Historical Reprints History Books Fatal to Their Authors

Books Fatal to Their Authors

Books Fatal to Their Authors
Catalog # SKU1290
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name P. H. Ditchfield


Books Fatal
to Their Authors


Since the knowledge of Truth is the sovereign good of human nature, it is natural that in every age she should have many seekers, and those who ventured in quest of her in the dark days of ignorance and superstition amidst the mists and tempests of the sixteenth century often ran counter to the opinions of dominant parties, and fell into the hands of foes who knew no pity. Inasmuch as Theology and Religion are the highest of all studies--the aroma scientiarum--they have attracted the most powerful minds and the subtlest intellects to their elucidation; no other subjects have excited men's minds and aroused their passions as these have done; on account of their unspeakable importance, no other subjects have kindled such heat and strife, or proved themselves more fatal to many of the authors who wrote concerning them.


"To record the woes of authors and to discourse de libris fatalibus seems deliberately to court the displeasure of that fickle mistress who presides over the destinies of writers and their works. Fortune awaits the aspiring scribe with many wiles, and oft treats him sorely. If she enrich any, it is but to make them subject of her sport. If she raise others, it is but to pleasure herself with their ruins. What she adorned but yesterday is to-day her pastime, and if we now permit her to adorn and crown us, we must to-morrow suffer her to crush and tear us to pieces. To-day her sovereign power is limited: she can but let loose a host of angry critics upon us; she can but scoff at us, take away our literary reputation, and turn away the eyes of a public as fickle as herself from our pages. Surely that were hard enough! Can Fortune pluck a more galling dart from her quiver, and dip the point in more envenomed bitterness? Yes, those whose hard lot is here recorded have suffered more terrible wounds than these. They have lost liberty, and even life, on account of their works. The cherished offspring of their brains have, like unnatural children, turned against their parents, causing them to be put to death."

"Fools many of them--nay, it is surprising how many of this illustrious family have peopled the world, and they can boast of many authors' names which figure on their genealogical tree--men who might have lived happy, contented, and useful lives were it not for their insane cacoethes scribendi. And hereby they show their folly. If only they had been content to write plain and ordinary commonplaces which every one believed, and which caused every honest fellow who had a grain of sense in his head to exclaim, "How true that is!" all would have been well. But they must needs write something original, something different from other men's thoughts; and immediately the censors and critics began to spy out heresy, or laxity of morals, and the fools were dealt with according to their folly. There used to be special houses of correction in those days, mad- houses built upon an approved system, for the special treatment of cases of this kind; mediaeval dungeons, an occasional application of the rack, and other gentle instruments of torture of an inventive age, were wonderfully efficacious in curing a man of his folly. Nor was there any special limit to the time during which the treatment lasted. And in case of a dangerous fit of folly, there were always a few faggots ready, or a sharpened axe, to put a finishing stroke to other and more gentle remedies."

In an evil hour persecutions were resorted to to force consciences, Roman Catholics burning and torturing Protestants, and the latter retaliating and using the same weapons; surely this was, as Bacon wrote, "to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of the likeness of a dove, in the shape of a vulture or raven; and to set, out of the bark of a Christian Church, a flag of a bark of pirates and assassins."

The historian then will not be surprised to find that by far the larger number of Fatal Books deal with these subjects of Theology and Religion, and many of them belong to the stormy period of the Reformation. They met with severe critics in the merciless Inquisition, and sad was the fate of a luckless author who found himself opposed to the opinions of that dread tribunal. There was no appeal from its decisions, and if a taint of heresy, or of what it was pleased to call heresy, was detected in any book, the doom of its author was sealed, and the ingenuity of the age was well-nigh exhausted in devising methods for administering the largest amount of torture before death ended his woes.

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

Liberty of conscience was a thing unknown in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and while we prize that liberty as a priceless possession, we can but admire the constancy and courage of those who lived in less happy days. We are not concerned now in condemning or defending their opinions or their beliefs, but we may at least praise their boldness and mourn their fate.

The first author we record whose works proved fatal to him was Michael Molinos, a Spanish theologian born in 1627, a pious and devout man who resided at Rome and acted as confessor. He published in 1675 The Spiritual Manual, which was translated from Italian into Latin, and together with a treatise on The Daily Communion was printed with this title: A Spiritual Manual, releasing the soul and leading it along the interior way to the acquiring the perfection of contemplation and the rich treasure of internal peace. In the preface Molinos writes: "Mystical theology is not a science of the imagination, but of feelings; we do not understand it by study, but we receive it from heaven. Therefore in this little work I have received far greater assistance from the infinite goodness of God, who has deigned to inspire me, than from the thoughts which the reading of books has suggested to me."

The object of the work is to teach that the pious mind must possess quietude in order to attain to any spiritual progress, and that for this purpose it must be abstracted from visible objects and thus rendered susceptible of heavenly influence. This work received the approval of the Archbishop of the kingdom of Calabria, and many other theologians of the Church. It won for its author the favour of Cardinal Estraeus and also of Pope Innocent XI. It was examined by the Inquisition at the instigation of the Jesuits, and passed that trying ordeal unscathed. But the book raised up many powerful adversaries against its author, who did not scruple to charge Molinos with Judaism, Mohammedanism, and many other "isms," but without any avail, until at length they approached the confessor of the King of Naples, and obtained an order addressed to Cardinal Estraeus for the further examination of the book. The Cardinal preferred the favour of the king to his private friendship. Molinos was tried in 1685, and two years later was conducted in his priestly robes to the temple of Minerva, where he was bound, and holding in his hand a wax taper was compelled to renounce sixty-eight articles which the Inquisition decreed were deduced from his book.

He was afterwards doomed to perpetual imprisonment. On his way to the prison he encountered one of his opponents and exclaimed, "Farewell, my father; we shall meet again on the day of judgment, and then it will be manifest on which side, on yours or mine, the Truth shall stand." For eleven long years Molinos languished in the dungeons of the Inquisition, where he died in 1696. His work was translated into French and appeared in a Recueil de piè ces sur le Quiètisme, published in Amsterdam 1688. Molinos has been considered the leader and founder of the Quietism of the seventeenth century. The monks of Mount Athos in the fourteenth, the Molinosists, Madame Guyon, Fènèlon, and others in the seventeenth century, all belonged to that contemplative company of Christians who thought that the highest state of perfection consisted in the repose and complete inaction of the soul, that life ought to be one of entire passive contemplation, and that good works and active industry were only fitting for those who were toiling in a lower sphere and had not attained to the higher regions of spiritual mysticism. Thus the '[Greek: Aesuchastai]' on Mount Athos contemplated their nose or their navel, and called the effect of their meditations "the divine light," and Molinos pined in his dungeon, and left his works to be castigated by the renowned Bossuet. The pious, devout, and learned Spanish divine was worthy of a better fate, and perhaps a little more quietism and a little less restlessness would not be amiss in our busy nineteenth century.

185+ pages - 8 x 5 inches SoftCover