From Bram Stoker, “The Censorship of Fiction” (1908)


Restraint may be one of two kinds - either that which is compelled by external forces, or that which comes from within. In art the latter in its usual phase is known as "reticence." This is the highest quality of art; that which can be and is its chief and crowning glory. It is an attribute practically undefinable. Its conditions are so varying and so multitudinous, its degrees so finely graded, its workings so mysterious, its end so elusive, that it is not possible to explain it adequately by words which are themselves defective and yet of ever-varying meaning. Suffice it that it is recognisable, and recognised, by all true artists. In it consists largely, if not wholly, the ethics of art; and on it, or in it depends that quality of art which brings it within the classification of "high" art. The measure of the ethics of the artist is expressed in the reticence shown in his work; and where such self-restraint exists there is no need for external compelling force. In fact, self-restraint is the bulwark of freedom, inasmuch as it makes other forms of restraint unnecessary.



Now as to the possible evils of imagination. Wherein or of what kinds are or may such be? We shall, I think, on considering the matter, find that they are entirely limited to evil effects produced on the senses. Here I speak only on the ethical side; there may be evils of revolt against political or social laws, but in such case the work of imagination, novel or drama, must be taken as an educational machine or medium only. Imagination does not appeal to a nation except through its units, and so must be taken as dealing with individuals only, though its effects may ultimately become of general, if not of universal import. As example, in a base play given in a crowded theatre, though many may be gratified and so debased by the exposition of lewd suggestion - either verbal or of movement or appearance - there are others who will be disgusted. It is through the corruption of individuals that the harm is done. A close analysis will show that the only emotions which in the long run harm are those arising from sex impulses, and when we have realised this we have put a finger on the actual point of danger .. ..



The merest glance at some of their work will justify any harshness of judgment; the roughest synopsis will horrify. It is not well to name either these books or their authors, I for such would but make known what is better suppressed, and give the writers the advertisement which they crave. It may be taken that such works as are here spoken of deal not merely with natural misdoing based on human weakness, frailty, or passions of the senses, but with vices so flagitious, so opposed to even the decencies of nature in its crudest and lowest forms, that the poignancy of moral disgust is lost in horror. This article is no more protest against academic faults or breaches of good taste. It is a deliberate indictment of a class of literature so vile that it is actually corrupting the nation ....