Speech For The Liberty Of Unlicensed Printing To The Parliament Of England
This is true Liberty when free born men Having to advise the public may speak free, Which he who can, and will, deserv’s high praise, Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace; What can be juster in a State than this? Euripid, Hicetid.
The name of Milton’s speech on the freedom of the press was imitated from that of the “Logos Areopagiticos” of the Athenian orator Isocrates (B.C.436-338), which was also a speech meant to be read, not heard. The oration of Isocrates aimed at re-establishing the old democracy of Athens by restoring the Court of the Areopagus, whence the work derived its title.
During the ascendency of Laud in the Church of England, his instrument, the Court of the Star-Chamber, had reenacted, more oppressively than ever, some of the restrictions imposed during the reign of Elizabeth on the printing of books. These restrictions disappeared with the abolition of the Star-Chamber in 1641, but very soon the Presbyterian majority in the Long Parliament began to pass orders framed with a view to enable them to suppress publications voicing the political and religious views of their opponents. Finally the Order of June, 1643, reproduced here, roused Milton to protest, and he issued his famous plea for unlicensed printing in the following year. As will be seen from the speech itself, he did his best to conciliate the Parliament by making cordial acknowledgment of its services to the cause of liberty, and he sought to persuade them to reverse their action by pointing out its inconsistency with these services. But it does not appear that it produced any immediate effect. While the Independents under Cromwell had the upper hand, the licensing laws were, indeed, very slackly enforced; but with the Restoration came the reenactment of most of the provisions of the Star-Chamber Decree. After being renewed several times for terms of years, they finally were allowed to lapse in 1694, and later attempts to renew them were unsuccessful.
But the importance of Milton’s pamphlet is not to be measured by its effect on the political situation which was its immediate occasion. In his enthusiasm for liberty, the master passion of his life, he rose far above the politics of the hour; and the “Areopagitica” holds its supremacy among his prose writings by virtue of its appeal to fundamental principles, and its triumphant assertion of the faith that all that truth needs to assure its victory over error is a fair field and no favor.
Order Of The Long Parliament For The Regulating Of Printing,
14 June, 1643
Being The Occasion Of Milton’s Areopagitica
Whereas divers good Orders have bin lately made by both Houses of Parliament, for suppressing 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. Which orders (notwithstanding the diligence of the Company of Stationers, to put them in full execution) have taken little or no effect: By reason the bill in preparation, for redresse of the said disorders, hath hitherto bin retarded through the present distractions, and very many, aswell Stationers and Printers, as others of sundry other professions not free of the Stationers Company, have taken upon them to set up sundry private Printing Presses in corners, and to print, vend, publish and disperse Books, pamphlets and papers, in such multitudes, that no industry could be sufficient to discover or bring to punishment, all the severall abounding delinquents; And by reason that divers of the Stationers Company and others being Delinquents (contrary to former orders and the constant custome used among the said Company) have taken liberty to Print, Vend, and publish, the most profitable vendible Copies of Books, belonging to the Company and other Stationers, especially of such Agents as are imployed in putting the said Orders in Execution, and that by way of revenge for giveing information against them to the Houses for their Delinquences in Printing, to the great prejudice of the said Company of Stationers and Agents, and to their discouragement in this publik service.
It is therefore Ordered by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, That no Order or Declaration of both, or either House of Parliament shall be printed by anyi but by order of one or both the said Houses: Nor other Book, Pamphlet, paper, nor part of any such Book, Pamphlet, or paper, shall from henceforth be printed, bound, stitched or put to sale by any person or persons whatsoever, unlesse the same be first approved of and licensed under the hands of such person or persons as both, or either of the said Houses shall appoint for the licensing of the same, and entred in the Register Book of the Company of Stationers, according to Ancient custom, and the Printer thereof to put his name thereto. And that no person or persons shall hereafter print, or cause to be reprinted any Book or Books, or part of Book, or Books heretofore allowed of and granted to the said Company of Stationers for their relief and maintenance of their poore, without the licence or consent of the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the said Company; Nor any Book or Books lawfully licenced and entred in the Register of the said Company for any particular member thereof, without the licence and consent of the owner or owners thereof. Nor yet import any such Book or Books, or part of Book or Books formerly Printed here, from beyond the Seas, upon paine of forfeiting the same to the Owner, or Owners of the Copies of the said Books, and such further punishment as shall be thought fit.
