Nineteenth-Century French Political Censorship
“Nineteenth-Century French Political Censorship of Caricature in Comparative European Perspective”, conference of the Western Society for French History in
On September 20, 1874, the French caricature journal L’Eclipse declared that, “One could, one day, write an exact history of the liberty which we enjoy during this era by writing a history of our caricatures.” This simultaneously wry, but acute, statement reflected the fact that both the existence and nature of nineteenth-century French caricature censorship was extraordinarily sensitive to the seemingly ever-changing nature of that country’s political regimes. Thus, as France transmogrified from Bonapartist dictatorship (1799-1815) to (with outside “assistance”) a constitutional monarchy, first under the Bourbon (1815-1830) and then the Orleans dynasty (1830-1848), then to a short-lived republic (1848-51), back to a Bonapartist dictatorship (1851-70) and ultimately to first a so-called “monarchist” (1870-77) and then finally to a “republican” republic (1877-), the nature of French political caricature censorship (censorship clearly overwhelmingly reflecting “moral concerns,” i.e. perceived or alleged obscenity/pornography are not dealt with here) repeatedly mirrored such shifts: caricature censorship was abolished with the change of regimes in 1815, 1830, 1848 and 1870 (and for good--at least in peacetime, in 1881, with the consolidation of the “republican republic”), and was, in the various interims, reinstated due to changes in either the regime or the political atmosphere in 1820, 1835, 1852 and 1871. Moreover, throughout the nineteenth century (using here the “historians’ definition” of 1815-1914) , the subject of caricature censorship was frequently a subject of lively political debate, and the exact nature of censorship (when it was in effect) or post-publication prosecutions (when prior censorship did not exact) typically closely reflected the changing political currents. Thus, in 1880, during one of the numerous French legislative debates on caricature censorship, deputy Robert Mitchell told his colleagues that :
Drawings which displease the government are always forbidden. Those which have gained official favor are displayed in the windows of all the bookstores, are sold in all of the kiosks. This provides a valuable indicator for the attentive observer, curious for precise information on the tastes, preferences, sentiments, hates and intentions of those who have control and care over our destines. In studying refused drawings and authorized drawings, we know exactly what the government fears and what it encourages, we have a clear revelation of its intimate thoughts.
Between 1815 and 1880 about 20 French caricature journals were suppressed by the government and virtually every prominent nineteenth-century French political caricaturist either had his drawings forbidden, was prosecuted and/or was jailed, most notably perhaps the most famous caricaturist in history, Honoré Daumier, who was imprisoned for six months for his famous 1832 drawing “Gargantua” (other leading French caricaturists whose work was banned and/or who were arrested and/or jailed included Grandville, Traviès, André Gill, Pilotell, Charles Vernier, Charles Gilbert-Martin, Louis Legrand, Aristide Delannoy, Alfred Le Petit and Jules Grandjouan). No doubt the most famous harassment of caricature journals was carried out by King Louis Philippe against Charles Philipon, the editor of the two most famous nineteenth-century such outlets, La Caricature (1830-35) and Le Charivari (1832-93), during the 1830-35 period when theoretically caricature was freed from censorship; Philipon was prosecuted half-a-dozen times, convicted thrice, fined 4000 francs and jailed for 13 months. He later wrote, “I could no longer count the seizures, the arrest warrants, the trials, the struggles, the wounds, the attacks and the harassments of all types, any more than could a [carriage] voyager] count the jolts of his trip.” When the 1835 re-imposition of prior censorship forced him to close La Caricature, Philipon wrote in the final issue that “to break our [drawing] crayons has required a law made specially for us, which makes it materially impossible“ to continue.
The purpose of this paper is to attempt to answer, in an admittedly preliminary way, the question, “How was the French experience with censorship of political caricature similar or different to that experienced in other major continental European countries (there was no censorship of caricature in
How nineteenth-century French political caricature censorship resembled that in other major continental European countries
In many ways, nineteenth-century French political caricature censorship resembled that in the other major continental European countries. All of these countries maintained caricature censorship for at least a major part of the nineteenth century, they were all motivated by similar concerns in maintaining and implementing political caricature censorship, the existence and nature of caricature censorship drastically affected both the number and nature of caricatures that were produced in every country, all of them abolished caricature censorship and then re-instated it at least once due to changing political developments, they all implemented the censorship (and post-publication prosecutions after its abolition) in ways that reflected their general political orientations and concerns, and caricature journals throughout Europe used similar techniques to try to evade and defy the censorship..
