Confiscations at Customs

BookConfiscations at Customs

Confiscations at Customs

banned books and the French booktrade during the last years of the Ancien régime

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2006:07


July 18th, 2006

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The French Enlightenment takes place against a background of State censorship. During the last decade or so of the Ancien régime, the French government fluctuated considerably regarding its approach to banned books: on the one hand, many were not overtly prohibited but were nonetheless seized; on the other, banned books were often allowed through. The inconsistencies of officials provide revealing insights into the innermost workings of the system on the eve of the Revolution and show the scope of changing mentalities during those crucial years.
Beyond the customs records, numerous sources have been exploited in order to clarify these inconsistencies of practice, even as the author analyses archival records relevant to the French booktrade and to works considered dangerous. Confiscations at customs focuses on specific issues concerning banned books and their importation into Paris, including works by Voltaire, Fleuriot de Langle and Raynal, as well as discussing piracies and works published or imported by virtue of the tacit permit. Numerous titles can now be added to the recently published lists of books seized at customs based on a close reading of hitherto unpublished archival sources. 
Substantial appendices complete the discussion; they range from lists of banned books to unpublished letters concerning Voltaire's Œuvres. Several other appendices are freely available online at

'[Dawson’s] approach brings vividly to life the actual practices of the customs officers whose job it was to try to stem the flood of prohibited or suspect books engulfing France at this time.'
Modern Language Review

'Dawson has written an excellent scholarly work supported by extensive documentation both in print and online. [...] This volume can also serve as a case study in using primary source materials in archival collections. Dawson takes great care to present his methodology in examining two principal registers and in coordinating information from additional multiple sources.'
Libraries and the Cultural Record

'By so thoroughly demonstrating the complexities and interconnections of book censorship and book circulation in 18th-century France, Dawson’s Confiscationsproves to be an excellent resource for scholars.'
New Perspectives on the Eighteenth-Century

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title 2
Title Page 4
Copyright Page5
Contents 6
List of illustrations8
Abbreviations, acronyms, frequently citedsources and special terms14
List of illustrations8
Abbreviations, acronyms, frequently cited sources and special terms14
1. Inspectors and inspections: preliminary remarks26
2. Darnton revisited32
i. ‘Fortunately, the syndics [...] they kept’32
ii. ‘The incidence of customs confiscations therefore provides a final indication of what works circulated most widely in the clandestine book trade’35
3. Inside the registers40
i. The registers40
ii. The records and their significance53
iii. Ambiguities66
iv. The 1771-1777 confiscations register73
v. Further problems75
vi. The registers compared79
vii. Voltaire and his OEuvres82
viii. Fleuriot de Langle100
ix. Raynal and the Histoire philosophique103
x. Piracies110
4. Ancillary archival materials114
i. The tacit-permit records and book importations into Paris, 1778-1789114
ii. A list of banned books121
iii. Edicts and royal decrees122
iv. Customs records134
v. Circumventing customs137
vi. The Registres de la librairie139
vii. Selected additional archival sources144
5. Conclusion154
A. Two lists of books imprisoned in the Bastille, 1749 and 1781168
B. Three letters concerning Voltaire’s OEuvres, spring 1789169
C. Selected banned books culled from Mettra172
D. Books that sent Pecquet to the Bastille181
E. Books seized at the Beaucaire fair in 1766185
F. Customs, inspections and the tacit permit188
G. Further information about books and issues discussed in Confiscations230
H. Hitherto unpublished documents232
I. More confiscations at customs: selected problems and cases234
J. Banned books sold at auction256
K. Poinçot’s catalogue of books transferred from the Bastille260
i. Livres en feuilles262
ii. Livres reliés287
iii. Livres brochés288
List of secondary sources294
Index of works304
Index of names, places and themes318