Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
This layout is optimized for screen readers and other assistive devices for the visually impaired.
Areopagitica, with a Commentary by Sir Richard C. Jebb and with Supplementary Material (Cambridge at the University Press, 1918).
An edition based upon Sir Richard Jebb’s lectures at Cambridge in 1872, with extensive notes and commentaries on this famous work: Milton’s famous defense of freedom of speech. It was a protest against Parliament’s ordinance to further restrict the freedom of print. Milton issued his oration in an unlicensed form and courageously put his own name, but not that of his printer, on the cover.
The text is in the public domain.
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Commentary on Milton’s Areopagitica here printed (Introduction, Analysis and Notes) was privately printed by Sir R. C. Jebb for the use of a course of lectures given at Cambridge in the Lent Term of 1872. It is here reprinted by permission of Lady Jebb. A few trifling misprints have been corrected: otherwise, the commentary is reproduced as it was originally printed.
It may be conjectured that what attracted Sir R. C. Jebb specially to Areopagitica was its wealth of classical and historical allusions, and this, obviously, is the aspect of the treatise which received his particular attention. It was thought by the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press that the Commentary should be made accessible to students; and that it might be made more helpful, and be brought more directly into line with the other Pitt Press editions of Milton, if some notes were added on points of directly Miltonic interest, such as the language, parallel passages and so forth; and, at the request of the Syndics, Mr Verity has compiled a short appendix of comments, drawn mainly from his own editions of Milton published by the University Press, and has added the brief Life.
The text of Areopagitica has been slightly modernised in spelling and punctuation.
A. R. W.
Cambridge, May 1918
Milton’s life falls into these clearly defined divisions. The first period ends with the poet’s return from Italy in 1639; the second at the Restoration in 1660, when release from the fetters of politics enabled him to remind the world that he was a great poet; the third is brought to a close with his death in 1674. We propose to summarise the main events of the three periods.
John Milton was born on December 9, 1608, in London. He came, in his own words, ex genere honesto. A family of Miltons had been settled in Oxfordshire since the reign of Elizabeth. The poet’s father had been educated at an Oxford school, possibly as a chorister in one of the College choir-schools, and imbibing Anglican sympathies had conformed to the Established Church. For this he was disinherited by his Roman Catholic father. He settled in London, following the profession of scrivener. A scrivener combined the occupations of lawyer and law-stationer. It appears to have been a lucrative calling; certainly John Milton (the poet was named after the father) attained to easy circumstances He married about 1600, and had six children, of whom several died young. The third child was the poet.
The elder Milton was evidently a man of considerable culture, in particular an accomplished musician, and a composer whose madrigals were deemed worthy of being printed side by side with those of Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and other leading musicians of the time. To him, no doubt, the poet owed the love of music of which we see frequent indications in the poems . Realising, too, that in his son lay the promise and possibility of future greatness, John Milton took the utmost pains to have the boy adequately educated; and the lines Ad Patrem show that the ties of affection between father and child were of more than ordinary closeness.
Milton was sent to St Paul’s School about the year 1620. Here two influences, apart from those of ordinary school-life, may have affected him particularly. The headmaster was a good English scholar; he published a grammar containing many extracts from English poets, notably Spenser; it is reasonable to assume that he had not a little to do with the encouragement and guidance of Milton’s early taste for English poetry . Also, the founder of St Paul’s School, Colet, had prescribed as part of the school-course the study of certain early Christian writers, whose influence is said to be directly traceable in Milton’s poems and may in some cases have suggested his choice of sacred themes . While at St Paul’s, Milton also had a tutor at home, Thomas Young, a Scotchman, afterwards an eminent Puritan divine—the inspirer, doubtless, of much of his pupil’s Puritan sympathies. And Milton enjoyed the signal advantage of growing up in the stimulating atmosphere of cultured home-life. Most men do not realise that the word “culture” signifies anything very definite or desirable before they pass to the University; for Milton, however, home-life meant, from the first, not only broad interests and refinement, but active encouragement towards literature and study. In 1625 he left St Paul’s. Of his extant English poems only one, On the Death of a Fair Infant, dates from his school-days; but we are told that he had written much verse, English and Latin. And his early training had done that which was all-important: it had laid the foundation of the far-ranging knowledge which makes Paradise Lost unique for diversity of suggestion and interest.
Milton went to Christ’s College, Cambridge, in the Easter term of 1625, took his B.A. degree in 1629, proceeded M.A. in 1632, and in the latter year left Cambridge. The popular view of Milton’s connection with the University will be coloured for all time by Johnson’s unfortunate story that for some unknown offence he “suffered the public indignity of corporal correction.” For various reasons this story is now discredited by the best judges. It is certain, however, that early in 1626 Milton did have some serious difficulty with his tutor, which led to his removal from Cambridge for a few weeks and his transference to another tutor on his return later in the term. He spoke of the incident bitterly at the time in one of his Latin poems, and he spoke of Cambridge bitterly in after years On the other hand he voluntarily passed seven years at the University, and resented strongly the imputations brought against him in the “Smectymnuus” controversy that he had been in ill-favour with the authorities of his college. Writing in 1642, he takes the opportunity “to acknowledge publicly with all grateful mind, that more than ordinary favour and respect, which I found above any of my equals at the hands of those courteous and learned men, the fellows of that college wherein I spent some years: who at my parting, after I had taken two degrees, as the manner is, signified many ways how much better it would content them that I would stay; as by many letters full of kindness and loving respect, both before that time, and long after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards me .” And if we look into those uncomplimentary allusions to Cambridge which date from the controversial period of his life we see that the feeling they represent is hardly more than a phase of his theological bias. He detested ecclesiasticism, and for him the two Universities (there is a fine impartiality in his diatribes) are the strongholds of what he detested: “nurseries of superstition”—“not yet well recovered from the scholastic grossness of barbarous ages”—given up to “monkish and miserable sophistry,” and unprogressive in their educational methods. But it may fairly be assumed that Milton the scholar and poet, who chose to spend seven years at Cambridge, owed to her more than Milton the fierce controversialist admitted or knew. A poet he had proved himself before leaving the University in 1632 The short but exquisite ode At a Solemn Music, and the Nativity Hymn (1629), were already written
Milton’s father had settled at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Thither the son retired in July, 1632. He had gone to Cambridge with the intention of qualifying for some profession, perhaps the Church . This purpose was soon given up, and when Milton returned to his father’s house he seems to have made up his mind that there was no profession which he cared to enter He would choose the better part of studying and preparing himself, by rigorous self-discipline and application, for the far-off divine event to which his whole life moved.
It was Milton’s constant resolve to achieve something that should vindicate the ways of God to men, something great that should justify his own possession of unique powers—powers of which, with no trace of egotism, he proclaims himself proudly conscious. The feeling finds repeated expression in his prose; it is the guiding-star that shines clear and steadfast even through the mists of politics. He has a mission to fulfil, a purpose to accomplish, no less than the most fanatic of religious enthusiasts; and the means whereby this end is to be attained are devotion to religion, devotion to learning, and ascetic purity of life
This period of self-centred isolation lasted from 1632 to 1638 Gibbon tells us among the many wise things contained in that most wise book the Autobiography, that every man has two educations: that which he receives from his teachers and that which he owes to himself, the latter being infinitely the more important. During these five years Milton completed his second education, ranging the whole world of classical antiquity and absorbing the classical genius so thoroughly that the ancients were to him what they afterwards became to Landor, what they have never become to any other English poet in the same degree, even as the very breath of his being, pursuing, too, other interests, such as music, astronomy and the study of Italian literature; and combining these vast and diverse influences into a splendid equipment of hard-won, well-ordered culture. The world has known many greater scholars in the technical, limited sense than Milton, but few men, if any, who have mastered more things worth mastering in art, letters and scholarship . It says much for the poet that he was sustained through this period of study, pursued ohne Hast, ohne Rast, by the full consciousness that all would be crowned by a masterpiece which should add one more testimony to the belief in that God who ordains the fates of men. It says also a very great deal for the father who suffered his son to follow in this manner the path of learning.
True, Milton gave more than one earnest of his future fame. The dates of the early pieces—L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades, Comus and Lycidas—are not all certain; but probably each was composed at Horton before 1638. Four of them have great autobiographic value as an indirect commentary, written from Milton’s coign of seclusion, upon the moral crisis through which English life and thought were passing, the clash between the careless hedonism of the Cavalier world and the deepening austerity of Puritanism. In L’Allegro the poet holds the balance almost equal between the two opposing tendencies. In Il Penseroso it becomes clear to which side his sympathies are leaning. Comus is a covert prophecy of the downfall of the Court-party, while Lycidas openly “foretells the ruine” of the Established Church. The latter poem is the final utterance of Milton’s lyric genius. Here he reaches, in Mr Mark Pattison’s words, the highwater mark of English verse; and then—the pity of it—he resigns that place among the lyrici vates of which the Roman singer was ambitious, and for nearly twenty years suffers his lyre to hang mute and rusty in the temple of the Muses.
The composition of Lycidas may be assigned to the year 1637. In the spring of the next year Milton started for Italy. It was natural that he should seek inspiration in the land where many English poets, from Chaucer to Shelley, have found it. Milton remained abroad some fifteen months. Originally he had intended to include Sicily and Greece in his travels, but news of the troubles in England hastened his return. He was brought face to face with the question whether or not he should bear his part in the coming struggle; whether without self-reproach he could lead any longer this life of learning and indifference to the public weal. He decided as we might have expected that he would decide, though some good critics see cause to regret the decision. Milton puts his position very clearly in his Defensio Secunda: “I thought it base to be travelling for amusement abroad, while my fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home.” And later: “I determined to relinquish the other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer the whole force of my talents and my industry to this one important object” (i.e. the vindication of liberty).
The summer of 1639 (July) found Milton back in England. Immediately after his return he wrote the Epitaphium Damonis, the beautiful elegy in which he lamented the death of his school friend, Diodati. Lycidas was the last of the English lyrics: the Epitaphium, which should be studied in close connection with Lycidas, the last of the long Latin poems. Thenceforth, for a long spell, the rest was silence, so far as concerned poetry. The period which for all men represents the strength and maturity of manhood, which in the cases of other poets produces the best and most characteristic work, is with Milton a blank. In twenty years he composed no more than a bare handful of Sonnets, and even some of these are infected by the taint of political animus. Other interests claimed him—the question of Church-reform, education, marriage, and, above all, politics.
Milton’s first treatise upon the government of the Church (Of Reformation in England) appeared in 1641. Others followed in quick succession. The abolition of Episcopacy was the watchword of the enemies of the Anglican Church—the delenda est Carthago cry of Puritanism, and no one enforced the point with greater eloquence than Milton. During 1641 and 1642 he wrote five pamphlets on the subject. Meanwhile he was studying the principles of education. On his return from Italy he had undertaken the training of his nephews. This led to consideration of the best educational methods; and in the Tractate of Education, 1644, Milton assumed the part of educational theorist. In the previous year, May, 1643, he married . The marriage proved unfortunate. Its immediate outcome was the pamphlets on divorce. Clearly he had little leisure for literature proper.
The finest of Milton’s prose works, Areopagitica, a plea for the free expression of opinion, was published in 1644. In 1645 appeared the first collection of his poems. In 1649 his advocacy of the anti-royalist cause was recognised by the offer of a post under the newly appointed Council of State. His bold vindication of the trial of Charles I, The Tenure of Kings, had appeared earlier in the same year. Milton accepted the offer, becoming Latin Secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs. There was nothing distasteful about his duties. He drew up the despatches to foreign governments, translated state papers, and served as interpreter to foreign envoys. Had his duties stopped here his acceptance of the post would, I think, have proved an unqualified gain. It brought him into contact with the first men in the state, gave him a practical insight into the working of national affairs and the motives of human action; in a word, furnished him with that experience of life which is essential to all poets who aspire to be something more than “the idle singers of an empty day.” But unfortunately the secretaryship entailed the necessity of defending at every turn the past course of the revolution and the present policy of the Council. Milton, in fact, held a perpetual brief as advocate for his party. Hence the endless and unedifying controversies into which he drifted; controversies which wasted the most precious years of his life, warped, as some critics think, his nature, and eventually cost him his eyesight.
Between 1649 and 1660 Milton produced no less than eleven pamphlets. Several of these arose out of the publication of the famous Eikon Basilike. The book was printed in 1649 and created so extraordinary a sensation that Milton was asked to reply to it; and did so with Eikonoklastes. Controversy of this barren type has the inherent disadvantage that once started it may never end. The Royalists commissioned the Leyden professor, Salmasius, to prepare a counterblast, the Defensio Regia, and this in turn was met by Milton’s Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio, 1651, over the preparation of which he lost what little power of eyesight remained . Salmasius retorted, and died before his second farrago of scurrilities was issued: Milton was bound to answer, and the Defensio Secunda appeared in 1654. Neither of the combatants gained anything by the dispute; while the subsequent development of the controversy in which Milton crushed the Amsterdam pastor and professor, Morus, goes far to prove the contention of Mr Mark Pattison, that it was an evil day when the poet left his study at Horton to do battle for the Commonwealth amid the vulgar brawls of the market-place:
Fortunately this poetic interregnum in Milton’s life was not destined to last much longer. The Restoration came, a blessing in disguise, and in 1660 the ruin of Milton’s political party and of his personal hopes, the absolute overthrow of the cause for which he had fought for twenty years, left him free. The author of Lycidas could once more become a poet.
