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ceeded from this cause, and from no peculiar quality in their political and sacred institutions, is evident from a particular fact, which is noticed by Milton in the present speech. On the accession of Julian to the empire, when Christianity growing terrible, had menaced the very existence of the pagan superstition, an imperial decree was issued, which prohibited the Christians from reading the heathen authors, and confined them to the study of their own sacred books and writers. A more arbitrary or insidious edict was never framed in a Catholic consistory; nor could any thing more plainly shew that the tolerating spirit of paganism, like that of most other systems, was produced and regulated by motives of policy and calculation.
w It requires but a moment's consideration to perceive that the interests of the Romish Church were in every respect dissimilar to those of the heathen priesthood. In this case the churchman was distinguished from the magistrate, and derived his wealth and influence from distinct and opposite sources. His policy of course admitted of no enquiry into those opinions, on the unhesitating assent to which, his revenues and dignity depended. The slightest doubt or hesitation-and of course every means of satisfying such doubt or hesitation, were held up as moral offences.
From the consideration of these opposite pictures, we get another proof that those only are enemies to free discussion, whose interests are concerned in the prevalence of particular opinions ;--an important conclusion, and one which cannot be too frequently repeated, or enforced by too many argnments. This is the natural result of Milton's historical illustrations, which, as they stand at present, conduce to no obvious conclusion. He has, however, in a subsequent passage elucidated the utter absurdity of the popish doctrine, to use his own language-of implicit obedience and belief without enquiry, which is alleged by many, even at the present day, to be at the least highly conducive to the moral character of the people. The whole passage is so singularly eloquent in point of style, and conclusive as to argument, that the reader will be gratified by its insertion. Speaking of the project of a censorship, he asserts, with truth, that taken apart from other collateral prohibitions, it would at the best be productive of no possible advantage.
“ For if we fall upon one kind of strictness, unless our care were equal to regulate all other things of like aptness to corrupt the mind, that single endeavour would be but a fond labour; to shut and fortify one gate against corruption, and be necessitated to leave others round about wide open. If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must regulate all recreations and pastimes, all that is delightful to man. No music must be heard, no song be set or sung, but what is grave and Doric. There must be licensing dancers,
that no gesture, motion, or deportment be taught our youth, but what by our allowance shall be thought honest. It will ask more than the work of twenty licensers to examine all the lutes, the violins, and the ghittars in every house ; they must not be suffered to prattle as they do, but must be licensed what they may say. And who shall silence all the airs and madrigals that whisper softness in chambers? The windows also, and the balconeys must be thought on; there are shrewd books, with dangerous frontispieces, set to sale; who shall prohibit them, shall twenty licensers? The villages also must have their visitors, to inquire what lectures the bagpipe and the rebeck reads, even to the ballatry and the gammuth of every municipal fidler, for these are the countryman's Arcadias and his Monte Muyors. Next, what more national corruption, for which England hears ill abroad, than household gluttony; who shall be the rulers of our daily rioting? And what shall be done to inhibit the multitudes that frequent those houses where drunkenness is sold and harboured ? Our garments also should be referred to the licensing of some more sober work-masters, to see them cut into a less wanton garb. Who shall regulate all the mixt conversation of our youth, male and female together, as is the fashion of this country? Who shall still appoint what shall be discoursed, what presumed, and no further ? Lastly, who shall forbid and separate all' idle resort, all evil company? These things will be, and must be; but how they shall be least hurtful, how least enticing, herein consists the grave and governing wisdom of a state.”
Our author now proceeds to the consideration of certain objections, which are most frequently alleged against the utility of an unlicensed press. “ First,” he says,
“ it is feared the infection 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, it describes the carnal sense of wicked men not unelegantly, it brings in holiest men passionately murmuring against Providence, through all the arguments of Epicurus : in other great disputes, it answers dubiously and darkly to the common reader; and ask a Talmudist, what ails the modesty of his marginal Keri, that Moses and all the prophets cannot persuade him to pronounce the textual Chetiv? For these causes we all know the Bible itself put by the Papists into the first rank of prohibited books."
This reasoning is undoubtedly unanswerable, as far as it extends. But the truth is, that the objection itself rests upon an unestablished assumption, which can never be admitted without evidence, although it has been incautiously conceded by Milton himself in the succeeding paragraph. What is understood by the “ spreading of infection " 'If any thing be definitively meant by that vituperative metaphor, it must be that the knowledge of heretical opinions is productive of bad effects on popular morals. If this were established, the next objections which are undertaken to be parried, namely, “ that a useless
temptation is incurred by the perusal of such bouks,” and " that the time so occupied is spent in useless vanity,” would not be so easily refuted as Milton had imagined. The manner in which our illustrious author has met the former of these objections, is peculiarly illustrative of the vagueness, uncertainty, and confusion which characterised almost every attempt, at that time, to reason on these abstract subjects. It is evident, that there is one answer only which can satisfactorily destroy the assertion-and that answer consists in demonstrating the falsehood of the proposition itself. On the contrary, no attempt is made by Milton to controvert the alleged fact of the danger incurred by such temptation, successful
as it must necessarily have proved. He admits it; and defends the propriety of submitting to the temptation, from the fanciful analogy he observes between this and every other instance, in which the Deity has thought fit to expose us to the allurement of certain pleasures, which are nevertheless prohibited as crimes in the moral code. The strange absurdity of this argument is the more striking, from the undaunted manner with which all its conclusions are admitted in the course of its developement. It is by no means an unguarded assertion, of which the consequences were unforeseen by its propounder. It is a fair and deliberate statement of his opinion, that no temptation can be avoided, consistently with the will of the Almighty, as discovered in the analogy of the creation. From the fact of Adam's exposure to the allurement of the primæval apple, he deduces a consistent theory of the necessity of temptation for the existence and exercise of virtue. We shall not stop to expose the sophistry of this reasoning. We believe that the end' in view may be more easily attained than by the means of a theological discussion.
