Mr. Hirsch to Mr. Blaine.
Constantinople , March 31, 1890. (Received April 16.)
Sir: Within the last 3 years the restrictions placed upon the book trade of the American missionaries have from time to time been increased until now they have become very severe and almost threaten its very existence. The missionaries, conforming to the laws of the Empire, publish only such books as are authorized by the public censor; they print the authorization on the title-page of each volume and cause [Page 753] one copy of each edition to be sealed by the minister of public instruction, which is retained by the missionaries as proof of the genuineness of the book.
It would seem that the exhaustive examination to which it is subjected before authorization is given and the care bestowed upon it, as above shown, to prevent fraud, ought to insure the book against undue and vexatious interference on the part of subordinates. Such, however, is not the case. Seizures have been made in Erzerum last autumn of books destined to the mission stations at Bitlis and Van. In this case the books were shipped from here in cases which were sealed with leaden seals of the custom-house and should not have been disturbed until they arrived at their destination.
Within a few weeks a box for Rev. G. C. Raynolds, at Van, which had been passed and sealed by the custom-house here, was opened at Trebi-zonde and some of the books taken and sent back here for examination, and then on reaching Erzerum was again opened and more books sent back here for examination. Other similar cases might be mentioned.
It is a serious loss and hardship to have the contents of boxes handled en route by inexperienced as well as irresponsible parties; moreover, there is no valid reason why the seal of the custom-house should not protect the boxes and contents while en route to their destination.
It was claimed by subordinate censors in the interior that, inasmuch as it had at one time happened that publications had been circulated with fraudulent authorizations printed on them, they were unable to determine which were genuine without a reexamination, and hence these seizures.
The missionaries have never claimed or circulated an unauthorized publication as authorized and are not open to any such suspicion.
Very recent seizures at the custom-house here of authorized books destined for other points plainly indicate that there is a deeper significance to be attached to them than would appear from the excuses made by censors in the interior, and that the reasons given by the latter are not the real ones, for here, where the officially sealed copy of each authorized publication is kept, there is no ground for claiming that the books might possibly be unauthorized, notwithstanding the printed authorization on the title-page.
I have within the last few weeks had very frequent interviews with H. H., the Grand Vizier on this subject, and have strongly protested against these unnecessary annoyances and the losses arising therefrom. I found him personally very desirous of adopting some method by which further troubles of the kind might be avoided, but I thought best finally to observe to him that no method could be successful in stopping these seizures unless the principle is first laid down that an authorization once made by the proper authorities shall not be revised or revoked, for I have satisfied myself that the contents of the books form the real grounds for the seizures. Unless this is conceded by the Turkish authorities, we may be prepared for endless vexation and annoyance, for every time there is a change in the office of censor a new modification may be expected.
The matter is of the greatest importance to the missionaries, as the existence of their book trade seems to be depending upon the result. I will give it the close and constant attention which its importance merits.
A statement on the subject, made by Rev. H. O. Dwight, is herewith inclosed for the information of the Department.
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