Publishing and Readership in Revolutionary France and America: A Symposium at the Library of Congress

By Carol Armbruster | Go to book overview

THE DILEMMAS OF REPUBLICAN PUBLISHING, 1793-1799

Carla Hesse

In 1789 French revolutionaries led by the journalist Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville revolted against the publishing world of the Old Regime. They declared their intention to liberate the minds of citizens from royal inquisitors and to free the presses, as Brissot put it, in order to "spread enlightenment in every direction." 1 Between 1789 and 1793 they translated this cultural program into legislative action and systematically dismantled the entire legal and institutional infrastructure that had organized French publishing under the absolutist monarchy. In order to liberate thought and "spread enlightenment," the French Revolution inaugurated an era of freedom of commerce in the world of ideas.

The declaration of "freedom of the press" on August 26, 1789 put a definitive end to prepublication censorship. In 1790, the Royal Administration of the Book Trade was closed down as well. It was this administration which registered and enforced royal literary privilèges on books, the predecessors to copyrights that granted an exclusive claim upon a publication to an author or publisher. The army of bureaucrats and inspectors who policed the book trade in order to prevent the circulation of subversive literature and pirate editions of privileged works was suppressed as well. In 1791, the National Assembly definitively abolished the exclusive monopoly of the Publishers' and Printers' Guild on the trades of publishing, printing, and bookselling, thus opening these trades to all. Finally, proclaiming nothing less than a "declaration of the rights of genius," in 1793, the National Convention for the first time legally recognized the property rights of living authors and abolished all former royal literary privilèges, or any private claims upon the works of authors who had been dead for more than ten years. As a consequence, the entire literary inheritance of France, which had been monopolized by the Royal Book Guilds of France through these exclusive privileges granted by the crown, was released from private hands into the public domain. Anyone was now free to publish Racine and Molière, as well as Voltaire and Rousseau. Thus by 1791 the entire legal and institutional framework that had restricted and regulated the

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Publishing and Readership in Revolutionary France and America: A Symposium at the Library of Congress
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Publishing as a Profession *
  • Publishing and the Law 59
  • The Dilemmas of Republican Publishing, 1793-1799 61
  • Reading 115
  • Male and Female: Words and Images in the French Revolution 137
  • Publication and the Public Sphere 167
  • Collecting and Using Materials 175
  • Some Eighteenth-Century American Book Collectors, Their Collections, and Their Legacies 191
  • Select Bibliography 205
  • About the Contributors 207
  • Index 211
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