restricted access A Commentary (Dec 1928)
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534 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 8 (Dec 1928) 185-90 The Censorship: And Ireland At the moment of writing this Commentary we hear rumours of fresh activity in the censorship of books. The Home Secretary has let fall a hint; there has been some correspondence in The Times: what is disquieting about this correspondence is that there appear to be persons prepared to defend the institution of the Censorship, which we should have thought patently indefensible.1 It is unlikely that any movement will be made before the General Election; when that is out of the way we may hear more of the matter. That is all the more reason for talking of it now, and for making up our minds in good time: For even if the present Home Secretary should not remain in that post, even if the Conservative Party were to lose its majority, something may have started which will take its own course; and we should not be wise to trust any of the political parties to oppose it, if a popular press and fanatical influences had once been aroused in its favour. Meanwhile we have the leisure to examine two specimens of censorship, one on the point of realization, the other, in America, already in operation. In the Spectator of September 29th last, Mr. W. B. Yeats published an admirable essay on the proposed Irish censorship. In his words, the “Free State” Government has drafted a “Bill which it hates, which must be expounded and defended by Ministers full of contempt for their own words” [391].2 The situation thus summed up casts, of course, an interesting light upon popular government in general, and upon democratic tyranny. The Bill has not yet excited much interest in England; though several papers have pointed out that as present drafted, it might exclude from Ireland several of the most important English periodicals. Its enforcement would reduce Ireland to barbarism. But the Bill – which may have been passed in some form before these lines are printed – may have much more important consequences for England than that. We seriously recommend our readers to read some liberal Irish daily, or The Irish Statesman. It would be odd if the Protestantism of our Home Secretary found itself in touch with the local Catholicism of Ireland; and we have no desire to arouse an anti-clerical movement such as has been the misery of France. The question in Ireland [ 535 A Commentary (Dec) is not whether the Church, or its lay zealots, is right, but whether the views of Churchmen can be imposed upon those who avow no allegiance to the Church. In England we have an established Church which is weak, and in Ireland they have an un-established Church which is strong. It is not in the interest of the Roman Church in England that its Irish Branch should abuse its power; it would merely strengthen in the English mind its hereditary suspicion of Roman intolerance and bigotry. There is said to be a case for excluding English papers from Ireland, if it is true that the English papers most widely read there are such as educated people in England must deplore. But as Mr. Yeats observes, “every country passing out of automatism passes through demoralization, and . . . has no choice but to go on into intelligence” [392]. The Bill which is before the Irish Legislature is associated with the power of the Roman Church: if the Church wins this victory in Ireland it must inevitably lose ground in England. And yet, after all, the support of such a Bill by Roman Catholics in Ireland is more intelligible than would be the support of similar oppressive measures in England by liberal Protestants. The tyranny of religion is bad; if religion should prosper, it should not prosper by such means. But the tyranny of “morality,” with some wholly vague religious backing, or wholly divorced from any exact religion, is still worse. The Censorship in Boston We have read with great interest an article in The Irish Statesman of October 6th, on “Censorship in America,” by Sean O’Faolain. We have not yet verified Mr. O’Faolain’s statements: but he is a well-known Irish writer, temporarily resident in America, and his essay on language which we published in the September Criterion testifies to his ability.3 Nowhere in America is the censorship of books exercised more widely – we are told – than in Boston.4 Boston is, of course, the...


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