Much has been written upon this second period, 1639—60. We saw what parting of the ways confronted Milton on his return from Italy. Did he choose aright? Should he have continued upon the path of learned leisure? There are writers who argue that Milton made a mistake. A poet, they say, should keep clear of political strife fierce controversy can benefit no man who touches pitch must expect to be, certainly will be, defiled: Milton sacrificed twenty of the best years of his life, doing work which an underling could have done and which was not worth doing: another Comus might have been written, a loftier Lycidas: that literature should be the poorer by the absence of these possible masterpieces, that the second greatest genius which England has produced should in a way be the “inheritor of unfulfilled renown,” is and must be a thing entirely and terribly deplorable. This is the view of the purely literary critic.
There remains the other side of the question. It may fairly be contended that had Milton elected in 1639 to live the scholar’s life apart from “the action of men,” Paradise Lost, as we have it, or Samson Agonistes could never have been written. Knowledge of life and human nature, insight into the problems of men’s motives and emotions, grasp of the broader issues of the human tragedy, all these were essential to the author of an epic poem; they could only be obtained through commerce with the world; they would have remained beyond the reach of a recluse. Dryden complained that Milton saw nature through the spectacles of books: we might have had to complain that he saw men through the same medium. Fortunately it is not so: and it is not so because at the age of thirty-two he threw in his fortunes with those of his country; like the diver in Schiller’s ballad he took the plunge which was to cost him so dear. The mere man of letters will never move the world. Æschylus fought at Marathon: Shakespeare was practical to the tips of his fingers; a better business man than Goethe there was not within a radius of a hundred miles of Weimar.
This aspect of the question is emphasised by Milton himself The man, he says, “who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem, that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourablest things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that which is praiseworthy .” Again, in estimating the qualifications which the writer of an epic such as he contemplated should possess, he is careful to include “insight into all seemly and generous arts and affairs .”
Truth usually lies half-way between extremes: perhaps it does so here. No doubt, Milton did gain very greatly by breathing awhile the larger air of public life, even though that air was often tainted by much impurity. No doubt, too, twenty years of contention must have left their mark even on Milton. In one of the very few places where he “abides our question,” Shakespeare writes (Sonnetcxi.):
Milton’s genius was subdued in this way. If we compare him, the Milton of the great epics and of Samson Agonistes, with Homer or Shakespeare—and none but the greatest can be his parallel—we find in him a certain want of humanity, a touch of narrowness. He lacks the large-heartedness, the genial, generous breadth of Shakespeare; the sympathy and sense of the lacrimæ rerum that even in Troilus and Cressida or Timon of Athens are there for those who have eyes wherewith to see them. Milton reflects in some degree the less gracious aspects of Puritanism, its intolerance, want of humour, one-sided intensity; and it seems natural to assume that this narrowness was to a great extent the price he paid for twenty years of ceaseless special pleading and dispute. The real misfortune of his life lay in the fact that he fell on evil, angry days when there was no place for moderate men. He had to be one of two things: either a controversialist or a student: there was no via media. Probably he chose aright; but we could wish that the conditions under which he chose had been different. And he is so great, so majestic in the nobleness of his life, in the purity of his motives, in the self-sacrifice of his indomitable devotion to his ideals, that we could wish not even to seem to pronounce judgment at all.
The last part of Milton’s life, 1660-74, passed quietly. At the age of fifty-two he was thrown back upon poetry, and could at length discharge his self-imposed obligation. The early poems he had never regarded as a fulfilment of the debt due to his Creator. Even when the fire of political strife burned at its hottest, Milton did not forget the purpose which he had conceived in his boyhood. Of that purpose Paradise Lost was the attainment. Begun about 1658, it was finished in 1663, the year of Milton’s third marriage; revised from 1663 to 1665; and eventually issued in 1667. Before its publication Milton had commenced (in the autumn of 1665) its sequel Paradise Regained, which in turn was closely followed by Samson Agonistes. The completion of Paradise Regained may be assigned to the year 1666—that of Samson Agonistes to 1667. Some time was spent in their revision; and in January, 1671, they were published together, in a single volume.
In 1673 Milton brought out a reprint of the 1645 edition of his Poems, adding most of the sonnets written in the interval . The last four years of his life were devoted to prose works of no particular interest . He continued to live in London. His third marriage had proved happy, and he enjoyed something of the renown which was rightly his. Various well-known men used to visit him—notably Dryden , who on one of his visits asked and received permission to dramatiseParadise Lost. It does not often happen that a university can point to two such poets among her living sons, each without rival in his generation.
Milton died in 1674, November 8th. He was buried in St Giles’ Church, Cripplegate. When we think of him we have to think of a man who lived a life of very singular purity and devotion to duty; who for what he conceived to be his country’s good sacrificed—and no one can well estimate the sacrifice—during twenty years the aim that was nearest to his heart and best suited to his genius; who, however, eventually realised his desire of writing a great work in gloriam Dei.
In June, 1643, came forth an Order of the Lords and Commons for the Regulating of Printing. In November, 1644, Milton’s Areopagitica was published as a protest against this Order.
It is a pamphlet in the form of a speech supposed to be addressed to the Parliament. Near the beginning, Milton says—“I could name him who from his private house wrote that discourse to the Parliament of Athens that perswades them to change the forme of Democraty which was then establisht.” The Areopagiticus of Isokrates (355 bc) is a speech, supposed to be made in the ekklesia, about the Areiopagos—urging the restoration of its old powers. The Areopagitica of Milton is a speech to the English Areiopagos—the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
1471—1557.From the introduction of printing into England, the liberty of the press had been modified from time to time by royal proclamations.1557. In 1557 the Stationers’ Company of London was formed. The exclusive privilege of printing and publishing in the English dominions was given to 97 London stationers and their successors by regular apprenticeship. All printing was thus centralised in London under the immediate inspection of the Government. No one could legally print, without special license, who did not belong to the Stationers’ Company. The Company had power to search for and to seize publications which infringed their privilege.
1558.In the next year Elizabeth came to the throne. It was resolved to continue the restrictions on the freedom of printing; but, as the Stationers’ Company, incorporated in Mary’s reign, was not thought a fit body to decide, under a Protestant Queen, what should or should not be published, it was determined to put the licensing power in other hands.
1559.In 1559 the 51st of the Injunctions Concerning Religion provided that no book in any language—schoolbooks and certain classics excepted—should be printed without license from one of the following persons or bodies: (i) the Queen: (ii) Six Members of the Privy Council: (iii) the Chancellor of the University of Oxford: (iv) the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge: (v) the Archbishop of Canterbury: (vi) the Archbishop of York: (vii) the Bishop of London: (viii) the Bishop, being Ordinary, and the Archdeacon, of the place of publication.
1566.In 1566 this order was ratified by a decree of the Star-Chamber.
1586.In 1586 a new decree of the Star-Chamber provided: 1. That, in addition to the presses under the control of the London Company of Stationers, there should be one press at Oxford and another at Cambridge. (Hitherto the privilege claimed, through their Chancellors, by the Universities had sometimes been disputed by the London printers.) 2. That the power of licensing, formerly shared by eight different persons or bodies, should belong to two persons only, viz. the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, jointly or severally. Certain papers and books, however, were excepted from their censorship; viz. (1) official documents sent to the Queen’s printer: (2) law-books, which were to be licensed by the Chief Justices and the Chief Baron.
It was part of the duty of the Archbishop’s and the Bishop’s Chaplains to examine books intended for printing. If the book was approved, the licenser endorsed it, and the printing then began. Before the book was published, the publisher registered it, for 6d., in the books of the Stationers’ Company. He then had the copyright; or, in other phrase, the book was his “copy.” The book appeared with the words cum privilegio on the title-page, or with a copy of the licenser’s certificate. This is a translation of the Latin certificate prefixed to a book by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, printed in England in 1632: “I have read through the Treatise entitled ‘On Truth, as distinguished from Revelation, from the Probable, the Possible and the False.’ The book contains 227 pages already printed, and about 17 in ms.; in which I find nothing contrary to morals or to the truth of the Faith, to hinder it from being printed to the public advantage. William Haywood, Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of London, Dec. 31, 1632.” [The book must have been licensed before one of the 227 pages could have been printed; though this formal certificate was not written until the printing was nearly completed.]
1603—1637.During the reign of James I and the earlier part of the reign of Charles I, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London continued to be the sole licensers. From about 1627 to 1632 Laud, then Bishop of London, appears to have done almost all the work of the censorship, leaving little of it to Archbishop Abbot. About 1632 a division of the work seems to have been admitted. At that time books to be printed at the University presses were licensed by the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge; in certain cases, licenses were granted by the Judges or the Secretary of State; plays and poems could be licensed by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels. It appears, however, that by 1637 either the licensing regulations had come to be less strictly enforced, or means had been found to evade them by the establishment of private presses.
37 (illegible) 11).On July 11, 1637, the Star-Chamber published a decree for the purpose of confirming, with additions and explanations, the Star-Chamber decree of 1586. The new decree was framed by the Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the High Treasurer, the Chief Justices and the Chief Baron: it was proposed to the Court by the Attorney-General, Sir John Bankes. The preamble sets forth that “divers libellous, seditious and mutinous books have been unduly printed, and other books and papers without licence, to the disturbance of the peace of Church and State.” The decree of 1586 is to stand in force, “with these Additions, Explanations and Alterations” contained in 33 clauses. The most important of these are: (i) Clause 3. The licensers in general shall be the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, or their deputies: for books to be printed at Oxford or Cambridge, the Vice-Chancellor of the University. To certain special classes of books special licensers are assigned. (ii) Clause 4. Each licenser is to receive two ms. copies. One is to be returned (if the book is approved) to the publisher; the other kept by the licenser, as a guarantee against alteration of the text. (iii) Clause 6. No imported books shall be passed at the Custom House until they have been visited by the licenser. (iv) Clause 5. The right of keeping a printing-press shall be restricted to twenty master-printers of London, the King’s printer and the two University printers. (v) Clause 17. No one of the twenty-three licensed printers shall keep more than two presses, unless he has been Master or Upper Warden of the Stationers’ Company—in which case he may keep three, but no more. (vi) Clause 20. In order to keep down “secret printing in corners,” the Master and Wardens of the Stationers’ Company shall take care that, as far as possible, all journeymen printers are kept employed. (vii) Clause 25. The officers of the Company, or any two licensed master-printers appointed for the purpose, shall have power to search houses and shops; to see anything that may be printing there; and to demand the license. (viii) Clause 27. There shall be four, and only four, licensed type-founders.
When the Star-Chamber was abolished in 1641, the censorship of the press passed to the Parliament; and a board of twenty licensers, called the Committee of Examinations, was appointed. So long as the Presbyterians and the Independents had been making common cause against Prelacy, the Presbyterians had been loud in their complaints of the restrictions on the liberty of the press. But when Prelacy had been overthrown, and when the rivalry between Presbyterians and Independents in and out of Parliament had become pronounced, the Presbyterians, in their turn, became impatient for some control over authors and printers. The most advanced thinkers and writers, the men most able and most likely to make effective use of the press, were the friends of the Independents. The Presbyterians had still a majority in Parliament; and the result is seen in three Orders published between January, 1642, and June, 1643.
1642 (Jan. 29).I. Order of the Commons, January 29, 1642. This merely directs the Master and Wardens of the Company of Stationers to see that no printer print or reprint anything without the name and consent of the author, under penalties.
1642 (March 9).II. Order of the Commons, March 9, 1643. The Committee of Examinations, or any four members of it, shall have power to appoint searchers of any places where they suspect presses to be kept and employed in printing any “Pamphlet scandalous to his Majesty or the proceedings of both or either Houses of Parliament”; to seize the pamphlet and the printing-apparatus; and to bring the printers before the Committee.
1643 (June 14).III. Order of the Lords and Commons, June 14, 1643. This is a fuller and stronger expression of the last order. The preamble refers to “the great late abuses and frequent disorders in printing many false, forged, scandalous, seditious, libellous, and unlicensed Papers, Pamphlets, and Books, to the great defamation of Religion and Government.” No book, pamphlet or paper shall henceforth be published or imported without license or without registration in the register of the Stationers’ Company. “The Master and Wardens of the said Company, the Gentleman Usher of the House of Peers, the Sergeant of the Commons House and their deputies, together with the persons formerly appointed by the Committee of the House of Commons for Examinations” are authorised to make diligent search for unlicensed presses; “and likewise to apprehend all Authors, Printers, and other persons whatsoever imployed in compiling, printing, stitching, binding, publishing and dispersing of the said scandalous, unlicensed, and unwarrantable papers, books and pamphlets as aforesaid, and all those who shall resist the said Parties in searching after them, and to bring them afore either of the Houses or the Committee of Examinations, that so they may receive such further punishments, as their Offences shall demerit.”
