Page:Books Condemned to be Burnt - James Anson Farrer.djvu/204

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188
Books Condemned to be Burnt.

have derived from it. Possibly this toleration arose from the gradual discovery that the practical consequences of writings seldom keep pace with the aim of the writer or the fears of authority; that, for instance, neither is property endangered by literary demonstrations of its immorality, nor are churches emptied by criticism. At all events, taking the risk of consequences, we have entered on an era of almost complete literary impunity; the bonfire is as extinct as the pillory; the only fiery ordeal is that of criticism, and dread of the reviewer has taken the place of all fear of the hangman,

Whether the change is all gain, or the milder method more effectual than the old one, I would hesitate to affirm. He would be a bold man who would assert any lack of burnworthy books. The older custom had perhaps a certain picturesqueness which was lost with it. It was a bit of old English life, reaching far back into history—a custom that would have been not unworthy of the brush of Hogarth. For all that we cannot regret it. The practice became so common, and lent itself so readily to abuse by its indiscriminate application in the interests of religious bigotry or political partisanship, that the lesson of history is one of warning