4.2.9: 1830 - 1910 - Censorship

Although preventive censorship was no longer applied after Napoleon's departure, the legal freedom of the press, accepted tacitly as unwritten law, was formalised only in section 8 of the Constitution of 1848: 'Nobody needs prior permission to publish his thoughts or feelings, except for his responsibility under the law'. This liberal attitude towards the products of the printing press had the consequence that censorship could be exercised only repressively in the Netherlands. In 1839 the book trade itself was asked by the board of the Vereeniging to oppose the distribution of D.F. Strauss' Leben Jesu (Groningen: J.H. Bolt), but this remained an incident. In practice, the government acted mainly in cases of disapproved publications in newspapers in which the authorities themselves or the House of Orange were attacked. The Arnhem publisher C.A. Thieme was frequently involved in lawsuits with his Arnhemsche courant. The Rotterdam publisher H.J.W. Thompson was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 1834 for favouring the enemy. His anti-national attitude and extreme rudeness towards Willem I in a newspaper financed by the Belgian government did not go down well with the authorities. F. Domela Nieuwenhuis as well was sentenced to one year in prison in 1886 for the publication of 'De koning komt' (The king is coming) in the paper Recht voor allen (Justice for all).

In addition to the repressive censorship laid down in the law, other forms of censorship played a role during this period. No economic freedom of the press existed until 1 July 1869 when the so-called newspaper stamp was abolished. In 1861, a subscription to the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche courant (New Rotterdam Newspaper) (361 issues, mail delivery free) cost 37 guilders(about € 17.-), 45% of which was tax.

In addition there was also moral censorship, dictated in particular by the religious faction. The Catholic Church, through the regularly published Index Librorum Prohibitorum was the most explicit in forbidding certain books which it deemed unfit for Catholics. Printing, distributing and reading of banned books could in the worst case result in excommunication. The Protestant population group applied self-censorship, especially on a local level: centralised sanctions of canon law appeared not to work. The literary critics regularly fulminated against indecent books. The young and the female reader had to be protected against the evil influence of, among others, French novels, especially the works by authors such as Honoré de Balzac, Paul de Kock and Emile Zola were qualified as unfit literature. The immoral, anti-Christian, anti-social and demoralising contents of novels in particular met with many objections. The purpose of reading should be improvement. Controversial works by Dutch authors such De lotgevallen van Klaasje Zevenster by J. van Lennep (1862), Een liefde (1887) by L. van Deijssel and Pijpelijntjes (1904) by J.I. de Haan admittedly did cause some emotion, but never resulted in an actual injunction.

Preventive censorship could be found in the Reglement op de drukwerken in Nederlandsch Indië (Rules concerning printed matter in the Dutch East Indies) (1856), which stipulated that without prior permission it was not permitted to anyone to publish thoughts and ideas by means of the press. With a view to the enforcement of public order, the indigenous population in particular could not be allowed freedom of press. Any person wanting to publish a new magazine or periodical required permission to do so from the (East Indian) authorities. Texts printed in the Netherlands were allowed to be imported without limitation. In the Dutch East Indies regular action was also taken against unwelcome publications in newspapers.

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans