From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"THE NATIONAL VIGILANCE Association earnestly invite your serious perusal of the following pamphlet, referring to the widespread circulation of pernicious literature among the young people of our nation. The peculiar and special nature of the work done by this Association affords exceptional opportunities of ascertaining the enormous amount of evil which is wrought by the circulation of immoral literature and obscene pictures, and the matter is one of such urgent and vital ..."--"Pernicious Literature" (1889) by National Vigilance Association
"We have never been able to believe in the moral intentions of Zola, and it has always been a marvel to us that such a critic as Mr. James should seriously contend for them. Zolaism is a disease. It is a study of the putrid … No one can read Zola without moral contamination." -- The Methodist Times
"Now, he asked, were they to stand still while the country was wholly corrupted by literature of this kind ? Were they to wait until the moral fibre of the English race was eaten out, as that of the French was almost ? Look what such literature had done for France. It overspread that country like a torrent, and its poison was destroying the whole national life. France, to-day, was rapidly approaching the condition of Rome in the time of the Cæsars. The philosophy of France to-day was "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Some might have seen the very striking article on the present state of France in The Nineteenth Century. Mr. Myers in the article entitled “The disenchantment of France, " pointed out that this kind of literature had led to the decay of all belief in a noble ideal of life, and the degradation into which, what the late Mr. Matthew Arnold called the "Worship of the great goddess of Lubricity," had plunged the country, was vividly pourtrayed. Such garbage was simply death to a nation."--"Pernicious Literature" (1889) by National Vigilance Association
"Pernicious Literature" (1889) is a pamphlet by the National Vigilance Association published after the Vizetelly trial concerned with the prohibition of the publication of Émile Zola's books in the United Kingdom.
It consisted of MP Samuel Smith's House of Commons motion (RESOLUTION. HC Deb 08 May 1888 vol 325 cc1707-25 1707) with an appeal for 'a healthy public opinion' necessary 'to enable this Association to set the law in motion'.
It also featured press clippings on the trial.
PERNICIOUS LITERATURE. DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. TRIAL AND CONVICTION FOR SALE OF ZOLA'S NOVELS. WITH OPINIONS OF THE PRESS. ISSUED BY The National Vigilance Association, 267, STRAND, LONDON, W.C. HUTCHINGS, PRINTING WORKS, UXBRIDGE.
THE NATIONAL VIGILANCE ASSOCIATION earnestly invite your serious L perusal of the following pamphlet, referring to the widespread circulation of pernicious literature among the young people of our nation . The peculiar and special nature of the work done by this Association affords exceptional opportunities of ascertaining the enormous amount of evil which is wrought by the circulation of immoral literature and obscene pictures, and the matter is one of such urgent and vital importance as to leave no doubt that so soon as the nation realises the dreadful havoc which is being caused by the dissemination of this vile stuff, it will rise as one man, and demand such a strengthening of the law as shall simplify the process of legally laying by the heels the scoundrels who live by its production. A healthy public opinion is needed to enable this Association to set the law in motion-cumbersome and tedious as it is—and this pamphlet is sent forward in the strong hope that it may sound as a note of alarm, and rouse the manhood of England to action in relation to the growth of this evil, which is to- day a menace to our religious, social and national life. The law relating to questionable literature and pictures, casts upon the Magistrates the responsibility of saying what is, and what is not indecent. Too often a lax public opinion, or the want of appreciation on the part of the Magistrate of the grave issues involved, leads him to hesitate in condemning the book or picture, when brought before him. The Association has already framed a Bill dealing with an important section of this subject, which it is hoped to bring before Parliament at an early date. The Association appeal to all who are interested in the healthy mental and moral growth of the nation to assist them, by information and otherwise, in bringing to justice the men who are carrying on this degrading trade. The Association will conduct and take the financial responsibility of all legal proceedings in such cases, where the evidence is forthcoming. They will also be glad of any information which will enable them by means of their officers to trace the men who engage in this nefarious business, and bring them to justice. All communications—which must be authenticated by the name and address of the writer-will be treated as private and confidential, and should be sent to NATIONAL VIGILANCE ASSOCIATION, WM. ALEX. COOTE, Secretary. 267, STRAND, LONDON, W.C. January 1st, 1889.
DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, MAY 8, 1888. [ REPRINTED FROM “ HANSARD.”] MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire) said, he rose to call attention to the Motion which stood in his name, and which was as follows : --- " "That this House deplores the rapid spread of demoralizing literature in this country, and is of opinion that the law against obscene publications and indecent pictures and prints should be vigorously enforced, and, if necessary, strengthened. He assured the House that nothing but an imperative sense of duty had led him to take up so painful and so disagreeable a subject-nothing but the knowledge that there had of late years been an immense increase of vile literature in London and throughout the country, and that this literature was working terrible effects upon the morals of the young. Such havoc was it making that he could only look upon it as a gigantic national danger ; indeed, he questioned whether at the present time the people of this country were suffering more from the effect of an excessive use of strong drink than they were from the more subtle poison of vile and obscene literature. There was nothing that so corroded the human character, or so sapped the vitality of a nation, as the spread of this noxious and licentious literature, and he believed it was at the bottom of that shocking state of the streets of London, of which they were continual witnesses. The House would readily ask him for proof of his statement that there had been of late years a great development of this evil. He would, in the first place, refer to the public confession of one whom he believed to be the chief culprit in the spread of this pernicious literature he referred to Mr. Vizetelly, the publisher of French novels, who, in The Pall Mall Gazette a short time ago, boasted that his house had been the means of translating and selling in the English market more than 1,000,000 copies of French novels, some of them of the worst class. Mr. Vizetelly boasted that at the present time he was selling in England 1,000 copies of the writings of Zola weekly. He would quote a few lines from Mr. Vizetelly's statement- • We, of course, knew of the immense popularity of Zola in France and most European countries, and were aware that there was a tolerably large sale for the wretchedly-translated and mutilated American editions of his works imported into this country. After much hesitation, we determined to issue an unabridged translation of Ñana, suppressing nothing, and merely throwing a slight veil over those passages to which particular exception was likely to be taken. The success of the work, although not rapid, was very complete, and induced us to re- produce the whole of Zola's published novels, and to purchase the English copy- rights of all his new ones. He was quite aware it was inexpedient to advertise works of this kind , but in this case the sale was so enormous throughout the country, the facts were so generally known, that he saw no object now in preserving silence. Of the character of these works he would say that nothing more diabolical had ever been written by the pen of man. These novels were only fit for swine, and their constant perusal must turn the mind into something akin to a sty. The Saturday Review, a short time ago— " Directed the attention of the police to the fact that books which no shop dare expose in Paris, or even in Brussels, are to be seen in windows in London. Booki which have only escaped suppression in France through the astounding laxity which has allowed some parts of Paris to become nearly impassable to decent people-on the showing of Parisian papers themselves—are translated and openly advertised. " Some hon. Members might say that The Saturday Review was something of a purist, but no one would make such an accusation against Society, one of the society papers. This paper said, on the 21st of April last-
"But of late has come a brutal change over this spirit of not too innocent fun, and the name of the worker of the transformation is Realism, and Zola is his Prophet.
