Page images
PDF
EPUB

same reason shall pass for current to put our necks again under kingship, as was made use of by the Jews to return back to Egypt, and to the worship of their idol queen, • because they falsely imagined that they there lived in more plenty and prosperity; our condition is not sound but rotten, both in religion and all civil prudence; and will bring us soon the way we are marching to those calamities which attend always and unavoidably on luxury, all national judgments under foreign and domestic slavery, so far we shall be from mending our condition by monarchising our government whatever new conceit now possesses us. However, with all hazard, I have ventured what I thought my duty to speak in season, and to forewarn my country in time; wherein I doubt not but there be many wise men in all places and degrees, but am sorry the effects of wisdom are so little seen among us. Many circumstances and particulars I could have added in those things whereof I have spoken, but a few main matters now put speedily in execution will suffice to recover us and set all right; and there will want at no time who are good at circumstances, but men who set their minds on main matters, and sufficiently urge them in these most difficult times, I find not many. What I have spoken is the language of that which is not called amiss; “ The Good old Cause"; if it seem strange to any, it will not seem more strange, I hope, than convincing to backsliders. Thus much I should perhaps have said, though I were sure I should have spoken only to trees and stones; and had none to cry to but with the prophet “O earth, earth, earth!” to tell the very soil itself what her perverse inhabitants are deaf to. Nay, though what I have spoke should happen (which thou suffer not, who did'st create mankind free! Nor thou next, who did'st redeem us from being servants of men,) to be the last words of our expiring liberty. But I trust I shall have spoken persuasion to abundance of sensible and ingenuous men; to some, perhaps, whom God may raise to these stones to become children of reviving liberty; and may reclaim though they seem now choosing them a captain back for Egypt, to bethink themselves a little, and consider whither they are rushing; to exhort this torrent also of the people not to be so impetuous, but to keep their due channel, and at length recovering and uniting their better resolutions, now that they see already how open and unbounded the insolence and rage is of our common enemies, to stay these ruinous proceedings, justly and timely fearing to what a precipice of destruction the deluge of this epidemic madness would hurry us, through the general defection of a misguided and abused multitude.' (Works, pp. 451-2.)

SECTION II. THE SUBJECT.

And yet Milton's own experience might well have made him mistrustful of his conceptions of the future. The attempt made to reimpose restrictions upon the freedom of expressed thought, against which he raises his voice in the Areopagitica with so noble a vehemence, so that it will still be heard to the very end of time, was only too significant of the temper and tendencies of the Presbyterian rule that then lay upon his country. From the meeting of the Long Parliament in November, 1640, to June, 1643, the Press had been practically freel. Even the custom of registering publications in the books of the Stationers' Company had been widely neglected. On June 14, 1643, the following Ordinance was ordered by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament:

"An Order of the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, for the Regulating of Printing, and for suppressing the great late abuses and frequent disorders in Printing many false, Scandalous, Seditious, Libellous, and unlicensed Pamphlets, to the great defamation of Religion and Government.

· Also, authorizing the Masters & Wardens of the Company of Stationers to make diligent search, seize and carry away all such Books as they shall finde Printed, or reprinted by any man having no lawfull interest in them, being entred into the Hall Book to any other man as his proper Copies.

'Die Mercurii. 14 June. 1643.-Ordered by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament that this Order shall be forthwith printed and published.- J. Brown Cler. Parliamentorum: Hen. "Elsing Cler. D. Com 2.

'Die Mercurii, 14 Junii. 1643. 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 Sta

6

1 See Masson's Life of John Milton and History of his Time, iii. 265

et seq.

[ocr errors]

2 LONDON, Printed for I. Wright in the Old-baily, Iune 16, 1643.' See Arber's Areopagitica, pp. 25-8.

[ocr errors]

tioners, 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, as well 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 any, 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 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 entred, 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 the said 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, and assisting to the foresaid persons in the due execution of all, and singular the premisses and in the apprehension of all Offenders against the same.

And in case of opposition to break open Doores and Locks.

"And it is 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.

FINIS.'

For some account of the previous history of Book-censorship the reader may be referred to the Areopagitica itself, where, in the opening part of his argument, Milton rapidly surveys the conduct of other countries and times in this respect'. It is clear that books enjoyed an immunity from restriction in the Middle Ages, only because they were held to be of comparatively slight account. soon as ever their influence began to extend, and the printing press to multiply copies without limit, so soon were they regarded withi jealous eyes and threatened with a rigorous supervision. From the close of the fifteenth century a formal censorship became a more and more common institution.

“The oldest mandate, for appointing a book-censor,' says Beckmann, ‘is, as far as I know at present, that issued by Berthold, Archbishop of Mentz, in the year 1486, and which may be found in the fourth volume of Guden's Codex Diplomaticus. In the year 1501, Pope Alexander VI. published a bull, the first part of which may form an excellent companion to the mandate of the Archbishop of Mentz. After some complaints against the devil, who sows tares among the wheat, his holiness proceeds thus :“Having been informed that, by means of the said art, many books and treatises containing various errors and pernicious doctrines, even hostile to the holy Christian religion, have been printed, and are still printed in various parts of the world, particularly in the provinces of Cologne, Mentz, Trier, and Magdeburg : and being desirous, without further delay, to put a stop to this detestable evil, we, by these presents, and by authority of the Apostolic Chamber, strictly forbid all printers, their servants, and those exercising the art of printing under them, in any manner whatsoever, in the abovesaid provinces, under pain of excommunication, and a pecuniary fine, to be imposed and exacted by our venerable brethren the Archbishops of Cologne, Mentz, Triers, and Magdeburg, and their vicars-general or official in spirituals, according to the pleasure of each in his own province, to print hereafter any books, treatises, or writings, until they have consulted on this subject the archbishops, vicars, or officials above-mentioned, and obtained their special and express

See also Standard Library Cyclop. s. v. Press Censorship; Beckmann's Hist. of Inventions, on Book Censors, and on Exclusive Privilege for Printing Books (ii. 512-522, of the 4th Engl. edit.); Knight's London, vol. 5, The Old London Booksellers ; Hart's Index Expurgatorius Angli Parts i and ii ; Hallam's Constitut. Hist. of Engl. passim ; D'Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature, on Licensers of the Press; Hunt's Fourth Estate, 1850, &c.

b

« PreviousContinue »