And 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 hereby Authorized and required, from the time to time, to make diligent search in all places, where they shall think meete, for all unlicensed Printing Presses, and all Presses any way imployed in the printing of scandalous or unlicensed Papers, Pamphlets, Books, or any Copies of Books belonging to the said Company, or any member thereof, without their approbation and consents, and to seize and carry away such Printing Presses Letters, together with the Nut, Spindle, and other materialls of every such irregular Printer, which they find so misimployed, unto the Common Hall of the said Company, there to be defaced and made unserviceable according to Ancient Custom; And likewise to make diligent search in all suspected Printing-houses, Ware-houses, Shops and other places for such scandalous and unlicensed Books, papers, Pamphlets, and all other Books, not entered, nor signed with the Printers name as aforesaid, being printed, or reprinted by such as have no lawfull interest in them, or any way contrary to this Order, and the same to seize and carry away to the said common hall, there to remain till both or either House of Parliament shall dispose thereof, 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 thecsaid 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, and not to be released untill they have given satisfaction to the Parties imployed in their apprehension for their paines and charges, and given sufficient caution not to offend in like sort for the future. And all Justices of the Peace, Captaines, Constables and other officers, are hereby ordered and required to be aiding, to the foresaid persons in the due execution of all, and singular and assisting the premisses and in the apprehension of all Offenders against the same. And in case of opposition to break open the Doores and Locks.
And it further ordered, that this Order be forthwith Printed and Published, to the end that notice may be taken thereof, and all Contemners of it left inexcusable.
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 endeavor, not a little altered1 and moved inwardly in their minds: Some with doubt of what will be the success,2 others with fear of what will be the censure,3 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,4 far more welcome than incidental5 to a preface. Which though I stay not to confess ere any ask, I shall be blameless, if it be no other, than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who wish and promote their country’s liberty; whereof this whole discourse proposed will be a certain testimony, if not a trophy. 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 now 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,6 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 honorable things are spoken of good men and worthy magistrates; which if I now first should begin to do, after so fair a progress of your laudable deeds, and such shall observe ye in the midst of your victories and successes more gently brooking written exceptions against a voted order, 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 demeanor 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 you esteem it to imitate the old and elegant humanity of 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, I could name him10 who from his private house wrote that discourse to the parliament of Athens, that persuades them to change the form of Democracy which was then established. Such honor 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 cities and seigniories heard them gladly, and with great respect, if they had ought in public to admonish the state. Thus did Dion Prusaeus a stranger and a private orator counsel the Rhodians 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 labors, and those natural endowments happily not the worst for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude, so much must be derogated,11 as to count me not equal to any of those who had this privilege, I would obtain to be thought not so inferior, 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.
[Footnote 1: Troubled.]
[Footnote 2: Issue.]
[Footnote 3: Judgement.]
[Footnote 4: Enthusiasm.]
[Footnote 5: Appropriate.]
[Footnote 6: i.e., after the decline of the empire.]
[Footnote 7: Courtiership.]
[Footnote 8: Bishop Hall had damned the Parliament with faint praise.]
[Footnote 9: Statesmen.]
[Footnote 10: Isocrates.]
[Footnote 11: Subtracted.]
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 show 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 that part which preserves justly every man’s copy12 to himself, or provides for the poor, I touch not, only wish they be not made pretenses 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 quadragesimal13 and matrimonial13 when the prelates expired, I shall now attend with such a homily, as shall lay before you, first the inventors of it to be those whom you will be loath to own; next what is to be thought in general of reading, what ever sort the books be; and that this order avails nothing to the suppressing of scandalous, seditious, and libelous 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 the 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.
[Footnote 12: Copyright.]