Political caricature was especially feared by the authorities in France and elsewhere in nineteenth-century Europe--often even more than the printed word--because visual imagery (like the theater) was accessible even to the especially feared “dark masses,” who were often illiterate, but rarely blind, and who could therefore “read” caricatures (and understand plays) even if they could not comprehend books and newspapers (just as they could understand paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows and the other extensive decorations which medieval churches so prominently featured, transforming them into what the late sixth century Pope Gregory I famously termed “bibles of the illiterate”). Moreover, imagery such as caricatures were viewed as far more powerful in impact that the printed word, to such an extent that European political authorities considered drawings (and the theater) as occupying a category of communications completely different than that represented by the printed word. The clearest evidence that caricature (and other visual imagery including theater--and subsequently the cinema) were viewed as categorically different and were feared far more than the printed word is that in many countries prior censorship of such visual sources was maintained well after prior censorship of print was abolished: thus, in France, print was never subject to prior censorship after 1822, yet caricature censorship was finally abolished only in 1881 (and theater censorship continued until 1906), while in Russia, most prior print censorship was abolished in 1865, while caricature censorship was effectively maintained (with a brief exception in 1905) throughout the entire tsarist regime.
This distinction was clearly expressed when French Minister of Justice Jean-Charles Persil, in successfully proposing the 1835 law which re-introduced caricature and theater censorship (both of which had been abolished in the aftermath of the 1830 July Revolution), explained that the 1830 constitutional ban on censorship only applies to the right to publish and have printed one’s opinions; it is the [written] press which is placed under the guarantee of the Constitution, it is the free manifestation of opinions which cannot be repressed by preventive measures. It would clearly go beyond that goal if the charter were interpreted to accord the same protection to opinions converted into actions. Let an author be content to print his play, he will subjected to no preventive measure; let the illustrator write his thought, let him publish it in that form, and as in that manner he addresses only the mind, he will encounter no obstacle. It is in that sense that it was said that censorship could never be reestablished. But when opinions are converted into acts by the presentation of a play or the exhibit of a drawing, . . . [t]hat is more than the expression of an opinion, that is a deed, an action, a behavior, with which . . .the charter is not concerned [emphasis in original].
During the legislative debate on Persil’s proposal, deputy Paul Sauzet, clearly referring to the notorious explosion of public caricatures portraying King Louis Philippe in the form of a “pear,” backed Persil on the grounds that to put an end to the “great scandals” created by the “outbursts which have profaned the art of illustration” and “everywhere” covered Parisian streets and squares with the “degrading spectacle of a mute, living revolt against the established order,” with the “most gross outrages against the king, the courts and the laws,” action was required by the “imperious commands of the necessities of public order” to end “these outrages which corrupt the spirit of the population in degrading with impunity the royal majesty.” He added that it would “force the meaning of words to consider drawings the same as opinions“ or to “establish a parallel between writings which address themselves to the mind and the illustration which speaks to the senses,” because the “vivacity and popularity of the impressions” left by the referenced caricatures created a “special danger which well-intentioned legislation must prevent at all costs.”
Similar reflections of the perceived power of caricatures and other visual images were repeatedly expressed by French authorities during the nineteenth century. Thus, the French interior minister informed his prefects on September 8, 1829 that “engravings or lithographs act immediately upon the imagination of the people, like a book which is read with the speed of light; if it wounds modesty or public decency the damage is rapid and irremediable,” while the police minister told his subordinates in 1852 that “among the means employed to shake and destroy the sentiments of reserve and morality which are so essential to conserve in the bosom of a well-ordered society, drawings are one of the most dangerous,” since the “worst page of a bad book requires some time to read and a certain degree of intelligence to understand, while the drawing. . . Communicates with movement and life, so as to thus present spontaneously, in a translation which everyone can understand, the most dangerous of all seductions, that of example.” This not-so-subtle reference to the ability of drawings to communicate with “everyone” (i.e., even the illiterate) was frequently remarked upon: thus in an 1880 legislative debate, deputy Emile Villiers declared that while press freedom posed “problems and dangers,” the “unlimited freedom of drawings presents many more still,” since a drawing “startles not only the mind but the eyes” and was a “means of speaking even to the illiterate, of stirring up passions, without reasoning, without discourse.”
