John Milton opposed censorship for many reasons but one thought sticks in the mind, that “he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself” (1644)

John Milton

Found in Areopagitica (1644) (Jebb ed.)

When Parliament did not relax the law requiring the prior censorship of books after the English Revolution had broken out but in fact passed an ordinance requiring the licensing of the press in 1643, John Milton urged it to reconsider:

…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 dragon’s teeth: and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed 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.

Here speaks a true book lover. Milton thinks of bound books as though they were living, breathing creatures and that to censor, restrict, or “license them is like killing a man. Furthermore, they encapsulate the "seasoned life of man” by containing the thoughts and desires of the man who wrote them as well those of the man or woman who reads them. Perhaps he goes too far in his bibliophilia by likening the destruction of a book to killing “the image of God” by poking it “in the eye,” no less. For good measure Milton also inserts a good pun in his tirade by denying that by “introducing license, while I oppose licensing.” As a book lover myself I could only read this passage with some guilt as our task is to convert bound books into a digital form for transmitting via the internet. Is this a form of “book killing”? I hope Milton might have understood and appreciated our reasons for doing so.