1644 (November).The Areopagitica appeared in November, 1644. Milton’s protest was ineffectual. The Order of June, 1643, remained in force under the Commonwealth. At the Restoration, the Star-Chamber decree of July, 1637, was taken as the basis of the Licensing Act.1660. In 1685, the first year of James II, the Act was renewed, without debate, for eight years. In 1693, the fourth year of William and Mary, it was renewed, but after a debate, and only for two years;1685. its use having been lately discredited by the fact that Bohun, the licenser, had given his imprimatur to an anonymous book called King William and Queen Mary Conquerors—a snare laid for him by his enemy Blount.1693. It was an odd fate for the Areopagitica that, having failed in its own day, it should afterwards have become a weapon in the hands of Blount; who, in the course of his quarrel with Bohun, brought out two pamphlets both formed in great part of garbled extracts from the Areopagitica—“A Just Vindication of Learning and of the Liberty of the Press, by Philopatris”; and “Reasons for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.”1695. In 1695, after some resistance on the part of the Lords, the Act was allowed to expire and the press was finally emancipated.
The Areopagitica falls into six divisions:
Pp. 1-6. They who to states and governors... religious and civil wisdom.
No one, whether he is a public or a private man, can undertake anything for the general good without being strongly moved—by misgivings, or by hope, or by confidence. The very thought of this attempt has wrought the power within me to a passion—to the joy felt by all who try to advance their country’s freedom. The very fact that such an appeal as this is possible proves that already England has come on far towards a reasonable civil liberty; a liberty due, under God, to the Parliament; who can hear this praise without suspecting it of flattery. Let the supreme Council of the Commonwealth show how it differs from Prelates and Cabinet Ministers by listening in the spirit of old Greece to a sincere adviser, private man though he is, who has worked and thought. The new Order for regulating Printing is retrograde. I will discuss (1) the origin of the licensing-system: (2) the use of books generally: (3) the uselessness of the present Order: (4) its positive harmfulness.
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.
Pp. 15-25. Not to insist upon the examples... while thus much hath been explaining.
Moses and Daniel and Paul were skilled in all manner of heathen learning; yet the lawfulness, or advantage, of such learning was at least debated by the Fathers of the early Church; though a great majority of them were in favour of allowing it. At last Julian the Apostate forbad Christians to study heathen learning, and then it was felt that this was a greater blow to the Church than the persecutions of Decius or Diocletian. Jerome, in a feverish dream, fancied himself chastised for reading Cicero. On the other hand Dionysius of Alexandria, a Father of the Church in the third century, was bidden to read all books that came to his hands, and to judge for himself. The command—“Rise, Peter, kill and eat”—is for the food of the mind as well as the body. The knowledge of error, as John Selden has taught, helps the knowing of truth. Temperance in material things is of the greatest moment to human life; and yet God has entrusted this temperance to every man’s own judgment. Good and evil grow together in this world almost inseparably; and, as Psyche had the task of sorting the seeds, man has the task of sundering the good from the evil. Untried virtue is not pure, it is only blank. Spenser, a better teacher than even Scotus or Thomas Aquinas, makes Guion pass through the Cave of Mammon. Three objections are made to unrestricted reading. (1) First, the danger of infection. To this it may be answered that some of the best books are the frankest, and some of the worst the most plausible. A wise man can get gold out of dross; why should he lose the gain of his wisdom, in order to give the foolish a safeguard which will not hinder his folly? (2) It is said—We must not incur needless temptation; and (3) We must not employ ourselves with vanities. One answer will serve for both objections: to wise men hurtful books are not temptations nor vanities, but drugs which temper wholesome medicines.
Pp. 25-33. See the ingenuity of Truth...whereof it bears the intention.
It has been shown that there is no good precedent for licensing; and if it is said that it is a newly invented precaution, the answer is that it is so obvious an one that it can have been neglected only because it was disapproved. Plato, indeed, was for restricting reading in his ideal Commonwealth. But in practice he did not keep his own precept: he saw that this particular restriction would be useless without all the other restrictions of his imaginary City. It is vain to shut one gate while others stand open. If reading is regulated, then music, conversation, every incident of social life must be regulated too. The real art of government, elsewhere than in an Utopia or an Atlantis, is to discern where coercion and where persuasion should be used. Passions have been implanted in human nature because, rightly tempered, they are ingredients of virtue; and it is vain for human government to affect a rigour contrary to the manner of Providence and of Nature.
Everything we hear or do is our book. But, supposing that the restriction of printed books were enough in itself to keep out evil, the Order of Parliament cannot even do this. Writings which it aims at repressing are still circulated. If the Order is to be effectual, a complete list must be made of unlicensed books already in circulation, an index on the model of Trent and Seville. Yet even then the Order would be fruitless. It could not prevent sects or schisms; had not Christianity spread itself over Asia before a written Gospel or Epistle was seen? It cannot mend manners; for what are the manners of Italy and of Spain? Lastly, there is this practical difficulty:—No man, studious, learned, judicious enough to be a competent licenser will endure the drudgery. The present Licensers make no secret of their weariness. Future Licensers will be either ignorant, imperious and remiss, or venal.
Pp. 33-50. I lastly proceed from the no good it can do...cold, and neutral, and inwardly divided minds.
a. Learning is discouraged.—When Prelacy was threatened at first, its friends urged that, with it, learning would fall. But this Order is the real downfall of learning. No really learned man, with any spirit, could brook being made a schoolboy again and put under the ferule of a tutor. When a man writes for the world, he puts forth his strength and strives to master his subject: is he, in spite of years, industry, proved knowledge and ability, to be baffled, unless he approves himself to the hasty glance of a licenser without leisure and perhaps without knowledge? Or if, after his book has been licensed, a new thought strikes him—as happens to all writers—shall he be debarred from improving his own work, unless he make a new trip to the licenser? No one would read these licensed books, which would necessarily be made up of hackneyed commonplaces. Then, if the work of a deceased author is to be reprinted, must this too be revised? Would John Knox’s works, for instance, have to pass the licenser?
b. Next, the whole nation is insulted.—Are twenty men enough to estimate all the genius and the good sense of England? Is there to be a monopoly of knowledge; are the products of all English brains to be stamped like broadcloth and woolpacks? The affront is not to the educated alone: the common people are just as much wronged by the notion that they are too giddy to be trusted with a flighty tract.
c. The Ministry is discredited.—Is it the result of all their labours that the people for whom they work are so unprincipled that the whiff of every new pamphlet can stagger them out of their catechism? Are the Ministers afraid to face a single adverse tract, unless they are entrenched in the stronghold, the St Angelo, of an imprimatur?
(This picture of the discouragement which learned men will suffer is not fanciful. In Italy learning is oppressed in the same way: in Italy I saw Galileo grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition; and I heard Italians lamenting the servile state of letters, and congratulating me for living in a land of philosophic freedom—just when England was groaning most under the prelatical yoke: but these congratulations seemed omens. And when the deliverance did begin, men of letters here called to me, as the Sicilians invoked the upright quaestor against Verres, to stand up for them against this tyranny. And now that the yoke is being put on again, it is the common talk that the Presbyters are going to become new Prelates. The evils of Prelacy have been taken off the land at large only to be heaped upon its literature; for now the Licenser is Archbishop over a great Province of books. So it seems now that the press was to be free only till the Bishops had been overthrown; that done, it is to be in bondage again. Nor can the Presbyters say that this Order keeps down sects; on the contrary, by stirring up opposition, it becomes a nursing mother of sects.)
d. The Order is hostile to truth:—(i) First, as tending to efface knowledge already gained. The waters of truth have been likened to a fountain; but they will stagnate now into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. The man of business, chiefly anxious to keep up appearances, and the man of pleasure, anxious to be saved trouble, will give up the attempt to think in religion and will become the merest formulists. The clergy will sink into indolence, secured by the Licenser from any assault upon received opinions. But men with a good conscience and a real love of truth ought to wish for open discussion. (ii) Secondly—the Order is hostile to truth as preventing any addition to knowledge. Truth was once incarnate on earth; but it has been hewn in pieces by Falsehood, and the pieces have been cast to the four winds; and as Isis sought for the limbs of Osiris, slain and mangled by Typhon, so the friends of truth are even now looking for the scattered members. Do not be hinderers of the search. We boast of our light: but the sun keeps the stars from being seen: and there is danger lest we have looked so long on the splendour of Zuinglius and Calvin that we are blinded to other lights of truth. The golden rule in Theology, as in other sciences, is to look for what we know not by the light of what we know.
Pp. 50-65. Lords and Commons of England...whereof none can participate but greatest and wisest men.
a. The character and present spirit of the English nation.—Let the Lords and Commons of England consider what a nation it is whereof they are the governors; a nation of high genius and great energy. From far-back times until now the people of this island have been honoured by other peoples. And what is above this, the favour and love of Heaven seem to have been with England. The Reformation was begun in Europe by an Englishman; and if the Prelates had not put down Wicliff as a schismatic, perhaps neither Huss nor Jerome of Prague, no, nor Luther or Calvin would ever have been known. Now a second epoch of reformation is beginning, and again the opportunity of leading it is offered to Englishmen. For behold this great city; the forges of the armourers are not busier in it than the brains of the toilers for truth. Let us not give the names of sect and schism to this new, manifold eagerness for light. While the temple is in building, the stones must be hewn in many shapes. The Enemy watches, and hopes that our divisions and subdivisions will undo us. He knows not that these are but branches springing from one strong root. When I see this city, beset with the perils of war, full within of men quietly following great thoughts, I feel how thoroughly they trust their rulers, and I recognise an omen of victory and of renewed youth for this great nation.
b. A plea for toleration.—If you would crush the knowledge thus daily springing up, you must first suppress yourselves. It is your free government which has made this free spirit. If you would have us slaves, you must be tyrants. And then,—who will stand by you? Not the men who are now fighting against unjust taxation. Remember the advice—rather, the dying charge—of one who died for the Church and the Commonwealth. Lord Brook bids us to bear with all men who would live purely, however much they are spoken against and how widely soever they differ from us. And this is the very time when the battle between Truth and Falsehood must be fought out: the temple of Janus is open. Leave Truth free to fight, and do not doubt the issue. What means the freedom given by Christianity but a deliverance from slavish care for forms? Some schisms may be too lightly made; some doctrines are not to be tolerated; but there are other differences which need not hinder the unity of spirit if only the bond of peace were found. A system of suppression is always apt to put down truth. When a kingdom is shaken to its foundations, then false teachers, it is true, are busiest; but great teachers also are raised up. If, enslaved to a rigid system, we stop the mouths of these, we shall prove ourselves not defenders but persecutors of truth. Since this Parliament met, many unlicensed books have been published—some by Presbyterians. If any authors of such books are among those who seek to re-establish the licensing system, these suppressors ought first to be suppressed themselves.
c. The Order of the House in 1643 compared with its former Order in 1642.—The Order of 1642 provided merely that no book should be printed unless the name of the printer and of the author, or at least the printer’s, were registered. Nothing could be fairer than this. If a book comes out in breach of this rule, let it be burned by the hangman. But the new Order is in the very image of the Star-Chamber decree—one of the worst tyrannies of the late court. As to the means by which this Order was made to supersede the former, those who ought to know hint that trade-interests were at work. Booksellers who wished to keep up a monopoly misled the House by a pretence of securing copyright to poor members of their guild. In these tricks, however, I am not skilled; I only know that a good government is hardly more safe from mistakes than a bad one; but a good government will be sooner moved to redress a wrong by a plain warning than a bad government by a bribe; and to give such redress, is a virtue in which none can share but the greatest and wisest men.
