Mon, 3 Sep 2007

Books Fatal to their Authors

— SjG @ 2:26 pm

P. H. Ditchfield, 1894, read as an e-book from

This litany of imprisoned, tortured, condemned, burnt, exiled, hounded, bankrupted, beaten, abused, reviled, and otherwise rejected authors is a fitting followup to god is not Great. While Ditchfield gave brief histories of authors doomed for their writings in a range of fields (which he groups as Theology; Fanatics and Free Thinkers; Astrology, Alchemy, and Magic; Science and Philosophy; History, Politics and Statesmanship; and Satire), the majority in all of these categories were condemned for ostensible violations of theological dogma. Some of these theological associations are pretty tenuous — for example, Ditchfield references “a recondite treatise on Trigonometry” that was condemned “because they imagined it contained heretical opinions concerning the doctrine of the Trinity.”

Ditchfield repeatedly waxes poetic on the plight of the writer, who nobly labors to share intellectual riches with a world that responds with scorn and violence. I can’t find much information about Ditchfield himself, other than that he was a prolific English writer and the Rector of Barkham Antiquary. His biases come through when he writes of critics, who hound poor authors to death. With regard to religion, he tries to maintain neutrality, but can’t help but chide some authors for their theological errors.

Even if the “fatal” of the title is not necessarily our modern usage of “leading to death,” reading this gives me renewed appreciation for where and when and how I live. I don’t have to think twice if I choose to blaspheme, criticize my government, or even write about trigonometry.

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