[Footnote 13: Regulations of the Episcopal Church relating to Lent and Marriage.]
I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the church and commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye 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 dragons 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. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalmed 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 want of which whole nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labors of public men, how we spill14 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 elemental15 life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence,16 the breath of reason itself, slays an immortality rather than a life. But lest I should be condemned of introducing license, while I oppose licensing, I refuse not the pains to be so much historical, as will serve to show what has 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 caught up by our prelates, and hath caught some of our presbyters.
[Footnote 14: Destroy.]
[Footnote 15: Material.]
[Footnote 16: Spiritual element of Aristophanes.]
In Athens 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 take notice of; those either blasphemous and atheistical, or libelous. Thus the books of Protagoras were by the judges of Areopagus commanded to be burnt, and himself banished the territory for a discourse begun with his confessing not to know whether there were gods, or whether not: And against defaming, it was decreed that none should be traduced by name, as was the manner of Vetus Comoedia,17 whereby we may guess how they censured libeling: And this course was quick enough, as Cicero writes, to quell both the desperate wits of other atheists, and the open way of defaming, as the event 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 Epicurus, or that libertine school o to be set forth the second time by Cicero 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 Lucilius, or Catullus, or Flaccus, by any order prohibited. And for matters of state, the story of Titius Livius, though it extolled that part which Pompey held, was not therefore suppressed by Octavius Caesar of the other faction. But that Naso was by him banished in his old age, 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 to 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.
[Footnote 18: Inartistic.]
[Footnote 19: Intercourse.]
[Footnote 17: e.g., the old Attic comedy]
By this time the emperors were become Christians, whose discipline in this point I do not find to have been more severe than what was formerly in practise. The books of those whom they took to be grand heretics were examined, refuted, and condemned in the general counsels; and not till then were prohibited, or burned by authority of the emperor. As for the writings of heathen authors, unless they were plain invectives against Christianity, as those of Porphyrius and Proclus, they met with no inderdict that can be cited, till about the year 400, in a Carthaginian council, wherein bishops themselves were forbidden 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 read or to lay by, till after the year 800 is observed already by Padre Paolo 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 V by his bull not only prohibited, but was the first that excommunicated the reading of heretical books; for about that time Wyclif and Huss growing terrible, were they who first drove the papal court to a stricter policy of prohibiting. Which course Leo X, 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 could 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:
Let the Chancellor Cini be pleased to see if in this present work be contained ought that may withstand20 the printing.
Vincent Rabatta, 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, etc.
Nicolo Cini, Chancellor of Florence.
[Footnote 20: Forbid.]
Attending the precedent relation, it is allowed that this present work of Davanzati may be printed,
Vincent Rabbatta, etc.
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. Vouchsafe to see another of their forms the Roman stamp:
Imprimatur,21 if it seem good to the reverend master of the holy palace,
Imprimatur, Friar Nicolo Rodolphi, Master of the holy palace.
[Footnote 21: Let it be printed (Latin).]
Sometimes five Imprimaturs are seen together dialogue-wise in the Piatza of one title-page, 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 the sponge. These are the pretty responsories, these are the dear antiphonies that so bewitched of late our prelates, and their chaplains with the goodly echo they made; and besotted us to the gay imitation of the lordly Imprimatur, one from Lambeth house,22 another from the West end of Pauls,23 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 our English, the language of men ever famous, and foremost in the achievements of liberty, will not easily find servile letters enough to spell such a dictatorie24 presumption English. And thus ye have the inventors and the original 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 Antichristian Council25 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-legged26 over the nativity of any man’s intellectual offspring; but if it proved a monster, who denies, but that it was justly burned, or sunk in the sea. But that a book in worse condition than a peccant soul, should be to stand before a jury ere it be borne to the world, and undergo yet in darkness the judgment of Radamanth and his colleagues,27 ere it can pass the ferry backward into light, was never heard before, till that mysterious iniquity28 provoked and troubled at the first entrance of reformation, sought out new limbos 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 ill-favoredly imitated by our inquisiturient29 bishops, and the attendant minorites30 their chaplains. That ye like not now these most 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 honor truth, will clear ye readily.