THEY who to states and governors of the commonwealth direct their speech, high court of parliament, or wanting such access in a private condition, write that which they foresee may advance the public good; I suppose them, as at the beginning of no mean endeavour, not a little altered and moved inwardly in their minds; some with doubt of what will be the success, others with fear of what will be the censure; some with hope, others with confidence of what they have to speak. And me perhaps each of these dispositions, as the subject was whereon I entered, may have at other times variously affected; and likely might in these foremost expressions now also disclose which of them swayed most, but that the very attempt of this address thus made, and the thought of whom it hath recourse to, hath got the power within me to a passion, far more welcome than incidental to a preface. Which though I stay not to confess ere any ask, I shall10 be blameless, if it be no other than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who wish and promote their country’s ; whereof this whole discourse proposed will be a certain testimony, if not a . For this is not the liberty which we can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the commonwealth: that let no man in this world expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look for. To which if I now20 manifest, by the very sound of this which I shall utter, that we are already in good part arrived, and yet from such a steep disadvantage of tyranny and superstition grounded into our principles as was beyond the manhood of a Roman recovery, it will be attributed first, as is most due, to the strong assistance of God, our deliverer; next, to your faithful guidance and undaunted wisdom, lords and commons of England. Neither is it in God’s esteem the diminution of his glory, when honourable things are spoken of good men,30 and worthy magistrates; which if I now first should begin to do, after so fair a progress of your laudable deeds, and such a long obligement upon the whole realm to your indefatigable virtues, I might be justly reckoned among the tardiest and the unwillingest of them that praise ye. Nevertheless there being three principal things, without which all praising is but courtship and flattery: first, when that only is praised which is solidly worth praise; next, when greatest likelihoods are brought that such things are truly and really in those persons to whom they are ascribed; the10 other, when he who praises, by shewing that such his actual persuasion is of whom he writes, can demonstrate that he flatters not; the former two of these I have heretofore endeavoured, rescuing the employment from him who went about to impair your merits with a the latter as belonging chiefly to mine own acquittal, that whom I so extolled I did not flatter, hath been reserved opportunely to this occasion. For he who freely magnifies what hath been nobly done, and fears not to20 declare as freely what might be done better, gives ye the best covenant of his fidelity; and that his loyalest affection and his hope waits on your proceedings. His highest praising is not flattery, and his plainest advice is a kind of praising; for though I should affirm and hold by argument, that it would fare better with truth, with learning, and the commonwealth, if one of your published orders, which I should name, were called in, yet at the same time it could not but much redound to the lustre of your mild and equal government, whenas30 private persons are hereby animated to think ye better pleased with public advice than other have been delighted heretofore with public flattery. And men will then see what difference there is between and that jealous haughtiness of whenas they shall observe ye in the midst of your victories and successes more gently brooking written exceptions against a voted order,10 than other courts, which had produced nothing worth memory but the weak ostentation of wealth, would have endured the least signified dislike at any sudden proclamation. If I should thus far presume upon the meek demeanour of your civil and gentle greatness, lords and commons, as what your published order hath directly said, that to gainsay, I might defend myself with ease, if any should accuse me of being new or insolent, did they but know how much better I find ye esteem it to imitate the old and elegant humanity of20 Greece, than the barbaric pride of a Hunnish and Norwegian stateliness. And out of those ages, to whose polite wisdom and letters we owe that we are not yet Goths and Jutlanders, wrote that discourse to the parliament of Athens, that persuades them to change the form of democracy which was then established. Such honour was done in those days to men who professed the study of wisdom and eloquence, not only in their own country, but in other lands, that heard30 them gladly, and with great respect, if they had aught in public to admonish the state. against a former edict; and I abound with other like examples, which to set here would be superfluous. But if from the industry of a life wholly dedicated to studious labours, and those natural endowments for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude, so much must be derogated, as to count me not equal to any of those who had this privilege, I would obtain to be thought not so inferior,1 as yourselves are superior to the most of them who received their counsel; and how far you excel them, be assured, lords and commons, there can no greater testimony appear, than when your prudent spirit acknowledges and obeys the voice of reason, from what quarter soever it be heard speaking; and renders ye as willing to repeal any act of your own setting forth, as any set forth by your predecessors.
If ye be thus resolved, as it were injury to think ye were not, I know not what should withhold me from presenting ye with a fit instance wherein to shew both that love of truth which ye eminently profess, and that uprightness of your judgment which is not wont to be partial to yourselves; by judging over again that order which ye have ordained “to regulate printing: that no book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth printed, unless the same be first approved and licensed by such,” or at least one of such, as shall be thereto appointed. For or provides for the poor, I touch not; only wish they be not made pretences to abuse and persecute honest and painful men, who offend not in either of these particulars. But that other clause of licensing books, which we thought had died with his brother when the expired, I shall now attend with such a homily, as shall lay before ye, first, the inventors of it to be those whom ye will be loath to own; next, what is to be thought in general of reading, whatever sort the books be; and10 that this order avails nothing to the suppressing of scandalous, seditious, and libellous books, which were mainly intended to be suppressed. Last, that it will be primely to the discouragement of all learning, and the stop of truth, not only by disexercising and blunting our abilities, in what we know already, but by hindering and cropping the discovery that might be yet further made, both in religious and civil wisdom.
I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the church and commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye20 how books demean themselves, as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors; for books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous : and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed30 men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. It is true, no age can restore a life, whereof, perhaps, there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want10 of which whole nations fare the worse. We should be wary, therefore, what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom; and if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at the breath of reason itself; slays an immortality rather than a life. But lest20 I should be condemned of introducing licence, while I oppose licensing, I refuse not the pains to be so much historical, as will serve to shew what hath been done by ancient and famous commonwealths, against this disorder, till the very time that this project of licensing crept out of the Inquisition, was catched up by our prelates, and hath caught some of our presbyters.
In , where books and wits were ever busier than in any other part of Greece, I find but only two sorts of writings which the magistrate cared to take30 notice of: those either blasphemous and atheistical, or libellous. Thus the books of Protagoras were by the judges of Areopagus commanded to be burnt, and himself banished the territory for begun with his confessing not to know “whether there were gods, or whether not.” And against defaming, it was agreed that none should be traduced by name, as was the manner of whereby we may guess how they censured libelling; and this course was quick10 enough, as Cicero writes, to quell both the desperate wits of other atheists, and the open way of defaming, as the showed. Of other sects and opinions, though tending to voluptuousness, and the denying of divine Providence, they took no heed. Therefore we do not read that either or what the uttered, was ever questioned by the laws. Neither is it recorded that the writings of those old comedians were suppressed, though the acting of them were forbid; and20 that Plato commended the reading of Aristophanes, the loosest of them all, to is commonly known, and may be excused, if holy Chrysostom, as is reported, nightly studied so much the same author, and had the art to cleanse a scurrilous vehemence into the style of a rousing sermon. That other leading city of Greece, Lacedæmon, considering that Lycurgus their lawgiver was so addicted to elegant learning, as to have been the first that brought out of Ionia and sent the poet30 from Crete, to prepare and mollify the Spartan surliness with his smooth songs and odes, the better to plant among them law and civility, it is to be wondered how museless and unbookish they were, minding nought but the feats of war. There needed no licensing of books among them, for they disliked all but and took a slight occasion to chase out of their city, perhaps for composing in a higher strain than their own could reach to; or if it were for his broad verses, they were not therein so cautious, but they were10 as dissolute in their promiscuous conversing; whence Euripides affirms, in Andromache, that their women were all unchaste. Thus much may give us light after what sort of books were prohibited among the Greeks. The Romans also for many ages trained up only to a military roughness, resembling most the Lacedæmonian guise, knew of learning little but what their twelve tables and the college with their augurs and flamens taught them in religion and law; so unacquainted with other learning, that when20 took thereby occasion to give the city a taste of their philosophy, they were suspected for seducers by no less a man than Cato the Censor, who moved it in the senate to dismiss them speedily, and to banish all such Attic babblers out of Italy. But Scipio and others of the noblest senators withstood him and his old Sabine austerity; honoured and admired the men; and the censor himself at last, in his old age, fell to the study of that whereof before he was so30 scrupulous. And yet, at the same time, Nævius and Plautus, the first Latin comedians, had filled the city with all the borrowed scenes of Then began to be considered there also what was to be done to libellous books and authors; for Nævius was quickly cast into prison for his unbridled pen, and released by the tribunes upon his recantation: we read also that libels were burnt, and the makers punished, by Augustus. The like severity, no doubt, was used, if10 aught were impiously written against their esteemed gods. Except in these two points, how the world went in books, the magistrate kept no reckoning. And therefore Lucretius, without , versifies his Epicurism to Memmius, and had the honour so great a father of the commonwealth; although himself disputes against that opinion in his own writings. Nor was the satirical sharpness or naked plainness of by any order prohibited. And for matters20 of state, though it extolled that part which Pompey held, was not therefore suppressed by Octavius Cæsar, of the other faction. But that Naso was by him for the wanton poems of his youth, was but a mere covert of state over some secret cause; and besides, the books were neither banished nor called in. From hence we shall meet with little else but tyranny in the Roman empire, that we may not marvel, if not so often bad as good books were silenced. I shall therefore deem to30 have been large enough in producing what among the ancients was punishable to write, save only which, all other arguments were free to treat on.
the emperors were become Christians, whose discipline in this point I do not find to have been more severe than what was formerly in practice. The books of those whom they took to be grand heretics were examined, refuted, and condemned in the general councils; and not till then were prohibited, or burnt, by authority of the emperor. As for the writings of heathen authors, unless they were plain invectives10 against Christianity, as those of they met with no interdict that can be cited, till in a Carthaginian council, wherein bishops themselves were forbid to read the books of Gentiles, but heresies they might read; while others long before them, on the contrary, scrupled more the books of heretics, than of Gentiles. And that the primitive councils and bishops were wont only to declare what books were not commendable, passing no further, but leaving it to each one’s conscience to read20 or to lay by, till after the year 800, is observed already by the great unmasker of the Trentine council. After which time the popes of Rome, engrossing what they pleased of political rule into their own hands, extended their dominion over men’s eyes, as they had before over their judgments, burning and prohibiting to be read what they fancied not; yet sparing in their censures, and the books not many which they so dealt with; till Martin the Fifth, by his bull, not only prohibited, but was the first that excommunicated30 the reading of heretical books; for about that time growing terrible, were they who first drove the papal court to a stricter policy of prohibiting. Which course Leo the Tenth and his successors followed, until the council of Trent and the Spanish inquisition, engendering together, brought forth or perfected those catalogues and expurging indexes, that rake through the entrails of many an old good author, with a violation worse than any could10 be offered to his tomb. Nor did they stay in matters heretical, but any subject that was not to their palate, they either condemned in a prohibition, or had it straight into the new purgatory of an index. To fill up the measure of encroachment, their last invention was to ordain that no book, pamphlet, or paper should be printed (as if St Peter had bequeathed them the keys of the press also out of Paradise) unless it were approved and licensed under the hands of two or three glutton friars. For example:
20 Let the chancellor Cini be pleased to see if in this present work be contained aught that may withstand the printing
Vincent Rabbata, Vicar of Florence.
I have seen this present work, and find nothing athwart the Catholic faith and good manners: in witness whereof I have given, &c.
Nicolo Cini, Chancellor of Florence.
Attending the precedent relation, it is allowed that this present work of may be printed.
30 Vincent Rabbata, &c.
It may be printed, July 15.
Friar Simon Mompei d’Amelia, Chancellor of the
Holy Office in Florence.
Sure they have a conceit, if he of the bottomless pit had not long since broke prison, that this quadruple exorcism would bar him down. I fear their next design will be to get into their custody the licensing of that which they say Claudius intended , but went not through with. to see another of their forms, the Roman stamp:
Imprimatur, If it seem good to the reverend master of the Holy Palace.
Belcastro, Vicegerent. 10
Friar Nicolò Rodolphi, Master of the Holy Palace.
Sometimes five imprimaturs are seen together, dialogue wise, in the of one titlepage, complimenting and ducking each to other with their shaven reverences, whether the author, who stands by in perplexity at the foot of his epistle, shall to the press or to . These are the pretty responsories, these are the dear antiphonies, that so bewitched of late with the goodly echo they20 made; and besotted us to the gay imitation of a lordly imprimatur, so apishly Romanizing, that the word of command still was set down in Latin; as if the learned grammatical pen that wrote it would cast no ink without Latin; or perhaps, as they thought, because no vulgar tongue was worthy to express the pure conceit of an imprimatur; but rather, as I hope, for that , the language of men ever famous and foremost in the achievements of liberty, will not easily find servile letters enow to spell such a dictatory presumption Englished. And thus ye have the inventors and the of book-licensing ripped up and drawn as lineally as any pedigree. We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient state, or polity, or church, nor by any statute left us by our ancestors elder or later; nor from the modern custom of any reformed city or church abroad; but from the most antichristian10 council, and the most tyrannous inquisition that ever inquired. Till then books were ever as freely admitted into the world as any other birth; the issue of the brain was no more stifled than the issue of the womb: no envious Juno sat cross-legged over the nativity of any man’s intellectual offspring; but if it proved a monster, who denies but that it was justly burnt, or sunk into the sea? But that a book, in worse condition than a peccant soul, should be to stand before a jury ere it be born to the world, and undergo20 yet in darkness the judgment of Radamanth and his colleagues, ere it can pass the ferry backward into light, was never heard before, till that mysterious iniquity, provoked and troubled at the first entrance of reformation, sought out new and new hells wherein they might include our books also within the number of their damned. And this was the rare morsel so officiously snatched up, and so illfavouredly imitated by our inquisiturient bishops, and That ye like not now these most30 certain authors of this licensing order, and that all sinister intention was far distant from your thoughts, when ye were importuned the passing it, all men who know the integrity of your actions, and how ye honour truth, will clear ye readily.
But some will say, what though the inventors were bad, the thing for all that may be good. It may so; yet if that thing be no such deep invention, but and easy for any man to light on, and yet best and wisest commonwealths through all ages and occasions have forborne to use it, and falsest seducers and oppressors10 of men were the first who took it up, and to no other purpose but to obstruct and hinder the first approach of reformation; I am of those who believe, it will be a harder than ever knew, to sublimate any good use out of such an invention. Yet this only is what I request to gain from this reason, that it may be held a dangerous and suspicious fruit, as certainly it deserves, for the tree that bore it, until I can dissect one by one the properties it has. But I have first to finish, as was propounded, what is to20 be thought in general of reading books, whatever sort they be, and whether be more the benefit or the harm that thence proceeds.
