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Licensers Of The Press
by [?]

The results of these indexes were somewhat curious. As they were formed in different countries, the opinions were often diametrically opposite to each other. The learned Arias Montanus, who was a chief inquisitor in the Netherlands, and concerned in the Antwerp Index, lived to see his own works placed in the Roman Index; while the inquisitor of Naples was so displeased with the Spanish Index, that he persisted to assert that it had never been printed at Madrid! Men who began by insisting that all the world should not differ from their opinions, ended by not agreeing with themselves. A civil war raged among the Index-makers; and if one criminated, the other retaliated. If one discovered ten places necessary to be expurgated, another found thirty, and a third inclined to place the whole work in the condemned list. The inquisitors at length became so doubtful of their own opinions, that they sometimes expressed in their license for printing, that “they tolerated the reading, after the book had been corrected by themselves, till such time as the work should be considered worthy of some farther correction.” The expurgatory Indexes excited louder complaints than those which simply condemned books; because the purgers and castrators, as they were termed, or as Milton calls them, “the executioners of books,” by omitting, or interpolating passages, made an author say, or unsay, what the inquisitors chose; and their editions, after the death of the authors, were compared to the erasures or forgeries in records: for the books which an author leaves behind him, with his last corrections, are like his last will and testament, and the public are the legitimate heirs of an author’s opinions.

The whole process of these expurgatory Indexes, that “rakes through the entrails of many an old good author, with a violation worse than any could be offered to his tomb,” as Milton says, must inevitably draw off the life-blood, and leave an author a mere spectre! A book in Spain and Portugal passes through six or seven courts before it can be published, and is supposed to recommend itself by the information, that it is published with all the necessary privileges. They would sometimes keep works from publication till they had “properly qualified them, interemse calficam,” which in one case is said to have occupied them during forty years. Authors of genius have taken fright at the gripe of “the master of the holy palace,” or the lacerating scratches of the “corrector-general por su magestad.” At Madrid and Lisbon, and even at Rome, this licensing of books has confined most of their authors to the body of the good fathers themselves.

The Commentaries on the Lusiad, by Faria de Souza, had occupied his zealous labours for twenty-five years, and were favourably received by the learned. But the commentator was brought before this tribunal of criticism and religion, as suspected of heretical opinions; when the accuser did not succeed before the inquisitors of Madrid, he carried the charge to that of Lisbon: an injunction was immediately issued to forbid the sale of the Commentaries, and it cost the commentator an elaborate defence, to demonstrate the catholicism of the poet and himself. The Commentaries finally were released from perpetual imprisonment.

This system has prospered to admiration, in keeping public opinion down to a certain meanness of spirit, and happily preserved stationary the childish stupidity through the nation, on which so much depended.

Nani’s History of Venice is allowed to be printed, because it contained nothing against princes. Princes then were either immaculate or historians false. The History of Guicciardini is still scarred with the merciless wound of the papistic censor; and a curious account of the origin and increase of papal power was long wanting in the third and fourth book of his history. Velly’s History of France would have been an admirable work had it not been printed at Paris!

When the insertions in the Index were found of no other use than to bring the peccant volumes under the eyes of the curious, they employed the secular arm in burning them in public places. The history of these literary conflagrations has often been traced by writers of opposite parties; for the truth is, that both used them: zealots seem all formed of one material, whatever be their party. They had yet to learn, that burning was not confuting, and that these public fires were an advertisement by proclamation. The publisher of Erasmus’s Colloquies intrigued to procure the burning of his book, which raised the sale to twenty-four thousand!