Censoring nationalism in eighteenth-century Malta: Agius de Soldanis and Acciard’s Mustafa Bassa di Rodi

altFor the past couple of years the National Library of Malta has been hosting a series of lectures, generally of historical interest, within its magnificent reading room.  These lectures are always a pleasure to attend and have always been highly interesting.

The recent lecture by Robert Thake, a final year law student at the University of Malta, entitled ‘Censoring nationalism in eighteenth-century Malta: Agius de Soldanis and Acciard’s Mustafà Bassà di Rodi’, was no different.  The library reading room was packed, with a large number of people standing in the back.  Despite the fact that the lecture actually lasted twenty five minutes more than it was meant to, the audience appeared to be captivated and demonstrated no signs of boredom, rather the contrary.  Indeed, the lecture, which concerned the publication of a highly controversial and extremely rare book on Malta, was very well delivered, highly illustrated and genuinely gripping, with a number of related documents housed within the library being brought out and displayed to give the lecture a more tangible feel.  The book in question, entitled Mustafa Bassa di Rodi, was printed in Naples in 1751 and despite being printed under the name ‘Michele Acciard’ has always been attributed to the Gozitan historian and patriot Francesco Agius de Soldanis. 

altThe lecture was accompanied by the publication of Robert Thake’s first book‘Patriotism, Deception and Censorship: De Soldanis and the 1751 Account of the Uprising of the Slaves which examines every aspect of the book from its publication in January 1751.  Patriotism, Deception and Censorship takes the reader through the various stages of the publication of Mustafa Bassa di Rodi, and outlines in great detail the contents of the publication, pointing out the numerous seditious and offensive statements which led to its swift and merciless destruction at the hands of Grand Master Pinto.  Apart from questioning the abilities of the Grand Master to rule his Island, the author of Mustafa Bassa di Rodi challenged the legitimacy of the Order’s occupation of Malta citing the Privileges granted unto the Maltese population by King Alfonso of Spain to justify his stance.  Following the publication of the book, both de Soldanis and Michele Acciard were subjected to rigorous judicial trials in Rome and Naples respectively.  The book was hunted down and destroyed, however, much to the Grand Master’s dismay, Michele Acciard and de Soldanis were both found innocent and released. 

Through this publication, Robert Thake also brings to light a number of previously unpublished manuscripts and pamphlets, including two manuscripts written by de Soldanis himself.  Thake also uncovered new editions of Mustafa Bassa di Rodi, and examines a pair of mysterious clandestine manuscripts of Mustafa Bassa di Rodi, probably written due to the lack of availability of the actual book itself. 

Throughout the centuries, Mustafa Bassa di Rodi has proved to be fertile ground for speculation, however, thanks to Robert Thake’s book ‘Patriotism, Deception and Censorship: De Soldanis and the 1751 Account of the Uprising of the Slaves’, this question may be put to rest once and for all.