Front Page Titles (by Subject) II. Origin of the Restrictions on Printing - Areopagitica (Jebb ed.)
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II. Origin of the Restrictions on Printing - John Milton, Areopagitica (Jebb ed.) 
Areopagitica, with a Commentary by Sir Richard C. Jebb and with Supplementary Material (Cambridge at the University Press, 1918).
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II. Origin of the Restrictions on Printing
Pp. 6-15. I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment... the harm that thence proceeds.
I grant that the behaviour of books, like that of men, must be watched. Books are not absolutely dead things; they have a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are. But then they are more than living; a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. The destruction of a good book ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself,—slays an immortality rather than a life.
In old Athens and Rome, two kinds of writings only were kept down: (1) the blasphemous and atheistical: (2) the libellous:—while philosophy, though sceptical, and general satire had free scope. After the Emperors became Christian, heretical books, condemned by General Councils, were sometimes burned by their authority. Against other books no interdict is heard of till about 400 ad, when the Council of Carthage forbad Bishops themselves to read the works of heathens. But, as a rule, the early Bishops and Councils only recommended or censured books—they did not prohibit. About 800 ad the Popes began to claim the power of burning or forbidding books. Martin V [1417-1431 ad] was the first Pope who punished with excommunication the reading of heretical books, having been driven to a stricter policy by Wicliff and Huss. Leo X [1513-1521 ad] followed this policy. Then the Council of Trent and the Spanish Inquisition perfected the system by establishing the Index Expurgatorius and like catalogues. Lastly, they forbad the printing of any book which had not received the imprimatur of several censors.” A book by the Florentine Davanzati bears four such imprimaturs. This system was borrowed by the English Prelates—not from any ancient State, nor from the modern practice of any reformed Church or City, but from the Council of Trent and the Inquisition. Under this system a book is in a worse plight than the souls who after death come before Rhadamanthus: it is judged before its birth, and has to pass the ferry backward into light. It may be said—The origin of licensing is bad; the thing itself may be good. But the contrivance is so obvious that, if it had been good, it would not have been overlooked by the best and wisest Commonwealths in all ages.