Today George Joseph Bell’s Principles of the Law of Scotland is seen as marking
the end of the “institutional” period in Scottish legal development. Remarkably,
however, the Principles was originally conceived, not as an authoritative work
which would bring its author enduring fame, but as a student text intended to
replace a well-established work of the same name by John Erskine of Carnock,1
one of Bell’s predecessors in the Chair of Scots Law at Edinburgh University. And
indeed the text was seen as one part only of a whole system of legal education. This paper examines the circumstances in which the Principles was written and
considers its gradual transformation into a work of a quite different kind.