Thomas Bowdler

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Thomas Bowdler (pronounced /ˈbaʊdlər/) (11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825) was an English physician who published an expurgated edition of William Shakespeare's work, edited by his sister Harriet, intended to be more appropriate for 19th century women and children than the original.

He similarly published an edited version of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His edition was the subject of some criticism and ridicule and, through the eponym bowdlerise (or bowdlerize),[1] his name is now associated with censorship of literature, motion pictures and television programmes.



Bowdler was born near Bath, the son of a gentleman of independent means. He studied medicine at St. Andrews and at Edinburgh, where he took his degree in 1776, but did not practice, devoting himself instead to the cause of prison reform. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May, 1781.[2]

He was a strong chess player and once played eight recorded games against the best chess player of the time, François-André Danican Philidor,[3] who was confident enough of his superiority to Bowdler that he played with handicaps. Bowdler won twice, lost three times, and drew three times; Philidor was usually blindfolded and playing multiple opponents simultaneously, and sometimes started without one pawn. The first recorded game to feature a double rook sacrifice was played between Bowdler (white) and H. Conway at London in 1788.[4]

In 1818, after retiring to the Isle of Wight, he published his Family Shakespeare, which had considerable success. He subsequently attempted to do the same with the works of historian Edward Gibbon, a project which was not as successful. Bowdler's edition of Gibbon's work was published posthumously in 1826. His sister Jane was a poet and essayist, and his sister Harriet was the editor of Bowdler's publications.

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