[Footnote 22: Residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.]
[Footnote 23: Where the Bishop of London formerly lived.]
[Footnote 24: Dictatorial.]
[Footnote 25: Council of Trent.]
[Footnote 26: As at the birth of Hercules.]
[Footnote 27: The judges in Hades.]
[Footnote 28: The Church of Rome.]
[Footnote 29: Desirous of becoming inquisitors.]
[Footnote 30: Franciscan friars.]
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 obvious, 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 oppressors 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 alchemy than Lullius31 ever knew, to sublimate32 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 to be thought in general of reading books, whatever sort they be, and whether be more the benefit, or the harm that thence proceeds?
[Footnote 31: Raymond Lully, a scientist of the 13th century.]
[Footnote 32: Extract.]
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, the sentences of three Greek poets, and one of them a tragedian, the question was, 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 of 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 this crafty means, and so much in danger to decline into all ignorance, that the two Apollinarii were fain as a man may say, to coin all the seven liberal sciences out of the Bible, reducing it into divers forms or 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 Apollinarius 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 deprived of Hellenic learning; and thought it a persecution more undermining, and secretly decaying the church than the open c 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, Mr. Selden, whose volume of natural and national laws proves, not only by great authorities brought together, but by exquisite36 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, 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 demeanor of every grown man. And therefore when he himself tabled37 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 of him, a excremental38 whiteness; which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon, 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 scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tracts, and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit 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 not nicely,39 it describes the carnal sense of wicked men not unelegantly,40 it brings in holiest men passionately murmuring against Providence through all the arguments of Epicurus: in other great disputes it answers dubiously and darkly to the common reader: and ask a Talmudist what ails the modesty of his marginal keri,41 that Moses and all the Prophets can not persuade him to pronounce the textual chetiv.42 For these causes we all know th can not 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 learned without books a thousand other ways which can not be stopped, and evil doctrine not with books can propagate, except a teacher guide, which he might also do without writing, and so beyond prohibiting, I am not able to unfold, how this cautelous48 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 pound up 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 the 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 from a fool that which being restrained will be no hindrance to his folly. For if there should be enacts that no poet should so much as read to any private man, what he had written, until the judges and lawkeepers 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 law-giver 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 though he were the malicious libeller of his chief friends,53 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 provisos 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 upon54 one kind of strictness, unless their care were equal to regulate all other things of like aptness to corrupt the mind, that single endeavor they knew would be but a fond labor; 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 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 is 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 grammercy62 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 reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions.63 We ourselves esteem not of that 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 a time be withdrawn from some persons, it can not from all, in such a universal thing as books are; and till they have been read over. This office will require the whole time of not a few overseers, and those no vulgar66 men. There be also books which are partly useful and excellent, partly culpable and pernicious; this work will ask as many more officials to make expurgations and expunctions,67 that the commonwealth of learning be not damnified.68 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. In a word, that this order may be exact, and not deficient, ye must reform it perfectly according to the model of Trent69 and Seville,70 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 many sects refusing books as a hindrance, and preserving their doctrine unmixed for many ages, only by unwritten 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 more honest, the wiser, the chaster, since all the inquisitional rigor that hath been executed upon books.
[Footnote 33: Possessed.] [Footnote 34: Consistent with.]
[Footnote 35: Test.] [Footnote 36: Carefully sought out.]
[Footnote 37: Fed.] [Footnote 38: External.]
[Footnote 39: Fastidiously.] [Footnote 40: Not without elaboration.]
[Footnote 41: Comment.] [Footnote 42: Text.]
[Footnote 43: Aretino.] [Footnote 44: Probably the poet Skelton.]
[Footnote 45: Cathay, in Tartary.]
[Footnote 46: From the theological college of the Sorbonne, in Paris.]
[Footnote 47: Clear-thinking.] [Footnote 48: Tricky, deceptive.]
[Footnote 49: Do without.] [Footnote 50: Anticipated.]