Realism, according to latter-day French lights, means nothing short of sheer beastli- ness ; it means going out of the way to dig up foul expressions to embody filthy ideas ; it means not only the old insinuation of petty intrigue, but the laying bare of social sores in their most loathsome forms ; it means the alteration of the brutal directness of the drunken operative of to-day with the flabby sensuality of Corinth in the past. In a word, it is dirt and horror pure and simple ; and the good- humoured Englishman, who might smilingly characterize the French novel as ' rather thick,'
will be disgusted and tired with the inartistic garbage which is to be found in Zola's La Terre. Yet Messrs. Vizetelly, of Catherine Street, Strand, are allowed with impunity to publish an almost word for word translation of Zola's bestial chefd œuvre. In the French original its sins were glaring enough in all conscience, but the English version needs but a chapter's perusal to make one sigh for something to take the nasty taste away. " He would now read a few lines as to a very painful incident ; at least it struck him as a very painful incident. A writer in The Sentinel said— " The only acquaintance which the writer of this article has with Zola's novels is from two pages of one of the most notorious of them placed open in the window ofa well-known bookseller in the City of London. The matter was of such a leprous character that it would be impossible for any young man who had not learned the Divine secret of self- control to have read it without committing some form of out- ward sin within twenty-four hours after. In this case a boy, apparently about fourteen years old, was reading the book. The writer immediately went into the shop, and accosting the manager in a loud voice, demanded that he should ' step outside and see this boy reading this infernal book in your window. ' The shop was full of customers, and the manager naturally looked thunder-struck. Half-an-hour afterwards, when the writer passed, the book was gone. "
Now, he asked, were they to stand still while the country was wholly corrupted by literature of this kind ? Were they to wait until the moral fibre of the English race was eaten out, as that of the French was almost ? Look what such literature had done for France. It overspread that country like a torrent, and its poison was destroying the whole national life. France, to-day, was rapidly approaching the condition of Rome in the time of the Cæsars. The philosophy of France to-day was " Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Some might have seen the very striking article on the present state of France in The Nineteenth Century. Mr. Myers in the article entitled “The disenchantment of France, " pointed out that this kind of literature had led to the decay of all belief in a noble ideal of life, and the degradation into which, what the late Mr. Matthew Arnold called the " Worship of the great goddess of Lubricity," had plunged the country, was vividly pourtrayed. Such garbage was simply death to a nation.
Were they to wait till this deadly poison spread itself over English soil and killed the life of this great and noble people ? Contrast our country with Germany. He passed through Germany last autumn, and made many inquiries as to the social life of the country. Novels of the Zola type were forbidden to be sold ; indeed, Germany surrounded its children with safeguards which were wholly wanting in this country. Nothing to him was more melancholy than the garbage on which the children of London fed. The chief literature on which the London children fed was what was called the penny dreadful and the penny novelette. An enormous circulation of these papers took place ; they were sold by hundreds of tons weight ; they were almost the entire staple of the reading of many hundreds of thousands of the children of the poor and even of respectable artizans and the middle class. He read some time ago in The Edinburgh Review an analysis of the type of street literature that was mainly devoured by the children of London. He would quote a few lines which he thought would impress every one in the House, as they did him, with a most painful sense of the noxious effect of this unwholesome garbage. The writer, in describing very fully the various classes of cheap penny papers, said— "The feast spread for them is ready and abundant, but every dish is a false one, every condiment vile. Every morsel of food is doctored, every draught of wine is drugged ; no true hunger is satisfied, no true thirst quenched ; and the hapless guests depart with a depraved appetite, and a palate more than ever dead to every pure taste and every perception of what is good and true. Thus entertained and equipped, the wide army of the children of the poor are sent on their way, to take part in the great battle of life, with false views, false impressions, and foul aims. The pictures of men and women to whom they have been introduced are unreal and untrue. The whole drama of life as they see it is a lie from beginning to end, and in it they can play none but a vicious and unhappy part." say Could anyone be surprised at the misery and degradation and immorality that abounded in London when he pictured to himself the intellectual food upon which the children had feasted for so many years ? Need they wonder that they were rearing in London a population which, to a large extent, would prove a source of weakness to the nation ? He regretted to that in a great measure the Elementary Education Act had been a failure on account of the total want of safeguards to protect the children after they left school-on account of the innumerable temptations that surrounded them on every side, and amongst these temptations he ranked the sale of licentious literature, with which we were literally surfeited. This literature penetrated everywhere. He was informed there were men employed as agents, going round to the middle class and upper schools of the country, in order to place in the hands of boys and girls, pictures of a vile kind, and advertisements of a vile kind, so as to induce them to purchase these demoralizing works. He was told there was a well-organized system of this kind which penetrated into nearly all the schools of the country. He came in contact with many persons who made it the business of their lives to try and rescue the young from these snares. Facts had been brought to his knowledge which had filled him with sadness, facts of so shocking a nature, he could scarcely state them to the House. But one which he believed to be thoroughly authentic he would state ; he had it 8 from a lady who had investigated it with care, and who had ascertained the true facts of the case. It had become the rule with a class of low booksellers in London to provide indecent literature for young girls, to offer them every inducement to come into the shops and read the books, to provide them with private rooms stocked with the vilest class of literature, where, on making the small deposit of 6d. , they were supplied with this literature. And he was told that in many cases these shops were in league with houses of the worst class, to which the girls, when their minds were sufficiently polluted and depraved, were consigned. This had become a trade carried on to such an extent that he was told there was one street in London where 10 shops were devoted to this purpose. He asked what the law of this country was doing ? What were they doing to allow such abominations to continue ? They debated and squabbled here about many matters of secondary interest. He maintained that this was a vital matter, which lay at the very root of the nation's welfare, and he often wondered at the small amount of time this House spent on questions of this kind, and at the extreme difficulty with which any such question could be brought before the House. He could not conceive any subject with which Parliament, jealous ofthe highest interests of the nation, ought to be more anxious to deal wisely and rationally than such a question as this. In addition to these books and if the Home Secretary chose to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the subject, he would supply him with proof of all the statements he made-there was an immense circulation of . lewd photographs and prints of every sort and kind of the very worst type. There was an organized system of sending these pictures over the country. Only to-day he was told of a case in which a gentleman in the country received an advertisement of boots and shoes from a house in London, and inside that was a small notice that on application photographs would be sent. He made an application, and a parcel of most indelicate photographs of nude females was sent to him. He (Mr. Smith) asserted that in England we suffered from mistaken ideas of liberty. A class of vile scoundrels came over to England simply because the freedom of our laws enabled them to carry on their nefarious trade which their own country probably would not allow. Within his knowledge there was a large number of persons in London who had been driven from abroad, who had suffered imprisonment, and who dare not live in their own countries, because their characters were so well-known ; they came here and brought with them the vilest practices, and carried them on almost untouched. He was sorry to have to add to the papers which degraded the public mind-certain of our sportingpapers. He had looked over some of the sporting papers, and he was bound to say that such wretched nonsense, mixed up with a great deal of lewdness, as he found there, it had seldom been his lot to read. How any cultivated man, or rational man, could amuse himself with reading such wretched trash as was printed in some of the sporting papers, he could not under- stand. Again, when in India he was surprised to find on all the bookstalls an unlimited supply of English translations of French novels, and almost nothing else. He scarcely ever