Intellectual Property

Immediately upon entering the Boston colony Pynchon’s book was the subject of court proceedings. The first case over the text was held on October 16, 1650. The court declared “many errors & heresies generally condemned by al[l] orthodox writers that we have met with’ …and commanded Pynchon to appear before it ‘with all convenient speed’ to find whether he would ‘owne said book as his or not” (Winship, p.475). The court further ordered a retraction, a second writing, and for the corrected book to be dispensed to England. Additionally, the court decreed “some fitt person to make particular answer to all materials and controveryall passages in said book,” (Winship, p. 475).

This is an interesting question of intellectual property, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Of course, this is prior the Bill of Rights. But to a modern audience the book should be the intellectual property of Pynchon, assuming he had not signed away such rights at the time of its publication. Yet, the court in Boston assumed the right to demand a rewriting that would please their sensitivities. Further, that another author be allowed to edit the text entirely without the permission of the original writer. Finally, the court demanded the book “to be burned in the Market Place, at Boston by the Common Executioner”. This truly demonstrates the Puritan fear of ideologies that did not coincide with their own ruling religious standards. They were not simply burning the book. They were executing it.

The court required Pynchon to return and answer, which he did in May of 1651. It seems he allowed that he had “not spoken in [his] books so fully of the price and merit of Christ’s sufferings” (p. 476). He agreed to take Norton’s argument home for consideration. However, before returning to Court again, Pynchon returned to England where he would author further texts. Refusing to deny his work.

It is interesting that Pynchon likely held these ideas, or had been contemplating them, for the many decades he had lived amongst fellow Puritans. In fact he gained an influential position, established a fur trade monopoly, and heard cases as a judge. Smith (1961) states that, “William Pynchon was primarily responsible for the first court in Western Massachusetts and the administration of justice until 1651” (p. 6). Further in chronicling Pynchon’s court records Smith questions, “What motivated William Pynchon to put into print the product of thirty years intellectual gestation is one of the darker corners of his career” (p.26). Since other founding Massachusetts Bay members had previously entertained ideological disagreements with Pynchon, especially, in respect to how he dealt the Native Americans. They must have at least suspected differences in believes he held. But it was the power of the printed word, the book, the spread of Pynchon’s ideals that other Puritan officials feared and that ended his rising career in New England.

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