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Title: Forbidden fruit : an analysis of prohibited literature in the Order of Saint John’s Biblioteca Pubblica (1760 – 1798)
Authors: Agius, Jael Katya (2019)
Keywords: National Library of Malta (Valletta, Malta)
Prohibited books -- Malta
Censorship -- Malta -- History
Malta -- History -- Knights of Malta, 1530-1798
Issue Date: 2019
Citation: Agius, J. K. (2019). Forbidden fruit : an analysis of prohibited literature in the Order of Saint John’s Biblioteca Pubblica (1760 – 1798) (Master’s dissertation).
Abstract: This dissertation aims to analyse the presence of prohibited printed literature within the National Library of Malta, emphasising on the earliest years of the Biblioteca Pubblica of the Order of Saint John in Malta, starting from its birth in 1760, until the Order was driven away from the Islands in 1798. This dissertation will deal with printed literature, thus entailing the exclusion of manuscripts, leaflets, and other similar material. The nature of mankind has always been to fight that which is viewed as different, dangerous and unorthodox. But what led to a work becoming prohibited? Traditionally, books were considered offensive when they undermined the authority of the Monarch (or the Government if taken in a more recent context), the Church, or conventional morality. Heresy and unorthodoxy have always been elastic terms, and books supplied arguments to those who read them, with Protestantism being the first religious movement to fully utilise the possibilities brought by the printing press. The sinister hand of the censor can never be ignored, and this will be investigated in the context of prohibited literature within the local scenario. However, strict as it was, censorship in Malta could never completely halt the literate from obtaining the printed works it tried so hard to block. This dissertation is divided into five chapters. The eighteenth century was described by the Bibliotecario Rev. Agius de Soldanis as being “Il Secolo delle Biblioteche”, owing to the establishment and enrichment of numerous libraries during this century. This brings us to the first chapter, which retells the history of the origin of the Biblioteca Pubblica, starting with the various attempts by the Order to set up a public library, and culminating in the establishment of the Biblioteca Tanseana through the collections of Cardinal Portocarrero and Baillif de Tencin in 1760. The important role played by Agius de Soldanis is also discussed, as is the addition of private collections, the building of a new home for the library, and its survival from the tumultuous French blockade into the British Protectorate. The heart of this dissertation lies in the second chapter, in an analysis of the prohibited works within the founding collection of Baillif de Tencin. An examination of the entire collection of prohibited literature within today’s Biblioteca would be a herculean task, one which would be difficult to condense into a taught Master’s dissertation. As such, for the purpose of this dissertation, the greatest emphasis has been placed on Baillif de Tencin’s library. The Bailiff’s collection is an extensive one, dealing with various subjects, and forming part of the foundation of today’s National Library. Alternative sources of prohibited literature did exist, and are laid out in the third chapter. The main sources for books within the Order’s Public Library, be they prohibited or not, were twofold. Firstly, bequests from individual Hospitallers, such as Commendatore Joseph de Fassion de SainteJay, or associations like the Camerata, were crucial in the fleshing out of the Biblioteca’s collection. Secondly, the transfer of books to the Library following the death of members of the Order, and the sale of duplicate books obtained therefrom, were great contributors to the aggrandisement of the Public Library’s collection. Moving onto the fourth chapter, the presence of best-selling prohibited French literature within the National Library is investigated. A list of 35 best-selling forbidden books, obtained upon consultation with the studies of cultural historian Robert Darnton, was analysed against the National Library’s manuscripts, in order to establish which of these works appear to have been ever present within the Biblioteca. This leads us directly to the final chapter, which investigates the prohibited French best-sellers mentioned in Chapter 4 which still survive at the National Library. The surviving forbidden works were perused in order to ascertain whether they had any marks which could shed light upon their provenance or previous ownership. The prohibited works which seem to have never made it into the Library are also discussed. Maltese Identity has always been characterised by its reality as a small archipelago, which however never limited its cultural history. On the contrary, European cultural influence always pervaded the Islands, even in the case of literature, and this dissertation aims to show to what extent this was so.
Description: M.MALTESE STUD.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - InsMS - 2019

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