Similar views of the particular dangers posed by caricatures can also be found (if perhaps not as frequently) in other countries (where, as pointed out below, in general caricature was not as common or as artistically well-developed). Thus, the Prussian interior minister successfully convinced King Frederick William IV to re-impose prior censorship of drawings (which the monarchy had abolished as a symbol of political liberalization shortly after his 1840 ascendancy to the throne) on the grounds that caricatures “prepare for the destructive influence of negative philosophies and democratic spokesmen and authors,” especially since the “uneducated classes do not pay much notice to the printed word” but do “pay attention to caricatures and understand them” and to “refute [a caricature] is impossible; its impression is lasting and sometimes ineradicable.” (
While these comments make clear that the desire to protect the existing political, social, economic and, sometimes at least, the religious power structure, was clearly the main motivation behind nineteenth-century European caricature censorship, another common motivation throughout the continent was the fear that political cartoons might offend foreign powers. Thus, France and other European governments on numerous occasions sought to ban caricatures which they feared would endanger their foreign policy goals. Thus, during the 1870s the French government banned caricatures of some foreign leaders entirely and drawings of others without their permission, leading the journal Le Grelot to complain on December 22, 1878 that “we are free to say whatever we want--subject to the inspection of half a dozen French censors and 50 or 75 foreign ambassadors.“ In perhaps the most notorious French incident based on foreign policy considerations, the government, asserting the right to administratively ban the street sales of allegedly offensive caricatures even after the 1881 abolition of caricature censorship, imposed such a ban on the September 28, 1901 issue of L‘Assiette au Beurre, which bitterly attacked the British use of concentration camps during the Boer War and whose back-cover full-page color caricature depicted “impudent Albion“ (i.e. Britain) as a woman “mooning” the world with the features of British King Edward VII drawn upon her naked buttocks. The
Similar actions were taken by other nineteenth-century European governments. Thus, in 1901 the German authorities confiscated an issue of the leading journal Simplicissimus which featured a cover caricature depicted a towering, obese British King Edward VII trampling Boer War concentration camp inhabitants while complaining, “This blood is splashing me from head to toe. My crown is getting filthy.” In another case involving Simplicissimus, leading caricaturist Thomas Theodor Heine was fined for a May, 1903 cartoon which depicted German diplomats as subordinate to the United States by portraying their training process as including a voyage through a large torso embellished with an American eagle, starting with their insertion into its anal cavity (of course this action may have reflected anger at criticism of the German government as well as a desire to avoid offending the United States, a motivation which, of course, only demonstrated the point of the caricature).
As already mentioned with regard to
As with the Prussian abolition and then re-instatement of caricature censorship between 1840 and 1843 and the repeated elimination and re-introduction of such controls in France in reflection of broader political currents, all major European countries witnessed similar developments at least once: in Germany, the Hapsburg Empire and Italy, as a result of the temporary success of the 1848 revolutions, and in Russia due to the essential collapse of the regime for a period during the 1905 revolution, caricature censorship was either formally or effectively abolished, but, in each case, it was re-imposed after the regimes regained control (one exception was the Italian state of Piedmont [Sardinia], which continued to allow freedom of caricature after 1848 and then extended this to the rest of Italy after the other Italian states joined Piedmont to form a re-united Italy between 1860 and 1870).
That controls over caricature drastically affected all aspects of caricature production was clearly evident in such circumstances: in each case, the collapse or end of caricature censorship was accompanied by an explosion of caricature journals, and in each case the re-imposition of controls was accompanied by a massive suppression and/or collapse of the offending journals. Thus, in Germany, according to scholar William Coupe, the caricature business developed from “virtually nothing” to a “minor industry in a matter of weeks” in 1848, with 35 illustrated satirical journals founded in Berlin alone, but following the suppression of the revolution most German caricature journals reversted in the 1850s “to the status of innocuous joke books, more concerns with mothers-in-law and drunks than political issues.”
