Page:Books Condemned to be Burnt - James Anson Farrer.djvu/205

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Our Last Book-Fires.

against it. Such a practice is only defensible or impressive in proportion to the rarity of its use. Applied not oftener than once or twice in a generation, in the case of some work that flagrantly shocked or injured the national conscience, the book-fire might have retained, or might still recover, its place in the economy of well-organised States; and the stigma it failed of by reason of its frequency might still attach to it by reason of its rarity.

If, then, it were possible (as it surely would be) so to regulate and restrict its use that it should serve only as the last expression of the indignation of an offended community instead of the ready weapon of a party or a clique, one can conceive its revival being not without utility. To take an illustration. With the ordinary daily libels of the public press the community as such has no concern; there is no need to grudge them their traditional impunity. But supposing a newspaper, availing itself of an earlier reputation and a wide circulation, to publish as truths, highly damaging to individuals, what it knows or might know to be forgeries, the limit has clearly been overstepped of the bearable liberty of the press; the cause of the injured individual becomes the cause of the in-