[Footnote 51: Ingenuousness, frankness.] [Footnote 52: Imaginary.]
[Footnote 53: e.g., of Socrates.] [Footnote 54: Adopted vigorously.]
[Footnote 55: Wicked.] [Footnote 56: Fiddle.]
[Footnote 57: Popular novels of the 15th century.]
[Footnote 58: Is ill-spoken of.]
[Footnote 59: Governors.] [Footnote 60: Intercourse.]
[Footnote 61: i.e., into imaginary commonwealths, like Bacon’s “New Atlantis” and More’s “Utopia.”]
[Footnote 62: Great thanks.] [Footnote 63: Puppet shows.]
[Footnote 64: “Mercurius Aulicus,” a royalist journal.]
[Footnote 65: Published.] [Footnote 66: Ordinary.]
[Footnote 67: Omissions.] [Footnote 68: Injured.]
[Footnote 69: Council of Trent.]
[Footnote 70: Headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition.]
Another reason, whereby to make it plain that this order will miss the end it seeks, consider by the quality which ought to be in every licenser. It can not 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 behooves him, there can not be a more tedious and unpleasing journey-work, a greater loss of times 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 in a hand scarce legible, whereof three pages would not down at any time in the fairest print, is an imposition which I can not believe how he that values time, and his own studies, or is but of a sensible nostril should be able to endure. In this one thing I crave leave of the present 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 license, are testimony enough. Seeing therefore those who now possess the employment, by all evident signs with themselves well rid of it, and that no man of worth, none that is not 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 can not conduce to that end, whereof it bears the intention.
I lastly proceeded 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 lamentation of prelates, upon every least breath of a motion to remove pluralities,71 and distribute more equally church revenues, that then all learning would be forever 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, 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 labors 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 mind without a tutor and examiner, lest he should drop a schism, or something of corruption, is the greatest displeasure and indignity to a free and knowing spirit 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 ferular,72 to come under the fescu72 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 uttered73 without the cursory eyes 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 he 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 Palladian74 oil, to the hasty view of an unleisured licenser, perhaps much his younger, perha 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 his patriarchal licenser to blot or alter what precisely accords not with the hidebound humor which he calls his judgment? When every acute reader upon the first sight of a pedantic license, will be ready with these like words to ding76 the book a quoit’s distance from him: “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 some common stuff;” and he might add from Sir Francis Bacon, That such authorized books are but the language of the times. For though a licenser should happen to be judicious more than ordinarily, 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, come to other hands for license to be printed, or reprinted, if 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 humor of their own, though it were Knox himself, the reformer of a kingdom that spake it, they will not pardon him their dash:77 the sense of that great man shall to all posterity be lost, for the fearfulness, or the presumptuous rashness of a perfunctory licenser. And to what an author this violence hath been lately done, and in 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 molds78 as these shall have authority to gnaw out the choicest periods of the most exquisite 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 to 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.
[Footnote 71: The holding of several livings by one clergyman had been a chief cause of complaint against the Episcopal Church.]
[Footnote 72: Rod.] [Footnote 73: Published.]
[Footnote 74: From Pallas, goddess of learning.]
[Footnote 75: Minor.] [Footnote 76: Throw violently]
[Footnote 77: Dare to blot it out.] [Footnote 78: Rust.]
And as it is a particular disesteem of every knowing person alive, and most injurious to the written labors and monuments of the dead, so to me it seems an undervaluing and vilifying79 of the whole nation. I can not set so light by all the invention, the art, the wit, the grave and solid judgment which is in England, as 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 monopolized and traded in by tickets80 and statutes, and standards. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth, and our wool packs. What is it but a servitude like that imposed by the Philistines, 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 hand 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 diffident81 and suspectful prohibition, may plainly be understood what a disparagement it is. So much the more, when as debtors and delinquents may walk abroad without a keeper, but unoffensive books must not stir forth without a visible jailer in their title. Not is it to the common people less than a reproach; for if we be so jealous over82 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 estate 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 can not pretend, whenas in those popish places where the laity are most hated and despised the same strictness is used over them. Wisdom we can not call it, because it stops but one breach of license, nor that neither; whenas those corruptions which it seeks to prevent, break in faster at other doors which can not be shut.