saw upon the stalls the book of any well- known literary man ; but he was told that the worst class of French novels were bought in tens of thousands, and were regarded as samples of European civilization. He would allude very briefly to another class of books. He 9 had spoken mainly of the cheap literature sold to the masses in immense quantities. He was told there was also a very expensive class of abominable literature now published in London, and that there was a society devoted to the publication of this depraved and lascivious literature. There was one book which had recently been published at 10 guineas. Many Members would know the book to which he referred. It contained the most abominable suggestions, and there was so large a run upon it at the present time that copies were being sold at 26 guineas each. The author, he believed, was on the point of bringing out five additional volumes. He was told that nothing more loathsome had ever been printed ; but he supposed there were men of such depraved mind who were only too eager to regale themselves with such filth. Why was it the law did not touch these things ? The law had been put in force against the paper called Town Talk, and he congratulated the Home Secretary upon the fact that a very bad number of a very bad paper had at last been prosecuted. He noticed that 17 vendors of the paper were fined last week, and very properly so. But he was not aware that the owner or publisher of the paper was fined. Somehow or other our laws touched the weaker, not the stronger ; they always struck at the agent, and not the author. He asked why was this 10 guinea book, admitted by everyone to be most detestable, allowed to be purchased by the leading clubs in London, and allowed to be circulated in London without the publisher or author being prosecuted ? That was a question to which he should like an answer. If there was such a demand for this class of literature, at its present high price, was it not perfectly obvious that in a few years time it would descend to the masses ? If it paid the publisher to circulate it at 10 guineas, the time would come when he would publish it at a guinea, and perhaps at 1s. , and then there would be an enormous overflow of this new class of poison. He was told that catalogues of these books were sent almost all over the country, that the trade was so organized that people were tempted in all parts-in the most remote parts ofthe country bythe agents of this vile trade. The streets were polluted with the advertisements of quack doctors. One of the greatest evils of late years had been the great increase of quack advertisements of a filthy kind. It was remarked to him the other day by a gentleman who had spent much time on the Continent, that whereas in Germany he never knew one of these indecent advertisements to be thrust into his hand, when he came to London such advertisements were thrust into his hand frequently. The well-known clauses in the Metropolitan Police Act did not in any way touch the per- nicious class of literature which was strewn broadcast in the London streets-namely, pamphlets issued by quacks, and thrust into the hands of every passser-by, and which made statements with regard to secret diseases which were frequently untrue, and which were mostly intended to induce to impurity of life, and also by working upon the fears of the readers to terrify them into consulting the medical quacks whose names might be on the pamphlets. He commended to the notice of the Home Secretary this immense collection of vile literature, this social nuisance, which, he thought, ought to be dealt with in a far more stringent manner than it had been hitherto. Now he came to the daily Press. His firm conviction was that all these evils had been greatly aggravated, greatly increased, in the last few years by the action of some of our newspapers with regard to the 10 reports of low divorce cases which they had published with such fulness. He believed that the reports of vile divorce cases, and others of an obscene character, published with loathsome plenitude, gave an immense impetus to the demand for indecent literature. They had created a taste for it ; because there was this characteristic about this class of reading that the more a man read, the more he wanted to read. There was no doubt that the loathsome revelations of the Divorce Court some years ago had greatly increased the appetite for indecent literature, and would make it more difficult to stop its spread. If we, as a nation, decided upon new methods of stamping out this horrible disease, this pestilence, we must take some means of purifying the daily Press, and putting limitations on the power of publishing the details of Divorce Court proceedings. The House might ask what remedy he would apply. He would insist that the law should be put in force, for he thought it was sufficiently stringent. The Act called Lord Campbell's Act, if vigorously worked, would do a great deal to suppress this class of literature ; but it was not vigorously worked, it had been allowed to fall into disuse. The administration of the law had become so lax that it was hardly of any value. Twenty years ago no London publisher dared to print and put in circulation such books as were now pub- lished ; they would have been indicted at once, and sharply and severely punished. But, from a false notion of liberty, we had allowed this plague to spread on all sides, and now many people thought it was too late to do any good. He could not assent to that. He believed that was the pessimism of despair. He believed that if we had an evil to grapple with we should go forward, in the name of God, and grapple with it. Let us attempt to do so, and he believed we should not do so in vain. He was told that magistrates who formerly were perfectly willing to initiate proceedings against the publishers and vendors of this literature, nowvery frequently refused to do so. A case was mentioned to him yesterday in which some vile pictures were submitted to a magistrate, and he declared he could not encourage proceedings in respect of them, on the ground that it would be an interference with what he conceived to be the liberty of the British subject. He (Mr. S. Smith) believed in liberty to do right, but not in liberty to do wrong. He believed that liberty to deprave a fellow-man was much more honoured in the breach than in the observance. He considered the police were very inactive, and that they allowed things to go on which ought not to be permitted. We ought to have an active Public Prosecutor. He did not know where the official called the Public Prosecutor was to be found. believed there was some one known by that title ; but he seemed to be asleep, he seemed to have had his wings clipped. It might be said to him (Mr. S. Smith) that private persons ought to institute proceedings. But it was very disagreeable for private persons to take action, because it brought them into a great deal of odium. He believed that we had not done our duty ; we ought not to have stood by while this terrible pestil- ence was spreading throughout the country. In other countries, the State undertook this duty ; and he held that, on the whole, it was a much better and thorough way of dealing with this evil. What he wanted to do was to create a sounder public opinion. He believed this House could do that. A good discussion in the House, and a strong condemnation of these detestable practices, would have immense effect on the country. There He 11 were many who were wishing to get a little encouragement to put the law in force. He was happy to think the Home Secretary thoroughly sympathised with him. He did not bring the matter forward in any attitude of opposition to the right hon. gentleman or of the Government. Indeed, he believed the debate would strengthen the hands of the Home Secretary. He was happy to think the right hon. gentleman was willing to advance so far as the House would encourage him. He hoped the House would send forth such an expression of opinion to-night as would strengthen the hands of the officers of the law in coping with this enormous evil. MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.) seconded the motion. Motion made and question proposed. " That this House deplores the rapid spread of demoralizing literature in this country, and is of opinion that the Law against obscene publications and indecent pictures and prints should be vigorously enforced, and if necessary strengthened. "- (Mr. Samuel Smith. ) SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London) said, he thought his hon. friend the Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) had done a great service to the country by calling attention to this subject, and he trusted the Government would accept the motion. Some years ago the then Home Secretary, Mr. Bruce, had had his attention called to obscene prints extensively circulated about the streets, and had taken effective action with regard to them. MR. DE LISLE ( Leicestershire, Mid) said, he did not propose to make a speech in supporting the motion of the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), and for the reason that he had no plan to suggest, or any counsel to give which would enable the Government to deal with this monstrous evil. But it was a matter of great satisfaction to him to be able to raise his voice along with that of his hon. friend who had preceded him in support of a motion of the kind. He believed that the greatness and the happiness of the nation depended chiefly upon the purity of its morals, and he did not know of a reason which any sane or prudent man could allege in favour of the propagation of indecent and demoralizing literature. He trusted that some endeavour would be made to see whether it was not possible to cope with the terrible evil which the motion referred to. Unfortunately the evil affected the class of persons who were least able to resist it. Those who were rich and had comfortable