Perrin 1969

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Perrin, Noel. Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America. New York: Atheneum, 1969.

in France, golden age of expurgation was 17-18th-c; livres chatres, "castrated books"

bowdlerism is not censorship; censorship is usually imposed by a government, bowdlerism is "a voluntary act" (xi)

first chapter indicates a shift happened at the end of the 18th and turn of the 19th century; people were happy to read certain novels aloud earlier but suddenly found them too indecent for refined minds; rise of sensibility and delicacy

1807: Boston publisher brings out the first successful edition of his plays in Ameria, aimed at college students; the Lamb's Tales from Shakespear came out in London, attributed to Charles Lamb (Charles did 6 plays, Mary did 14); Family Shakespeare printed in Bath, first Shakespeare ever printed there

Harriet removes all oaths that mention God except Catholic ones, like "'sblood" (God's blood, reference to a Catholic cup of wine; even turned "Marry" back to original "Mary." many of these same cuts didn't make it past the censor in 1611

Monthly Review review of first edition of Family Shakespeare said, "All admirers of Shakespeare must be aware that such a castrated version of his plays has long been desirable." (qtd on 75)

Christian Observer review is appalled, wanted edition to go even further in its expurgation; believed people shouldn't be reading Shakespeare at all

  • inspired a reply from "Philalethes" ("Obscurity Lover"), who defended drama and expurgation, written by John, Jr.; refers to editor as "he" throughout

James Plumptre, Four Discourses on Subjects Relating to the Amusement of the Stage (Cambridge, 1809), names Thomas Bowdler as author

brothers were the common recourse when sisters wished to stay anonymouse; example of poet Henry Kirke White in 1804 finding it difficult to get credit for his own poems; people thought they were his sisters; see Roberty Southey, ed., The Remains of Henry Kirke White of Nottingham (1816), I, 123

evidence of Harriet's authorship:

  • letter from Rev. Robert Mayow of Bath, friend of Harriet, to James Plumptre, in 1811, just after Plumptre had finished his own expurgation, The English Drama Purified; Mayow says: "I don't know whether it be your intention to published your 'English Drama' so that it may be uniform in point of size with Mrs. Bowdler's Shakespeare. If it were of that size, perhaps it might recommend it to those who have her work." (78)
  • Plumptre wrote to Thomas Burgess, Bishops of St. David's, about supporting a reformed National Theatre; on 8 September 1821, Bishop replied ... "Mrs. Bowdler and her Brother have done a good deal toward moralizing Shakespeare; but it will, I think, be more difficult to moralize the Playhouse and the Players." (qtd 79)
  • Rev. Thomas Bowdler settled Harriet's estate after her death in 1830; sent books to a neighbor, Mrs. William Cowburn, with the note, "The Shakespeare is my Aunt's edition, but may serve for young folks; and it is pleasant to have a copy for common use." (79)
    • Cowburn wrote on the flyleaf of one of the books that it belonged to Harriet Bowdler

many expurgators will replace words with less offensive ones; "Harriet did virtually none of this. She just cut." (80)

Dr. Bowdler, when he took over, is much larger; he restored many boring passages that Harriet cut on aesthetic grounds, would put back some of improper passages she cut, restores some of Touchstone's poetry; but also cut hundreds of passages that she left alone (81-2)

Monthly Review of his edition says: "We cannot, however, avoid remarking that the editor has sometimes shewn the truth of the old saw, that the nicest person has the nastiest ideas, and has omitted many phrases as containing indelicacies which we cannot see, and of the guilt of which our bard, we think, is entirely innocent." (qtd on 83)

Dr. Bowdler's edition sold slowly the first three years; then argument between Blackwood's Magazine (which hated the new edition, called "that piece of prudery in pasteboard," and damned expurgation; February 1821) and Edinburgh Review (which praised it in October in a review written by Lord Jeffrey; declared all other editions of Shakespeare obsolete: "As what cannot be pronounced in decent company cannot well afford much pleasure in the closet, we think it is better, every way, that what cannot be spoken, and ought not to have been written, should cease to be printed." qtd on 84) (83-4)

publisher printed excerpt from the review in later editions, to help it sell

Dr. Bowdler produced an expurgation of Gibbon, Family Gibbon, that didn't do as well; mostly expurgated for religious reasons, not sexual content <-- evidence that expurgations were popular because of reading aloud

earlier expurgation: Sir Henry Herbert, Charles II's master of the Revels, orders managers of the 2 licensed playhouses to send advance copies of all old plays that they intend to puto on, "that they may be reformed of prophanes and ribaldry" (qtd on 88); in December, Sir William D'Avenant, one of the play mangers, gets exclusive rights to 11 of the old plays, 9 of which are by Shakespeare, and he prunes them of stronger profanity

after this, Restoration comedy proceeded by anti-bowdlerism, making the plays sexier; e.g. Dryden expanding The Tempest

18c changes to Shakespeare were made on artistic grounds (91)

Bell's Shakespeare, edited by Francis Gentleman; worked from the scripts of the 2 royal theaters in London; was made as a prop for theater-goers but also aimed at a wider audience; all good passages not spoken on stage are at the bottom of the pages, wanted to make Shakespeare "more instructive and intelligible, especially to the ladies and to youth" (qtd on 93), by printing indecencies in italics, as a signal for them to be skipped; sometimes would use parentheses

