Saturday 21 September 2013

Second-hand bookshops weaned me

I always loved second-hand bookshops above all things - they were my true alma mater, not my university. But now I see that old books are also the last bastions of freedom of speech.

The Bible and Shakespeare would not be published by any publishing house today if they were newly written. Dante consigns Mahomet to Hell, Chaucer is homophobic, Macaulay's opinion of Indians would not be printable, though he liked them, and as for Schopenhauer's deplorable views on women, well... 

Second-hand bookshops are replete with forbidden ideas. When I educated myself with plastic bags full of second-hand books in my teens this idea never crossed my mind but in those days freedom of thought still existed in England.

The Bible and all old books and the common law, which is a tradition that goes back to an earlier era, will increasingly be what keeps freedom of thought alive. Second-hand bookshops are to our age what the monasteries, where monks copied Latin manuscripts, were to the Dark Ages.

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