homes might keep the evil from their doors ; but the poor, who had little scope for the higher enjoyments of life, naturally picked up the literature which was nearest at hand. It was a terrible evil that this filth should be thrown in the faces of the people day after day ; and therefore he hoped that the House, if it did express an opinion on the matter, would speak most emphatically, and be prepared, if necessary, to limit that liberty of publication of which in most respects we were so justly proud. The highest duty of Conservatives was to safeguard the morals of the people ; indeed , he was convinced that if they allowed the corruption of moral sentiment. which had been going on for years, to continue, there was no system of government which could be erected which would long stave off the threatening clouds of revolution. MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan) said, he was quite sure there was quite enough in the arguments and facts brought forward to justify the 12 introduction of the subject in that House. He expressed the satisfaction with which he had observed, as a Member for the last two sessions of the Committee on Police and Sanitary Bills, the growing desire of local authorities to take more effective powers against the distribution of demoralizing advertisements and tracts. Local authorities were taking steps in that matter, and clauses had been introduced into a considerable number of their Police Bills to enable them to deal with it, and, so far as he knew, this had been done without objection from any Member of that House. There was a kind of literature-circulars headed with Scriptural texts, and looking like religious tracts-which in effect, though not in name, was demoralizing. He must protest against the action of those wellmeaning people who, in their endeavours to improve the condition of the women of India, thought it right to circulate in English homes, and among English women and girls, a class of literature that was calculated to do permanent harm. He would earnestly entreat them, while thus zealous for the purity of Indian women, not to violate the sanctity of English homes. THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) ( Birmingham, E. ) said, that it was beyond doubt that there had been of recent years a considerable growth of evil and pernicious literature, and that its sale took place with more openness than was formerly the case. The French romantic literature of modern days, of which cheap editions were openly sold in this country, had reached a lower depth of immorality than had ever before been known. In comparing such literature with classical literature, it must be borne in mind that while the latter was written with no evil purpose, the former was written with the object of directing attention to the foulest passions of which human nature was capable, and to depict them in the most attractive forms. Such literature was, in his opinion, calculated to do great harm to the moral health of the country. But it was not only French literature that ought to be condemned, much harm was also done by what the hon. Member had termed the penny dreadfuls, the quack advertisements, and the full reports of divorce cases which appeared in the public daily Press. All such classes of publications were pernicious in the extreme, and they ought to be brought within the reach of the law in every civilized country. It must, however, be remembered that the law in this country was a tolerably effective weapon as it now stood, and that under the powers conferred by Lord Campbell's Act, by the Metropolitan Police Courts' Act, and by the Vagrant Act, ample powers were given which, if effectively used, would prevent the circulation of immoral literature. The reason why the law was not more frequently put in force was the difficulty that was experienced in getting juries to draw a hard and fast line and to convict in all cases that crossed that line . He had given careful attention to this question, and he should deprecate handing over to the Public Prosecutor, or anybody else, the task of deciding what was the straight and narrow line which divided what was punishable, criminal, and obscene within the meaning of the law, and what was merely indelicate and coarse. The public judgment was a safer guide than that of any official, and if the general moral sense of the community did not compel individuals to prosecute, no good would be done by trying to create an artificial moral sense by the action of the Public Prosecutor. The hon. Member had done well in directing public attention to the insidious mischief which resulted from publications which trembled 13 on the verge of indecency and which did much to vitiate the public taste. It would be most unwise and dangerous to direct public attention to certain obscure publications of a filthy character known only to the few by instituting a State prosecution, and thus give that wide advertisement which those who brought them out would desire more than anything else. The hon. Member would do great service if he would give the public his authority for the facts which he had stated to the House, which, were new to himself. It was, indeed, a most deplorable thing that literature of this Ind should be supplied to little girls or circulated among boys. There could be no doubt that such acts were within the Criminal Law, and he would certainly on reasonably good evidence direct proceedings if any such facts were brought to his knowledge. He could give the same assurance with respect to advertisements of vicious literature. There was no machinery by which the Public Prosecutor could get information of this kind, and he did not believe that public opinion would tolerate any system of organized spies for the purpose. If, however, everything were brought to the knowledge of the Public Prosecutor by individuals within whose cognizance such crimes came, no time would be lost in putting the law into motion. But serious evils arose from the failure of attempts to obtain conviction upon such charges. So far, however, as he could influence the Public Prosecutor, who was, to some extent, independent of any Public Office and acted on his own discretion, he would certainly urge prosecutions in any cases in which it did not appear that more harm than good would result. He had in his official capacity to consider the case not only of obscene, but of blasphemous literature. But on inquiry he found that the offending publications were so contemptible and obscure, that much more harm than good would be done by dragging them into the light of day. He was sure, however, that the hon. Member and all those who had honest convictions would not shrink from the slight personal inconvenience of putting the law in motion in any case of real public mischief. He had no word to say against the motion so far as it expressed the hon. Member's opinion on the subject itself, though he could not accept it if it implied any censure of public officials . MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside) said he had no desire to prolong the discussion by entering upon the legal part of it, so well expounded by the Home Secretary ; but he would offer a few remarks in reference to the motion of the hon. Member for Flintshire ( Mr. S. Smith) for which he, in common with every Member of the House, had entire sympathy. All were anxious to put a stop to the circulation of this abominable literature, but in this country, and in every country in Europe, the people had been educated to think, and some literature must be provided to meet the intellectual craving. He was glad to say that the spread of healthy literature in this country surpassed anything else of the kind ever known or dreamed of. Hundreds of thousands of standard works were published at so low a price as 6d. and even 3d. a volume, and the demand for such was enormous. It was not surprising that in this prolific soil some weeds grew up, but he hoped, and really believed, there was not that corruption of the mind of the country going on such as his hon. friend feared. There was a large demand and a large supply of literature of every class. On the registers of our Sunday schools were the names of 6,000,000 children, a larger number than attended day 14 schools, notwithstanding the compulsory powers of enforcing attendance. Was it not a fact that every one of those children possessed a copy of the Scriptures, and were they not supplied with healthy literature at extremely low prices, or that it was lent to them through the libraries ? Here was the antidote for this moral poison-the establishment of free libraries in all our large towns. In that respect the Metropolis was behind almost all the large towns of England-there was less public life, less civic spirit in London than anywhere else. As compared with our northern towns, the difference was one hardly realised. In two or three towns with which he was best acquainted-take Nottingham, for instance--the Free Library circulated more than 1,000 volumes every day, and in Sheffield something like 500,000 books were lent every year. And that was only a part of the supply, which was suppplemented by other institutions, such as mechanics' institutes, clubs, and colleges, which added a supply of healthy literature to sound teaching. Here he saw the real antidote, the supply of healthy literature, and an intellectual training to preserve the young from the pernicious effects of the poisonous stuff to be met with. Something was said by the hon. Member for Wigan ( Mr. F. S. Powell) in reference to the circulation among Members of Parliament of pamphlets in reference to what was going on in India and elsewhere. MR. F. S. POWELL said he merely alluded to publications of an apparently religious character, and which he had no doubt were earnestly and sincerely meant to promote the cause of religion and morality, but which contained matter which must be most pernicious and injurious to the moral sense of the young. MR. MUNDELLA said he understood the hon. Member to refer to the circulation of letters in reference to practices alleged to be carried on in India. MR. F. S. POWELL said he mentioned no names, and would rather not mention names, because that had the effect of advertising the sheets. He was speaking of periodical publications, intended, no doubt, to be of a religious character. MR. MUNDELLA said he would accept the statement in the broadcast way the hon. Member would desire to make it ; but this he might say, that they-the Legislators-ought to know, and ought not to be afraid to know, the truth, and the whole truth. Whatever was done within the British Empire, discreditable though it might be to our legislation and our moral nature, the House should know of it, and ought not to be afraid to know of it. They ought not to shrink from full knowledge of the facts that had been brought to the notice of Members, and though he should be sorry indeed if some of the circulars that had been placed in his hands recently should fall into the hands of young persons in his house, yet he was glad to know it if such things were done, and under the sanction of our countrymen, the rulers in our great Dependency. Every member of the House should feel the full responsibility of tolerating such infamy. [" Hear, hear ! "] It was in reference to that that he wished to say a word or two. He was anxious as anyone to suppress the publication of anything suggestive of indecency, yet, if indecent practices were carried on, if such things were done with the authority of our countrymen, Members of Parliament at least ought to know of it, if only • 15 that they might put an end to the practices, rather than to put an end to the statements that such practices existed. MR. MARK STEWART ( Kirkcudbright) said, for many years he had taken great interest in this most important question, and he sincerely thanked the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) for bringing the subject forward in the manner he had. Thanks, also, were due to the Home Secretary for the fair and candid manner in which he had met the motion and expressed his desire, speaking with legal authority, to put down the pernicious growth of impure literature among us. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Flintshire, he ( Mr. Mark Stewart) could not help thinking—and he had mentioned it before-that we must mainly look to other than legal process to check the spread of this literature. We should look to those large agencies, those societies that had done so much in the past, and would continue their work, to spread abroad the means of becoming acquainted with healthy literature. Of course, it was difficult, when a prosecution was instituted, to obtain a conviction on the merits of the case, and failure to convict increased the evil. But in town and country those agencies to which he referred were exercising a most salutary effect by depôts in towns, by colporteurs in country districts . In too many of the lowest parts of towns unwholesome literature circu- lated, because it was all that was at hand ; but the efforts of the associations for the spread of literature of a wholesome class were directed to inducing shops to supply the better class of reading, and there was no unwillingness on the part of traders to do this when it was shown to them that it was their interest to do so. That he had on the testimony of a friend who visited the back streets and slums with that object in view, and had paid some 20,000 visits to shops which sold the bad reading for the masses. Those interested should give every encouragement to the good work. Meanwhile, the school master was abroad ; every child could read, and was eager to read, and should have within reach that which was, while interesting, instructive and religious in tone. The work was difficult, yet could be carried on by judiciously selecting centres, and providing shops, stalls, and colporteurs, to meet and to encourage demand. Much could be done in that way to promote the view expressed in the motion. With regard to what had been said about the circulation of papers in reference to matters that had been commented upon in the House, though it might be useful to bring such matters to light, yet it should be done by some less indiscriminate method than had been adopted. MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth) said there was much in the speech of the Home Secretary that must give general satisfaction ; but his hon. friend ( Mr. Smith) had made one reference to which some explanation would have been desirable. His hon. friend referred to a recent prosecution for the sale of a certain publication, and rather pointedly challenged the Home Secretary to say why he did not proceed against the publisher, instead of the lads who were selling the publication. Unless there was a good reason for it—and for aught he knew there might be a sufficient answer—it did seem to him rather unfair to allowthe prosecution of the sellers, while the greater sinner, who made the larger profit, the publisher, was left untouched. He thanked the right hon. gentleman the 16 Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield for his remarks in reference to what had been said by the hon. Member for Wigan, and as one who had had a good deal to do with such matters, he could assure the latter that it was with the greatest regret this literature was circulated to Members in reference to the working of the Contagious Diseases Act ; but it was the only way to make the truth known, and the only way to stop the dissemination of such statements was to put an end to the horrible system that rendered such dissemination necessary. MR. S. SMITH said he desired to take the sense of the House on the question, not in the spirit of any censure whatever upon the Government, for he entirely sympathized with and heartily reciprocated the language of the Home Secretary ; nothing could be mere satisfactory. To the motion, he believed, there was no opposition, and it would no doubt be accepted unanimously. This unanimous judgment of the House would have a very useful effect out-of-doors. QUESTION PUT and AGREED TO. CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT. NOVEMBER SESSIONS, 1888. Mr. Henry Vizetelly surrendered to his recognizances to answer an indictment charging him with publishing an obscene libel. The book which formed the subject-matter of the indictment was an English translation of a French novel, and entitled " The Soil." The Solicitor-General, Mr. Poland, and Mr. Asquith conducted the prosecution ; Mr. B. F. Williams, Q.C., and Mr. Cluer were counsel for the defence. The Solicitor-General, in opening the case, referred to the case of "The Queen v. Hicklin, " in which Lord Chief Justice Cockburn laid it down that the test of obscenity was whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity was to deprave and corrupt those whose minds were open to such immoral influences and into whose hands the publication might fall. In that case a Protestant society had collected and published certain passages from Roman Catholic books, with the object of calling attention to the supposed errors of the Romish Church ; but it was held that the object of the publication had nothing to do with the matter. The Solicitor-General pointed out also that it had been held that if any one published a report of the case containing the passages complained of they would be liable to be proceeded against, and the fact that it was 17 merely the report of the case would not be a justification. He would read the extracts from the book complained of, and if any one took the opportunity of publishing the passages in a report of the case, or otherwise, the person doing so would be plainly liable to the same penalty as the defendant if the verdict should be adverse to him. It was for the jury to look at the passages complained of. He did not say that if they saw in a volume one isolated passage of an immoral tendency that that would be a sufficient justification for indicting the publisher of the book as being guilty of a misdemeanour. Undoubtedly there might be passages in works of a medical kind, intended for perusal of medical men and students, which would not be subject to a prosecution, but if the passages were collected in a book and published for the purpose of ministering to the depraved taste of casual readers, they would undoubtedly be subject to an indictment. It had been suggested that in our literature and in that of other countries there were great works whose authors were recognised as being kings in literature, which works contained certain immoral and indecent expressions. It was true that in our literature, especially in that of two or three hundred years ago, there were passages which might conflict with their judgment as to what was fit for circulation, but that was entirely a different question, and one which had been dealt with in the case of " The Queen v. Hicklin, " where the suggestion was dismissed as being no excuse. If there was anything in the objection it would not in the least degree be applicable to the filthy book which he held in his hand. It was not one, two, or three passages which had been chosen, but they had twenty-one passages, taken from different parts of the work in question, some of them long passages, extending over several of its pages. There was no question before them of a book written with a wholesome purpose of teaching, or with an innocent purpose of amusing, but this book was filthy from beginning to end. He did not believe there was ever collected between the covers of a book so much bestial obscenity as was found in the passages of this book, and after he had read the passages complained of he thought the jury would be of opinion that every syllable of what he had said was justified. There was not a passage in it which contained any literary genius or the expression of any elevated thought. There was not a single scene described which could be pointed to as being free from vicious suggestions and obscene expressions. The SolicitorGeneral then proceeded to read the passages complained of, and after some of them had been read the jury asked if it was necessary to read all of them. The Recorder.