Crime and Punishment in America

Chapter V.
Punishments of Authors and Books.

The punishments of authors deserve a separate chapter; for since the days of Greece and Rome their woes have been many. The burning of condemned books begun in those ancient states. In the days of Augustus no less than twenty thousand volumes were consumed; among them, all the works of Labienus, who, in despair thereat, refused food, pined and died. His friend Cassius Severus, when he heard sentence pronounced, cried out in a loud voice that they must burn him also if they wished the books to perish, as he knew them all by heart.

The Bible fed the flames by order of Dioclesian. And in England the public hangman warmed his marrow at both literary and religious flames. Bishop Stockesly caused all the New Testament of Tindal’s translation to be openly burnt in St. Paul’s churchyard. On August 27, 1659, Milton’s books were burnt by the hangman; Marlow’s translations kept company. These vicarious sufferings were as nothing in the recital of the author’s woes, for the sight of an author or a publisher with his ear nailed to a pillory was too common to be widely noted, for anyone who printed without permission could, by the law of the land, be thus treated; when the author was released, if his bleeding ear was left on the pillory, that did not matter. The rise of the Puritans and their public expression of faith is marked by most painful episodes for those unterrified men. Dr. Leighton, who wrote Zion’s Plea Against Prelacy, paid dearly for calling the Queen a daughter of Heth, and Episcopacy satanical. He was degraded from the ministry, pilloried, branded, whipped, his ear was cut off, his nostril slit; he was fined £10,000 and languished eleven years in prison, only to be told on his tardy release, with the irony of fate, that his mutilation and imprisonment had been illegal.


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