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439498 IOC 0 0 10.1177/0306422012439498 Grit in the EngineIndex on Censorship 2012
GRIT IN THE ENGINE
Robert McCrum considers Index’s role in the history of the fight for free speech, from the oppression of the Cold War to censorship online
In February 1663, the London printer John Twyn waited in Newgate prison for his execution, the unique horror of being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, the place known today as Marble Arch. This medieval agony was the recently restored monarch King Charles II’s terrifying lesson to his subjects: do not write, or print, treason against the state.
Even more cruel, Twyn’s offence was merely to have printed an anonymous pamphlet justifying the people’s right to rebellion, ‘mettlesome stuff’ according to the state censor (the King’s Surveyor of the Press). No one suggested that Twyn had written this treason, only that he had transformed it from manuscript to print. Perhaps he hadn’t even read it. Never mind: he was sentenced to death.
Pressed both to admit his offence and reveal the name of the pamphlet’s anonymous author (and thereby save his own life), Twyn refused. In words of breathtaking courage that echo down the centuries, he told the prison chaplain that ‘it was not his principle to betray the Author’. Shortly afterwards, Twyn went to his doom. His head was placed on a spike over Ludgate, and his dismembered body distributed round other city gates.