09/03: Milton, Areopagitica

Source: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/areopagitica/




This is true Liberty when free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserv’s high praise,
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;
What can be juster in a State then this?

Eurip. Hicetid.

For the Liberty of unlicenc’d Printing.

They who to States and Governours of the Commonwealth direct their Speech, High Court
of Parlament, or wanting such accesse in a private condition, write that which they
foresee may advance the publick good; I suppose them as at the beginning of no meane
endeavour, not a little alter’d and mov’d inwardly in their mindes: Some with doubt
of what will be the successe, others with fear of what will be the censure; some with
hope, others with confidence of what they have to speake. And me perhaps each of these
dispositions, as the subject was whereon I enter’d, may have at other times variously
affected; and likely might in these formost expressions now also disclose which of
them sway’d most, but that the very attempt of this addresse thus made, and the thought
of whom it hath recourse to, hath got the power within me to a passion, farre more
welcome then incidentall to a Preface. Which though I stay not to confesse ere any
aske, I shall be blamelesse, if it be no other, then the joy and gratulation which
it brings to all who wish and promote their Countries liberty; whereof this whole
Discourse propos’d will be a certaine testimony, if not a Trophey. For this is not
the liberty which wee can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the Commonwealth,
that let no man in this World expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply
consider’d and speedily reform’d, then is the utmost bound of civill liberty attain’d,
that wise men looke for.

. . . If ye be thus resolv’d, as it were injury to think ye were not; I know not what should
withhold me from presenting ye with fit instance wherein to shew both that love of
truth which ye eminently professe, and that uprightnesse of your judgement which is
not wont to be partiall to your selves; by judging over again that Order which ye
have ordain’d to regulate Printing, That no Book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth
Printed, unlesse the same be first approv’d and licenc’t by such, or at least one
of such as shall be thereto appointed. For that part which preserves justly every
mans Copy to himselfe, or provides for the poor, I touch not, only wish they be not
made pretenses to abuse and persecute honest and painfull Men, who offend not in either
of these particulars. But that other clause of Licencing Books, which we thought had
dy’d with his brother quadragesimal and matrimonial when the Prelats expir’d, I shall
now attend with such a Homily, as shall lay before ye, first the inventors of it to
bee those whom ye will be loath to own; next what is to be thought in generall of
reading, what ever sort the Books be; and that this Order avails nothing to the suppressing
of scandalous, seditious, and libellous Books, which were mainly intended to be supprest.
Last, that it will be primely to the discouragement of all learning, and the stop
of Truth, not only by disexercising and blunting our abilities in what we know already,
but by hindring and cropping the discovery that might bee yet further made both in
religious and civill Wisdome.

. . . I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth,
to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter
to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are
not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active
as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest
efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are
as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being
sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man
kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills
reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a
burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit,
imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis true, no age can
restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do
not oft recover the losse 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 publick men, how we spill that season’d life of man preserv’d and
stor’d up in Books; since we see a kinde of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes
a martyrdome, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof
the execution ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that ethereall
and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe, slaies an immortality rather then
a life. But lest I should be condemn’d of introducing licence, while I oppose Licencing,
I refuse not the paines to be so much Historicall, as will serve to shew what hath
been done by ancient and famous Commonwealths, against this disorder, till the very
time that this project of licencing crept out of the Inquisition, was catcht up by
our Prelates, and hath caught some of our Presbyters.