William Henry Ireland, King Lear (1795) -- billed as S's original manuscript, recovered and now printed; Ireland "thought his forgery would be more convincing if he cleaned the text up" (95); he explained, "It was generally deemed extraordinary that the productions of Shakespeare should be found so very unequal, and in particular that so much ribaldry should appear throughout his dramatic compositions" (qtd on 95) -- so to simulate real, original S, "I determined on the expedient of rewriting, in the old hand, one of the most conspicuous plays, and making such alteratiosn as I conceived appropriate." (qtd on 95); gave altered manuscript to his father, who published it, arguing it had to be original because of the pure, elegant style; Ireland maintained throughout his life that he had done Shakespeare a favor by raising his reputation, making people think that any ribaldry in S was "foistered in by the players and printers" (qtd on 96), such that Edmund Malone, who discovered the forgery, was the true enemy of S

Rev. J. R. Pitman, School-Shakspere, printing expurgated extracts (1822)

Elizabeth Macauley, Tales of the Drama (1822), turning plays into narratives

Professor John W. S. Hows of Columbia, Shaksperian Reader (1849), first expurgated edition in America (101)

bowderlism int he 1909 New Hudson Shakespeare, not acknowledged by editors

Family Shakespeare was over by 1925, tides turned and by 1940 accurate texts with expurgations restored were hitting the marketplace

history of expurgating the Bible:

Mrs. Sarah Kirby Trimmer, Sacred History (1782); "began very modestly, as a bundle of manuscript designed to introduce her own twelve children to the more innocent parts of the Bible, and only gradually grew into its role as a public expurgation" (116); first eidtion aimed at children between 7 and 14, but as she saw it would sell to adults, she begins producing it as a bowdlerized Bible; didn't think of it as a Bible but as a summary and aide-memoire; "No Human conpositions ought to be used as substitues for the Bible itself," she wrote (qtd on 118)

Matthew Lewis, The Monk (1794); character Antonia is well-versed in Scripture but naive, turns out that her mother "has copied out the Bible by hand, leaving out all coarse passages." (118); passage caused an outcry, Bishop of London "said hotly that such slurs on the Bible were intolerable, and demanded that Lewis withdraw them from future editions of the book, which he did" (119)

Dr. Edward Harwood, Liberal Translation of the New Testament (1768), which intended to replace "the bald and barbarous language of the old vulgar version" (qtd on 119); makes tthe book speak in highly formal language

The Holy Bible Adapted to the Use of Schools and Private Families (1783)

alterations to Book of Common Prayer even more common; by end of 18c, ~20 versions in existence

Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London who condemned "'The Monk and offered Harriet Bowdler a parish for her Sermons published Bible with a Porteusian Index (1796), a navigation charter of the Bible: every chapter has at its head a starred 1 (words of Christ; best reading in the Bible), an ordinary 1 (spiritual or practical nature), a 2 (historical chapters, not worth much meditation), or no mark at all

Porteusian Bible was successfull; was only of the purified Bibles "appointed to be read in churches"; was a Porteusian Bible Society (124)

John Bellamy, Holy Bible, Newly Translated (1818); Bellamy spent 10 years learning Hebrew to produce new translations of passages he considered offensive, and thought they couldn't possibly be original but must be bad translations; was not a success

Dr. Benjamin Boothroyd, New Family Bible and Improed Version (1824); tries to update language and in doing so smooth out offensive passages

John Watson, The Holy Bible Arranged and Adapted for Family Reading (1824); doesn't number chapter and verse but invents divisions of his own; cuts more than Trimmer but less than Boothroyd

Mr. William Alexander, Holy Bible, Principally Designed to FAcilitate the Audible or Social Reading of the Sacred Scriptures (1828), Quaker who ran his own printing business; basic Porteusian division into classes, calle dDevotional Series, General Series, and Private Perusal Series, but physically segregated the good and bad parts, keeping every chapter and nearly every verse in its normal order; not a success -- only 6 of 20 parts ever printed

Noah Webster, expurgaged Bible of 1833; kept every incident but changed the words

Harriet Bowdler's "basic aim in 1807 was to preserve for the adolescents of England some of the mystery and opaqueness of human behavior without which we are likely to regard ourselves as either animals or machines. Her method was laughable, and it may even be doubted that the human myster requires deliberate preservation, but the aim was an honorable one." (263)


letters from publisher Longmans to Bowdler, negotiating the appearance of the Family Shakespeare. they ask him to name a price for a new edition, expressing reluctance about it since the first sold so slowly; then they say they don't have hopes it will sell enough and refuse to publish an edition; something made them completely reverse their decision and even request for a full edition

Bowdler can't salvage Measure for Measure; includes an old activing version by John Philip Kemble (1789); next edition, expurgates this, too

final order for sets of the Family Shakspeare was in June 1900; 15,250 had been printed altogether

in 1864, Longmans began printing the plays separately for sales to schools

Glasgow publisher Griffin began putting out a rival when 42-year British copyright expired in 1860, with steel plates