In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • La Censure négociée: le contrôle du livre à Genève, 1560–1625
  • Andrew Pettegree (bio)
La Censure négociée: le contrôle du livre à Genève, 1560–1625. By Ingeborg Jostock. (Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 180.) Geneva: Droz. 2007. 440 pp. €108.90. ISBN 978 2 600 01115 0.

The conflicts of the Reformation, coming so soon after the invention of printing, inevitably brought new urgency to attempts to control the output of the press. In truth, the management of output had been a live issue almost from the time it became clear that the experimental technology would make possible mass production of a large variety of texts. Not all these pressures for close control of production came from the side of Europe's ruling powers. Producers, too, had their reasons to press for regulation: to protect their investment, to prevent the market being spoiled by unauthorized reprints, to cut out interlopers. All this, it was argued, was to ensure quality; these were the normal instincts of medieval guild society. But it is censorship that has attracted most attention.

In this context Geneva makes a particularly interesting case study. With Calvin's definite establishment in the city in 1541, Geneva soon became a major centre of print. Experienced printers graduated to the city from the major printing towns of the Francophone world. The production of bibles, service books, and Calvin's own works underpinned a buoyant and lucrative industry. Naturally, the city authorities were keen to ensure that the products of this industry reflected their goals of building a Reformed society. In common with other Protestant towns, measures were put in place to regulate the output of the press. In 1539 the city mandated prior inspection of any texts intended for printing in the city. In 1560 more comprehensive ordinances established a committee of three to oversee the industry. The number of presses each printer might maintain was stipulated, and copies of each finished book [End Page 218] had to be furnished to the Council. The close cooperation between ministers and city authorities in Calvin's lifetime allowed for a close attention to content and for the maintenance of high technical standards, and this close interest in the press was maintained by Calvin's successors. The ministers intervened to inhibit the publication of books of which they disapproved, and permission was refused for a considerable number of projects: a helpful list is provided in one of several detailed appendices.

The application of this comprehensive system was inevitably less fearsome than this clearly articulated regulatory structure would suggest. In this meticulous, wide-ranging, and subtle study, Ingeborg Jostock looks behind the regulatory measures to consider the impact, in practice, on a vibrant and dynamic industry over two generations. Geneva's publishers were usually well disposed towards the city's religious goals, and many had close connections in ruling circles. But faced with fast-moving events and fleeting commercial opportunities, they chafed at the delays imposed by submitting manuscripts for close perusal. In practice, few printers found themselves in trouble unless a text was found to contain inappropriate matter after it was published. Printers balked at the requirement that they should provide the council with so many free copies. The regulators, some of whom had their own business interests in publishing, were conscious that too intrusive controls would force the industry to relocate elsewhere. So regulation involved a process of negotiation.

Jostock's study is particularly fascinating where she explores particular case studies, demonstrating, for instance, the changes that had to be introduced to Jean Bodin's Six livres de la republique to make it acceptable for Genevan publication. On occasion regulation could be a spur to creativity, as when printers introduced new features into editions of the bible in order to create an edition that did not breach existing privileges. Regulation did not stop with the production process. The Council also intervened to stop inappropriate profane literature published elsewhere from being sold in Geneva. In 1570 proceedings were instituted against the son of the pastor Lucas Cop, a wild child who preferred Petrarch, Ronsard, and Castiglione to the local diet of sermons and religious instruction...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 218-219
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.