Reading as a dangerous feat

by Cygne Sauvage

During the 18th and 19th centuries reading a book, particularly in bed, was considered not only a dangerous feat but a depravity.  In the context of that time when tools for illumination comprised of burning candles, a voracious reader who could not control the urge to finish a novel and thus would bring it to the bedroom  was deemed to be courting death.  Many, generally the elite and the erudite for they were the ones who could afford and have the enthusiasm as well as access to volumes of reading materials,  met their ends in the privacy of their sleeping quarters, a circumstance that turned trendy in those periods of time when reading a story was considered a communal activity.  Because of the prevalence of this deemed undesirable practice it had come to be equated by the religious authority to an immoral act and defiance of the Supreme Being.  A lighted piece of tallow when abandoned as the absorbed reader  unconsciously fell asleep could turn an entire house, in fact a whole estate, aflame with the tragic consequence of loss of lives. Thus, aficionados of the written works were then warned to shed off the vicious vice and were directed to spend, instead, the darkness in prayer.

Discussed in the article in The Atlantic: “ Writings from the 18th and 19th centuries frequently dramatize the potentially horrifying consequences of reading in bed. Hannah Robertson’s 1791 memoir, Tale of Truth as well as of Sorrow, offers one example. It is a dramatic story of downward mobility, hinging on the unfortunate bedtime activities of a Norwegian visitor, who falls asleep with a book. Even the famous and the dead could be censured for engaging in the practice. In 1778, a posthumous biography chastised the late Samuel Johnson for his bad bedside reading habits, characterizing the British writer as an insolent child. A biography of Jonathan Swift alleged that the satirist and cleric nearly burned down the Castle of Dublin—and tried to conceal the incident with a bribe.”  Continue reading here:


Painting by Marc Romyjos

More than two centuries later, books have evolved from printed form to digitized version, compressed in gadgets along with gazillion data. The electronic gizmo has become the indispensable companion of its owner who brings it not only in the private bedroom but anywhere including the lavatory, dining table and even in the steering wheel. Reading has become everybody’s favorite pastime, taking in facts as fiction and worse fake news as truth. The difference between reality and fantasy has become so blurred, ruining lives and relationships from the microcosm of the society to the grander schemes of political leadership and world’s corporate bigwigs.  Massive disinformation has made life more perilous.


Leave a comment

Filed under reading

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s