- They are charged in the indictment as being the substance and essence of the case. They are revolting to a degree, but they are charged in the indictment, and must be proved. A Juryman. -But is it necessary to read them all ? The Recorder. -The Solicitor-General will exercise his own discretion. The Solicitor-General.-I hope you will understand that it is at least as unpleasant to me to read them as it is to you to listen to them. If you think, subject to what may be said by my learned friend on the part of the defence, that these passages are obscene, I will stop reading them at once. 18 · Mr. Williams said that his client, acting upon his advice, desired to withdraw his plea of " Not Guilty " and to plead " Guilty "to having published these books. There was no doubt that the work which formed the subject-matter of the indictment contained passages which the Jury had intimated were very disgusting and unpleasant, even in the discharge of a public duty, to have to listen to. He would remind his Lordship that these works were works of a great French author. The Solicitor-General. -A voluminous French author. The Recorder.-A popular French author. Mr. Williams.-Of an author who ranks high among the literary men of France. Mr. Vizetelly had pleaded guilty to this charge, and there- fore it was not for him to contend that these were not obscene. That being so, Mr. Vizetelly would undertake at once to withdraw all those translations of M. Zola's works from circulation. For a long time these works had been published-one of them had been published for four years without any intimation that there was any objection to it. This book, " The Soil, " had been published for a year or more, and until this prosecution was instituted no exception was taken to the publication of it. He understood that the Solicitor- General did not ask that any imprison- ment should be inflicted. The Solicitor-General was very glad that a course had been taken which not only would result in stopping the circulation of the books in question, but which carried with it an undertaking that Mr. Vizetelly would be no party to the circulation of other works of M. Zola. He would like to point out that after this warning proceedings under the Act of Parliament would be taken in the event ofany person attempting to circulate these books. The question of punishment was for the Court, but he did not ask that Mr. Vizetelly should be sent to prison. Mr. Vizetelly asked that witnesses might be called to speak to his character, but The Recorder said it was not necessary. The Recorder, addressing Mr. Vizetelly, said :-There is a great dis- tinction between this case and " The Queen v. Hicklin. " There the object of the publication was no doubt extremely good, but it was held, and very properly so, to be no answer. This book has been published for the sake of gain, and it is not necessary for me to say that it was deliberately done in order to deprave the minds of persons who might read the books. In my opinion they are of the most repulsive description. They are not of a seductive or a fanciful character, but repulsive and revolting to the last degree. Therefore, when a man who has a good character which you say, and which I am quite prepared to admit you deserve-finds that the opinion is entertained by the authorities that they are of this description, he could not do otherwise than express himself as you have done and undertake to withdraw them from circulation . That is the great object of such an enquiry as this. The sentence is that you
19 be fined £100 and enter into your own recognizances in £200 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for twelve months. The Recorder added that the fine of £100 was to be paid by Saturday. OPINIONS OF THE PRESS ON THE PROSECUTION. FROM The Times. On October 31st, Mr. Henry Vizetelly, the publisher, pleaded guilty before the Recorder, at the Central Criminal Court, of publishing an obscene libel by the sale of an English translation of Zola's novel, " La Terre." He was sentenced to pay a fine of £100 and to enter into his own recognizances in £200 to keep the peace and to be of good behaviour for twelve months. This is a sufficiently heavy punishment when it is considered that Mr. Vizetelly had undertaken, through his counsel, at once to withdraw from circulation all the translations of Zola's works published by him, so that, in addition to paying a not inconsiderable fine, he will suffer a severe commercial loss. At the same time it is not a vindictive punishment, and, considering the looseness with which the law relating to obscene libels has been administered of late years, it would certainly have been impolitic to inflict any such punishment on a person who pleaded guilty. By pleading guilty Mr. Vizetelly may be held to have virtually admitted that when he published a translation of " La Terre " he commited an offence for which he was ready to run the risk of being prosecuted. The question of policy involved in prosecutions of this kind is not very easy to decide, but assuredly most people will agree that the publication of cheap translations of the worst of Zola's novels is a grave offence against public morals, and that it is a good thing that the law should be invoked to restrain it. Between prudery and pruriency in such matters there is a wide debatable ground, and it is not always easy to draw the line which separates what is permissable from what is not. But if the line is not to be drawn so as to exclude translations of such works of Zola as "La Terre " and " Pot Bouille," it is plain that it cannot be drawn at all. They are published purely for the sake of gain, and for gain which cannot be realised except bythe corruption of those who buy and read them. The evil wrought by literature of this vile character is immense, as was shown and 20 acknowledged in the debate on obscene publications initiated in the House. of Commons during the last Session by Mr. Samuel Smith. In any case, we fear, the law can do little to cope with this evil, but it is well that the little that it can do should be done. FROM The St. James's Gazette. With the literary aspects of the question raised by the prosecution for publishing obscene books we do not propose to meddle. Some literary persons, well-qualified and ill-qualified, were ready to take up the cudgels for Mr. Vizetelly, for Zolaism in general, and for " La Terre " in par- ticular. But Mr. Vizetelly cut away the ground from his apologists by pleading guilty and promising not to repeat his fault. Nor shall we touch the question-raised and debated a hundred times, but never likely to be settled-how far Art is concerned with Morality. Is art above morality ? or beneath it ? or does it stand on an altogether different plane ? The desire not to advertise them, and the probability of an unsuccessful prosecution, have influenced many persons, who detest them and would gladly suppress them, to leave them quite alone. We are not quite sure that this was not the wiser course ; nor are we quite sure that the punishment of Mr. Vizetelly will have none but good effects, even in that sphere of morality which is intended to benefit by it. But purity is not the whole of morality. If the books which tend toward lubricity are to be suppressed, why should the books be allowed to go free that glorify murder, burglary, and highway robbery ? Why is bloodshed and dishonesty to be preached in the streets if sexual morality is to be guarded by legal proce dure ? It is quite as important that the minds of boys and girls should be kept from unnecessary contact with crime which injures the community as with dirtiness which has no influence except upon the personal character If dirty fiction is to be suppressed, why should we not take one step further and check the sensational histories of actual crimes ? This course which few people would be as yet prepared to recommend visib yet it is in a way the logical consequence of proceedings in the Criminal Court. If we are to have a censorship of public moral at least be complete and thoroughgoing. But we are not sure that nation would not be ready to support some kind of censorship, if it har any kind of certainty that its good effects would counterbalance the v which it certainly would bring about. It is certainly a singular and s ficant sign of the times that it should be possible to discuss the question at all. Yet discussed it will be. FROM The Whitehall Review. 