In Russia, whereas fewer than 100 caricature journals had been published during the entire 1815-1905 period, with the collapse of censorship amidst the 1905 revolution perhaps 500 such journals erupted (including
You know about the extinction of “Bugbear,” the imprisonment of [editor and artist] Zinovii Gzhebin, the 16-hour imprisonment of [Isaac] Bilibin [the famous artist of the donkey print], the interrogation of [well-known artist Boris] Anisfeld and [artist Dimitri] Kadovsky and the closure of the press (now reopened). And all because of that donkey.
No doubt the single most spectacular and politically significant governmental action directed against a caricature journal was the so-called “Cu-Cut! Incident” in
One final similarity between French and other European nineteenth-century caricature censorship was that in both cases the censorship attracted repeated and thunderous denunciation, both in print and drawings, from those who were affected (and often stifled) by it. Caricature journals and their artists bitterly complained when they were subjected to stricter controls than the print press and about the arbitrary and thought-stifling nature of governmental controls. Thus, the French caricature journal Le Grelot asked, “By what right can one prevent the crayon from saying what the pen is allowed to?” (February 3, 1878) and lamented that censorship bans were made with “no trial, no conviction, just an order” of the interior minister (September 9, 1871) and that “what is forbidden today was authorized a week ago and perhaps will be allowed tomorrow” (March 10, 1872). Not surprisingly, caricaturists in France and elsewhere also repeatedly attacked their persecutors with drawings, which often were extremely similar from one country to the next (and clearly not only by chance: the Portuguese journal La Parodia published on March 2,
How Nineteenth-Century French political caricature censorship differed from elsewhere in Europe
Most differences in nineteenth-century political caricature censorship between France and elsewhere in Europe were basically related to the facts that French caricature was a more common and prominent phenomenon than elsewhere, especially before 1848 (largely because, unlike any other major continental regime, French caricature periodically enjoyed freedom before then) and that, no doubt partly as a result, it was more artistically developed and therefore more powerful earlier than elsewhere. These developments made French caricature more politically powerful and controversial elsewhere than in Europe, and combined with the extraordinary level of French political instability, resulted in more frequent debates about caricature censorship and more frequent changes in the regulations than elsewhere, with the result, that, to a far greater degree than any other major European country, French caricature, as noted at the top of this essay, reflected with uncanny accuracy the nature of nineteenth-century French politics.
No doubt because, unlike any other major nineteenth-century European continental power, French caricature experienced several periods of freedom from prior censorship before 1848 (i.e., 1815-1822 and 1830-35), it obtained a “head start,” both in terms of quantity and quality, over other major European countries, which it never relinquished during the nineteenth century, and which made French caricature comparatively both more important and more subject both to the general attention of the ever-changing authorities and, especially, to repeated changes in regulatory procedures. A catalog of French caricatures journals (not all politically-oriented) published between 1860 and 1890 includes over 160 such periodicals; another such listing, covering the partly overlapping period of 1870-1940, includes over 300 caricature journals. Although, unfortunately, no comparable data appear to exist with regard to other major European countries, no one familiar with the literature could seriously doubt that the French figures far exceed those for other countries (with the sole exception of the above-discussed eruption of hundreds of often brief-lived caricature journals with the collapse of Russian censorship control during the 1905 revolution). One clear indication of how much more important caricature was in nineteenth-century France than in other comparable European powers is the amount of scholarly attention that has been devoted to it: a late October, 2008 search of the electronic data base “World Search,” a massive, multi-lingual combined catalog of holdings of thousands of (mostly college) libraries (primarily, but not only, in North America and western Europe), using the search terms “France,” “caricature” and “nineteenth-century” yielded over 700 entries (mostly books but also including audio-visual and other materials), almost five times as many as the other five leading continental European powers (Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Austria) combined. A 2008 French publication listing articles and books on the “satiric image,” which overwhelmingly concentrates on material about
But nineteenth-century French caricature not only exceeded that in other major continental European countries in quantity; before mid-century at least (when prior caricature censorship began to fade away elsewhere), French caricature unquestionably was, at least in general, of a better artistic quality and therefore probably packed more of an artistic punch. No caricatures published elsewhere in Europe before mid-century even came close to the full-blown artistic masterpieces of Daumier and other artists like Grandville that were regularly published, for example, in Philipon’s journals; indeed many, although certainly not all, caricatures published elsewhere before mid-century often include what appear, at least comparatively, more like stick-figures and/or only the basic outlines of characters and objects which are typical in modern American editorial cartoons.