Not to insist upon the examples of Moses, Daniel, and Paul, who were skilful in all the learning of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Greeks, which could not probably be without reading their books of all sorts, in Paul especially, who thought it no defilement to insert into holy scripture and one of them a tragedian, the question was30 notwithstanding sometimes controverted among the primitive doctors, but with great odds on that side which affirmed it both lawful and profitable, as was then evidently perceived, when Julian the Apostate, and subtlest enemy to our faith, made a decree forbidding Christians the study of heathen learning; for, said he, they wound us with our own weapons, and with our own arts and sciences they overcome us. And indeed the Christians were put so to their shifts by this10 crafty means, and so much in danger to decline into all ignorance, that were fain, as a man may say, to coin out of the Bible, reducing it into divers forms of orations, poems, dialogues, even to the calculating of a new Christian grammar. But, saith the historian, Socrates, the providence of God provided better than the industry of Appollinarius and his son, by taking away that illiterate law with the life of him who devised it. So great an injury they then held it to be deprived20 of Hellenic learning; and thought it a persecution more undermining, and secretly decaying the church, than the open cruelty of Decius or Diocletian. And perhaps it was with the same politic drift that the devil for reading Cicero; or else it was a phantasm, bred by the fever which had then seized him. For had an angel been his discipliner, unless it were for dwelling too much on Ciceronianisms, and had chastised the reading, not the vanity, it had been plainly partial, first, to correct him for grave30 Cicero, and not for scurril Plautus, whom he confesses to have been reading not long before; next to correct him only, and let so many more ancient Fathers wax old in those pleasant and florid studies, without the lash of such a tutoring apparition; insomuch that teaches how some good use may be made of a sportful poem, not now extant, writ by Homer; and why not then of an Italian romance much to the same purpose? But if it be agreed we shall be tried by visions, there is a vision recorded by Eusebius, far ancienter than this tale of10 Jerome, to the nun Eustochium, and besides, has nothing of a fever in it. was, about the year 240, a person of great name in the church, for piety and learning, who had wont to avail himself much against heretics, by being conversant in their books; until a certain presbyter laid it scrupulously to his conscience, how he durst venture himself among those defiling volumes. The worthy man, loath to give offence, fell into a new debate with himself, what was to be thought; when suddenly a vision sent20 from God (it is his own Epistle that so avers it) confirmed him in these words: “Read any books whatever come to thy hands, for thou art sufficient both to judge aright, and to examine each matter.” To this revelation he assented the sooner, as he confesses, because it was answerable to that of the apostle to the Thessalonians: “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” And he might have added another remarkable saying of the same author: “To the pure, all things are pure”; not only meats and drinks, but all kind of30 knowledge, whether of good or evil: the knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the will and conscience be not defiled. For books are as meats and viands are; some of good, some of evil substance; and yet God in that unapocryphal vision said without exception, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat”; leaving the choice to each man’s discretion. Wholesome meats to a vitiated stomach differ little or nothing from unwholesome; and best books to a naughty mind are not10 unapplicable to occasions of evil. Bad meats will scarce breed good nourishment in the healthiest concoction; but herein the difference is of bad books, that they to a discreet and judicious reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate. Whereof what better witness can ye expect I should produce, than one of your own now sitting in parliament, the chief of learned men reputed in this land, whose volume of natural and national laws proves, not only by great authorities brought together,20 but by exquisite reasons and theorems almost mathematically demonstrative, that all opinions, yea, errors, known, read, and collated, are of main service and assistance toward the speedy attainment of what is truest. I conceive, therefore, that when God did enlarge the universal diet of man’s body, saving ever the rules of temperance, he then also, as before, left arbitrary the dieting and repasting of our minds; as wherein every mature man might have to exercise his own leading capacity. How great a virtue is temperance,30 how much of moment through the whole life of man! Yet God commits the managing so great a trust, without particular law or prescription, wholly to the demeanour of every grown man. And therefore when he himself tabled the Jews from heaven, that omer, which was every man’s daily portion of manna, is computed to have been more than might have well sufficed the heartiest feeder thrice as many meals. For those actions which enter into a man, rather than issue out of him, and therefore defile not, God uses not to captivate under a perpetual childhood of prescription, but10 trusts him with the gift of reason to be his own chooser; there were but little work left for preaching, if law and compulsion should grow so fast upon those things which heretofore were governed only by exhortation. Solomon informs us that much reading is a weariness to the flesh; but neither he, nor other inspired author, tells us that such or such reading is unlawful; yet certainly had God thought good to limit us herein, it had been much more expedient to have told us what was unlawful, than what was wearisome. As for the burning20 of those Ephesian books by St Paul’s converts, it is replied, the books were magic, the Syriac so renders them. It was a private act, a voluntary act, and leaves us to a voluntary imitation: the men in remorse burnt those books which were their own; the magistrate by this example is not appointed; these men practised the books, another might perhaps have read them in some sort usefully. Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven30 with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixed. It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil; that is to say, of10 knowing good by evil. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear, without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and seeks her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal20 garland is to be run for, and heat. Assuredly , we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an whiteness; which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom I dare be known to think30 a better teacher than or describing true under the person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and yet abstain. Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates, and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit10 which may be had of books promiscuously read. But of the harm that may result hence, three kinds are usually reckoned. First, is feared the infection that may spread; but then, all human learning and controversy in religious points must remove out of the world, yea, the Bible itself; for that ofttimes relates blasphemy , it describes the carnal sense of wicked men not unelegantly, it brings in holiest men passionately murmuring against providence through all the arguments of Epicurus: in other great disputes20 it answers dubiously and darkly to the common reader; and ask a what ails the modesty of his marginal that Moses and all the prophets cannot persuade him to pronounce the textual Chetiv. For these causes we all know the Bible itself put by the papist into the first rank of prohibited books. The ancientest Fathers must be next removed, as Clement of Alexandria, and transmitting our ears through a hoard of heathenish obscenities to receive the gospel. Who30 finds not that Irenæus, Epiphanius, Jerome, and others discover more heresies than they well confute, and that oft for heresy which is the truer opinion? Nor boots it to say for these, and all the heathen writers of greatest infection, if it must be thought so, with whom is bound up the life of human learning, that they wrote in an unknown tongue, so long as we are sure those languages are known as well to the worst of men, who are both most able and most diligent to instil the poison they10 suck, first into the courts of princes, acquainting them with the choicest delights, and As perhaps did that Petronius, whom Nero called his arbiter, the master of his revels; and dreaded and yet dear to the Italian courtiers. for posterity’s sake, whom Harry the 8 named in merriment his vicar of hell. By which compendious way all the contagion that foreign books can infuse will find a passage to the people far easier and shorter than an Indian voyage,20 though it could be sailed either , or of Canada westward, while our Spanish licensing gags the English press never so severely. But, on the other side, that infection which is from books of controversy in religion, is more doubtful and dangerous to the learned than to the ignorant; and yet those books must be permitted untouched by the licenser. It will be hard to instance where any ignorant man hath been ever seduced by papistical book in English, unless it were commended and expounded to30 him by some of that clergy; and indeed all such tractates, whether false or true, are as the prophecy of Isaiah was to the eunuch, not to be “understood without a guide.” But of our priests and doctors how many have been corrupted by studying the comments of Jesuits and and how fast they could transfuse that corruption into the people, our experience is both late and sad. It is not forgot, since the acute and distinct was perverted merely by the perusing of a nameless discourse written at Delft, which at first he took in hand to confute. Seeing therefore that10 those books, and those in great abundance, which are likeliest to taint both life and doctrine, cannot be suppressed without the fall of learning, and of all ability in disputation, and that these books of either sort are most and soonest catching to the learned, from whom to the common people whatever is heretical or dissolute may quickly be conveyed, and that evil manners are as perfectly learnt without books a thousand other ways which cannot be stopped, and evil doctrine not with books can propagate, except a20 teacher guide, which he might also do without writing, and so beyond prohibiting, I am not able to unfold, how this cautelous enterprise of licensing can be exempted from the number of vain and impossible attempts. And he who were pleasantly disposed, could not well avoid to liken it to the exploit of that gallant man who thought to the crows by shutting his park gate. Besides another inconvenience, if learned men be the first receivers out of books, and dispreaders both of vice and error, how shall the30 licensers themselves be confided in, unless we can confer upon them, or they assume to themselves, above all others in the land, the grace of infallibility and uncorruptedness? And again, if it be true, that a wise man, like a good refiner, can gather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea, or without book; there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from10 a fool that which being restrained will be no hindrance to his folly. For if there should be so much exactness always used to keep that from him which is unfit for his reading, we should in the judgment of Aristotle not only, but of Solomon, and of our Saviour, not voutsafe him good precepts, and by consequence not willingly admit him to good books; as being certain that a wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet, than a fool will do of sacred scripture. ’Tis next alleged, we must not expose ourselves to temptations20 without necessity, and next to that, not employ our time in vain things. To both these objections one answer will serve, out of the grounds already laid, that to all men such books are not temptations, nor vanities; but useful drugs and materials wherewith to temper and compose effective and strong medicines, which man’s life cannot . The rest, as children and childish men, who have not the art to qualify and prepare these working minerals, well may be exhorted to forbear; but hindered forcibly they cannot be, by all30 the licensing that sainted Inquisition could ever yet contrive; which is what I promised to deliver next: that this order of licensing conduces nothing to the end for which it was framed; and hath almost me by being clear already while thus much hath been explaining. See the ingenuity of Truth, who, when she gets a free and willing hand, opens herself faster than the pace of method and discourse can overtake her. It was the task which I began with, to shew that no nation, or well instituted state, if they valued books at all, did ever use this way of licensing; and it might10 be answered, that this is a piece of prudence lately discovered. To which I return, that as it was a thing slight and obvious to think on, so if it had been difficult to find out, there wanted not among them long since, who suggested such a course; which they not following, leave us a pattern of their judgment that it was not the not knowing, but the not approving, which was the cause of their not using it. a man of high authority indeed, but least of all for his Commonwealth, in the book of his laws, which no city ever yet20 received, fed his fancy with making many edicts to his burgomasters, which they who otherwise admire him, wish had been rather buried and excused in the genial cups of an academic night sitting. By which laws he seems to tolerate no kind of learning, but by unalterable decree, consisting most of practical traditions, to the attainment whereof a library of smaller bulk than his own dialogues would be abundant. And there also enacts, that no poet should so much as read to any private man what he had written, until the30 judges and law keepers had seen it, and allowed it; but that Plato meant this law peculiarly to that commonwealth which he had imagined, and to no other, is evident. Why was he not else a lawgiver to himself, but a transgressor, and to be expelled by his own magistrates, both for the wanton epigrams and dialogues which he made, and his perpetual reading of Sophron Mimus and Aristophanes, books of grossest infamy; and also for commending the latter of them,10 though he were the malicious libeller of his chief friends, to be read by the tyrant Dionysius, who had little need of such trash to spend his time on? But that he knew this licensing of poems had reference and dependence to many other provisoes there set down in his fancied republic, which in this world could have no place; and so neither he himself, nor any magistrate or city, ever imitated that course, which, taken apart from those other collateral injunctions, must needs be vain and fruitless. For if they fell upon one kind of20 strictness, unless their care were equal to regulate all other things of like aptness to corrupt the mind, that single endeavour they knew would be but a labour; to shut and fortify one gate against corruption, and be necessitated to leave others round about wide open. If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must regulate all recreations and pastimes, all that is delightful to man. No music must be heard, no song be set or sung, but what is . There must be licensing dancers, that no gesture,30 motion, or deportment be taught our youth but what by their allowance shall be thought honest; for such Plato was provided of. It will ask more than the work of twenty licensers to examine all the lutes, the violins, and the guitars in every house; they must not be suffered to prattle as they do, but must be licensed what they may say. And who shall silence all the airs and that whisper softness in chambers? The windows also, and the Balcones, must be thought on; there are shrewd books, with dangerous frontispieces, set to sale: who shall prohibit them, shall twenty10 licensers? reads even to the ballatry and the gammuth of every municipal fiddler; for Next, what more national corruption, for which England abroad, than household gluttony? Who shall be the rectors of our daily rioting? And what shall be done to inhibit the multitudes that frequent those houses where drunkenness is sold and harboured? Our garments20 also should be referred to the licensing of some more sober workmasters, to see them cut into a less wanton garb. Who shall regulate all the mixed conversation of our youth, male and female together, as is the fashion of this country? Who shall still appoint what shall be discoursed, what presumed, and no further? Lastly, who shall forbid and separate all idle resort, all evil company? These things will be, and must be: but how they shall be least hurtful, how least enticing, herein consists the grave and governing wisdom30 of a state. To sequester out of the world into which never can be drawn into use, will not mend our condition; but to ordain wisely as in this world of evil, in the midst whereof God hath placed us unavoidably. Nor is it Plato’s licensing of books will do this, which necessarily pulls along with it so many other kinds of licensing, as will make us all both ridiculous and weary, and yet frustrate; but those unwritten, or at least unconstraining10 laws of virtuous education, religious and civil nurture, which Plato there mentions, as the bonds and ligaments of the commonwealth, the pillars and the sustainers of every written statute; these they be, which will bear chief sway in such matters as these, when all licensing will be easily eluded. Impunity and remissness for certain are the bane of a commonwealth; but here the great art lies, to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work. If every action which is20 good or evil in man at ripe years were to be under pittance, and prescription, and compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise could be then due to well doing, what gramercy to be sober, just, or continent? Many there be that complain of divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress. Foolish tongues! when God gave him to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, We ourselves esteem not of that30 obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force; God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue? They are not skilful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin, by removing the matter of sin; for, besides that it is a huge heap increasing under the very act of diminishing, though some part of it may for a10 time be withdrawn from some persons, it cannot from all, in such a universal thing as books are; and when this is done, yet the sin remains entire. Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left, ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste, that came not thither so: such great care and wisdom is required to the right managing of this point. Suppose we could20 expel sin by this means; look how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue: for the matter of them both is the same: remove that, and ye remove them both alike. This justifies the high providence of God, who, though he command us temperance, justice, continence, yet pours out before us even to a profuseness all desirable things, and gives us minds that can wander beyond all limit and satiety. contrary to the manner of God and of nature, by abridging or scanting those means, which30 books freely permitted are, both to the trial of virtue, and the exercise of truth? It would be better done, to learn that the law must needs be frivolous which goes to restrain things, uncertainly and yet equally working to good and to evil. And were I the chooser, a dram of well-doing should be preferred before many times as much the forcible hindrance of evil doing. For God sure esteems the growth and completing of one virtuous person, more than the restraint of ten vicious.10 And albeit, whatever thing we hear or see, sitting, walking, travelling, or conversing, may be fitly called our book, and is of the same effect that writings are, yet grant the thing to be prohibited were only books, it appears that this order hitherto is far insufficient to the end which it intends. Do we not see, not once or oftener, but weekly, against the parliament and city, printed, as the wet sheets can witness, and dispersed among us for all that licensing can do? Yet this is the prime service a man would20 think wherein this order should give proof of itself. If it were executed, you will say. But certain, if execution be remiss or blindfold now, and in this particular, what will it be hereafter, and in other books? If then the order shall not be vain and frustrate, behold a new labour, lords and commons, ye must repeal and proscribe all scandalous and unlicensed books already printed and divulged; after ye have drawn them up into a list, that all may know which are condemned, and which not; and ordain that no foreign books be30 delivered out of custody, till they have been read over. This office will require the whole time of not a few overseers, and those no vulgar men. There be also books which are partly useful and excellent, partly culpable and pernicious; this work will ask as many more to make expurgations and expunctions, that the commonwealth of learning be not damnified. In fine, when the multitude of books increase upon their hands, ye must be fain to catalogue all those printers who are found frequently offending, and forbid the importation of their whole suspected typography.10 In a word, that this your order may be exact, and not deficient, ye must reform it perfectly, according to which I know ye abhor to do. Yet though ye should condescend to this, which God forbid, the order still would be but fruitless and defective to that end whereto ye meant it. If to prevent sects and schisms, who is so unread or so uncatechised in story, that hath not heard of refusing books as a hindrance, and preserving their doctrine unmixed for many ages, only by unwritten20 traditions? The Christian faith, for that was once a schism, is not unknown to have spread all over Asia, ere any gospel or epistle was seen in writing. If the amendment of manners be aimed at, look into Italy and Spain, whether those places be one scruple the better, the honester, the wiser, the chaster, since all the inquisitional rigour that hath been executed upon books.
