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for various reasons; but for none more so than the example it affords of the singular and inconclusive manner in which these important topics were handled in the days of the Protector's Latin Secretary
The introduction of general principles into the sciences of politics and morals, is a discovery of recent date. In the time of Milton, with one or two insignificant exceptions, they had never been treated as subjects susceptible of demonstration, or to which the rules of logic could be applied with rigour or suc
A few years previous to this period of our literature, these sciences, which may fairly be considered as incomparably the most important to the welfare and happiness of mankind, were still regarded as the peculiar province of the school logicians; or, what was still more fatal, of the school divines. On their first emancipation from the shackles of those ignorant pretenders to knowledge, they naturally fell into the hands of the merely literary class; men, whose minds had been humanized by the studies of the classical authors, but who were yet too much occupied with the brators, poets, and historians of Greece and Rome, to have turned their attention with success to the severer pursuits of science. In such hands it will hardly be imagined that they were considerably improved. The literary men of that time, at the head of whom Milton may undoubtedly be placed, were too sedulous and accomplished scholars, too well versed in the minute and ornamental parts of polite learning, to be accurate and rigid reasoners.
In their numerous productions, the pedantic display of scholarship, and the copious stream of what was then called eloquence and fine writing, was no where disfigured by a definition, or interrupted by a syllogism, The readers of Locke and Hume will be astonished at the intrepid confidence with which the most gratuious suppositions were adopted by these authors, and which served in their turn for the ground work of more dubious conclusions. With them a passage from an ancient poet, or a citation from a classical historian, usually passed for irrefragable evidence of the certainty of any fact or the truth of any opinion. All this was highly natural, and what might be previously expected from a knowledge of the peculiar circumstances in which literature was situated at the period to which we allude. The world had been so long deluded by the juggling divinity of the schoolmen, a science which they made to comprise, by their absurd and extravagant pretensions, every topic of a political and moral nature, that we cannot be surprised at the contemptuous rejection of their whole system, by every man to whom the revival of learning had opened the plentiful sources of classic erudition. Unfortunately the Aristotelian logic had become so intimately interwoven with the theology of the schoolmen, that
it required more knowledge and discrimination than can be expected to have been possessed by any student at that time, to have separated the one from the other, and to have retained the former without adhering to the latter. This easy and natural error misled, amongst a host of immeasurably inferior minds, the author of the Novum Organum--after which we shall scarcely be surprised at its adoption by any subsequent writer. Almost the only author who seems to have avoided the mistake, is Hobbes'; in the review of whose admirable writings this subject may be more properly resumed, and more attentively examined. To the logic of Aristotle, whatever might have been its demerits in some particulars, nothing could,
of course, be substituted but vague conjecture and hypothesis, or the more groundless authority of ancient writers. This, however, was resorted to in the place of the exploded system ; and although Milton himself had compiled a treatise on logic, he seems to have been sufficiently unacquainted with it as a practical science. On this grave subject of the liberty of the press, he has left us a grand oration, teeming with dignified eloquence and overflowing with historic illustration, but containing no extensive views, and founded on no general or established principles. The occasion which gave birth to this noble piece of elocution, was a resolution of the parliament conceived in these terms ;—" 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.”. Against this dangerous project, Milton, with his characteristic attachment to republican opinions, declared his decided opposition; and whatever we may be led to conclude of the insufficiency of his reasoning, we cannot withhold our admiration from the boldness and unflinching sincerity with which he has treated this great question.
According to the fashion of the time, he commences by an historical disquisition as to the degree of liberty in writing enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans. He states, with unquestionable truth, that the only productions strictly prohibited by the ancients, were private and personal libels, such as those contained in the dramatic pieces of the Old Comedy; and writings distinctly avowing a disbelief in the being of a God. As to the latter, he observes, that it was not by inference or insinuation that they were convicted of the crime of atheism ; but by nothing short of a formal doubt or denial of the existence of a deity. It was doubtless found by unanswerable experience, that the curiosity produced by the suppression of an immoral book was usually much greater than that which its contents would have otherwise excited, when unaided and anenhanced by the flavour of prohibition. The books of Prota
goras, which commenced by an open doubt of “ whether there were gods, or whether not,' are instanced as meriting the sentence pronounced upon them and their author, by the Areopagus-a sentence, by which the books were burned, and the author banished. But as to more recondite atheism that which can only be inferred from the admission of certain principles, by long and intricate reasoning, and is therefore not likely to disturb or influence the mass, who for the most part are incapable of pursuing a long chain of argument, and are always disinclined from so tedious an employment—it was wisely held expedient by the magistrate, not to thrust it into public notice by public punishment. We know that a belief in the eternity of matter, was one of the most common doctrines of the ancient speculators; but we no where read that those who had discovered its creation, pursued their opponents with the vengeance of juridical persecution. Pythagoras had been a cock-a notion,
perhaps, too ludicrous to have produced any mischievous effects on the moral habits of the people. Be that as it may, no one took offence at his opinions on that subject, or, as far as we read of, on any others; unless here and there a seedmerchant, whose indignation would be specially excited by the Pythagorean prohibition of eating beans. Epicurus, to avoid the danger of an unqualified avowal of his sentiments, but unable to reconcile the doctrine of a superintending providence with his atomic theory, admitted the existence of the gods, in obedience to the law, but despoiled them of every attribute by which the divine character was distinguished, even among the pagans, from that of inferior beings. His inactive deities, absorbed in easy. indolence, dozed away a dreamy immortality, in the most felicitous indifference to the vices or virtues, the wellbeing or the misery of mankind. Without enumerating particular instances, it is sufficient to observe that every possible variety in opinion on the most important subjects-every conceivable difference in belief concerning the world, the Deity, the soul, the past, the future-those topics which are most wont by their importance to excite the interest of mankind, and by their uncertainty to generate antipathy-was indulged in by the philosophers of Greece and Rome, without any check or interrup- : tion from the legislative authorities. Nor are we informed by ancient authors, that the singular license of publication was productive of any public grievance. On the contrary, those passions of curiosity or hatred, which under other systems are augmented by restraint, and infuriated by legal opposition, were observed to evaporate in discussion, and subside beneath the omnipotent control of public contempt or ridicule.