101 IST195 94T - ot va89 roads to We must confess to looking with suspicion upon the many " vigilhador societies which have been started to look after our morals. The desodo itself, an excellent one, has been very much abused by its connection with a vast array of irresponsible persons who have their own notoriety atisti first, and then the morals of the people. It is unfortunate that this shotar be so, because it tends to dwarf the good which other and really son associations c a similar character endeavour to do. Vigilance associations moreover, are pt to be led away by enthusiasts, and to set their wite Bud 21 forces against some form of vice which, with all the influence and energy behind them, it is impracticable to reach. Enthusiasts too often grope about until they find shadows, and then make bold attack on these in an eminently visionary manner. The step which the National Vigilance Association has taken with regard to putting down the publication and sale of impure and indecent. literature is, however, worthy of the highest commendation and support. The evil is being bravely combatted by Mr. Samuel Smith, M.P., who by the recent death of Lord Mount-Temple has lost a valuable colleague and councillor in his good work. In the present day, when so many books are published, and reading has become so general, the circulation of impure literature must, of necessity, have an evil and contagious effect upon the morals of the nation. It is idle to argue that people read pernicious literature and then cast it aside, disappointed that it has not come up to expectation. The immoral volume, which is not, as it were, up to sample, and does not give satisfaction to the prurient mind and taste, is but an appetiser to make men and women create a demand for more seasoned matter, and we know that in evil things there is always a supply to meet the demand, and this supply is cunningly contrived to meet all wants and tastes, from the juvenile to the patriarch. In his search to reach the offenders Mr. Samuel Smith has lighted on a vicious form of literature which does almost as much harm as the sensuous writings of the English and French schools. + "It will be asked " pertinently suggests the report of the Association, "why, considering that there is a law against obscene publications, are not these indecent books and photographs suppressed ? The answer is that although something has been done in this direction, public opinion is not active enough to compel the magistrates to do their duty. Through the efforts of Mr. Samuel Smith, a prosecution was commenced against Messrs. Vizetelly, the publishers of a translation of a work by M. Zola. But the other day the National Vigilance Association took out a summons against the publishers of a ' New and Unexpurgated edition of Boccaccio's 'Decameron.' Innocent persons who have read the expurgated editions which are usually published in England will have little idea of the disgusting matter which this book contains. The case came before Mr. Alderman Phillips at the Guildhall, and the magistrate, though he thought it necessary to clear the Court of women, dismissed the summons without assigning reasons. It is of no use to say that these books are literature. It may be right that they should remain in our libraries in the original languages, or perhaps in English, accessible to students of litera- ture or of manners. That is no reason why they should be distributed broadcast in cheap issues, unexpurgated, or in careful selections of the most indecent parts, specially for the corruption of young people." It is useless to disguise the fact that all this impure literature is published for the mere pursuance of pecuniary gain. FROM The Star. In the opinion, probably, of the majority of people Mr. Vizetelly may consider that he has done very well to have escaped from an English court 20 acknowledged in the debate on obscene publications initiated in the House of Commons during the last Session by Mr. Samuel Smith. In any case, we fear, the law can do little to cope with this evil, but it is well that the little that it can do should be done. FROM The St. James's Gazette. 99 With the literary aspects of the question raised by the prosecution for publishing obscene books we do not propose to meddle. Some literary persons, well-qualified and ill-qualified, were ready to take up the cudgels for Mr. Vizetelly, for Zolaism in general, and for " La Terre in particular. But Mr. Vizetelly cut away the ground from his apologists by pleading guilty and promising not to repeat his fault. Nor shall we touch the question-raised and debated a hundred times, but never likely to be settled- how far Art is concerned with Morality. Is art above morality ? or beneath it ? or does it stand on an altogether different plane ? The desire not to advertise them, and the probability of an unsuccessful prosecution, have influenced many persons, who detest them and would gladly suppress them, to leave them quite alone. We are not quite sure that this was not the wiser course ; nor are we quite sure that the punishment of Mr. Vizetelly will have none but good effects, even in that sphere of morality which is intended to benefit by it. But purity is not the whole of morality. If the books which tend toward lubricity are to be suppressed, why should the books be allowed to go free that glorify murder, burglary, and highway robbery ? Why is bloodshed and dishonesty to be preached in the streets if sexual morality is to be guarded by legal procedure ? It is quite as important that the minds of boys and girls should be kept from unnecessary contact with crime which injures the community, as with dirtiness which has no influence except upon the personal character. If dirty fiction is to be suppressed, why should we not take one step further and check the sensational histories of actual crimes This is a course which few people would be as yet prepared to recommend. But yet it is in a way the logical consequence of proceedings in the Central Criminal Court. If we are to have a censorship of public morals, let it at least be complete and thoroughgoing. But we are not sure that the nation would not be ready to support some kind of censorship, if it had any kind of certainty that its good effects would counterbalance the evils which it certainly would bring about. It is certainly a singular and significant sign of the times that it should be possible to discuss the question at all. Yet discussed it will be. FROM The Whitehall Review. We must confess to looking with suspicion upon the many " vigilance societies which have been started to look after our morals. The idea, in itself, an excellent one, has been very much abused by its connection with a vast array of irresponsible persons who have their own notoriety at stake first, and then the morals of the people. It is unfortunate that this should be so, because it tends to dwarf the good which other and really sound associations of a similar character endeavour to do. Vigilance associations, moreover, are apt to be led away by enthusiasts, and to set their wits and 21 ainst some form of vice which, with all the influence and energy hem, it is impracticable to reach. Enthusiasts too often grope til they find shadows, and then make bold attack on these in an y visionary manner. tep which the National Vigilance Association has taken with putting down the publication and sale of impure and indecent. is , however, worthy of the highest commendation and support. e.evil is being bravely combatted by Mr. Samuel Smith, M.P. , who by recent death of Lord Mount-Temple has lost a valuable colleague and anoillor in his good work. In the present day, when so many books e published, and reading has become so general, the circulation of imre literature must, of necessity, have an evil and contagious effect upon e morals of the nation . It is idle to argue that people read pernicious terature and then cast it aside, disappointed that it has not come up to xpectation. The immoral volume, which is not, as it were, up to sample, and does ot give satisfaction to the prurient mind and taste, is but an appetiser to nake men and women create a demand for more seasoned matter, and we mow that in evil things there is always a supply to meet the demand, and his supply is cunningly contrived to meet all wants and tastes, from the juvenile to the patriarch. In his search to reach the offenders Mr. Samuel Smith has lighted on a vicious form of literature which does ost as much harm as the sensuous writings of the English and French Hools. " It will be asked " pertinently suggests the report of the Association, considering that there is a law against obscene publications, are not Hecent books and photographs suppressed ? The answer is that ugh something has been done in this direction, public opinion is not. ugh to compel the magistrates to do their duty. Through the Mr. Samuel Smith, a prosecution was commenced against. erst Vizetelly, the publishers of a translation of a work by M. Zola. the other day the National Vigilance Association took out a summons. no the publishers of a ' New and Unexpurgated edition of Boccaccio's Begameron.' Innocent persons who have read the expurgated editions. are usually published in England will have little idea of the disgmatter which this book contains. The case came before Mr. though Phillips at the Guildhall, and the magistrate, though he necessary to clear the Court of women, dismissed the summons. qut assigning reasons. It is of no use to say that these books are cature It may be right that they should remain in our libraries in the kanguages, or perhaps in English, accessible to students of litera18 or manners. That is no reason why they should be distributed roadcast in cheap issues, unexpurgated, or in careful selections of the most decent parts, specially for the corruption of young people." It is. useless to disguise the fact that all this impure literature is published for the mere pursuance of pecuniary gain. FROM The Star. In the opinion , probably, of the majority of people Mr. Vizetelly may conside that he has done very well to have escaped from a English court. 22 with merely a moderate fine. The very able defence which Mr. Vizetelly put forth some time ago was only calculated to obscure the issue. It is true that Rabelais is obscene, that Chaucer is coarse, and that Boccaccio's ladies and gentlemen are all too frank. But M. Zola's " La Terre " has none of the charm, the humour, the style which redeem the works of the authors named. It is simply unrelieved and morbid filth. Even were it elevated by the undoubted power and realistic skill of some of the writer's earliest efforts, it is impossible to excuse its reproduction into English. Mr. Matthew Arnold once said of a translation of Homer that there was no justification for its existence. Still less could a hastily and a slovenly written translation of a filthy French novel justify its existence. Some translations, notably those of Schiller's "Wallenstein " and Carlyle's " Wilhelm Meister, " have been literature in the best sense. But indifferent translations are not literature, and there is an end of the matter from the standpoint of art. FROM The Liverpool Mercury.