. . . If every action which is good, or evill in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance,
and prescription, and compulsion, what were vertue but a name, what praise could be
then due to well-doing, what gramercy to be sober, just or continent? many there be
that complain of divin Providence for suffering Adam to transgresse, foolish tongues!
when God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing;
he had bin else a meer artificiall Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We
our selves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force: God
therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes
herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence.
Wherefore did he creat passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these
rightly temper’d are the very ingredients of vertu? They are not skilfull considerers
of human things, who imagin to remove sin by removing the matter of sin; for, besides
that it is a huge heap increasing under the very act of diminishing, though some part
of it may for a time be withdrawn from some persons, it cannot from all, in such a
universall thing as books are; and when this is done, yet the sin remains entire.
Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewell left, ye
cannot bereave him of his covetousnesse. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth
into the severest discipline that can be exercis’d in any hermitage, ye cannot make
them chaste, that came not thither so: such great care and wisdom is requir’d to the
right managing of this point. Suppose we could expell sin by this means; look how
much we thus expell of sin, so much we expell of vertue: for the matter of them both
is the same; remove that, and ye remove them both alike. This justifies the high providence
of God, who though he command us temperance, justice, continence, yet powrs out before us ev’n to a profusenes all desirable things, and gives us minds that can wander beyond all limit and satiety. Why should we then affect a rigour contrary to the manner of
God and of nature, by abridging or scanting those means, which books freely permitted
are, both to the triall of vertue and the exercise of truth. It would be better done
to learn that the law must needs be frivolous which goes to restrain things, uncertainly
and yet equally working to good, and to evill. And were I the chooser, a dram of well-doing
should be preferr’d before many times as much the forcible hindrance of evill-doing.
For God sure esteems the growth and compleating of one vertuous person, more then
the restraint of ten vitious. And albeit whatever thing we hear or see, sitting, walking,
travelling, or conversing may be fitly call’d our book, and is of the same effect
that writings are, yet grant the thing to be prohibited were only books, it appears
that this order hitherto is far insufficient to the end which it intends. Do we not
see, not once or oftner, but weekly that continu’d Court-libell against the Parlament
and City, Printed, as the wet sheets can witnes, and dispers’t among us, for all that
licencing can doe. yet this is the prime service a man would think, wherein this order
should give proof of it self. If it were executed, you’l say. But certain, if execution
be remisse or blindfold now, and in this particular, what will it be hereafter and
in other books? If then the order shall not be vain and frustrat, behold a new labour,
Lords and Commons, ye must repeal and proscribe all scandalous and unlicenc’t books
already printed and divulg’d; after ye have drawn them up into a list, that all may
know which are condemn’d, and which not; and ordain that no forrein books be deliver’d
out of custody, till they have bin read over. This office will require the whole time
of not a few overseers, and those no vulgar men. There be also books which are partly
usefull and excellent, partly culpable and pernicious; this work will ask as many
more officials, to make expurgations, and expunctions, that the Commonwealth of Learning
be not damnify’d. In fine, when the multitude of books encrease upon their hands,
ye must be fain to catalogue all those Printers who are found frequently offending,
and forbidd the importation of their whole suspected typography.

. . . When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditats, is industrious, and likely consults and conferrs with
his judicious friends; after all which done he takes himself to be inform’d in what
he writes, as well as any that writ before him; if in this the most consummat act
of his fidelity and ripenesse, 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,
unlesse he carry all his considerat diligence, all his midnight watchings, and expence
of Palladian oyl, to the hasty view of an unleasur’d licencer, perhaps much his younger,
perhaps far his inferiour in judgement, perhaps one who never knew the labour of book-writing, and if he be not repulst, or slighted, must appear in Print like a punie with his
guardian, and his censors hand on the back of his title to be his bayl and surety,
that he is no idiot, or seducer, it cannot be but a dishonour and derogation to the
author, to the book, to the priviledge and dignity of Learning. And what if the author
shall be one so copious of fancie, as to have many things well worth the adding, come
into his mind after licencing, while the book is yet under the Presse, which not seldom
happ’ns to the best and diligentest writers; and that perhaps a dozen times in one
book. The Printer dares not go beyond his licenc’t copy; so often then must the author
trudge to his leav-giver, that those his new insertions may be viewd; and many a jaunt
will be made, ere that licencer, for it must be the same man, can either be found,
or found at leisure; mean while either the Presse must stand still, which is no small
damage, or the author loose his accuratest thoughts, & send the book forth wors then
he had made it, which to a diligent writer is the greatest melancholy and vexation
that can befall. And how can a man teach with autority, which is the life of teaching,
how can he be a Doctor in his book as he ought to be, or else had better be silent,
whenas all he teaches, all he delivers, is but under the tuition, under the correction
of his patriarchal licencer to blot or alter what precisely accords not with the hidebound
humor which he calls his judgement. When every acute reader upon the first sight of
a pedantick licence, will be ready with these like words to ding the book a coits
distance from him, I hate a pupil teacher, I endure not an instructer that comes to
me under the wardship of an overseeing fist. I know nothing of the licencer, but that
I have his own hand here for his arrogance; who shall warrant me his judgement? The
State Sir, replies the Stationer, but has a quick return, The State shall be my governours,
but not my criticks; they may be mistak’n in the choice of a licencer, as easily as
this licencer may be mistak’n in an author: This is some common stuffe: and he might
adde from Sir Francis Bacon, That such authoriz’d books are but the language of the
times. For though a licencer should happ’n to be judicious more then ordnary, which
will be a great jeopardy of the next succession, yet his very office and his commission
enjoyns him to let passe nothing but what is vulgarly receiv’d already. Nay, which
is more lamentable, if the work of any deceased author, though never so famous in
his life time, and even to this day, come to their hands for licence to be Printed,
or Reprinted, if there be found in his book one sentence of a ventrous edge, utter’d
in the height of zeal, and who knows whether it might not be the dictat of a divine
Spirit, yet not suiting with every low decrepit humor of their own, though it were
Knox himself, the Reformer of a Kingdom that spake it, they will not pardon him their
dash: the sense of that great man shall to all posterity be lost, for the fearfulnesse
or the presumptuous rashnesse of a perfunctory licencer. And to what an author this
violence hath bin lately done, and in what book of greatest consequence to be faithfully
publisht, I could now instance, but shall forbear till a more convenient season. Yet
if these things be not resented seriously and timely by them who have the remedy in
their power, but that such iron moulds as these shall have autority to knaw out the
choicest periods of exquisitest books, and to commit such a treacherous fraud against
the orphan remainders of worthiest men after death, the more sorrow will belong to
that haples race of men, whose misfortune it is to have understanding. Henceforth
let no man care to learn, or care to be more then worldly wise; for certainly in higher
matters to be ignorant and slothfull, to be a common stedfast dunce will be the only
pleasant life, and only in request.

