Darnton has spent much of his career investigating the system of information control in eighteenth century France prior to the revolution of 1789. This research brought him to Neuchatel in Switzerland, one of the important centers of printing of the period, where materials forbidden in France were published to be later smuggled into the country and distributed through sophisticated networks.
|Play from beginning
|In most countries on the continent
|There were princes, they were absolute regimes,
|The degree of absolutism was relative to a particular setting,
|But If you take France as the most important central, most populace country,
|you had a very elaborate system of censorship, but in addition to that,
|you had a monopoly of production in the bookseller's guild in Paris,
|it had police powers
|and then the police itself had specialised inspectors of the book trade
|so you put all of that together
|and the state was very powerful in its attempt to control the printed word.
|By the time you time you get to the age of the Enlightenment
|there's a highly organised administration of the book trade,
|so in principle anything that appears in print has to pass the censorship
|and be registered,
|to go through an elaborate process,
|and of course this didn't work
|that the directions set,
|the organisation set up by the state was so elaborate,
|so baroque in its bureaucracy
|that in a sense it was counterproductive.
|Censorship, you know,
|varies from regime to regime.
|We think we know what censorship is,
|but i would argue that it's a different thing under different systems,
|so the basic idea of censorship in 18th century france
|is the concept of privilege or private law,
|a publisher gets the right to publish a particular text
|that is denied to others,
|so he has that privilege.
|that's different from censorship under stalin, say, or hitler
|There is a monopoly of what's called the booksellers guild of paris.
|it has police power;
|its syndics and aguane are obliged to inspect
|all of the printing houses in paris
|and printers are officially limited to 36 printing shops.
|And so the guild is supposed to go around from shop to shop
|and find out what they're printing,
|make sure there are no illegal books being printed.
|No books that contravene privileges
|the equivalent of copyright in a sense etc. So yes they have powers
|and they also inspect every single book which is shipped into paris.
|the books are stopped at the wall which surrounds paris
|and any ship which is marked 'libri' books
|is sent to a special large hall
|where the booksellers guild and inspector of police will inspect it.
|Essentially what you have
|is a centralised administration for controlling the book trade
|using censorship and also using the monopoly
|of the established publishers
|against that you've got publishing houses,
|print presses that surround france
|in what i call a 'fertile crescent'
|dozens and dozens of them producing books which are smuggled
|across the french borders
|and distributed everywhere in the kingdom by an underground system,
|so in effect you've got two systems at war with one another.
|And it's the system of production outside france
|that is crucial for the enlightenment,
|virtually all of the works that we associate with the french enlightenment
|are published in Amsterdam, in the Hague,
|in Brussels in Geneva, in Neuchatel, in Basel
|these are the places where Rosseau, Voltaire
|and company get themselves printed,
|but these printers also produce other things
|because they're in it not simply to spread enlightenment,
|many of them are sympathetic to the enlightenment
|they're in it to make money. So they will satisfy demand,
|whatever the demand might be...
|the pirates had agents in paris
|and everywhere else, who were sending them sheets of new books
|which they think will sell well,
|the pirates are systematically doing market research
|in hundreds and thousands of letters, they are sounding the market,
|they want to know what demand is
|the reaction of publishers at the centre is of course extremely hostile,
|I've read a lot of their letters;
|they're full of expressions like buccaneer
|and private and people without shame or morality etc.
|in actual fact many of these pirates were good bourgeois,
|in Lausanne or, Geneva or, Amsterdam
|and they thought, that they were just 'doing business'.
|after all there was no international copyright law
|and they were satisfying demand. If the demand hapend to be in france
|well, that's a problem for the french,
|but not for the dutch or the swiss
|I must admit, I always hesitate
|to pronounce on world historical trends.
|But i've spend a lot of time in the archives
|and you can at least glimpse something,
|that might look world historical from time to time,
|as you go through various bits of old paper.
|What is clear is that during the 18th century
|that the printed word as a force is expanding everywhere
|and we can go into a lots of detailed studies
|to find out why an how that this happened
|The population is increasing, the educational institutions are spreading,
|literacy is going up and there is this new thing we call 'public opinion'.
|The phrase itself is first used in the middle of the 18th century,
|I think the phenomenon existed earlier,
|but for the last half of the 18th century
|there is a public that is fascinated with public affairs,
|now the mechanism for controlling the media
|if you want to use that expression notably the print media
|is simply not adequate to controlling this demand.
|So everywhere around france, even within france,
|there are entrepreneurs who take it upon themselves to satisfy this demand
|and this can be in the form of clandestine manuscript newsletters,
|it can be in a form of fully printed books and there are many other forms
|the one that I find most interesting is songs.
|It turns out that everyone in the 18th century, if you take paris,
|had a repertory of tunes in his or her had, as we do today.
|most of my tunes come from commercials actually
|People would improvise
|new words to old tunes, everyday.
|And these would be sung in the streets of paris,
|sometimes by professionals, who had hurdy-gurdys
|and would simply belt out the last verse tune that everyone knew.
|And it could be about the kings mistress,
|it could be about a minister who is abusing power,
|it could be on a whole variety of quite political subjects.
|This new verse is then picked up because it is a great mnemonic device
|and the song is been song throughout the streets of paris.
|I imagine the street of paris - it is just echoing everywhere with songs.
|So that is a good example of how in the absence of news media
|of proper newspaper, a new kind of medium developed,
|that actually does the job of newspapers
|I've studied hundreds of these songs and I would say, they were sung newspapers.
|There's no way that an absolutist political system
|can totally suppress the spread of information
|new media adapt themselves to these circumstances,
|and often they can become even more effective because of the repression.
|It's a fascinating process and it culminates frankly
|right on the eve of the france revolution, so that i would argue,
|Not only did this new media system spread the enlightenment
|but, I won't use the word 'prepared', the way for the revolution
|it indicted the old regim
|that this power, public opinion, became crucial
|in the collapse of the government 1787-1788.