The unreasonable theory we have just stated is, at best, unnecessary; for the assertion, whose consequences it was meant to obviate, is itself unfounded. All history has taught us, that the publication of heretical books is productive of no immoral tendency. It seems strange that experience, the admitted guide and dictatress of all other opinions, should never have succeeded in persuading mankind of the inoperative nature of abstract dogmas on their moral actions. We may advance still further, and assert with Milton, that a prohibition of controversial books is no security against the formation and spread of schismatical opinions. For " 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 unmixt 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 honester, the wiser, the chaster, since all the inquisitorial rigour that hath been executed upon books?"
The impracticability of a censorship, from the difficulty of procuring impartial and intelligent examiners, may be alleged with some appearance
if we suppose its authors to be influenced by a serious and unaffected concern for the public welfare. Considered in this point of view, this plea may be regarded, as it stands in the oration before us, as a species of the argumentum ad hominem, not unaptly addressed to a public body, who set up the pretext of utility in defence of the prohibitory system. Farther than this, it appears to be an argument of little moment; nor, indeed, even as such can it be alleged with of much force or cogency. If it be admitted, as it must be by the advocates of a censorship on any ground, and especially on that of general utility, that in the unrestricted circulation of opinions, the injury inflicted on public morals and religion from the promulgation of error, outweighs the advantages produced by the diffusion of truth; that, in short, the press affords no adequate antidote together with its poison; the loss arising from the casual suppression of useful books, through the inadvertency or ignorance of the censors, will bear no comparative importance to the benefits derived from the suppression of erroneous and hurtful publications. This reasoning, which to us appears invincible, if it be conceded that the dangers arising from the circulation of mischievous opinions overbalance the advantages accruing from doctrines of an opposite nature, seems at the first view to be fatal to the concluding argument upon which Milton has lavished so much eloquence and erudition towards the termination of his speech. A concession of this kind will, however, not be found in the work we are now analysing, nor will it assuredly be made by any candid inquirer of the present day. Nevertheless, without a demonstration of the falsehood of such an opinion, the train of argument pursued by Milton is essentially defective. For the present we shall assume the fact with our author; reserving its appropriate proof for another place. The detriment sustained by the cause of learning and philosophy from restrictions on the liberty of printing, are detailed, in the work before us, with singular beauty of expression, and energy of thought and manner. The style, though commonly superior to the tedious and heavy prolixity which marks the productions of the greater part of the contemporaries of our author, not unfrequently assumes a tone of eloquence and vigour which might stand comparison with the best writing of modern times. The following passage appears to us a fine specimen of calm and dignified expostulation. W. “ And lest some should persuade ye, lords and commons, that these arguments of learned men's discouragement at this your
are mere flourishes, and not real, I could recount what I have seen and heard in other countries, where this kind of inquisition tyrannises; when I have sat among their learned men, for that honour I had, and been counted happy to be born in such a place of philosophic freedom, as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was brought: that this was it which had damped the glory of Italian wits ; that nothing had been there written now these many years but flattery and fustian. There it was that I found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition, for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought. And though I knew that England then was groaning loudest under the prelatical yoke, nevertheless I took it as a pledge of future happiness, that other nations were so persuaded of her liberty. Yet was it beyond my hope, that those worthies were then breathing in her air, who should be her leaders to such a deliverance, as shall never be forgotten by any revolution of time that this world hath to finish. When that was once begun, it was a little in my favour, that what words of complaint I heard among learned men of other parts uttered against the Inquisition, the same I should hear by as learned men at home, uttered in time of parliament against an order of licensing; and that so generally, that when I had disclosed myself a companion of their discontent, I might say, if without envy, that he, whom an honest questorship had endeared to the Sicilians, was not more by them importuned against Verres, than the favourable opinion which I had among many who honour ye, and are known and respected by ye, loaded me with entreaties and persuasions, that I would not despair to lay together that which just reason should bring into my mind, toward the removal of an undeserved thraldom upon learning. That this is not, therefore, the disburdening of a particular fancy, but the common good sense of all those who had prepared their minds and studies above the vulgar pitch to advance truth in others, and from others to entertain it, thus much may satisfy.”
The passage we are about to cite is not less remarkable for brilliancy of expression and imagery.
“ 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 durst appear, imitating the merciful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down, gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, lords and commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master's second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of opportunity, forbidding and disturbing them