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music arts and literature
The first official list of banned books was the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Catholic Church. An impressive list of authors in the Neville Collection have appeared upon the Index. They include Diderot, Freind, Glanville, Locke, Swedenborg, and many others.
The enquiries of the Royal Society claimed that even if some persons had direct experience of witchcraft (a thing not doubted by Glanvill and many others alive at the time), logic could overrule empirical observation to place the observation in doubt. By the same token, Glanvill argued skillfully, Hobbes would have to be right and Boyle wrong. Glanvill’s type of argument is still used to render other arguments about spiritual or indeed humanistic matters inconclusive within science, and may be seen in various forms in today’s interchange between religion and science. Fortunately, it does not always equal repression of the opposing side, and the Western world has abandoned belief in witches as a tool to persecute women. But the damage was done: women’s health, especially gynecological topics and birth control, remain among the most-censored topics in all of the history of science. It is thus delightful to find two editions of John Freind’s Emmenologia in qua fluxus muliebris menstrui phaenomena in the Neville collection, including the first English edition (1729). John Freind (1675-1728), was himself a censor of the Royal College of Physicians. Interestingly and ironically, Friend spent some time in the Tower when he came under suspicion of supporting the Stuart dynasty’s claim to the throne. Emmenologia is one of the first printed works dealing with menstruation as a scientific phenomenon worthy of study in the same spirit as other iatrochemical works on human blood rather than in the quasi-magical spirit that persisted long after the Renaissance in matters pertaining to women’s bodies and health. The book was met with controversy and opposition when it was published; today its basis in mechanics has been long superseded, but it remains an outstanding example of science used in the true pursuit of knowledge rather than its convenient suppression.
Check back to see other Banned Books from centuries past.
[From Centuries of censorship: books and their survival in the Neville Collection exhibit curated by Tanya Avakian for Banned Book Week in 2006]