This is a different picture from that with which we are presented within a short time after the accession of catholicism
to the Imperial throne and councils. A disposition had long been manifested by the more illiterate members of the church to prohibit, not only heretical writings, but those of their pagan opponents; especially of Porphyry and Celsus. This feeling, which had gradually strengthened and gathered ground among the clergy, burst forth in the third council of Carthage, assembled towards the close of the fourth century (A.D. 397), in the famous prohibition of the perusal of the heathen authors. The fathers of this council were not contented with denying to the laity the privilege of improving their understandings, and cultivating their tastes with the sacred relics of Greek and Roman learning; the restriction was extended to the clergy, not excepting the bishops themselves. From this period, every succeeding council enacted new penalties against those who should insult the faith and endanger the safety of the church by the perusal of Thucydides or Cicero. At the close of the eighth century," 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 judgements, burning and prohibiting to be read what they fancied not; yet sparing in their censures, and the books not many which they so dealt with; till Martin the fifth by his bull not only prohibited, but was the first that excommunicated the reading of heretical books ; for about that time Wickliff and Huss growing terrible, were they who first drove the papal court to a stricter policy of prohibiting. Which course Leo the tenth and his successors followed until the council of Trent."-We abstain from following our author through the long detail in which he deduces the history of popish and protestant probibition from the Romish: council of Trent, to the English Archbishop Laud; albeit he therein presents us with “ the inventors and the original of book-licensing ript up, and drawn as lineally as any pedigree.” What we take
more interest in observing, is the singular inutility and inconclusiveness of the whole picture of pagan liberality and popish tyranny, as it stands in the speech before us. The result which Milton has not deduced, at least in its proper place, from the historic detail of which we have presented an abridgement, is, notwithstanding, obvious and instructive. Whenever so remarkable a discordance is observed in the
policy of two bodies of men bearing the same name, and having ostensibly the same interests, as we have noticed in the instances of the pagan and catholic priesthood, we must look for a deeperseated cause than the casual difference of opinion, to which Milton has been content to ascribe it. We are certain that bo-, dies of men as well as individuals, will, in the same circumstances, have similar interests; and being actuated by similar motives, will most probably observe the same line of conduct in
- the pursuit of their several ends. That the pagan priesthood would, in the same circumstances, have shared in the inclination, so constantly exhibited by the Romish clergy, of employing the influence of religion to their peculiar profit, can be doubted by no rational enquirer. The simple fact, which is admitted on all hands, of their having abstained from so employing it, is sufficient to direct us to the cause of this apparent anomaly in human conduct. The truth is, that the sacerdotal class among the ancients was totally different in its constitution, and consequent interests, from the popish hierarchy. Their personal concern in the prevalence of any peculiar dogmas, or the reception of a particular creed, appears to have been of small account. They regarded religion in the light of a state-engine only; and were rather employed in mitigating the superstitions of the people, and directing them from that turn, which might run counter to the interests of the government, than in inculcating new prejudices or fortifying the conviction of the old. Their object seems chiefly to have been to modify, if not to extirpate that dangerous enthusiasm to which the people are prone in all ages, and whose blind and ungovernable ebullitions embarrass the operations of government, and have sometimes ended in its destruction.
With this view, the promulgation of various opinions on the topic of religion would rather be encouraged than discountenanced by the sacerdotal order, and would find its only check in the intolerance of popular superstition. So far was it from the policy of antiquity to promote the influence of fanaticism over the minds of the lower classes, that the religious sanction seems never to have been applied to morals; and as the ascendancy of superstition can never be securely established, unless it be mixed up with the ordinances which regulate the daily occurrences of life; it seems quite impossible, à priori, that the religion of Greece and Rome could ever have become a thoroughly effectual instrument for the purposes of clerical depredation. This fact will account for the singularity of the existence of a priesthood, whose temporal interests were altogether identical with those of the people and the government. How it happened that the superstitions of Greece and Rome were never intermingled with the popular code of morals, is one of those circumstances, which, as they spring up silently, and in a long course of years, and from their nature necessarily escape the eye of the historian, can never be satisfactorily explained by any subsequent enquiry. The fact, however, having once arisen, it is easy to detect the reasons which united the interests of the religious with those of the civil ruler, and made it their mutual advantage to protect the freedom of discussion in subjects relating to theology. That the singular toleration of opinions by the ancient governments of Greece and Italy pro