Another reason, whereby to make it plain that this order will miss the end it seeks, consider by the quality30 which ought to be in every licenser. It cannot be denied but that he who is made judge to sit upon the birth or death of books, whether they may be wafted into this world or not, had need to be a man above the common measure, both studious, learned, and judicious; there may be else no mean mistakes in the censure of what is passable or not; which is also no mean injury. If he be of such worth as behoves him, there cannot be a more tedious and unpleasing journey-work,10 a greater loss of time levied upon his head, than to be made the perpetual reader of unchosen books and pamphlets, ofttimes huge volumes. There is no book that is acceptable unless at certain seasons; but to be enjoined the reading of that at all times, and , whereof three pages would not down at any time in the fairest print, is an imposition which I cannot believe how he that values time, and his own studies, or is but of a nostril, should be able to endure. In this one thing I crave leave of the present20 licensers to be pardoned for so thinking: who doubtless took this office up, looking on it through their obedience to the parliament, whose command perhaps made all things seem easy and unlaborious to them; but that this short trial hath wearied them out already, their own expressions and excuses to them who make so many journeys to solicit their licence, are testimony enough. Seeing therefore those who now possess the employment, by all evident signs and that no man of worth, none that is not30 a plain unthrift of his own hours, is ever likely to succeed them, except he mean to put himself to the salary of a press corrector, we may easily foresee what kind of licensers we are to expect hereafter, either ignorant, imperious, and remiss, or basely pecuniary. This is what I had to show, wherein this order cannot conduce to that end whereof it bears the intention.
I lastly proceed from the no good it can do, to the manifest hurt it causes, in being first the greatest discouragement and affront that can be offered to learning and to learned men. It was the complaint and lamentation10 of prelates, upon every least breath of a motion to remove pluralities, and distribute more equally church revenues, that then all learning would be for ever dashed and discouraged. But as for that opinion, I never found cause to think that the tenth part of learning stood or fell with the clergy: nor could I ever but hold it for a sordid and unworthy speech of any churchman who had a competency left him. If therefore ye be loath to dishearten utterly and discontent, not the mercenary crew of false pretenders to learning,20 but the free and ingenuous sort of such as evidently were born to study and love learning for itself, not for lucre, or any other end, but the service of God and of truth, and perhaps that lasting fame and perpetuity of praise which God and good men have consented shall be the reward of those whose published labours advance the good of mankind, then know, that so far to distrust the judgment and the honesty of one who hath but a common repute in learning, and never yet offended, as not to count him fit to print his mind30 without a tutor and examiner, lest he should drop a schism, or something of corruption, is the greatest displeasure and indignity to that can be put upon him. What advantage is it to be a man over it is to be a boy at school, if we have only escaped the of an imprimatur? if serious and elaborate writings, as if they were no more than the theme of a grammar-lad under his pedagogue, must not be uttered without the10 cursory eves of a temporizing and extemporizing licenser? He who is not trusted with his own actions, his drift not being known to be evil, and standing to the hazard of law and penalty, has no great argument to think himself reputed in the commonwealth wherein he was born for other than a fool or a foreigner. When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends; after all which done, he20 takes himself to be informed in what he writes, as well as any that wrote before him; if in this, the most consummate act of his fidelity and ripeness, no years, no industry, no former proof of his abilities, can bring, him to that state of maturity, as not to be still mistrusted and suspected, unless he carry all his considerate diligence, all his midnight watchings, and expense of Palladian oil, to the hasty view of an unleisured licenser, perhaps much his younger, perhaps far his inferior in judgment, perhaps one who never30 knew the labour of bookwriting; and if he be not repulsed, or slighted, must appear in print like with his guardian, and his censor’s hand on the back of his title to be his bail and surety, that he is no idiot or seducer, it cannot be but a dishonour and derogation to the author, to the book, to the privilege and dignity of learning. And what if the author shall be one so copious of fancy, as to have many things well worth the adding, come into his mind after licensing, while the book is yet under the press, which not seldom happens to the best and diligentest writers; and that10 perhaps a dozen times in one book. The printer dares not go beyond his licensed copy; so often then must the author trudge to his leave-giver, that those his new insertions may be viewed; and many a jaunt will be made, ere that licenser, for it must be the same man, can either be found, or found at leisure: meanwhile either the press must stand still, which is no small damage, or the author lose his accuratest thoughts, and send the book forth worse than he had made it, which to a diligent writer is the greatest melancholy20 and vexation that can befall. And how can a man teach with authority, which is the life of teaching, how can he be a doctor in his book, as he ought to be, or else had better be silent, whenas all he teaches, all he delivers, is but under the tuition, under the correction of to blot or alter what precisely accords not with the hide-bound humour which he calls his judgment? When every acute reader, upon the first sight of a pedantic licence, will be ready with these like words to the book a quoit’s distance from him,30 “I hate a pupil teacher; I endure not an instructor that comes to me under the wardship of an overseeing fist. I know nothing of the licenser, but that I have his own hand here for his arrogance; who shall warrant me his judgment?” “The state, sir,” replies the stationer: but has a quick return, “The state shall be my governors, but not my critics; they may be mistaken in the choice of a licenser, as easily as this licenser may be mistaken in an author. This is some common stuff;”10 and he might add that “such authorized books are but the language of the times.” For though a licenser should happen to be judicious more than ordinary, which will be a great jeopardy of the next succession, yet his very office and his commission enjoins him to let pass nothing but what is vulgarly received already. Nay, which is more lamentable, if the work of any deceased author, though never so famous in his lifetime, and even to this day, comes to their hands for licence to be printed, or reprinted, if20 there be found in his book one sentence of a venturous edge, uttered in the height of zeal, and who knows whether it might not be the dictate of a divine Spirit? yet, not suiting with every low decrepit humour of their own, though it were himself, the reformer of a kingdom, that spake it, they will not pardon him their dash; the sense of that great man shall to all posterity be lost, for the fearfulness, or the presumptuous rashness of a perfunctory licenser. And and in30 what book, of greatest consequence to be faithfully published, I could now instance, but shall forbear till a more convenient season. Yet if these things be not resented seriously and timely by them who have the remedy in their power, but that such iron moulds as these shall have authority to gnaw out the choicest periods of exquisitest books, and to commit such a treacherous fraud against the orphan remainders of worthiest men after death, the more sorrow will belong to that hapless race of men, whose misfortune it is to have understanding. Henceforth let no man care to10 learn, or care to be more than worldly wise; for certainly in higher matters to be ignorant and slothful, to be a common steadfast dunce, will be the only pleasant life, and only in request.
And as it is a particular disesteem of every knowing person alive, and most injurious to the written labours and monuments of the dead, so to me it seems an undervaluing and vilifying of the whole nation. I cannot set so light by all the invention, the art, the wit, the grave and solid judgment which is in England, as20 that it can be comprehended in any twenty capacities, how good soever; much less that it should not pass except their superintendence be over it, except it be sifted and strained with their strainers, that it should be uncurrent without their manual stamp. Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be and We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broad-cloth and our woolpacks. What is it but a30 servitude like that imposed by the , not to be allowed the sharpening of our own axes and coulters, but we must repair from all quarters to twenty licensing forges? Had any one written and divulged erroneous things and scandalous to honest life, misusing and forfeiting the esteem had of his reason among men, if after conviction this only censure were adjudged him, that he should never henceforth write, but what were first examined by an appointed officer, whose hand10 should be annexed to pass his credit for him, that now he might be safely read, it could not be apprehended less than a disgraceful punishment. Whence to include the whole nation, and those that never yet thus offended, under such a and suspectful prohibition, may plainly be understood what a disparagement it is. So much the more whenas debtors and delinquents may walk abroad without a keeper, but unoffensive books must not stir forth without a visible jailor in their title. Nor is it to the common people less20 than a reproach; for if we be so jealous over them, as that we dare not trust them with an English pamphlet, what do we but censure them for a giddy, vicious, and ungrounded people; in such a sick and weak state of faith and discretion, as to be able to take nothing down but through the pipe of a licenser? That this is care or love of them, we cannot pretend, whenas in those popish places where the laity are most hated and despised the same strictness is used over them. Wisdom we cannot call it, because it stops but one breach of30 licence, nor that neither: whenas those corruptions, which it seeks to prevent, break in faster at other doors which cannot be shut.
