The British Index: Censorship in Early Modern England
I am nearing completion of a list of all books and pamphlets censored in the British Isles, 1641-1700. This “British Index” will be published online as a supplement to my book The subtle art of division: Censorship and conflict in seventeenth-century England, which is forthcoming from Penn State University Press. My research has revealed that censorship during the civil war and Restoration was far more extensive than previous scholars have allowed. D. F. McKenzie, for instance, estimated that the government questioned only 0.4% percent of the works published during this period, excluding serials and periodicals. My own analysis suggests that the percentage of works questioned was at least 3% of the total output, excluding serials and periodicals. I would contend that the consequences of this higher figure for the study of Stuart “literature,” broadly defined, are profound. The relative frequency of censorship—at least one out of every 33 books was questioned or suppressed—suggests that writers, printers, and booksellers were forced to keep one eye on the censor. Furthermore, comparisons of book production rates during periods when the Licensing Act was in effect with those during periods in which it had lapsed confirm that the Act had a “chilling effect” on authors and publishers. In my paper, I will detail both the methodology and results of my research. I will chart the rate of censorship from year to year and from regime to regime; I will, to the extent possible, break the total book output into categories and genres to show which kinds of books were most often censored; and, finally, I will elaborate the ways in which censorship inflected the literature of Stuart Britain.
Keywords: Censorship, Book Trade, Britain, England, Stuart Period, Seventeenth Century
Dr. Randy Robertson
Assistant Professor of English, Department of English, Susquehanna University (from fall 2007--currently University of Nebraska-Kearney)