In 1886, Frederick Pollock was working on the first edition of his famous monograph on the law of torts. In the same year he also completed a provisional version of a draft bill on civil wrongs that he was preparing for the government of India. In his role as editor of the newly founded Law Quarterly Review, he received, again in 1886, a copy of Erwin Grueber's commentary on the lex Aquilia. Pollock commissioned a review of this work from James Muirhead, Professor of Civil Law in the University of Edinburgh. This appeared in the July 1886 issue. The choice of Muirhead was obvious. Educated at Edinburgh and Heidelberg, he was the most notable scholar of Roman law in the United Kingdom in the 1880s. He was certainly the only one who had acquired an international reputation in the field. Furthermore, Pollock and Muirhead were almost certainly already acquainted, as the University of Edinburgh had conferred on Pollock the degree of LLD honoris causa tantum in 1880.
Grueber had also presented a copy of his book to Pollock. This presentation copy survives. Given Pollock's current research and writing, the book was of considerable interest to him, and no doubt he had been pleased to receive the complimentary copy. His reading of the work, however, raised some issues that troubled him. He wrote to Muirhead seeking answers and clarification, posing a number of, often technical, questions that the Scots professor answered. Muirhead's letter survives, pasted into Pollock's copy of Grueber's work. Pollock's copy also contains some pencil annotations that he made; these can be linked to his discussion with Muirhead, and indeed with some of his notes in his Law of Torts. I have discussed these elsewhere, so there is no need to reflect further on them here.
It would be an obvious – and extraordinary – exaggeration to state that this correspondence in 1886 marked the beginning of the very obvious British fascination with the lex Aquilia. But it undoubtedly came at a significant time. It is true, if trite, to say that delict and torts were undergoing very significant development in the nineteenth century because of industrial and commercial growth. All over the industrial worlds of Europe, the Americas, and the Colonies boilers exploded, dams burst, and mines collapsed, leading to significant financial loss caused by injuries to people and property.