And in conclusion it reflects to the disrepute of our ministers also, of whose labours we should hope better, and of the proficiency which their flock reaps by them, than that after all this light of the gospel which is, and is to be, and all this continual preaching, they should be still frequented with such an unprincipled, unedified, and laic rabble, as that the whiff of every new pamphlet should stagger them out of their catechism10 and Christian walking. This may have much reason to discourage the ministers when such a low conceit is had of all their exhortations, and the benefiting of their hearers, as that they are not thought fit to be turned loose to three sheets of paper without a licenser; that all the sermons, all the lectures preached, printed, vended in such numbers, and such volumes, as have now well-nigh , should not be armour enough against one single without Angelo of an imprimatur. 20
And lest some should persuade ye, lords and commons, that these arguments of learned men’s discouragement at this your order are mere flourishes, and not real, I could recount what I have seen and heard in other countries, where this kind of inquisition tyrannizes; when I have sat among their learned men, for that honour I had, and been counted happy to be born in such a place of philosophic freedom, as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing30 but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was brought; that this was it which had damped the glory of Italian wits; that nothing had been there written now these many years but flattery and fustian. There it was that I found and visited the famous for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought. And though I knew that England then was groaning loudest under10 the prelatical yoke, nevertheless I took it as a pledge of future happiness, that other nations were so persuaded of her liberty. Yet was it beyond my hope that those worthies were then breathing in her air, who should be her leaders to such a deliverance as shall never be forgotten by any revolution of time that this world hath to finish. When that was once begun, it was as little in my fear, that what words of complaint I heard among learned men of other parts uttered against the Inquisition, the same I should hear, by as20 learned men at home, uttered in time of parliament against an order of licensing; and that so generally, that when I had disclosed myself a companion of their discontent, I might say, that he whom an honest quæstorship had endeared to the Sicilians, was not more by them importuned against Verres, than the favourable opinion which I had among many who honour ye, and are known and respected by ye, loaded me with entreaties and persuasions, that I would not despair to lay together that which just reason should30 bring into my mind, toward the removal of an undeserved thraldom upon learning. That this is not therefore the disburdening of a particular fancy, but the common grievance of all those who had prepared their minds and studies above the vulgar pitch, to advance truth in others, and from others to entertain it, thus much may satisfy. And in their name I shall for neither friend nor foe conceal what the general murmur is; that if it come to inquisitioning again, and licensing, and that we are so timorous of ourselves, and so suspicious of all men, as to fear each book, and the10 shaking of every leaf, before we know what the contents are, if some who but of late were little better than silenced from preaching, shall come now to silence us from reading, except what they please, it cannot be guessed what is intended by some but a second tyranny over learning: and will soon put it out of controversy, that to us, both name and thing. That those evils of prelaty which before from five or six and twenty sees were distributively charged upon the whole people will now light wholly20 upon learning, is not obscure to us: whenas now the pastor of a small unlearned parish, on the sudden shall be exalted archbishop over a large diocese of books, and yet not remove, but keep his other cure too, He who but of late cried down the sole ordination of every novice bachelor of art, and denied sole jurisdiction over the simplest parishioner, shall now, at home in his private chair, assume both these over worthiest and excellentest books, and ablest authors that write them. This is not, Yee 30 and Protestations that we have made, this is not to put down prelacy; this is but to chop an episcopacy; this is but to translate the palace metropolitan from one kind of dominion into another; this is but an old canonical sleight of our penance. To startle thus betimes at a mere unlicensed pamphlet will, after a while, be afraid of every , and a while after will make a conventicle of every Christian meeting. But I am certain, that a state governed by the10 rules of justice and fortitude, or a church built and founded upon the rock of faith and true knowledge, cannot be so pusillanimous. While things are yet not constituted in religion, that freedom of writing should be restrained by a discipline imitated from the prelates, and learned by them from the Inquisition to shut us up all again into the breast of a licenser, must needs give cause of doubt and discouragement to all learned and religious men. Who cannot but discern the fineness of this politic drift, and who are the contrivers; that while20 bishops were to be baited down, then all presses might be open; it was the people’s birthright and privilege in time of parliament, it was the breaking forth of light. But now the bishops abrogated and voided out of the church, as if our reformation sought no more, but to make room for others into their seats under another name, the episcopal arts begin to bud again; the cruse of truth must run no more oil; liberty of printing must be enthralled again, under a prelatical commission of twenty; the privilege of the people nullified; and,30 which is worse, the freedom of learning must groan again, and to her old fetters: all this the parliament yet sitting. Although their own late arguments and defences against the prelates might remember them that meets for the most part with an event utterly opposite to the end which it drives at: instead of suppressing sects and schisms, it raises them and invests them with a reputation: “and a forbidden writing is thought to be a certain spark of truth that flies up in (illegible) the faces of them who seek to tread it out.” This order, therefore, may prove a nursing mother to sects, but I shall easily shew how it will be a stepdame to truth: and first, by disenabling us to the maintenance of what is known already.
Well knows he who uses to consider, that our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion. Truth is compared in scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of (illegible) conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy. There is not any burden that some would gladlier post off to another, than the charge and care of their religion. There be, who knows not that there be? of protestants and who live and die in as errant an implicit faith, as any lay papist of Loretto. A wealthy (illegible) man, addicted to his pleasure and to his profits, finds religion to be a traffic so entangled, and of so many piddling accounts, that of all mysteries he cannot skill to keep a stock going upon that trade. What should he do? Fain he would have the name to be religious, fain he would bear up with his neighbours in that. What does he therefore, but resolves to give over toiling, and to find himself out some factor, to whose care and credit he may commit the whole managing of10 his religious affairs; some divine of note and estimation that must be. To him he adheres, resigns the whole warehouse of his religion, with all the locks and keys, into his custody; and indeed makes the very person of that man his religion; esteems his associating with him a sufficient evidence and commendatory of his own piety. So that a man may say his religion is now no more within himself, but is become a movable, and goes and comes near him, according as that good man frequents the house. He entertains20 him, gives him gifts, feasts him, lodges him; his religion comes home at night, prays, is liberally supped, and sumptuously laid to sleep; rises, is saluted, and after the malmsey, or some well-spiced bruage, and better breakfasted than he whose morning appetite would have gladly fed on green figs between Bethany and Jerusalem, his religion walks abroad at eight, and leaves his kind entertainer in the shop trading all day without his religion.
Another sort there be, who when they hear that all30 things shall be ordered, all things regulated and settled; nothing written but what passes through the custom-house of certain publicans that have the of all free-spoken truth, will straight give themselves up into your hands, (illegible) ’em, and cut ’em out what religion ye please: there be delights, there be recreations and jolly pastimes, that will fetch the day about from sun to sun, and rock the tedious year as in a delightful dream. What need they torture their heads with that which others have taken so strictly, and so unalterably into their own purveying?10 These are the fruits which a dull ease and cessation of our knowledge will bring forth among the people. How goodly, and how to be wished were such an obedient unanimity as this! What a fine conformity would it starch us all into! Doubtless a staunch and solid piece of framework, as any January could freeze together.
Nor much better will be the consequence even among the clergy themselves: it is no new thing never heard of before, for a parochial minister, who has his reward,20 and is in a warm benefice, to be easily inclinable, if he have nothing else that may rouse up his studies, to finish his circuit in an English Concordance and the gatherings and savings of a sober graduateship, a Harmony and a Catena, treading the constant round of certain common doctrinal heads, attended with their uses, motives, marks, and means, out of which, as out of an by forming and transforming, joining and disjoining variously, a little bookcraft, and two hours’30 meditation, might furnish him unspeakably to the performance of more than a weekly charge of sermoning: not to reckon up the infinite helps of interlinearies, breviaries, synopses, and other But as for the multitude of sermons ready printed and piled up, on every text that is not difficult, our London in his vestry, and add to boot St Martin and St Hugh, have not within their hallowed limits more vendible ware of all sorts ready made: so10 that penury he never need fear of pulpit provision, having where so plenteously to refresh his magazine. But if his rear and flanks be not impaled, if his back door be not secured by the rigid licenser, but that a bold book may now and then issue forth, and give the assault to some of his old collections in their trenches, it will concern him then to keep waking, to stand in watch, to set good guards and sentinels about his received opinions, to walk the round and counter-round with his fellow-inspectors, fearing lest any of his flock20 be seduced who also then would be better instructed, better exercised, and disciplined. And God send that the fear of this diligence, which must then be used, do not make us affect the laziness of a licensing church.
For if we be sure we are in the right, and do not hold the truth guiltily, which becomes not, if we ourselves condemn not our own weak and frivolous teaching, and the people for an untaught and irreligious gadding rout, what can be more fair, than when a man judicious, learned, and of a conscience, for aught we know,30 as good as theirs that taught us what we know, shall not privily from house to house, which is more dangerous, but openly by writing, publish to the world what his opinion is, what his reasons, and wherefore that which is now thought cannot be sound? Christ urged it as wherewith to justify himself, that he preached in public; yet writing is more public than preaching; and more easy to refutation if need be, there being so many whose business and profession merely it is to be the champions of truth; which if they neglect, what can be imputed but their sloth or inability? 10
Thus much we are hindered and disinured by this course of licensing towards the true knowledge of what we seem to know. For how much it hurts and hinders the licensers themselves in the calling of their ministry, more than any secular employment, if they will discharge that office as they ought, so that of necessity they must neglect either the one duty or the other, I insist not, because it is a particular, but leave it to their own conscience, how they will decide it there. 20
There is yet behind of what I purposed to lay open, the incredible loss and detriment that this plot of licensing puts us to, more than if some enemy at sea should stop up all our havens, and ports, and creeks, it hinders and retards the importation of our richest merchandise, truth: nay, it was first established and put in practice by on set purpose to extinguish, if it were possible, the light of reformation, and to settle falsehood; little differing from that policy wherewith the Turk upholds30 his Alcoran, by the prohibition of printing. ’Tis not denied, but gladly confessed, we are to send our thanks and vows to heaven, louder than most of nations, for that great measure of truth which we enjoy, especially in those main points between us and the pope, with his appurtenances the prelates: but he who thinks we are to pitch our tent here, and have attained the utmost prospect of reformation that wherein we contemplate can shew us, till we come to10 , that man by this very opinion declares that he is yet far short of truth.
Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good , took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them20 to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, lords and commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of30 opportunity forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyred saint. We boast our light; but if we look not wisely on the sun itself, it smites us into darkness. Who can discern those planets that are oft and those stars of brightest magnitude that rise and set with the sun, until the opposite motion of their orbs bring them to such a place in the firmament, where they may be seen evening or morning? The light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward10 things more remote from our knowledge. It is not the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitring of a bishop, and the removing him from off the presbyterian shoulders that will make us a happy nation: no; if other things as great in the church, and in the rule of life both economical and political, be not looked into and reformed, we have looked so long upon that and have beaconed up to us, that we are stark blind. There be who perpetually complain of schisms and sects, and make it such a calamity that20 any man dissents from their maxims. ’Tis their own pride and ignorance which causes the disturbing, who neither will hear with meekness, nor can convince, yet all must be suppressed which is not found in their Syntagma. They are the troublers, they are the dividers of unity, who neglect and permit not others to unite those dissevered pieces which are yet wanting to the body of truth. To be still searching what we know not, by what we know, still closing up truth to truth as we find it (for all her body is homogeneal, and30 proportional), this is the golden rule in theology as well as in arithmetic, and makes up the best harmony in a church; not the forced and outward union of cold, and neutral, and inwardly divided minds.
Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit; acute to invent, subtile and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any10 point the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of learning in her deepest sciences have been so ancient, and so eminent among us, that writers of good antiquity and ablest judgment have been persuaded that even the school of and took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil Roman, Julius Agricola, who governed once here for Cæsar, preferred the natural wits of Britain before the laboured studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that20 sends out yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language and our theological arts. Yet that which is above all this, the favour and the love of Heaven, we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and propending towards us. Why else was this nation chosen before any other, that out of her, as out of Sion, should be proclaimed and sounded forth the first30 tidings and trumpet of reformation to all Europe? And had it not been the obstinate perverseness of our prelates against the divine and admirable spirit of Wicklef, to suppress him as a schismatic and innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Husse and no, nor the name of Luther or of Calvin, had been ever known: the glory of reforming all our neighbours had been completely ours. But now, as our obdurate clergy have with violence demeaned the matter, we are become hitherto the latest and the backwardest scholars, of whom God offered to have10 made us the teachers. Now once again by all concurrence of signs, and by the general instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly express their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in his church, even to the reforming of reformation itself; what does he then but reveal Himself to his servants, and as his manner is, ? I say, as his manner is, first to us, though we mark not the method of his counsels, and are unworthy. Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the20 mansion-house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with his protection; the shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out in defence of beleaguered Truth, than there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching reformation: others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.30 What could a man require more from a nation so pliant and so prone to seek after knowledge? What wants there to such a towardly and pregnant soil, but wise and faithful labourers, to make a knowing people, a nation of prophets, of sages, and of worthies? We reckon more than five months yet to harvest; there need not be five weeks, had we but eyes to lift up, the fields are white already. Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much10 writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. Under these fantastic terrors of sect and schism, we wrong the earnest and zealous thirst after knowledge and understanding, which God hath stirred up in this city. What some lament of, we rather should rejoice at, should rather praise this pious forwardness among men, to reassume the ill-deputed care of their religion into their own hands again. A little generous prudence, a little forbearance of one another, and some grain of charity might win all these20 diligencies to join and unite into one general and brotherly search after truth; could we but forego of crowding free consciences and Christian liberties into canons and precepts of men. I doubt not, if some great and worthy stranger should come among us, wise to discern the mould and temper of a people, and how to govern it, observing the high hopes and aims, the diligent alacrity of our extended thoughts and reasonings in the pursuance of truth and freedom, but that he 30 admiring the Roman docility and courage, “If such were my Epirots, I would not the greatest design that could be attempted to make a church or kingdom happy.” Yet these are the men cried out against for schismatics and sectaries, as if, while the temple of the Lord was building, some cutting, some squaring the marble, others hewing the cedars, there should be a sort of irrational men, who could not consider there must be many schisms and many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber ere the house of God can be built. And when every stone is10 laid artfully together, it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in this world: neither can every piece of the building be of one form; nay, rather the perfection consists in this, that out of many moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproportional, arises the goodly and the graceful symmetry that commends the whole pile and structure. Let us therefore be more builders, more wise in spiritual architecture, when great reformation is expected. For now the time seems20 come, wherein Moses, the great prophet, may sit in heaven rejoicing to see that memorable and glorious wish of his fulfilled, when not only our seventy elders, but all the Lord’s people, are become prophets. No marvel then though some men, and some good men too perhaps, but young in goodness, as Joshua then was, envy them. They fret, and out of their own weakness are in agony, lest these divisions and subdivisions will undo us. The adversary again applauds, and waits the hour, when they have branched themselves out,30 saith he, small enough into parties and partitions, then will be our time. Fool! he sees not the firm root, out of which we all grow, though into branches; nor will beware, until he see our small divided maniples cutting through at every angle of his ill-united and unwieldy brigade. And that we are to hope better of all these supposed sects and schisms, and that we shall not need that solicitude, honest perhaps, though overtimorous, of them that vex in this behalf, but shall laugh in the10 end at those malicious applauders of our differences, I have these reasons to persuade me.
