I warn you against evil Books and evil Pictures!
(Henry Ward Beecher, "The Immoral Woman" 1849)
I warn you against evil Books and evil Pictures! There is in every town an under-current which glides beneath our feet, unsuspected by the pure; out of which, notwithstanding, our sons scoop many a poisoned goblet. Evil books are hidden in trunks, and concealed in dark holes. Evil pictures are stored in sly portfolios, or trafficked from hand to hand; and the handiwork of depraved art is seen in forms which ought to make a harlot blush!
Those who make them — are the worst public criminals!
And those who circulate them — are incendiaries of all morality!
I would think a man would loathe himself, for even owning such things!
A pure heart would shrink from these abominable things — as from death itself!
France, where true religion long ago was extinguished, smothered in immorality — has flooded the world with a species of literature redolent of the vilest depravity. Upon the plea of exhibiting human nature — novels are now scooped out of the very lava of corrupt passions. They are true to nature — but to nature as it exists in grossly vile and immoral hearts.
Obscene libertines are now our teachers of morality. They scrape the very sediment and muck of society — to mold their creations; and their books are monster-galleries, in which the inhabitants of old Sodom would have felt at home as connoisseurs.
Over loathsome women, and unutterably vile men, huddled together in motley groups, and over all their monstrous deeds — their lies, their plots, their crimes, their horrendous pleasures, their appalling conversation — is thrown the impure light of a sensual imagination — until they glow with an infernal luster!
Such novels are the common-sewers of society, into which drain the concentrated filth of the worst passions, of the worst creatures, of the worst cities!
The Ten Plagues have visited our literature: water is turned to blood; frogs and lice creep and hop over our most familiar things — the couch, the cradle, and the bread-box; locusts, plague, and fire — are smiting every green thing. I am ashamed and outraged, when I think that wretches could be found to open these foreign seals — and let out their plagues upon us — that any Satanic pilgrim should voyage to France to dip from the dead sea of her abomination — such immoral filth for our children!
It would be a mercy compared to this, to import . . .
venomous serpents from Africa — and pour them out in our homes;
ferocious lions — and free them in our towns;
poisonous lizards and scorpions and black tarantulas — and put them in our gardens!
Men could slay these — but those offspring-reptiles of the French mind — who can kill these? You might as well draw sword on a plague — or charge malaria with the bayonet!
This black smut-lettered literature circulates in our towns, floats in our stores, nestles in the shops, is fingered and read nightly, and hatches broods of obscene thoughts in the young mind! While the parent strives to infuse Christian purity into his child's heart — he is checked by most accursed messengers of evil; and the child's heart hisses already like a nest of young and nimble vipers!
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What would Beecher write if he were alive in our pornographic society?! You might want to read the whole of his powerful and insightful chapter, "The Immoral Woman". Must reading for anyone struggling with sexual sin!