[Footnote 79: Cheapening.] [Footnote 80: Receipts.]
[Footnote 81: Distrusting.] [Footnote 82: Suspect.]
And in conclusion it reflects to the disrepute of our ministers also, of whose labors 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 laick83 rabble, as that the whiff of every new pamphlet should stagger them out of their catechism, 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, vented in such numbers, and such volumes, as have now well-nigh made all other books unsalable, should not be armor enough against one single enchiridion,84 without the castle St. Angelo85 of an Imprimatur.
[Footnote 83: Ignorant.]
[Footnote 84: A pun on the two meanings of dagger and hand-book.]
[Footnote 85: The Pope’s fortress.]
And lest some should persuade ye, Lord and Commons, that these arguments of learned men’s discouragement at this you 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 honor I had, and been counted happy to be born in such a place of Philosophic freedom, as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was brought; that thi will make a conventicle of every Christian meeting. But I am certain that a state governed by the rules of justice and fortitude, or a church built and founded upon the rock of faith and true knowledge, can not 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.
[Footnote 86: Cicero.] [Footnote 87: Exchange.]
[Footnote 88: Trick allowed by the canon law.]
[Footnote 89: Exchanging one kind of penance for another.]
[Footnote 90: Non-conformist assembly.]
Who can not but discern the fineness of this politic drift, and who are the contrivers; that while bishops were to be baited91 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 out92 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 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 defenses against the prelates might remember them that this obstructing violence 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: “The punishing of wits enhances their authority,” saith the Viscount St. Albans, “and a forbidden writing is thought to be a certain spark of truth that flies up in the faces of them who seek to tread it out.” This order therefore may prove a nursing mother to sects, but I shall easily show how it will be a step-dame to truth: and first by disenabling us to the maintenance of what is known already.
[Footnote 91: Worried (as by dogs).] [Footnote 92: Abolished.]
Well knows he who uses to consider, that our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion.93 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 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 gladder post off to another, than the charge and care of their religion. There be, who knows not that there be of Protestants and professors94 who live and die in as errant and implicit95 faith, as any lay Papist or Loretto.96 A wealthy man addicted to his pleasure and to his profits, finds religion to be a traffic so entangled, and of so many piddling97 accounts, that of all mysteries98 he can not skill99 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 neighbors in that. What does he therefore, but resolves to give over toiling, and to find himself out some factor,100 to whose care and credit he may commit the whole managing of 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 an individual101 movable, and goes and comes near him, according as that good man frequents the house. He entertains 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,102 or some well spiced bruage,103 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.
[Footnote 93: Constitution.] [Footnote 94: Puritans.]
[Footnote 95: Taken on Trust.]
[Footnote 96: A famous place of pilgrimage in central Italy.]
[Footnote 97: Petty.] [Footnote 98: Trades.]
[Footnote 99: Manage.] [Footnote 100: Agent.]
[Footnote 101: Separable.] [Footnote 102: The morning draft of wine.]
[Footnote 103: Ale, or other drink.]
Another sort there be who when they hear that all things shall be ordered, all things regulated and settled; nothing written but what passes through the custom-house of certain publicans104 that have the tunaging and the poundaging105 of all free spoken truth, will straight give themselves up into your hands, make them and cut them 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. What106 need they torture their heads with that which others have taken so strictly, and so unalterably into their own purveying? 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.
[Footnote 104: Tax-collectors.]
[Footnote 105: A reference to the illegal tax levied by Charles I.]
[Footnote 106: Why.]
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, and is at his Hercules pillars107 in a warm benefice, to be easily inclinable, if he have nothing else that may rouse up his studies, to finish his circuit108 in an English concordance and a topic folio,109 the gatherings and savings of a sober graduateship, a Harmony110 and a Catena,111 treading the constant round of certain common doctrinal heads, attended with their uses, motives, marks and means, out of which as out of an alphabet or sol fa by forming and transforming, joining and disjoining variously a little book-craft, and two hours 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,112 breviaries,113 synopses,114 and other loitering gear.114 But as for the multitude of sermons ready printed and piled up, on every text that is not difficult, our London trading St. Thomas 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:115 so 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,116 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 flock 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.
