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Review of McLeod, Jane. Licensing Loyalty: Printers, Patrons, and the State in Early Modern France. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2011. ISBN 978-0-271-03768-4. Pp. 312. $74.95

Article Citation: 
XV, 1 (2013): 99–101
Kathrina Ann LaPorta
Article Text: 

Jane McLeod’s Licensing Loyalty is a clearly written and cogently ar­gued study of state-media relations in the ancien régime. Tracing the evolution of the French state’s regulation of the printing industry from 1667 through the Revolution, McLeod examines the “mutually beneficial” relationship existing between royal authorities and provincial printers through a presentation of case studies and archival data (8, 123). Whereas previous scholars have analyzed printers as operating outside of and in opposition to the state, McLeod convincingly demonstrates their agency in lobbying government officials for favorable policies. In their dealings with royal officials, printers adopted five distinct but overlapping identities: as university men, as clients engaged in patronage networks, as businessmen, as guildsmen, and as loyal officers of the king. The latter roleconstitutesthe central focus of the book (35), as McLeod meticulously investigates the ways in which printers self-fashioned an identity as “pillars of monar­chy” and thereby positioned themselves as loyal subjects of the crown as they vied for the limited number of printing licenses permitted in the king­dom. Far from advocating for freedom of the press, McLeod maintains that the printers themselves—initially in Paris but ultimately throughout the countryside—clamored for increased regulation of their industry by insisting upon the dangers presented by those who would seek profit from the publication of seditious works. While provincial printers favored regulation in order to reduce competition, to protect the dignity of their art, and to solidify their own wealth, royal officials considered the use of li­censes, quotas, and permissions as a means to limit the subversive potential of the printed word in the aftermath of the Fronde and the rise of religious heterodoxy. Beginning with the 1667 order in council requiring a license to print in provincial towns, the French government expanded its regulation of the book trade throughout the eighteenth century, creating a Bureau de la Librairie with its own inspectors and enhancing the role of the chancellor, lieutenants of police, and intendants in enforcing the quo­tas that limited the number of printers in France. As McLeod argues at several junctures, the interaction between the provincial press and the French crown was the site of endless lobbying and bargaining, and in highlighting the state’s struggle to license loyalty, McLeod demonstrates that absolutism was “negotiated rather than imposed” (8).

The first comprehensive evaluation of the French state’s licensing policy, McLeod’s study shifts the field of the history of the book in two important ways. First, Licensing Loyalty centers on the network of printers in the French provinces, rather than emphasizing the book trade in Paris or the importation of forbidden books from abroad. In this respect, McLeod both challenges and complements work by Henri-Jean Martin, Robert Darnton, and others who have overlooked the complications arising from the government’s efforts to establish its authority throughout French ter­ritory. Second, McLeod diverts attention from the clandestine “literary underground” and sheds light instead on the authorized, state-sanctioned press. By analyzing the ways in which provincial printers alternately co­operated with and subverted royal officials, McLeod’s work paints a more complete picture of the public sphere in early modern France. In this re­gard, one wonders why McLeod waits until Chapter 7 to examine the reality “Behind the Rhetoric”—the extent to which licensed printers were responsible for the production and distribution of clandestine texts. Char­acterizing the printers’ allegiance to the crown as a “grudging and contingent loyalty” in the study’s final pages (210), McLeod ultimately qualifies her own assessment of provincial printers as “pillars of monar­chy” in a pretty significant manner. The fact that France’s own elite printing houses disseminated texts previously believed to have originated from Grub Street merits fuller consideration, and McLeod could have in­tegrated this material throughout the study to add further nuance to one of her book’s central arguments.

McLeod’s social and political history evokes the fascinating characters populating the world of book production in early modern France, empha­sizing the material concerns drivingtheir motivations and the complexity of their interactions with royal officials. Well-researched and written with verve, Licensing Loyalty is a valuable contribution to the history of the book, to the study of state-media relations, and to the history of French administration. 

Kathrina LaPorta, New York University

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