jefferson University--Tradition and Heritage (Frederick B. Wagner, Jr. ed., 1989) See also Timothy G. Kearley, Lost in Translations: Roman Law Scholarship and Translation in Early Twentieth-Century America (2018).
  2. "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 6-7. For a description of the "academies movement" in the U.S., see R. Freeman Butts & Lawrence A. Cremin, "A History of Education in American Culture," 126-127 (1953). See also History of Education in the United States in Wikipedia.
  3. "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 7- 8.
  4. Id. at 8.
  5. C. S. Lobingier, "Samuel Parsons Scott, 1846-1929," 15 A.B.A.J. 529 (1929).
  6. Samuel Parsons Scott, "Through Spain: a Narrative of Travel and Adventure in the Peninsula" (1886). For references to reviews of the book, see "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 15. A chronological list of Scott's writings is given in Appendix I, pages 35-37 of the same article.
  7. Samuel Parsons Scott, "History of the Moorish Empire in Europe" (1904), available at Reprinted in 1977 by the AMS Press and in 2010 (vol. 1) by General Books. For a discussion of how the book was reviewed, see "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 21-23.
  8. "The Visigothic Code (Forum Judicum)" (1910), available at For a discussion of the reviews of this work, see "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott, supra note 1 at 25.
  9. "Las Siete Partidas, translation and notes by Samuel Parsons Scott (1931). Reprinted with additional editorial matter by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
  10. "The Civil Law" including the Twelve Tables, the Institutes of Gaius, the Rules of Ulpian, the Enactments of Justinian, and the Constitutions of Leo..." 17 vols. (1932), available at Reprinted in 1973 by the AMS Press. The critical reception of "The Civil Law" is covered at length in "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 32-34. For further discussion of Scott's and others' translation of Roman law in that period, see Timothy G. Kearley, "From Rome to the Restatement: S.P. Scott, Fred Blume, Clyde Pharr, and Roman Law in Early Twentieth-Century America," 108 Law Libr. J. 55, note 136 at 72 (2016), available at . Also see the Wikipedia entries for Fred H. Blume and Clyde Pharr.
  11. See Timothy Kearley, Justice Fred Blume and the Translation of the Justinian Code (2nd ed. 2008) 3, 21.
  12. W.W. Buckland, "Book Review," 7 Tulane Law Review 627, 629 (1932-33).
  13. Id. at 630.
  14. Charles Donahue Jr., "On Translating the Digest" 39 Stanford Law Review 1057, 1062 (1987)(Reviewing The Digest of Justinian (Theodor Mommsen, Paul Krueger & Alan Watson eds 1985).
  15. For Justice Blume's translations see , and .
  16. "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 10-14.
  17. "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott", supra note 1 at 26-29. The controversy surrounding his will is described in that article. See also "Gesundheit, supra note 1.
  18. "The Enigma of Samuel Parsons Scott," supra note 1 at 34-35. For a complete list of Scott's writings and reviews of his work, see Timothy G. Kearley, "Lost in Translations: Roman Law Scholarship and Translation in Early-Twentieth Century America" 191-193 (2018).