[Footnote 107: Limit of his ambition, as the Straits of Gibraltar were the limits of the ancient world.]
[Footnote 108: i.e., of studies.] [Footnote 109: Commonplace book.]
[Footnote 110: e.g., of the Gospels.]
[Footnote 111: Chain or list of authorities.]
[Footnote 112: Translations.] [Footnote 113: Abridgments.]
[Footnote 114: Lazy man’s apparatus.]
[Footnote 115: “i.e., our largest and busiest marts are as well stocked with sermons as with any other ware whatever.” - Hales.]
[Footnote 116: Palisaded.]
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, 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 can not 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?
Thus much we are hindered and disinured117 by this course of licensing toward 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.
[Footnote 117: Put out of practise.]
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 into practise by antichristian malice and mystery118 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 upholds 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 the mortal glass wherein we contemplate, can show us, till we come to beatific vision, that man by this very opinion declares, that he is yet far short of truth.
[Footnote 118: Trickery.]
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 as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as dare 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 mold them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of 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 Combust,119 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 onward things more remote from our knowledge. It is not the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitering 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 the blaze that Zuinglius and Calvin hath beaconed up to us, that we are stark blind. There be who perpetually complain of schisms and sects, and make it such a calamity that 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.120 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,121 and 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.
[Footnote 119: Within 8 1/2 degrees of the sun.]
[Footnote 120: Summary of doctrine.]
[Footnote 121: All made up of truth.]
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, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any 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 Pythagoras, and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil122 Roman, Julius Agricola, who governed once here for Caesar, preferred the natural wits of Britain, before the labored studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transilvanian sends out yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian123 wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language, and our theologic arts. Yet that which is above all this, the favor and the love of heaven we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and propending124 toward 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 first 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 Wyclif, to suppress him as a schismatic and innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Huss and Jerome, no nor the name of Luther, or of Calvin had been ever known: the glory of reforming all our neighbors had been completely ours. But now, as our obdurate clergy have with violence demeaned 125 the matter, we are become hitherto the latest and the backwardest scholars, of whom God offered to have 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, first to his Englishmen; 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, the 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 the plates and instruments of armed justice in defense of beleaguered forego this prelatical tradition 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 mold and temper of a people, and how to govern it, observing the high hopes and aims, the diligent alacrity of our extended127 thoughts and reasonings in the persuance of truth and freedom, but that he would cry out as Pyrrhus did, admiring the Roman docility and courage, if such were my Epirots, I would not despair 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 sectarians; 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 is laid artfully together, it can not 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 considerate builders, more wise in spiritual architecture, when great reformation is expected. For now the time seems 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 those divisions and subdivisions will undo us. The adversary again applauds, and waits the hour, when they have branched themselves out, saith he, small enough into parties and partitions, than 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 sees our small divided maniples128 cutting through at every angle of his ill united and unwiedly 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 over timorous of them that vex in his behalf, but shall laugh in the end, at those malicious applauders of our differences, I have these reasons to persuade me.
[Footnote 122: Cultivated.]
[Footnote 123: Used of the German forests.]
[Footnote 124: Inclining.] [Footnote 125: Conducted.]
[Footnote 126: Imaginary.] [Footnote 127: Advanced.]
[Footnote 128: Companies.]
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 rumored to be marching up even to her walls, and suburb trenches, 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, discoursing, even to a rarity,129 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 itself130 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, bought that piece of ground at no cheap rate, whereon Hannibal 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 pertest131 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 its own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and sublimest points of controversy, and new invention, it betoken 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 honorable 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 muing132 her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and unscaling her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance, while the whole noise133 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.
[Footnote 129: Rare degree.] [Footnote 130: Flows on.]
