“I didn’t read it.”

In September of 1886, Anthony Comstock, using a fictitious name, ordered a copy of Droll Stories by Honoré de Balzac from John A. Wilson of the Globe Publishing Company. When he received the book, he ordered a copy of The Heptameron of Queen Marguerite de Navarre. He then attained two federal grand jury indictments against Wilson for sending obscene literature through the mail. In March of 1887, Wilson was fined $500 and sent to prison for two years.

In 1894, Joseph J. Little, aware of the imprisonment of Wilson, sent a copies of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and François Rabelais’ The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel to Comstock, asking if they were obscene and if he would be arrested for selling them. Comstock replied, “It is utterly impossible for me to find time to examine these books. I have had them now for two weeks and more, and some of them much longer, and I am completely nauseated with that kind of rot.”

When a reporter from the New York Sun asked Comstock what fault he found with Tom Jones, Comstock replied, “I didn’t read it. You don’t catch me reading anything like that. It’s scurrilous. It’s abominable. It’s indecent.” However, the next month the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the books were not obscene and could be sold without fear of arrest and imprisonment.


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