Columbia Library columns (v.39(1989Nov-1990May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



Jump to page:

Table of Contents

  v.39,no.3(1990:May): Page 20  

Casanova and Nicholas Murray
Butler in the Dock


Lascivious, lewd, and disgusting: According to the New York
Society for the Suppression of Vice, Arthur Schnitzler's
novel Casanova's Homecoming was all of these and more. In
1922 the Society launched its crusade against this work, hounding
the book in and out ofthe courts for eight years. The Society was
finally defeated by an unpublished 1930 decision of the
Magistrate's Court which finally cleared the book as legally
wholesome. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library's recent
acquisition of a collection of papers from the 1930 proceeding
offers an evocative glimpse ofthe mire into which the jurisprudence
of obscenity had fallen in the first part of this century, and of the
milieu in which literary obscenity cases were fought.

The papers consist of the legal brief and supporting materials
submitted by defense counsel, and two typewritten drafts of
Magistrate Gottlieb's unpublished decision in the matter of Sumner
V. Simon & Schuster. Through these pages parade Morris L. Ernst,
John S. Sumner, Thomas Seltzer, H. L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis,
Theodore Dreiser, Heywood Broun, and, at some remove, the
redoubtable Nicholas Murray Butler. The cast of characters thus
assembled includes some ofthe most notable figures in the world of
obscenity law, as well as some renowned for other reasons entirely.
Morris L. Ernst, who represented the defendant publishers
Simon & Schuster, was already the country's leading obscenity
defense lawyer. Born in Alabama in 1888, he had attended New
York Law School as a night student and gone from selling furniture
and clothing to partnership in his own high-priced law firm, a
prolific writing career, and the advising of numerous Democratic
elected officials including Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. Four
years after the final clearing of Schnitzler's Casanova, Ernst would

  v.39,no.3(1990:May): Page 20