. . . There have bin not a few since the beginning of this Parlament, both of the Presbytery
and others who by their unlicen’t books to the contempt of an Imprimatur first broke
that triple ice clung about our hearts, and taught the people to see day: I hope that
none of those were the perswaders to renew upon us this bondage which they themselves
have wrought so much good by contemning. But if neither the check that Moses gave
to young Joshua, nor the countermand which our Saviour gave to young John, who was
so ready to prohibit those whom he thought unlicenc’t, be not anough to admonish our
Elders how unacceptable to God their testy mood of prohibiting is, if neither their
own remembrance what evill hath abounded in the Church by this lett of licencing,
and what good they themselves have begun by transgressing it, be not anough, but that
they will perswade, and execute the most Dominican part of the Inquisition over us,
and are already with one foot in the stirrup so active at suppressing, it would be
no unequall distribution in the first place to suppresse the suppressors themselves;
whom the change of their condition hath puft up, more then their late experience of
harder times hath made wise.

And as for regulating the Presse, let no man think to have the honour of advising
ye better then your selves have done in that Order publisht next before this, that
no book be Printed, unlesse the Printers and the Authors name, or at least the Printers
be register’d. Those which otherwise come forth, if they be found mischievous and
libellous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectuall
remedy, that mans prevention can use. For this authentic Spanish policy of licencing
books, if I have said aught, will prove the most unlicenc’t book it self within a
short while; and was the immediat image of a Star-chamber decree to that purpose made
in those very times when that Court did the rest of those her pious works, for which
she is now fall’n from the Starres with Lucifer. Whereby ye may guesse what kinde
of State prudence, what love of the people, what care of Religion, or good manners
there was at the contriving, although with singular hypocrisie it pretended to bind
books to their good behaviour. And how it got the upper hand of your precedent Order
so well constituted before, if we may beleeve those men whose profession gives them
cause to enquire most, it may be doubted there was in it the fraud of some old patentees
and monopolizers in the trade of book-selling; who under pretence of the poor in their
Company not to be defrauded, and the just retaining of each man his severall copy,
which God forbid should be gainsaid, brought divers glosing colours to the House,
which were indeed but colours, and serving to no end except it be to exercise a superiority
over their neighbours, men who doe not therefore labour in an honest profession to
which learning is indetted, that they should be made other mens vassalls. Another
end is thought was aym’d at by some of them in procuring by petition this Order, that
having power in their hands, malignant books might the easier scape abroad, as the
event shews. But of these Sophisms and Elenchs of marchandize I skill not: This I
know, that errors in a good government and in a bad are equally almost incident; for
what Magistrate may not be mis-inform’d, and much the sooner, if liberty of Printing
be reduc’t into the power of a few; but to redresse willingly and speedily what hath
bin err’d, and in highest autority to esteem a plain advertisement more then others
have done a sumptuous bribe, is a vertue (honour’d Lords and Commons) answerable to
Your highest actions, and whereof none can participat but greatest and wisest men.


6 thoughts on “09/03: Milton, Areopagitica

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