The two excuses produced by Mr. Eason do not agree very well together. The first gives us to understand that, in Mr. Eason’s opinion, ordinary moral principles cannot be applied to persons of royal blood. The second gives us to understand that though, in Mr. Eason’s opinion, ordinary moral principles can be applied to princes, the application would involve more risk than Mr. Eason cares to undertake. Each of his excuses, taken apart, is intelligible enough. Taken together they can hardly be called consistent. But the effects of royal and semi-royal splendor upon the moral eyesight are well known, and need not be dwelt on here. After all, what concerns us is not Mr. Eason’s attitude towards Prince Francis of Teck, but Mr. Eason’s attitude towards the reading public. And in this respect, from one point of view—which happens to be his own—Mr. Eason’s attitude seems to me irreproachable. He is clearly alive to his responsibility, and is honestly concerned that the goods he purveys to the public shall be goods of which his conscience approves. Here is no grocer who sands his sugar before hurrying to family prayer. Here is a man who carries his religion into his business, and stakes his honor on the purity of his wares. I think it would be wrong in the extreme to deride Mr. Eason’s action in the matter of The Woman Who Did and Mr. Stead’s review. He is doing his best, as Mr. Stead cheerfully allows.
The reasonable Objection to Bookstall Censorship.
But, as I said above, he is doing his best under circumstances he imperfectly understands—and, let me add here, in a position which is unfair to him. That Mr. Eason imperfectly understands his position will be plain (I think) to anyone who studies his reply to Mr. Stead. But let me make the point clear; for it is the crucial point in the discussion of the modern Bookstall Censorship. A great deal may be said against setting up a censorship of literature. A great deal may be said in favor of a censorship. But if a censorship there must be, the censor should be deliberately chosen for his office, and, in exercising his power, should be directly responsible to the public conscience. If a censorship there must be, let the community choose a man whose qualifications have been weighed, a man in whose judgment it decides that it can rely. But that Tom or Dick or Harry, or Tom Dick Harry & Co. (Limited), by the process of collaring a commercial monopoly from the railway companies, should be exalted into the supreme arbiters of what men or women may or may not be allowed to read—this surely is unjustifiable by any argument? Mr. Eason may on the whole be doing more good than harm. He is plainly a very well-meaning man of business. If he knows a good book from a bad—and the public has no reason to suppose that he does—I can very well believe that when his moral and literary judgment came into conflict with his business interests, he would sacrifice his business interests. But