1st Edition

A Long Time Burning The History of Literary Censorship in England

By Donald Thomas Copyright 1969
    560 Pages
    by Routledge

    Censorship of the written word has proved a constant source for debate and argument. To cut or not to cut is a question with a long and fascinating history. First published in 1969, A Long Time Burning is an account of the political, religious, and moral censorship of literature, in the context of English literary history. It is principally concerned with the evolution of a modern pattern of censorship between the abolition of licensing in 1695 and the late Victorian period. The author outlines the motives and methods of censorship, illustrating these by more detailed discussion of such cases as those involving Edmund Curll, John Wilkes, Thomas Paine, William Hone, Richard Carlile, William Dugdale and Henry Vizetelly. The unofficial trade in banned books and the campaigns of the Proclamation Society; the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and the National Vigilance Association are described with the aid of some previously unpublished material.

    The book includes an anthology of illustrative material, quoting extracts from publications banned at various times and for various reasons. Pages from such books as Venus in the Cloister are reprinted for the first time in more than two centuries, while the other documents range from the Blasphemy Act of 1698 to a prosecution brought under the Race Relations Act of 1965.

    Preface 1. The Fear of Literature  2. Censorship before Publication: 1476–1695  3. Enemies of the State: 1695–1760  4. Blasphemy in an Age of Reason  5. Obscene Libel and the Reformation of Manners  6. Liberty versus Licentiousness: 1760–1792  7. Guardians of Public Morality  8. Political Censorship: A Fight to the Finish 1792–1832  9. Guardians of Public Morality  10. Victoria: (1) ‘If all Mankind minus One…’ J. S. Mill (1859)  11. Victoria: (2) ‘Smacks and Laughter  echoed through the Grove…’ The Pearl (September 1879)  12. The Twentieth Century: ‘Plus Ca Change…’


    Donald Thomas was an academic historian of crime. He was the author of several studies of the criminal underworld as well as biographies of Robert Browning, the Marquis de Sade, Henry Fielding, and Lewis Carroll.

    Reviews of the first publication:

    ‘A detailed, intelligent and readable account of the operation of literary censorship, particularly over the last two and a half centuries. It has useful bibliographies, and appendices which include some of the more important legal and official documents and extracts from material censored at various times.’

    Richard Hoggart, New Statesman

    ‘Donald Thomas’s history of literary censorship in England from the fifteenth century to the present day is a serious and largely entertaining book. For the most part he has steered a successful course between the aridity of legal history and evasiveness of grand generalizations about the “spirit of the age”. His narrative is crammed with facts, statistics and law. But it is enlivened, too, by the many exploits of those often eccentric extremists who campaigned for and against various forms of censorship; by some interesting pictures and by an appendix two hundred pages long containing illustrative materials.’

    Michael Holroyd, The Times