Fara Dabhoiwala

Fara Dabhoiwala is writing a global history of free speech and researching a biography of Francis Williams. He teaches at Princeton.

On Valentine’s Day​ 1661 Elizabeth Pepys and her husband, Sam, rose early and walked from their house behind the Tower of London down Seething Lane. They were to visit one of Sam’s superiors, William Batten, surveyor of the navy. The custom was that women should take the first man they saw as their Valentine, so long as he was no relation. The previous year, Elizabeth had...

In​ a largely illiterate world, laughing was something one did with other people. Early theorists of humour considered it a form of speech rather than writing. And speech could be extremely dangerous, as the Bible warned: ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Proverbs); ‘The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity’ (James). Elsewhere in scripture the tongue...

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