Censer, Jack R. The French Press in the Age of Enlightenment. London: Routledge, 1995. 272 pp. $59.95.
Jack R. Censer, a professor of history at George Mason University, has provided a useful book on the French press during the last decades of the Old Regime. Focusing on the period from 1745 to 1785, he offers a nuanced portrait of the press in these critical years by using case studies and a broad overview of previous research on pre-revolution periodicals.
Censer interprets the Old Regime press by examining the perspectives expressed in its political press, advertisers, and the literary and philosophical press. He uses two approaches: case studies of selected periodicals, which draw on established research, and analysis of information such as employee and subscriber lists. He extends the view of the pre-revolution press by including foreign publications circulating in France during the period.
A picture emerges of a press that fluctuated in its criticism of the government, and of a government whose efforts to control negative coverage met with varying success. The political press was able to discuss foreign developments but did not vigorously criticize the monarchy until two years before the Assembly of Notables convened in 1787. Even before this, however, coverage of the American revolution and the democratic republic that followed offered indirect criticism of the French government. Throughout this period the monarchy successfully supressed French periodicals' reporting on the domestic front while the government guaranteed that its point of view was heard through the publications it sponsored. Unable to keep foreign publications out of the country, the government could not block their coverage of French political developments; these periodicals offer clearer evidence of pressure building toward revolution. …