Tuesday, August 30, 2016

At last, poet/bookseller Ernest Hilbert is bowdlerized

Poets Ernest Hilbert and William Shakespeare
Congratulations to poet/bookseller Ernest Hilbert, who reports a significant milestone in his career as a writer – he has finally been bowdlerized. Sooner or later, all the great ones are censored, and we're proud of this popular bookseller who graces us with his presence every year at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.

In 1818, Thomas Bowdler, a strait-laced English doctor, published a sanitized version of William Shakespeare's brilliant plays, one that with the boldly (and even subtly) suggestive lines removed, would be suitable for a father to read to his children in the tumultuous Georgian era.

Critics at the time and since have roundly lambasted the good doctor for tinkering with the Shakespearian masterworks, though it was actually his older sister Henrietta who was said to have cleaned up The Bard. For gender's sake, it was published under her brother's name. Henrietta also published a collection of sermons – anonymously, of course. Nevertheless, the actions of the prudish brother and sister gave rise to the verb bowdlerize, to blue-pencil the edgy stuff that might offend someone.

For his part, Ernest says he doesn't mind that a couple of words were changed when a clergyman sanitized his poem for use in a sermon.  At least the replacement words had the same number of syllables if not the same meter.  Read Ernest's blog, E-Verse Radio for a full account of the incident. 

After Thomas Bowdler died, another sterilized book appeared under his name, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons. Don't know if Thomas and Henrietta worked on it together but based on the reputations of the ancient Romans, they had plenty of material to work with. (Caligula comes to mind but there were others, too.) Henrietta died a spinster at age 80. Published after her death, her last work was Pen Tamar, or the History of an Old Maid.

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