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August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
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Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

Covering your tracks, c. 1660

Google’s announcement that they’re going to stop censoring their Chinese search results in response to a cyberattack targeting Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents is big news, but I wanted to look* at some older instances of political attempts to control information (and of users to hide it).

Samuel Pepys, the only person more famous for writing a diary than Anne Frank, had a problem. He’d bought this book, Mare Clausum by John Selden, in a 1652 translation that included a lavish dedication “To the Supreme Autoritie of the Nation: The Parliament of the Commonwealth of England.” The trouble is that in 1660, Charles II was restored as king of England. Whoops.

In 1663 a new edition – keeping Nedham’s translation, but changing the title page – had been published by two booksellers called Andrew Kembe and Edward Thomas… For readers who already owned the 1652 edition, and who didn’t want the shame of the old title page but were reluctant to shell out for a new one, there was another option. The bookseller Robert Walton was offering a new title page that could be bound or pasted into the old edition, restoring the dedication to Charles I.

Pepys was nothing if not politic and practical, so on 17 April 1663, he visited Walton to paste the new title page into his book. Pepys also burned books that he thought might incriminate him, either with the government or his wife, as in the case of a French book Pepys found pornographic:

Friday 7 February 1668. We sang till almost night, and drank my good store of wine; and then they parted and I to my chamber, where I did read through L’Escholle des Filles; a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for imagination’s sake (but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharger); and after I had done it, I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame.

As Nick Poyntz (who blogged about this at Mercurius Politicus) wrote: “This is the seventeenth-century equivalent of wiping your browser history.” Awesome.

* Actually, I was going to write about Pepys anyway. But Google! China! Crazees.

January 12, 2010 / Uncategorized


The book seller Robert Wal ton was offer ing a new title page that could be bound or pasted into the old edi tion, restor ing the ded i ca tion to Charles I.

Oh, Tim, you’re killing me. I really wanted to quantum teleport you to my Thanksgiving table, where an erudite scholar was talking about exactly this, and I couldn’t, and now I just have no idea how to even connect you with him.

That final parenthetical remark of his is simultaneously fascinating and cringe-worthy.

Er, where by “his” cringe-inducing parenthetical remark, I mean Pepys’s, not the erudite scholar I had Thanksgiving dinner with.

Tim Carmody says…

I think by your demonstrative pronoun “that,” you got yourself clear of any potential trouble with your possessive pronoun’s reference.

Hi – thanks so much for the plug. Pepys could be an old rogue or an utter shit when he wanted to be, and as I tried to argue in the post he wasn’t always as self-aware as he might have been. But I do have a massive soft spot for him and his diaries, mostly because he never loses his sense of wonder at what the world has to offer.

Tim Carmody says…

Thanks for writing it up, Nick. I love your blog, and have been reading it for a long time. (I don’t know if you remember this earlier post on Cromwell’s apocryphal “Mess of Pottage” speech.)

There’s something Leopold Bloom-like about Pepys — the full range of his humanity is on display. I think that’s why we like him.

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