It was clearly the combination of both the numbers and the high artistic quality of French political caricature which made caricature censorship so frequent a subject of debate and regulation in nineteenth-century France; thus during the 1835 legislative debate, in clear reference to the “pear” caricatures produced or inspired by Philipon’s journals which proliferated all over Paris, Commerce Minister Paul Duchatel declared that “there is nothing more dangerous, gentlemen, than these infamous caricatures, these seditious designs,“ which “produce the most deadly effect.” It was both the magnitude and perceived impact of nineteenth-century French political caricature, both of which were unparalleled elsewhere in Europe, combined with the similarly unparalleled extraordinary instability of French politics, that led to the repeated abolition and re-imposition of the caricature censorship, developments which were only faintly echoed in other European regimes, most of which went through this cycle only once (or in the case of Prussia, twice) instead of the four or five times experienced by France. It was precisely this repetitive cycle, plus the nature of censorship when it was enforced, that makes studying nineteenth-century French political caricature so revelatory and reflective about broader currents of French politics. But even if the lesser importance of political caricature elsewhere in nineteenth-century Europe made caricature censorship less frequently a subject of debate and changes in regulation, and its study as a result less important as a general indicator of broader political trends, examining political drawings in other countries can still pay high dividends: thus, Russian author Leo Tolstoy declared that “for the historian of the 22nd and 23rd centuries who describes the 19th century, [the German caricature journal] Simplicissimus will be the most valuable source, enabling him to become familiar not only with the state of our present-day society, but also to test the credibility of all other sources.”
 Journal Official (JO), June 8, 1880, 6214.
 For general information on nineteenth-century French political caricature censorship, the reader is referred to the author’s 1989 book, Censorship of Political Caricature in Nineteenth-Century France (Kent State University Press). As this book is fully documented, and has an extensive bibliographical essay, I have generally footnoted in this paper, with regard to French caricature censorship, only specific quotations and references to material published since its appearance. Much of the same material is treated in
 Two particularly useful French surveys of European caricature are Bernd Bornemann, et al, La Caricature, art et manifeste du XVIe siècle à nos jours (Skira, 1974) and Laurent Baridon and Martial Guédon, L’art et l’histoire de la Caricature (Citadelles- Mazenod, 2006). A survey of French and English materials on European countries other than France is provided in my 1989 book, Political Censorship of the Arts & the Press in Nineteenth-Century Europe (MacMillan); I have therefore documented here, with regard to such countries, only direct quotations and material drawn from subsequent publications.
 Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (AP), (Paul Ducatel, 1898), 741, 744.
 Archives Nationales, Paris, F18 2342; JO, June 8, 1880, 6212-13.
 Mary Lee Townsend, Forbidden Laughter: Popular Humor and the Limits of Repression in Nineteenth-Century
 Generally on this subject, see Robert Justin Goldstein, “Political Caricature and International Complications in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Michigan Academician (1998), 107-21. On L’Assiette au Beurre, the leading study is Elisabeth and Michel Dixmier , L’Assiette au Beurre (Maspero, (74); on “Impudent Albion,” see
 There is an extensive English-language literature on Simplicissimus, with perhaps the most detailed information to be found in Allen and in Robin Lenman, “Censorship and Satire in Munich, 1890-1914, with Special Reference to Simplicissimus and the Plays of Frank Wedekind,” (Oxford University Ph.D, 1975.
 In general, see Robert Justin Goldstein, “The Prosecution and Jailing of Political Caricaturists in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Media History (2003), 47-62. For the German material, Ute Harms, “
 See Rosanna Maggio-Serra, “La Naissance de la Caricature de Presse en Italie et le Journal Tuinois, ‘Il Fischietto,” Histoire et Critique des Arts (1980), 135-58.
 William Coupe, “The German Cartoon and the Revolutions of
 There is a massive literature on the 1905 Russian revolution and caricature, but by far the best introduction in English is the wonderfully illustrated volume by David King and Cathy Porter, Images of Revolution: Graphic Art from 1905 Russia (Pantheon, 1983).
 Joaquin Romero-Maura, The Spanish Army and
 Philippe Jones, “
 See the sources cited in footnote 3, as well as Les Révolutions de 1848: L’Europe des images (French National Assembly,1998).
 AP (1898), 741.
 Steve Heller, “Simplicissimus,” Upper and Lower Case (1981), 16.