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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, 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 staring on, but by it to discover outward things more remote from our knowledge. It is not the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitreing 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 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 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. 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 the body is homogeneal and proportionate), 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."
Thus far we have pursued the line of reasoning adopted in this celebrated essay, in the order and connexion in which it is arranged by Milton. In spite of the disjointed and incoherent manner, so ill adapted to exhibit the full weight of argument in its clearest and most striking point of view, but which is so common a defect in the oratorical productions of all ages, as to appear almost inseparable from that mode of writing, we believe the chief reasons in favour of the freedom of the press are deducible from this “ Speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing.” They may be stated categorically after this fashion.
It is supposed by Milton, and it would require no common portion of audacity and folly to dispute the assumption at the present time, that the institution of government should be regarded as exclusively designed for the benefit of the governed. If the contrary hypothesis be assumed, all the arguments built
the foregoing proposition are of course overthrown with the basis on which they rested. This case, however, we shall not stop to consider. We are content, in the nineteenth century, to abandon the hypothesis to its assertors undisputed, with every wish that they may extract from it, without let or molestation, all the comfort and consolation it is likely, in the present circumstances of the civilized world, to
afford them. On the supposition that the interests of the many are the only object of government, it follows, that one of the first duties of the legislator is to watch with especial assiduity the morals and religion of the people, and to contribute, as much as possible, to their improvement. To this effect, as all morality consists in the production of the greatest quantity of happiness—to ourselves, with a scrupulous regard to the interests of others; and to others, without sacrificing more valuable interests of our own;-moreover, as this seems to be the object of religion, whose great design and scope is to operate as a sanction to morality-it becomes a matter of paramount importance, that the people should be enabled to appreciate the true means to the end proposed, with correctness and precision. To deny that the extension of knowledge is the appropriate method of enabling them to form this estimate, is a positive contradiction in terms. It is equally absurd to contend, that any useful limit can be opposed to it. That which is good in an inferior, must be better in a superior degree; nor can any thing but an obstinate determination to resist all evidence on the subject, induce a serious inquirer to dispute so well-established a conclusion; unless the definitions are incorrect from which it is deduced—and this it seems difficult to believe. On this ground, it is impossible to defend the propriety of restrictions on printing; since the press is unquestionably the most rapid and efficacious method of producing a general diffusion of knowledge. We now come to the supposition, that the people are unable to select the true from the false, the mischievous from the useful, the religious from the immoral doctrines, which it is justly stated may be equally distributed by the means of this powerful instrument. The answer to this objection requires nothing but the simple statement. If it be true, there neither is, nor can be any virtue, any system of morals, any consistent scheme of faith or religion among men. All these depend upon the fact, that mankind are always competent to judge with sufficient accuracy between their real and apparent interests; a faculty which we have already shown is not likely to be diminished by the increase of information.
Against the truth of this speculation, no argument can be alleged which is not founded on historical experience. What objections, erected on this basis, may be possibly advanced, we are altogether at a loss to imagine. From the most careful and diligent examination of the history of the world, we invariably observe the most ignorant and superstitious tribes addicted to the most atrocious habits, and indulging in the most criminal pleasures. The selfish ferocity of savage life is first humanized by a perception of those wants, for the alleviation of which the institutions of a social order are gradually formed. The course
of mankind, from the most uncultivated state of society to the highest stage of civilization, is uniformly preceded by an improvement in knowledge, and marked by more perfect notions of morality and more refined religious sentiments. This is the universal evidence of all history and tradition. If it be alleged, that the crimes and horrors of revolution have not once or twice, but frequently been produced by the dissemination of inflammatory writings, by the arts of perverted eloquence, or the cunning of delusive sophistry—it may be said, without fear of contradiction, that the original fault is not to be attributed to the people, but to their incautious governors. There is no instance on record of such effects having followed the publication of any doctrines, in which it may not be clearly shown that the people had outstripped their government in the career of knowledge; in which it may not be proved that their increasing information was ripe for more liberal institutions, and that their altered interests demanded a better administration of the public business. If proof be wanting of the consistency of a perfect freedom of the press, with a steady and well-ordered government, and a high state of morality and religion among the great body of the people, we need only refer to that afforded by the United States.* A similar instance had never been presented to the world in the days of Milton. But his great and comprehensive intellect enabled him to perceive the fact without the aid of the example; and time and experience have fully justified the grounds of his opinion.
