« PreviousContinue »
mate 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, it cannot but be a dishonour and derogation to the author, to the book, to the privilege and dignity of learning.
Nor is it to the common people less a reproach; for if we be so jealous over 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 state 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 cannot pretend. Wisdom we cannot call it, because it stops but one breach of license, nor that neither: those corruptions which it seeks to prevent, break in faster at doors which cannot be shut. He who were pleasantly disposed could not avoid to liken it to the exploit of that gallant man, who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park gate.
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.
I could recount what I have seen and heard in countries where this kind of inquisition tyrannises; when I have sat among their learned men, who 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.
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 punishment of wits enhances their authority,' said 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.'
When God shakes a kingdom, with strong and healthful commotions, to a general reforming, it is not untrue that many sectaries and false teachers are then busiest in seducing; but yet more true it is, that God then raises to his own work men of rare abilities, and more than common industry, not only to look back and revise what hath been taught heretofore, but to gain further, and go on some new enlightened steps in the discovery of truth.
If any one would write and bring his helpful hand to the slow moving reformation which we labour under, if Truth have spoken to him before others, or but seemed at least to speak, who hath so bejesuited us that we should trouble that man with asking license to do so worthy a deed; and not consider, that if it come to prohibiting, there is not aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself, whose first appearance to our eyes, bleared and dimmed with prejudice and custom, is more unsightly and unplausible than many
errours? And what do they vainly tell us of new opinions, when this very opinion of theirs, that none must be heard but whom they like, is the worst and newest opinion of all others, and is the chief cause why sects and schisms do so much abound, and true knowledge is kept at a distance.
When the cheerfulness of the people is so ́sprightly up, as that it has not only wherewithal 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 betokens 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 prósperous virtue, destined to become great and honourable 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 mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her endazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight, at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous 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.
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 to bring a famine upon our minds, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel?
Believe it, lords and commons, they who counsel you to such a suppressing of [books], do as good, bid you 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 cannot be assigned a truer than your own mild, and free, and humane government. It is Liberty which is the nurse of all great wits: this is that which bath 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 cannot make us now less capable, less knowing, less eagerly prizing of the truth, unless you first make yourselves, who made us so, less the founders of our true liberty. We can grow ignorant again, brutish, formal, and slavish, as you found us; but you must first become that which you cannot 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 greatest and exactest things, is the issue of your own virtue propagated in us. Although I dispraise not the defence of just immunities; yet give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely, according to conscience, above all liberties.
As good almost kill a man as kill a 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, embalmed and treasured up on pur
pose 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 labours of public men, how we spill 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 slay. ing of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and sift essense, the breath of reason itself, slays an immortality rather than a life. Milton.
OF THE BRAVERY OF ENGLISH SOLDIERS. By those who have compared the military genius of the English with that of the French nation, it is remarked, that the French officers will always lead, if the soldiers will follow;' and that the English soldiers will always follow, if their officers will lead.'
In all pointed sentences some degree of accuracy must be sacrificed to conciseness; and, in this comparison, our officers seem to lose what our soldiers gain. I know not any reason for supposing that the English officers are less willing than the French to lead; but it is, I think, universally allowed, that the English soldiers are more willing to follow. Our nation may boast, beyond any other people in the world, of a kind