Othmeralia

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Banned Book Week

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.  

By the time of the Reformation belief in witchcraft was waning in the British Isles, at least officially. The Church of England discouraged belief in witchcraft. This may have been in part due to the political tension surrounding the originally Catholic Stuart dynasty: James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, was obsessed with witches and authored a well-known book on the subject before he reversed his position and condemned the belief, perhaps in response to his public standing. (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, composed at the time of the Gunpowder Plot, had to do with the fall of a superstitious Scottish king. Shakespeare, we may remember, was a favorite of Mary’s Protestant archrival Elizabeth I.) In marked contrast to Germany and Calvinist, originally Catholic, Scotland, England identified its Protestantism and reason ascendant with much decreased credit in superstition. Reginald Scot published his famous Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, in which he explicitly identified witch belief with “popery.” This was the majority opinion for much of the next century. But witch belief died hard, and the sectarian conflicts that literally racked the British Isles saw it used as a political football in ways that affected science. One of the most prominent advocates of the true existence of witchcraft was Joseph Glanvill (1636–80). Glanvill was a Fellow of the Royal Society and an Anglican, like Bacon and most other Fellows, but based his belief in spirits and magic on the Neoplatonist doctrine of pre-existent souls that was taught at Cambridge. His famous tract, “Against Sadducism in the matter of witchcraft,” was first published in 1681 and is included in Glanvill’s Essays on Several Important Subjects in Philosophy and Religion (London: Printed by J. D. for J. Baker et al., 1676). Glanvill is especially interesting for our purposes: he opposed Boyle on a topic that may seem to have nothing to do with witchcraft, but involved the same criteria of theory (what cannot logically be true) versus empiricism (what is perceived or, often contradictorily, judged to be true) that consumed the debaters for and against the possibility of any seeming violation of existing laws, magic and witchcraft included. 

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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]

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Filed under banned books Joseph Glanvill index librorum prohibitorum othmeralia bookhistory

26 notes

Banned Book Week

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. 

Mystical works continued to be banned; Emmanuel Swedenborg’s visionary works were placed on the Index and were forbidden to be published in Sweden during the author’s lifetime, forcing him to travel to publish them in England and France. Though today his reputation is primarily as a theologian, the founder of the Swedenborgian “New” Church, Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a polymath and a talented scientist. The Neville Collection includes Some Specimens of a Work on the Principles of Chemistry, which is in some ways a precursor to present-day Big Bang theory. Swedenborg concludes that creation must have originated from a single point, describable by mathematics rather than substance. He reaches this conclusion via his understanding of all forms of matter as belonging to the same substance differing in the nature and complexity of their arranged components. Though the details are very different, a broad generalization can be drawn between this understanding of matter and both the gravitational and the quantum theories of the twentieth century. It is especially interesting given that Swedenborg underwent a mystical conversion and spent the rest of his life promoting theories of the supernatural that he claimed to have been made privy to directly by God. Though some would argue that he simply went mad, or at least left scientific thought behind, at the cusp of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries some writers charged that modern cosmology had itself left science behind and become a branch of theology, since its theories could only be proved by mathematical flights of fancy. It is possible to speculate that Swedenborg was on the brink of discoveries that would be understood as visions in the language of his time, and thus put him on a forced march to mysticism. In any case his fame or infamy as a mystic was such that whereas his scientific work was not suppressed, it was by and large forgotten.

image

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]

Read more …

Filed under banned books emamuael Swedenborg index librorum prohibitorum bookhistory rare book othmeralia

12 notes

Banned Book Week

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. 

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One of the most-banned scientific books of its day was John Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding, of which the Neville Collection owns the fourth edition (London: Awnsham, Churchil and Manship, 1700). It was the first work of philosophy to propose that human consciousness does not begin with innate characteristics of perception but with an innate capacity to perceive, meaning that our perception of reality itself is not absolute but is rather constructed by experience. This was highly threatening to the Catholic Church, which was invested in the existence of absolute truths and dogma, not experience, as guardian thereof, and consequently the book was quick to appear on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum and stayed there until the Index itself was abolished. The book was just as threatening to the European aristocracy, given that it proposed the nonexistence of any innate qualities separating classes of people by birth: Locke (1632-1704) stated that education and access to it were infinitely more important than heredity in concentrating talent in the upper classes, and proposed that the advantages of education were the birthright of every eligible human being. There were few Continental countries in which Locke’s work was not banned at some time. In 1701 it was also banned from Oxford University, where Locke himself taught and had studied, and only gradually came to be accepted to a degree that allowed it to appear in the Oxford library again. Locke himself came under suspicion of treason and had to flee to the Netherlands for most of the remaining years of his life. Few other works have had as great an impact on the cognitive sciences. Today Locke is considered the father of empirical philosophy, and one of the fathers of egalitarian social philosophy. 

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]

Read more …

Filed under banned books John Locke index librorum prohibitorum book history history othmeralia

209 notes

A botanical illustration (thanks, heaveninawildflower, for suggesting it!) from v.29 (1884) of the Bulletin de l’Académie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg.
These illustrations accompany the article, “Diagnoses plantarum novarum asiaticarum, V.” by C.J. Maximowicz.
Captions for the illustrations read: 
"10-15 Ajuga Iupulina"
"16-20 A yezoensis"
"21-25 A pygmaea A. Gray"

A botanical illustration (thanks, heaveninawildflower, for suggesting it!) from v.29 (1884) of the Bulletin de l’Académie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg.

These illustrations accompany the article, “Diagnoses plantarum novarum asiaticarum, V.” by C.J. Maximowicz.

Captions for the illustrations read: 

"10-15 Ajuga Iupulina"

"16-20 A yezoensis"

"21-25 A pygmaea A. Gray"

Filed under botanical illustration scientific illustration plants othmeralia