A Plea on behalf of Preventive Censorship1

   In the era we have now reached in the history of civilization, productions in the dramatic arts can no longer be considered other than from two points of view: as business enterprises or as a means of government. Upon one of these points of view as on the other, the support of Censorship has become vital.
   The newspapers, preoccupied before all else with the security of directors and the interests of authors to find stages on which to play, are sufficiently extensive on the first point without there being any need to insist upon it. It is enough to remember that, if we replace prudent, Preventive Censorship with interdiction, our theatre directors will unfailingly fall into bankruptcy even more frequently than in the past, and that our dramatists will be continually appearing before the courts to answer for the erotic, political or sentimental improprieties that their masterpieces might contain. As a result, up until the seventy ninth performance, before which it is impossible to know whether a play will not cause a scandal, writers will always have to fear seeing the rights of the author, which up until that point they may have enjoyed, transformed into condemnatory fines and prison; and the directors, for having had the courage to shock public taste and conscience, would always have to ask themselves, like Hamlet, if they were not about to be seized by the bailiffs.
   All of these disadvantages vanish, as may be seen, by the administration of Preventive Censorship. We saw it clearly in the case of Thermidor2. Besides, all of these disadvantages are quite secondary. There is no need to dwell on it.
   But we, preoccupied as we are more than anything with the major interests of society, we consider that in an age where not a single spectator in ten thousand goes to the theatre to seek the pure enjoyment of aesthetic pleasures, it is no bad thing that the dramatic arts are left in the hands of the State, and that in such a way Preventive Censorship becomes an instrument of government. It would even be the only way of making known to the lower orders the ideas that are exciting the higher spheres. In this way the slightest words exchanged in apparently literary speeches would take on capital importance in the eyes of the public, interested to see in them the ideas at the back of their minds that are exciting our governing bodies. So it is that, when Rémonin the doctor accepts "with pleasure", in the fifth act of L'Étrangère3, the proposal that will make him verify the death of the Duc de Septmonts, our grandchildren will see this declaration, which to us simply appears as witty, by a series of possible reconciliations and as yet little apparent affinities, the fixed design of the government to renew the privileges of the Banque de France or to condemn the "pioutiotes"4. In this way it would be in the theatres that serious matters would be dealt with. The Stock Exchange would move there, and the bulls and the bears would make the walls ring with their applause or their catcalls, whilst during the intermissions Scandinavian play-bills and Spanish oranges would be offered around. Moreover, since the government would need to renew or refuse its authorization every night, so as not to expose to grave cataclysms the way in which government thinking could be understood, the writers and directors, in order to avoid, on their side, the harsh extremity of refunding money or resorting at the last minute to irregularities of duty, would be authorized to modify certain lines, in agreement with the Censor and according to the Agance Havas5, now become a simple theatrical agency. So that, instead of replying: "With pleasure", doctor Rémonin would say: "That would be very awkward for me", in the situation where he had been told about the death of a great nobleman and friend of the government and that the unexpected votes of the Chamber with respect to the Pari Mutuel6 would be suddenly quashed. The gallery would immediately forget all the concerns of the moment and one would see then what public mourning is. It would result in some surprises for those of the spectators who are called every night to the same theatre by their occupations, and who are condemned to hear from twenty five to seventy five times the year's great successes, Dernier Amour or Passionnément.7 This may be rather a shock, it is true, to the habits of the ancient subscribers to the Opéra, who at first will be astonished to hear sung, instead of the traditional "Come into a new homeland", "You go; I'm staying in Paris" as the necessities of politics demand. But that would have some excellent effects, especially in the small theatres, where the changes that they undergo from the habitual cascades of actors will completely upset the calm of the toffs come for the two hundred and fifty third time to admire, after thirty seven matinées, the same delights of the same people. It is easy to see that here we have the means, by frequently varying the performances, to swiftly raise the takings. Subscriptions from then on would become so much less worthwhile, since all the theatres would be subscribed to morally. In addition to which, because different theatres would not be allowed to perform plays on the same night in which the bias and the sense could be contradictory, we can see too that the administration of the theatres must be centralized, and care must be taken that they all sing to the same tune, from the Théâtre-Lyrique to the Concert-Parisien. The Théâtre-Libre alone would be left outside of all hierarchical influence. From that time on, a simple private institution, entrusted solely to the caprice of M. Antoine, a place of recreation for a few idlers where literary things (!!!) would be presented, it would no longer be of the slightest importance. And this would be the single means  of ruining M. Antoine's enterprise, M. Antoine who, no longer being able to fill his hall, would turn scandalmonger.
   So, far from calling for the suppression of Censorship we request that its power be greatly extended. Far from diminishing its activity, it would on the contrary greatly augment it. We have an absolute need to know the thoughts of the government. So, no more unofficial press, more acceptable candidates. The Journal Officiel8 would be inadequate, as long as it has the naievety to include speeches by the enemies of government. It must not be that a vain liberalism prevents the executors of the law from creating "collaborations with the authors of drama", as was said very wittily by Monsieur the Minister of Public Instruction about La Fille Élisa.9 On the contrary everybody will win: the actors, whose prestige will be doubled; the directors, whose authority will be consolidated; the public, and even the writers. Liberty has had its time. But if somebody tells us that he is going to the theatre for his own pleasure and to applaud the fine productions by artists of the day, we demand that this outmoded specimen of our civilization be nourished at the expense of the State, at the Military School of the Champ de Mars.10 As for us, we are the serious people, all of us friends of order and morality. We wish people to be logical with themselves, and, since Censorship exists, it is necessary that the State be responsible for everything that is performed in our theatres. We ask that Aesthetics be the means of government.


1. Published in Le Mensuel, No 4 April 1891. Opinion is divided as to whether this was written by Proust or not. In Jérôme Prieur's introduction to Marcel Proust, Le Mensuel retrouvé he says: "As for 'Y' which Proust made use of on one occasion, the signature is used once again certainly by a different author, so little does the article about the widespread use of censorship seem, stylistically, to come from his pen." I am including this article simply because, on the strength of the signature alone, there is a possibility that it could have been written by Proust.

2. Play by Victorien Sardou. Public outrage at its depiction of Robespierre during the Revolution caused it to be cancelled after two performances at the Comédie-Française in January 1891. The government of President Carnot prohibited the production from all state-funded venues.

3. Play by Alexandre Dumas fils, first performed 1876.

4. I have completely failed to find a translation of pioutiotes or discover its meaning.

5. French press agency.

6. Parimutuel betting system.

7. Dernier Amour play by Georges Ohnet?, Passionément - ???

8. The official gazette of the French Republic.

9. La Fille Élisa, Edmond de Goncourt, 1877.

10. Champ de Mars, Park in Paris.


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Created 28.01.18