JF Ptak Science Books Post 1670
Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen."--Heinrich Heine, saying that if people burn books, they'll burn people, too, which have been proven to be the case.
Usually this story goes the other way around, where people of the world set books on fire--or entire libraries on fire (like the House of Wisdom, Baghdad, in the 13th century), some of them more than once (and in the case of the library at Alexandria, six times.) Books are burned in repulsion and revulsion not only by their readers but also (and in greater numbers) by rulers who don't want their potential readers to have any potentiality, or potential, reversing the flow of unwanted information back to the source. (The illustrious and esteemed have burned people as well as the villains--Thomas More sentenced John Tewkesbury, a London leather merchant, to the flames for "approved burning" for keeping banned books; for good measure More also had the works of Martin Luther burned, as well.)This later has a very long history, which is taken a step further when said leaders reach out to burn the books and their authors, sometimes at the same time. This infamously happened to Michael Servetus (1511-1553, and who I wrote about here) and of course many others, entire castes of scholars burned or buried for being in the way.
[Engraving of Servetus, being a good double-portrait showing him in the high life and then, in the upper left corner, being burned alive for his political activities ans for his books, which disturbed the notion of the heart-centered body and seat of all wisdom much favored by the clergy, replacing it with his notion of the heart as a muscle, as a functioning part of the body rather than its seat of wisdom.]
The first mass, organized book burnings in the United States were instituted for self-preservation of an economic way of life--local merchants banned together to form book burning brigades for the threat to their livelihood, the Sears & Roebuck catalog, which I wrote about here. Not quite on the scope of rejecting the lives and works of authors of what were deemed to be salacious or threatening to the core of the social structure, but in the long run perhaps they were something approaching that.
The "Memory Hole' is the euphemism for the dispatch and destruction of books in George Orwell's 1984, not too far removed from the institutionalized book burning in Fahrenheit 451, though seemingly a furious leap forward from Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons.
Reverend Lovejoy: “Oh hello Lisa! Can you recommend any books for my mobile?” Lisa: “Ooh absolutely! Well you know, anything by Jane Austen.” Reverend Lovejoy: “Jane Austen. Thanks Lisa, I’ll get right on it!” (Reverend Lovejoy drives away and reveals his Book Burning Mobile.) [Thanks to The Lisa Simpson Book CLub.]
And for the first emblemata, above, comes the legend:
Alta Dei flammas vox toto suscitat orbe, God's voice on high stirs up flames in all the world,
Dum nimis auerso mens mala corde furit. While all too strongly the evil mind rages with averted heart.
Sed pia mens humilis paret. Sic excoquit aurum, But the pious mind obeys in humility. So the furnace melts out gold,
Et paleas eodem deuorat igne focus and with the same fire devours the chaff
And as it turns out the book to set the world on fire is the Bible, which is I guess appropriate given the number of books sought out and burnt by Mother Church, though I must say that far more books were banned than burned. (I think so, anyway--there's a number of iterations of the list of banned books--the Index Librorum Prohibitorum--which was kept from the mid-16th century to the mid-20th. I think that there is no massive list for books that were both banned and burned.) Its a harsh-looking metaphor, particularly given the story of the Flood.
And in some cases the Bible-burning metaphor was hardly that but an actual event, and tragically ironic in the case of William Tyndale. Tyndale was a scholar who among many other rich things brought to bear a new translation of the Bible done into English, which was a first, and which greatly displeased the ruling head of England at the time, King Henry VIII. Henry had already burned translations of the Bible that he could not abide and thought heretical--not the least reason of which would have his multiple marriages condemned--and continued on to not only do so with Tyndale's work, but also to Tyndale himself. At the end of a long and complex story, Tyndale was found to be a heretic, and in 1536 was strangled to death on a platform before a large crowd, his head chopped off, and his body burned. After a few years Henry authorized multiple new translations of the Bible to be printed, all based on Tyndale's work. Tyndale stayed dead, though--his work had an enormous impact on other English translations of the Bible, not the least of which is the King James Version of 1611, where the overwhelming majority of the NT and OT was Tyndale's.