Raymond Birn

Royal Censorship of Books in Enlightenment France Publication date : February 15, 2007

Royal censorship in Enlightenment France was the product of a long history, resulting from the ambitions of Henri IV, Louis XIII and particularly of Louis XIV to make France the New Rome. These ambitions, argues Raymond Birn, led to a preventive form of censorship whose aim was to protect and control literature, art and science. Preventive censorship kept “bad” books from entering the kingdom; repressive censorship prosecuted them when they did get in. State monopoly was ensured by Chancellor Pontchartrain, by Abbott Bignon and later by Malesherbes — forerunners of the future Ministry of Culture.
Birn shows how the censors were capable of simultaneously controlling and undermining the very restrictions they were supposed to enforce, and he argues that in many areas of learning the censors were not enemies of innovation. He describes the beginnings of bureaucratic control and management, and demonstrates how these forces would continue to grow and develop incessantly after the fall of the Ancien Régime.

This book provides new insights into the circulation of learning in France during the Enlightenment.

Raymond Birn is a professor at the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A. He specialises in the history of book production and distribution in eighteenth-century France and in the rest of Europe.