henry_flower: A melancholy wolf (Default)
henry_flower ([personal profile] henry_flower) wrote2017-03-19 04:28 pm

Women were on the watch to give the alarm by their screams

The law by which the Parliament of James had subjected the press to the control of censors was still in force [~1690]; and, though the officers whose business it was to prevent the infraction [0] of that law were not extreme to mark every irregularity committed by a bookseller who understood the art of conveying a guinea in a squeeze of the hand, they could not wink at the open vending of unlicensed pamphlets filled with ribald [1] insults to the Sovereign [William III], and with direct instigations to rebellion.

But there had long lurked in the garrets of London a class of printers who worked steadily at their calling with precautions resembling those employed by coiners and forgers. Women were on the watch to give the alarm by their screams if an officer appeared near the workshop. The press was immediately pushed into a closet behind the bed; the types were flung into the coalhole, and covered with cinders: the compositor disappeared through a trapdoor in the roof, and made off over the tiles of the neighbouring houses.

In these dens were manufactured treasonable works of all classes and sizes, from halfpenny broadsides of doggrel [2] verse up to massy quartos filled with Hebrew quotations. It was not safe to exhibit such publications openly on a counter. They were sold only by trusty agents, and in secret places.

Some tracts which were thought likely to produce a great effect were given away in immense numbers at the expense of wealthy Jacobites. Sometimes a paper was thrust under a door, sometimes dropped on the table of a coffeehouse. One day a thousand copies of a scurrilous pamphlet went out by the postbags. On another day, when the shopkeepers rose early to take down their shutters, they found the whole of Fleet Street and the Strand white with seditious handbills.

(The History of England, by Thomas Babington Macaulay, ch. 16)

[0] infraction -- violation
[1] ribald -- humorously vulgar
[2] doggrel -- (doggerel) a comic verse of irregular measure