First, when a city shall be as it were besieged and blocked about, her navigable river infested, inroads and incursions round, defiance and battle oft rumoured to be that then the people, or the greater part, more than at other times, wholly taken up with the study of highest and most important matters to be reformed, should be disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing,20 discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written of, argues first a singular good will, contentedness, and confidence in your prudent foresight, and safe government, lords and commons; and from thence derives itself to a gallant bravery and well-grounded contempt of their enemies, as if there were no small number of as great spirits among us, as his was who, when Rome was nigh besieged by Hannibal, being in the city, at no cheap rate whereon Hannibal30 himself encamped his own regiment. Next, it is a lively and cheerful presage of our happy success and victory. For as in a body when the blood is fresh, the spirits pure and vigorous, not only to vital, but to rational faculties, and those in the acutest and the pertest operations of wit and subtlety, it argues in what good plight and constitution the body is; so when the cheerfulness of the people is so sprightly up, as that it has not only wherewith to guard well own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and sublimest points of controversy and10 new invention, it betokens us not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay, but casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption to outlive these pangs, and wax young again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, destined to become great and honourable in these latter ages. Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her as an eagle and kindling her undazzled eyes at the20 full midday beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.
What should ye do then, should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge and new light sprung up and yet springing daily in this city? Should ye set an oligarchy of twenty engrossers over it, to bring a30 famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel? Believe it, lords and commons, they who counsel ye to such a suppressing, do as good as bid ye suppress yourselves; and I will soon shew how. If it be desired to know the immediate cause of all this free writing and free speaking, there cannot be assigned a truer than your own mild, and free, and humane government; it is the liberty, lords and commons, which10 your own valorous and happy counsels have purchased us, liberty which is the nurse of all great wits; this is that which hath rarefied and enlightened our spirits like ; this is that which hath enfranchised, enlarged, and lifted up our apprehensions degrees above themselves. Ye cannot make us now leas capable, less knowing, less eagerly pursuing of the truth, unless ye first make yourselves, that made us so, less the lovers, less the founders of our true liberty. We can grow ignorant again, brutish, formal, and slavish,20 as ye found us; but you then must first become that which ye cannot be, oppressive, arbitrary, and tyrannous, as they were from whom ye have freed us. That our hearts are now more capacious, our thoughts more erected to the search and expectation of greatest and exactest things, is the issue of your own virtue propagated in us; ye cannot suppress that, unless ye reinforce an abrogated and merciless law, that fathers may dispatch at will their own children. And who shall then stick closest to ye and excite others? 30 takes up arms for , and his four nobles of Danegelt. Although I dispraise not the defence of just immunities, yet love my peace better, if that were all. Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.
What would be best advised then, if it be found so hurtful and so unequal to suppress opinions for the newness or the unsuitableness to a customary acceptance, will not be my task to say; I only shall repeat what I have learned from one of your own honourable number, a right noble and pious lord, who had he not10 sacrificed his life and fortunes to the church and commonwealth, we had not now missed and bewailed a worthy and undoubted patron of this argument. Ye know him, I am sure; yet I for honour’s sake, and may it be eternal to him, shall name him, . He writing of episcopacy, and by the way treating of sects and schisms, left ye his vote, or rather now the last words of his dying charge, which I know will ever be of dear and honoured regard with ye, so full of meekness and breathing charity, that next to his last20 testament, who bequeathed love and peace to his disciples, I cannot call to mind where I have read or heard words more mild and peaceful. He there exhorts us to hear with patience and humility those, however they be miscalled, that desire to live purely, in such a use of God’s ordinances, as the best guidance of their conscience gives them, and to tolerate them, though in some disconformity to ourselves. The book itself will tell us more at large, being published to the world, and dedicated to the parliament by him, who both for his30 life and for his death deserves, that what advice he left be not laid by without perusal.
And now the time in special is, by privilege to write and speak what may help to the further discussing of matters in agitation. , might now not unsignificantly be set open. And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to10 misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing. He who hears what praying there is for light and clearer knowledge to be sent down among us, would think of other matters to be constituted beyond the discipline of Geneva, framed and fabricated already to our hands. Yet when the new light which we beg for shines in upon us, there be who envy and oppose, if it come not first in at their casements. What a20 collusion is this, whenas we are exhorted by the wise man to use diligence, “to seek for wisdom as for hidden treasures” early and late, that another order shall enjoin us to know nothing but by statute. When a man hath been labouring the hardest labour in the deep mines of knowledge, hath furnished out his findings in all their equipage, drawn forth his reasons as it were a battle ranged, scattered and defeated all objections in his way, calls out his adversary into the plain, offers him the advantage of wind and sun, if he please, only30 that he may try the matter by dint of argument, for his opponents then to skulk, , to keep a narrow bridge of licensing where the challenger should pass, though it be valour enough in soldiership, is but weakness and cowardice in the wars of Truth. For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty; she needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious, those are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power: give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she speaks not true, as the did,10 who spake oracles only when he was caught and bound, but then rather she turns herself into all shapes except her own, and perhaps tunes her voice according to the time, as Micaiah did before Ahab, until she be adjured into her own likeness. Yet is it not impossible that she may have more shapes than one? What else is all that rank of things indifferent, wherein Truth may be on this side, or on the other, without being unlike herself? What but a vain shadow else is the abolition of “those ordinances, ”?20 What great purchase is this Christian liberty which Paul so often boasts of? His doctrine is, that he who eats or eats not, regards a day or regards it not, may do either to the Lord. How many other things might be tolerated in peace, and left to conscience, had we but charity, and were it not the chief stronghold of our hypocrisy to be ever judging one another. I fear yet this iron yoke of outward conformity hath left a slavish print upon our necks; the ghost of yet haunts us. We stumble, and are impatient30 at the least dividing of one visible congregation from another, though it be not in fundamentals; and through our forwardness to suppress, and our backwardness to recover, any enthralled piece of truth out of the gripe of custom, we care not to keep truth separated from truth, which is the fiercest rent and disunion of all. We do not see that while we still by all means a rigid external formality, we may as soon fall again into a gross conforming stupidity, a stark and dead congealment10 of “wood and hay and stubble” forced and frozen together, which is more to the sudden degenerating of a church than many subdichotomies of petty schisms. Not that I can think well of every light separation; or that all in a church is to be expected “gold and silver, and precious stones:” it is not possible for man to sever the wheat from the tares, the good fish from the other fry; that must be the angels’ ministry at the end of mortal things. Yet if all cannot be of one mind, as who looks they should be?20 this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian that many be tolerated rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself: but those neighbouring30 differences, or rather indifferences, are what I speak of, whether in some point of doctrine or of discipline, which though they may be many, yet need not interrupt ‘the unity of Spirit,’ if we could but find among us ‘the bond of peace.’ In the meanwhile, if any one would write, and bring his helpful hand to the slow-moving reformation which we labour under, if Truth have spoken to him before others, or but seemed at least to speak, who hath so bejesuited us that we should trouble that man with asking licence to do so worthy a deed? and not consider this, that if it come10 to prohibiting, there is not aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself; whose first appearance to our eyes, bleared and dimmed with prejudice and custom, is more unsightly and unplausible than many errors, even as the person is of many a great man and . And what do they tell us vainly of new opinions, when this very opinion of theirs, that none must be heard but whom they like, is the worst and newest opinion of all others; and is the chief cause why sects and schisms do so much20 abound, and true knowledge is kept at distance from us; besides yet a greater danger which is in it. For when God shakes a kingdom with strong and healthful commotions to a general reforming, ’tis not untrue that many sectaries and false teachers are then busiest in seducing; but yet more true it is, that God then raises to his own work men of rare abilities, and more than common industry, not only to look back and revive what hath been taught heretofore, but to gain further, and go on some new enlightened steps in30 the discovery of truth. For such is the order of God’s enlightening his church, to dispense and deal out by degrees his beam, so as our earthly eyes may best sustain it. Neither is God appointed and confined, where and out of what place these his chosen shall be first heard to speak; for he sees not as man sees, chooses not as man chooses, lest we should devote ourselves again to set places and assemblies, and outward callings of men; planting our faith 10 convocation house, and another while in the chapel at Westminster; when all the faith and religion that shall be there canonized, is not sufficient without plain convincement, and the charity of patient instruction, to supple the least bruise of conscience, to edify the meanest Christian, who desires to walk in the spirit, and not in the letter of human trust, for all the number of voices that can be there made; no, though Harry the 7 himself there, with all his liege tombs about him, should lend them voices from the dead to swell their20 number. And if the men be erroneous who appear to be the leading schismatics, what withholds us but our sloth, our self-will, and distrust in the right cause, that we do not give them gentle meetings and gentle dismissions, that we debate not and examine the matter thoroughly with liberal and frequent audience; if not for their sakes yet for our own? seeing no man who hath tasted learning, but will confess the many ways of profiting by those who, not contented with stale receipts, are able to manage and set forth new positions30 to the world. And were they but as the dust and cinders of our feet, so long as in that notion they may yet serve to polish and brighten the armoury of Truth, even for that respect they were not utterly to be cast away. But if they be of those whom God hath fitted for the special use of these times with eminent and ample gifts, and those perhaps neither among the priests, nor among the pharisees, and we, in the haste of a precipitant zeal, shall make no distinction, but resolve to stop their mouths, because we fear they come with new and dangerous opinions, as we commonly10 forejudge them ere we understand them, no less than woe to us, while, thinking thus to defend the gospel, we are found the persecutors.
There have been not a few since the beginning of this parliament, both of the presbytery and others, who by their unlicensed books to the contempt of an imprimatur first broke that triple ice clung about our hearts, and taught the people to see day: I hope that none of those were the persuaders to renew upon us this bondage which they themselves have wrought so much20 good by contemning. But if neither the check that Moses gave to young Joshua, nor the countermand which our Saviour gave to young John, who was so ready to prohibit those whom he thought unlicensed, be not enough to admonish our elders how unacceptable to God their testy mood of prohibiting is, if neither their own remembrance what evil hath abounded in the church by this of licensing, and what good they themselves have begun by transgressing it, be not enough, but that they will persuade and30 execute the most Dominican part of the Inquisition over us, and are already with one foot in the stirrup so active at suppressing, it would be no unequal distribution in the first place to suppress the suppressors themselves; whom the change of their condition hath puffed up, more than their late experience of harder times hath made wise.
And as for regulating the press, let no man think to have the honour of advising ye better than yourselves10 have done in : “That no book be printed, unless the printer’s and the author’s name, or at least the printer’s be registered.” Those which otherwise come forth, if they be found mischievous and libellous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectual remedy that man’s prevention can use. For of licensing books, if I have said aught, will prove the most unlicensed book itself within a short while; and was the immediate image of a star-chamber20 decree to that purpose made in those very times when that court did the rest of those her pious works, for which she is now with Lucifer. Whereby ye may guess what kind of state prudence, what love of the people, what care of religion or good manners there was at the contriving, although with singular hypocrisy it pretended to bind books to their good behaviour. And how it got the upper hand of your precedent order so well constituted before, if we may believe those men whose profession gives them cause30 to inquire most, it may be doubted there was in it the fraud of some old patentees and monopolizers in the trade of bookselling; who, under pretence of the poor in their company not to be defrauded, and the just retaining of each man his several copy, which God forbid should be gainsaid, brought divers to the House, which were indeed but colours, and serving to no end except it be to exercise a superiority over their neighbours, men who do not therefore labour in an honest profession to which learning is indebted, that they should be made other10 men’s vassals. Another end is thought was aimed at by some of them in procuring by petition this order, that having power in their hands, malignant books might the easier escape abroad, as the event shews. But of these I skill not: this I know, that errors in a good government and in a bad are equally almost incident; for what magistrate may not be misinformed, and much the sooner, if liberty of printing be reduced into the power of a few? But to redress willingly and speedily what20 hath been erred, and in highest authority to esteem a plain more than others have done a sumptuous bribe, is a virtue (honoured lords and commons) your highest actions, and whereof none can participate but greatest and wisest men.
cambridge: printed by j. b. peace, m.a., at the university press.