Of the numerous prose works of our immortal poet, the oration before us is the most valuable, both with regard to its literary merits and the deep and never-failing interest of the subject matter. On this account we have given it the preference over many longer and more laboured treatises, which
* Prior to what was commonly called the Sedition Act, there never was any such thing known, under the federal government of the United States, as a criminal prosecution for a political libel. The Sedition Act was passed by Congress in July 1798. It expired by its own limitation in March 1801. There were a few prosecutions under it, whilst it was in force. It was an unpopular law. The party that passed it went out of power, by a vote of the nation, in March 1801. There has been no prosecution for a political libel, under the authority of the government of the United States, since that period. No law known to the United States would authorize such a prosecution, During the last war, the measures of the government were assailed, by the party in opposition, with the most unbounded and furious license, No prosecution for libel ever followed. The government trusted to public opinion, and to the spontaneous counteracting publications from among the people themselves, for the refutation of libels. The general opinion
was, that the public arm grew stronger, in the end, by this course.
our author has bequeathed us, and which are comprised in the formidable array of three folio volumes. We have not been over scrupulous or minute in directing the attention of our readers to the inferior merits of its style, or the beauties of its composition. The passages we have had occasion to cite, in the course of our remarks, will answer every purpose of this kind, with as much certainty and more effect than the most accurate and laboured criticism. We have thought it more useful to attract notice to the subject-matter, which has ever been found one of the most serious importance, and assumes in the progress of society, century by century, year by year, and almost day by day, a more deep and pressing consequence. Although it were far from foreign to the subject, to inquire into the causes and origin of that singular revolution which, within the last fifty years, has been effected in the moral world, it will be sufficient for our purpose to advert to the state of the public mind at the present time. Opinion, which is never stationary, is now more than ordinarily active. Nor is this ceaseless agitation of intellect confined to the higher and middling orders of society; it descends to the very lowest of the people. It has left the closet of the philosopher and the divine, to improve or infect the cottage of the mechanic and the labourer; and the former, who, in their character of literary and religious teachers, so lately gave law to the latter, are no longer the undisputed standards of knowledge, but are called upon to corroborate by reason what was formerly received upon trust, and received with implicit confidence. It were idle, in such a conjuncture, to debate upon the expediency of this general diffusion of knowledge. The fact is past debating; for the knowledge is diffused. To question the utility of popular education now, were as vain as to hesitate upon the particular form in which it should be administered. It has already produced its effects; and be they good or bad, this is not the period in which we can any longer consult upon the policy of the general question. All that now remains in our power, is to endeavour to control the torrent, and direct the stream of information in the channel of order, virtue, and religion. To dream of suppressing this spirit of popular enquiry, were an error no less fatal than absurd. Any such attempt would but give new stimulus to the people, and recoil upon the heads of its contrivers. Restrictions upon printing are too late; prosecution when it procures punishment, is more than inefficacious—and when it fails, is the worst of evils. There is but one way left of counteracting the licentious press; but one sure, safe, and reasonable way, and that is by reply. We may neutralize and correct its errors with safety and success, by the very means which are employed to insure their promulgation and effect. Whatever has been lost by the press, by the press
may be regained. Let us hesitate long and cautiously before we are induced to adopt the mistaken notion of the policy and expediency of so far influencing that tremendous engine, as to restrict the circulation of those works, which, though chiefly calculated to produce evil, are not altogether destitute of a corresponding good. We have had so many lessons of the danger which invariably attends this petty meddling and tampering with great subjects, that the fault will be altogether our own, if we incur the hazard of another failure from such conduct.
To revert to the extensive diffusion of opinion amongst the lower orders, we may observe, that our statement is borne out by facts which are distinguishable by the most careless observer. It will probably be admitted, that the colour of this widely spreading opinion has a manifest tinge of what may be called ultra-liberal philosophy, both in politics and religion; a fact no less lamentable than true. A tendency to speculative irreligion and republicanism has long existed in this country. It may be traced in the writings of most of our early authors on politics and metaphysics ; and whilst it was confined to such speculators, was considered a matter of so little consequence as scarcely to demand attention. Whenever any work of more than ordinary success or ingenuity appeared likely to disturb society, it was the custom of our earlier churchmen to suppress it by refutation; a mode of proceeding attended with the greatest advantages, inasmuch as the gentleness of the means was only equalled by the certainty of their success. Cudworth and Clarke are but two of a long list of those distinguished disputants, whose very names have become arguments for religion. This list is terminated by a name every way connected with literature and science, though unhappily no less implicated in the trivial dissentions and intrigues of party politics—it is that of Watson. The unanswerable Apology for the Bible is the latest instance we remember of those admirable writings in which the dialectic of the schools was employed against the enemies of religion. It is difficult to account for the present disuse of that weapon, which for a long series of years had been the never-failing instrument of success in the hands of our clerical instructors. The refutation of the Age of Reason, the work of the most daring and popular writer who ever turned his talents against his Maker, was full, perfect, indisputable. However dangerous the Age of Reason alone, however artful and insidious, bind it with the Apology for the Bible, and defy the credulous stupidity of the most ignorant men. The success of this work does not seem to have produced a repetition of similar attempts. In the place, however, of such attempts, a course of opposition
VOL. IX. PART I.