The Objects

20th May 1815

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Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, with permission.

Freedom of the press?

Contributed by: Clare Siviter

'Le Censeur des censeurs ou Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de la révolution du 20 mars' was a weekly newspaper which benefited from the short moment of (supposed) freedom of press during the 100 Days: Napoleon had abolished censorship in March. Its publication life was brief – the first issue appeared on 6th May 1815 and it was replaced by the Journal du lys et Bulletin des chambres in September 1815 – but it offers an insight into how royalist material was published in France during the 100 days.

Readers today will be struck by the title: Napoleon’s return to Paris was presented as another revolution. Equally striking is how the articles uncover and foreground the transmission of news: the issue of 20th May, for example, uses a royalist newspaper from Ghent to relate the events of 14th April; an account of the events of the 10th May, meanwhile, has been transmitted via London.

The periodical’s use of other newspapers as sources thus enabled it to convey multiple views of contemporary events that deviated from those of Napoleon’s government – albeit with cautious curatorial footnotes so as not to fall foul of the authorities: here, for example, a footnote clarifies that Napoleon’s name is not synonymous with ‘crimes’ but rather with ‘gloire’. The stratagem of appearing to support the Emperor through footnotes did not fool the Marquis de Lafayette and John Adams as we have seen (entry for 9th May). Although the periodical does not express a view entirely in line with that of Napoleon's returned government, its existence was tolerated and MODERATELY controlled via censorship, as the final printed and bound volume of 1816 reveals by including the cuts of the censor.