Messrs. Vizetelly pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the charge of publishing English translations of M. Zola's French novels. This action on their part was an admission that they could not offer a valid defence to the indictment. Of course, there never was any denial that the works were issued by them in an English dress ; the only point in doubt, when the prosecution commenced, was whether such versions as they produced brought them within the penal statutes. It is gratifying to find that our law is strong enough to prevent the dissemination of demoralizing literature of a certain character. There is nothing likely to be of more injury to the morals of the people than the free publication of cheap editions of works which pander to prurient tastes and there cannot be the slightest doubt that the novels of M. Zola are amongst the worst of their kind. It is true that the English editions are expurgated, but even when the most repulsive features were gone there still remained enough of objectionable matter-in the characters, the incidents, the plot, and the moral-to justify repressive action. Where we find an inconsistency is the impunity enjoyed by those who retail the same works when clothed in the original French. If the English versions are offensive to the law, it is hard to understand whythe far more revolting French versions are allowed to circulate. The effect must be as grave upon the more educated as upon the less educated. A man is not a superior person morally because he can read French, and there is no logical reason why he should be privileged on this account to touch and look on rank fruits which are wisely forbidden to the exclusively English reader. FROM The Globe. Mr. Henry Vizetelly was yesterday found guilty of the publication of an obscene libel in the form of a translation of Zola's last novel but one—“ La Terre." The law in these matters has not been administered with sufficient frequency and vigour to prevent a certain amount of doubt As to where the line should be, and would be, drawn. That a line must 23 be drawn somewhere is, however, admitted on all hands. It is idle to argue that great men have ere now written great books which have been far from free from the taint of the obscene. The eagles have, it is true, sometimes stooped to carrion, but it has not been their normal food . The bad with them has been, in the language of logic, an accident ; whercas, with such a book as “La Terre, ” it is not an accident, but an essential property. To say that there is a wide expanse of moral ground which is debateable, and within which it would be inexpedient for the law to be dogmatic, is only common sense. But to say that the subject matter of Mr. Vizetelly's offence does not lie quite beyond the limits of that debateable ground is an outrage on common sense and common decency. There are many things in literature which are questionable, and there are also some which are unquestionable, and Mr. Vizetelly is rightly punished for having shut his eyes to the fact that the beastliness of this book is one of the latter. FROM The Morning Advertiser. There can be little difference of opinion as to the justice of the judgment of the Court. If there is such a thing as improper literature M. Zola has produced it. His books have great merits, no doubt, but their merits do not redeem them from the imputation of ministering to the lowest passions of human nature, and it is difficult to imagine that any man or woman can be the better for their perusal. The average man or woman, and, still more, the average boy or girl, must infallibly be made worse by reading them. We do not believe it would be possible to submit them to any ordinarily constituted jury in England without the certainty of their being condemned as they were yesterday at the Old Bailey. The fact that there are classic writers in our own language who have written works as objectionable in form as " Nana " and " La Terre,” if for the sake of argument we admit it to be a fact, has really but little bearing on the question. The improprieties of Shakespeare and other old dramatists, and even those of some of the eighteenth century novelists, belong to a past age, and do not appeal to the imagination of readers of to-day like descriptions of wickedness whose scene is laid in our own times, and which is portrayed in current phraseology. The contention that if we are to suppress the vicious novels of our own time we must, to be consistent, make a clean sweep of a large portion of English literature cannot be maintained, and is not seriously maintained even by those who put it forth. It does not follow that traffickers in vice are to have their way, and that nothing should be done because we are unable to do all that we would fain wish to do. The function of the law in this matter is not difficult to define. It ought to maintain public decency, and it can do so. The exhibition of vicious pictures in shop windows, or in the streets, can be prevented by ordinary police vigilance, just as indecency can be re- pressed upon the stage. Incentives to wickedness ought not to be forced upon public notice, and it is the duty of the guardians of order to prevent it. In this respect there is great room and urgent need of a more stringent rule than has yet been established. There ought to be no difficulty in stopping the exhibition of placards in the streets advertising catch-penny publications, the wording of which is an offence to the most elementary 24 notions of decency. The publications themselves are often innocent enough, we dare say, but the handbills which call attention to them are a disgrace to a community which professes to be civilised. Neither the liberty of the Press nor any other liberty which deserves a moment's respect ought to prevent the prompt seizure and confiscation of such papers without the formality of a prosecution. There are offences against public propriety which no police-constable would hesitate to deal with on the spot without considering whether or not they are specified in any Act of Parliament, and the exhibition of palpably indecent handbills ought to come within the same category. If the exhibitors or their employers consider themselves aggrieved, they can resort to a legal remedy. There is little fear that they would do so, or that the police authorities would not be fully sustained by public opinion. We frankly confess that we should be glad to see a little despotism in this matter exercised by the Commissioners both in the City and the West-end. FROM The Saturday Review. The conviction of Messrs. Vizetelly at the Central Criminal Court on three charges of publishing obscene libels, is matter for congratulation, though it might well have been brought about earlier. The offences charged were committed in the course of publishing English translations of three of the dirtiest of M. Zola's novels. It will be well that the numerous persons who have of late years engaged in this disgusting traffic should take note of the fact that by so doing they commit a crime punishable by a heavy term of imprisonment ; and it is to be hoped that they will be discouraged by the fact that there is a limit to the long-suffering timidity of the officials whose duty it is to institute prosecutions of this character. To the latter persons it may be well to point out, now that they have discovered how easy it is to do their duty, that the law has provided them with a far more summary and effectual procedure than that which they have at last adopted. The proper course is not to wait until books like " The Soil " have been sold in large numbers, but as soon as they appear to seize them by means of a warrant under Lord Campbell's Act, and procure an order for their destruction at the cost of the publisher. There is no reason to fear that the magistrates would be remiss in enforcing the law if the authorities of Whitehall and Scotland Yard would only perform their duty in putting it in motion. In this instance the latter persons have the less excuse for their laches, because the existence of the works in question, and the proper manner of dealing with them, have more than once been pointed out to them in these columns. It is probably due more to the good sense of counsel than to the proper feeling of the defendant that nothing was heard on Wednesday of the loathsome cant about a high moral purpose which suitably disfigures the introductions of some of these disgraceful volumes. FROM The Methodist Times. We have never been able to believe in the moral intentions of Zola, and it has always been a marvel to us that such a critic as Mr. James should seriously contend for them. Zolaism is a disease. It is a study of 25 the putrid. Even France has shown signs that she has had enough of it. No one can read Zola without moral contamination, and the only plea that can be made is that the disgust inspired destroys the fascination of the evil. It is time that legislative action was taken against other authors besides Zola, who are contributing to the literature of the sewer. Let those who have a liking for the " scrofulous French novel " read it if they will, but let it at least be in the original. Broadcast translations are an offence which demands the utmost severity of punishment and repression. FROM The Western Morning News. Whatever may be said in favour of the State shutting its eyes to the circulation of Zolaesque literature, there can be no question that Zola is filthy in the extreme, and obscene to the point of bestiality. He is more unclean, and realistically so, than any other writer, not an Oriental, whose name we can record. It has been his boast that he saw the evil side of life and had described it accurately. There are many undesirable things of which all men have knowledge, and of which only the evil- minded speak. It is the shame of Zola that he has put an end to reticence. No doubt, in the older dramatists, and especially in the dramatists of the Restoration, there are obscene passages. But Zola sinks to a lower depth than any English writer ever touched. We could prove our point in a moment if in the very proof we were not likely to do the evil which we deprecate. The Court had no alternative but to make it clear that the law did not tolerate such work as " Pot Bouille, " " Nana, " and " La Terre." Yet what a comedy it all is when the thing is considered ! The other day the unmarried heroine of a novel was described as having been the reader of the whole of Zola's works, and young ladies in a drawing room will not hesitate in these latter days to talk of realism and naturalism with reference to the latest prurient pages of the seeker after degraded aspects of life. These books, which have been debated in society for years, are now practically prohibited for their obscenity. The comedy of it cannot fail to be appreciated. Fathers and mothers in this latter day have become more tolerant of what shall be introduced into their homes than is a judge at the old Bailey as to what may be sold in the streets. Unless this side of our national life be looked after a little more closely greater evils will befal than any which can arise from political changes or from other social conditions. 26 !
- Dangerous reading
- Pernicious literature (The Ragged School Union Magazine)
- Documents of Modern Literary Realism
- Full text
- Henry James On Zola