JF Ptak Science Books Post 1578
My wife, Patti Digh, and I have long talked about the history of normalcy—a history of what looks to be “normal”, or standard, or acceptable at one time that became not so over the course of time. Buying and selling human beings, women and their children being property of her spouse, and Chinese immigrants not having (any) legal rights, are three good candidates (among thousands) for this history in the fluid mechanics of socially-accepted thought and practice. It is an interesting proposition to think about—what things around you, or better yet, what thing you think or say or do, that look good and acceptable today might look embarrassing and unacceptable thirty years hence. What is today's ridiculed or reviled _______ may be tomorrow's standard practice.
This small slug of a story (below) appeared in the 23 March 1867 issue of Punch, or the London Charivari, and takes all manner of French legal reasoning to trial. It is a good example of the changeability of the porous borders of rank belief, centered in this case on Catholicism--and it might as well have been virtually any other -ism that you can think of. Evidently the editor, manager and even the printer of Libre pensee were hauled into court,subjected to prosecution, tried and convicted of what seemed like hate literature. In a series of articles appearing in several issues of the journal in February and March 1867 the author launched particularly sharp criticisms at some religions, including Catholicism, which he described it as "a rotten trunk, a receptacle of death whose fatal emanations spread all around desolation and solitude".
But that's not why the editor and manager were thrown into jail for a few months, not really--the judge in the case took issue with the magazine bringing the issue to light and exposing the shortcomings of Catholicism--which he believed were many--and which could be believed by many ("if not all") people who read the article. It was also found that the rant against Catholicism was not without merit ("too much of it could be apparently proved"), and that it would receive little rescue in a refutation that was not conceivable ("Let us not, therefore, contemptuously leave it to meet with a refutation which it will not receive."). The complaint was that the editor and manager allowed the thing to be printed, a thing which could in the eyes of the court lead to unrest--jailed for printing what the judge considered a incendiary truth even though it was bound in deceit and defamation.
The judge wrote:
"It is not obvious. It is not manifest. There is too much verisimilitude in that description of Catholicism. There are too many people who are likely to believe a good deal of it, if not all. The truth, moreover, is that, if any argument about it were permitted, too much of it could be apparently proved. Let us not, therefore, contemptuously leave it to meet with a refutation which it will not receive. Our wisest plan is to silence its promulgators. Accordingly we will sentence the manager and editor of the Libre Pensee to fine and imprisonment." This is logic.
I think what Punch was responding to was "stupidism": "Here, in England, Papists and Protestants are free to abuse each other's respective isms as much as they please, so long as they refrain from libeling one another or any one else. John Bull cannot see who is wronged by the abuse of an ism. Of course that blindness is owing to his want of logic."
There was no mention of what happened to the author, unless the author was the editor.