Punishment and Modern Society

Punishments of Authors and Books,
page 4 of 6

As times changed, so did opinions. The Bishop of Rochester denounced Martin Luther and all his works, and Luther’s books were burned in the public squares. Puritan publications by the hundreds fed the flames; Quaker and Baptist books took their turns. Then the Parliamentary soldiers burned the Book of Common Prayer. In France, in the year 1790, the monasteries were ransacked and their books burned. In Paris eight hundred thousand were burned; in all France over four million: of these twenty-six thousand were in manuscript.

Crossing the Atlantic to a land void of printing presses could not silence Puritan authors. They still had pen and ink, and manuscripts could be sent back across the ocean to a land full of presses and type.

A rather amusing episode of early Massachusetts history anent authors happened in 1634, as may be found in Volume I, page 137, of the Colonial Records.

“Whereas Mr. Israel Stoughton hath written a certain book, which hath occasioned much trouble and offence to the Court; the said Mr. Stoughton did desire of the court, that the said book might be burnt, as being weak and offensive.”

Such extraordinary and unparalleled modesty on the part of an author did not save Mr. Stoughton’s bacon, for he was disabled from holding any office in the commonwealth for the space of three years. Winthrop said he used “weak arguments,” all of which did not prevent his being a brave soldier in the Pequot Wars, and serving as a colonel in the Parliamentary army in England.

A fuller account of the trials of a Puritan author in a new land is told through notes taken from the court records. First may be given a declaration of the Court:

“The Generall Court, now sittinge at Boston, in New England, this sixteenth of October, 1650. There was brought to or hands a booke writen, as was therein subscribed, to William Pinchon, Gent, in New England, entituled The Meritorious Price of or Redemption, Justifycation, &c. clearinge it from some common Errors &c. which booke, brought ouer hither by a shippe a few dayes since and contayninge many errors & heresies generally condemned by all orthodox writers


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