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  • History of Censorship in Bohemia

    Part Two - Up to the Era of Enlightenment

    Jan Čulík

    The uneasy truce between Catholics and Protestants came to an end in the 1620s. In 1618-19, the Czech Protestant Estates staged a rebellion, deposed the Habsburg monarch Ferdinand of Steyern, Ferdinand II (1617 - 1619, 1620 - 1637) and proclaimed Bohemia a free, elective confederation. Habsburg troops entered Bohemia and the Emperor Ferdinand II. defeated the rebellious Protestant Estates at the Battle of the White Mountain on 8th November, 1620. The Czech Protestant rebellion marked the beginning of the Thirty Years War. Bohemia became subjugated to Habsburg absolutist rule. Czech nobility lost all its privileges. The leaders of the rebellion were executed. Those members of the protestant nobility who refused to convert to Catholicism had to leave the country. The Czech nation, which had been ninety per cent protestant, was subjected to intense recatholisation.

    In 1621, Jesuits took over full censorship of all books, printed in Bohemia and imported from abroad. They also assumed control over the Prague university printing office, which they used for the publication of their own titles. A number of printing offices in the country were closed down. Young people were discouraged from writing books because "new books do not contain any new information, they only re-arrange the content of older books". Henceforth, book publishing was fully under the control of the Jesuits. A number of decrees were published for the suppression of non-catholic literature. According to an order, dated 10th April, 1628, every person was dutibound to submit the books he owned for inspection to the local parson. On 10th May, 1628 an order was issued that non-catholic books should either be burned or handed in into libraries. No member of the Jesuit order was allowed to read banned books. Exceptionally, a small number of Jesuit missionaries were given a special dispensation to read non-Catholic books, in order to fight "heresy" more effectively. From 1648 members of the Jesuit order had to apply in advance to the higher authorities of the Order for permission to write a book. The authorities evaluated the proposed topic and the qualifications of the prospective author. From 1670, the Jesuits started counting the printing office of the Prague university as one of the assets of their own, catholic Clementinum college.

    From the end of the 16th century, the Jews of Prague published a large number of books in Hebrew. These came to be censored by the Jesuits as well. In the 17th century, the Jesuits confiscated several thousand of Jewish books from synagogues, schools and private dwellings. In order to prove that the books in Hebrew contained heretical ideas, the Jesuits had one of them translated into Latin. In 1706, Berl Back and Israel Kettwiess published an edition of Jewish texts for religious services. The printrun of 3600 copies deliberately ignored the censor's deletions. This was leaked to the authorities by a disaffected Jewish teacher, the printers were fined and were forced to finance the erection of two Catholic statues on Charles Bridge in Prague.

    Rumours prevented the publication of books. Thus a major work, Epitome rerum Bohemicarum (An Outline of Czech History) by Bohuslav Balbín (1621-1688), had already been passed by the Jesuit censorship, but in 1669 somebody alerted the Burgrave of Prague to the fact that the work was allegedly subversive, so the printing was cancelled and the work was not published until 1677.

    There were frequent conflicts between religious and secular authorities about the jurisdiction of censorship. In 1707, Emperor Joseph I. (1705-1711) decreed that book censorship should be carried out by the state, not by the clergy. In 1715, a government order was issued, banning the publication and dissemination of all satirical books, tracts and pictures. Unofficial printing offices were to be closed down. Printing presses were allowed to operate only in university towns and towns with higher authorities.

    Nevertheless, large amounts of unauthorised titles both in Czech and in German were smuggled into Bohemia primarily by Czech protestant emigrés, such as Václav Klejch (1678 - 1737) and Kristián Pešek (1676 - 1744). These were mostly religious publications, printed in the German towns of Zittau and Pirna. The inhabitants of Bohemia were not allowed to own heretical books. When found, the books were confiscated and replaced by catholic titles. Jesuit Antonín Koniáš (1691-1760) published a bibliographical index of heretical books Clavis haeresim claudens et aperiens (A key, closing and opening heresies, 1729, second edition 1749). Even private libraries were searched, using this publication. Count Franz Anton Sporck (1662-1738) was accused in 1729 of printing heretical books in a printing office on his estate in Lysá nad Labem. Sporck was deeply interested in non-orthodoxy and in the teachings of non-catholic theologians. In 1725 he had a whole non-catholic library smuggled in from Silesia, although the import of such banned literature was punishable by death. He published numerous theological works and financed the printing of theses in theology, philosophy, medicine and physics. Sporck's printing office in Lysá nad Labem was closed by the Jesuits in 1712, so he had most of his titles printed outside Bohemia. These were then smuggled into the country in various ingenious ways. In 1729, Sporck was arrested and deported to Prague to be interrogated by the authorities. His library, containing 30 000 volumes, was seized and examined. The matter went on for seven years. Sporck was fined and eventually forced to recognize the supremacy of the Jesuits against whom he had waged a private war from his estate for decades.

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