Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Countering extremist material on campus

Book burning, sad to say, was for centuries a habit of those in authority throughout the western world — not least here in Oxford.

Way back in 1225 Pope Honorius III ordered all surviving copies of books by the ninth century Irish philosopher Eriugena — whom Oxford University, implausibly enough, had long claimed to be its founder — be sent to Rome for burning.

And more famously, Thomas Hobbes’ books, including Leviathan, were burned in the quadrangle of the Bodleian in 1683.

In 1660, too, the University authorities ordered John Milton’s books to be burned publicly in the Bodleian quad.

Historian Anthony Wood was present at the 1660 fires. He described how books “were publicly burned by the hand of of our Marshall in the court of our schools,” adding: “scholars of all degrees and qualities in the meantime surrounding the fire gave several hums whilst they were burning.”

The university authorities in ordering the 1660 fires were following a command from the king. The Proclamation of King Charles II condemned Milton’s Eikonoklastes and his Pro Populo anglicano Defensio to the fires on the grounds that both works defended the execution of Charles I.
Chris Koenig, writing in The Oxford Times in 2010.