[Footnote 131: Sprightliest.] [Footnote 132: Renewing (by moulting).]
[Footnote 133: Noisy band.]
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 ingrossers134 over it, to bring a 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 show how. If it be desired to know the immediate cause of all this free writing and free speaking, there can not be assigned a truer than your own mild, and free, and human government: it is the liberty, Lords and Commons, which your own valorous and happy counsels have purchased us, liberty which is the nurse of all great wits; this is that which hath rarified and enlightened our spirits like the influence of heaven; this is that which hath enfranchised, enlarged and lifted up our apprehensions degrees above themselves. Ye can not make us now less 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, as ye found us; but ye then must first become that which ye can not 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 great and exact things, is the issue of your own virtue propagated in us; ye can not suppress that unless ye reinforce an abrogated and merciless law, that fathers may despatch at will their own children. And who shall then stick closest to ye, and excite others? not he who takes up arms for cote and conduct,135 and his four nobles of Danegelt.136 Although I dispraise not the defense 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.
[Footnote 134: Monopolists.]
[Footnote 135: i.e., to resist illegal taxation for clothing and conveying troops.]
[Footnote 136: i.e., ship-money. The references here are to those who took up arms in the civil war rather than submit to the illegal taxes of Charles I.]
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 honorable number, a right noble and pious lord, who had he not 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 honor’s sake, and may it be eternal to him, shall name him, the Lord Brook. 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 honored regard with ye, so full of meekness and breathing charity, that next to his last testament, who bequeathed love and peace to his disciples, I can not 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 his 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 discussion of matters in agitation. The temple of Janus with his two controversial faces might now not unsignificantly be set open.137 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 to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew things. Yet if all can not be of one mind, as who looks they should be? 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 extirpated, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and misled: that also which is i 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 commonly forejudge them ere we understand them, no less than woe to us, while thinking thus to defend the gospel, we are found the persecutors.
[Footnote 137: Indicating a time of war.]
[Footnote 138: The Presbyterian system.]
[Footnote 139: Priestly vestments.] [Footnote 140: Subdivisions.]
[Footnote 141: Made Jesuits of.]
[Footnote 142: Where the Episcopal clergy met to legislate.]
[Footnote 143: Where the Presbyterian divines drew up their Confession.]
[Footnote 144: Put into canons or rules.]
[Footnote 145: In Westminster Abbey.]
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 much good by condemning. 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 let146 of licensing, and what good they themselves have begun by transgressing it, be not enough, but that they will persuade, and 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.
[Footnote 146: Hindrance.]
And as for regulating the press, let no man think to have the honor of advising ye better than yourselves have done in that order published next before this, 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 libelous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectual remedy, that man’s prevention can use. For this authentic Spanish policy 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-chamber 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 fallen from the stars with Lucifer. Whereby you 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 behavior. 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 cause to inquire most, it may be doubted there was in it the fraud of some old patentees and monopolizers in the trade of book-selling; 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 glozing colors147 to the house, which were indeed but colors, and serving to no end except it be to exercise a superiority over their neighbors, men who do not therefore labor in an honest profession to which learning is indebted, that they should be made other 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, malignant148 books might the easier escape abroad, as the event shows. But of these sophisms and elenchs of merchandise I skill not:149 This I know, that errors in a good government and in a bad are equally almost incident;150 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 what hath been erred, and in highest authority to esteem a plain advertisement more than others have done a sumptuous bribe, is a virtue (honored Lords and Commons), answerable to151 your highest actions, and whereof none can participate but greatest and wisest men.
[Footnote 147: Plausible pretexts.] [Footnote 148: Royalist.]
[Footnote 149: I have no knowledge of these tricks of trade and the exposure of them.]
[Footnote 150: Liable to occur.] [Footnote 151: Consistent with.]
Essays, civil and moral, and The new Atlantis, by Francis Bacon; Areopagitica and Tractate on education, by John Milton; Religio medici, by Sir Thomas Browne, with introductions, New York P.F. Collier [c1909] The Harvard classics v. 4.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998