Page images
PDF
EPUB

his liege tombs about him, should lend them voices from the dead to swell their number.

And if the men be erroneous who appear to be the leading schismatics, what withholds us but our sloth, our self-will, and distrust in the right cause, that we do not give them gentle meetings and gentle dismissions, that we debate not and examine the matter thoroughly with liberal and frequent audience; if not for their sakes yet for our own? Seeing no man who hath tasted learning, but will confess the many ways of profiting by those who, not contented with stale receipts, are able to manage and set forth new positions to the world. And were they but as the dust and cinders of our feet, so long as in that notion they may yet serve to polish and brighten the armoury of truth, even for that respect they were not utterly to be cast away. But if they be of those whom God hath fitted for the special use of these times with eminent and ample gifts, and those perhaps neither among the priests, nor among the pharisees, and we, in the haste of a precipitant zeal, shall make no distinction, but resolve to stop their mouths, because we fear they come with new and dangerous opinions, as we commonly forejudge them ere we understand them; no less than woe to us, while, thinking thus to defend the gospel, we are found the persecutors !

There have been not a few since the beginning of this par. liament, both of the presbytery and others, who by their unlicensed 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 persuaders 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 Jonn, who was so ready to prohibit those whom he thought unlicensed, be not enough to admonish our elders how unacceptable to God their testy mood of prohibiting is ; if neither their own remembrance what evil hath abounded in the church by this lett of licensing, and what good they themselves have begun by transgressing it, be not enough, but that they will persuade 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 unequal distribution in

the first place to suppress the suppressors themselves; whom the change of their condition hath puffed up, more than their late experience of harder times hath made wise.

And as for regulating the press, let no man think to have the honour of advising ye better than yourselves have done in that order published next before this, “ That no book be printed, unless the printer's and the author's name, or at least the printer's be registered.” Those which otherwise come forth, if they be found mischievous and libellous, the fire and the executioner will be the timeliest and the most effectual remedy that man's prevention can use. For this authentic Spanish policy of licensing books, if I have said aught, will prove the most unlicensed book itself within a short while; and was the immediate image of a star-chamber decree to that purpose made in those times when that court did the rest of those her pious works, for which she is now fallen from the stars with Lucifer. Whereby ye may guess what kind of state prudence, what love of the people, what care of religion or good manners there was at the contriving, although with singular hypocrisy 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 believe those men whose profession gives thein cause to inquire most, it may be doubted there was in it the fraud of some old patentees and monopolizers, in the trade of bookselling; who, under pretence of the poor in their company not to be defrauded, and the just retaining of each man his several copy, (which God forbid should be gainsaid,) brought divers glossing 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 do not therefore labour in an honest profession, to which learning is indebted, that they should be made other men's vassals. Another end is thought was aimed at by some of them in procuring by petition this order, that having power in their hands, malignant books might the easier escape abroad, as the event shews. But of these sophisms and elenchs of merchandise 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 mişinformed, and much the sooner, if liberty of printing be reduced into the power of a few? But

to redress willingly and speedily what hath been erred, and in highest authority to esteem a plain advertisement more than others have done a sumptuous bride, is a virtue (honoured lords and commons !) answerable to your highest actions, and whereof none can participate but greatest and wisest men. *

* Dr. Birch observes that the Areopagitica had not the proper effect on the Presbyterians, who had, at that time, the ascendant, and were as tena. cious of continuing the restraints upon others, as they had been loud in their complaints of them, when imposed upon themselves. According to Toland, however, (Life of Milton, p. 23,) the effect of the speech was such, that even one of the licensers themselves, called Mabbot, having assigned his reasons, retired from the office, in 1645. But this, it appears from Whitelocke, (Memorials, fc. p. 403, Lond. 1732,) is erroneous; for Mabbot did not retire till May 22, 1649: when, upon his desire and reasonings against licensing of books to be printed, he was discharged of that employ. ment. And we find a particular account of the affair in a weekly paper, in quarto, entitled, A perfect diurnal of some passages in Parliament, and the daily proceedings of the army, under his excellency the Lord Fairfax, from May 21 to May 28, 1649, Vo. 304, where, p. 2531, we read as fol. lows: "Mr. Mabbot hath long desired several members of the house, and lately the council of state, to move the house that he might be discharged of licensing books for the future, for the reasons following: viz. Because many thousands of scandalous and malignant pamphlets have been published with his name thereunto, as if he had licensed the same, (though he never saw them) on purpose (as he conceives) to prejudice him in his reputation amongst the honest party of this nation. II. Because that employment (he conceives) is unjust and illegal, as to the ends of its first institú. tion, viz., to stop the press fronı publishing anything that might discover the corruption of church and state, in the time of popery, episcopacy, and tyranny; the better to keep the people in ignorance, and carry on their popish, factious, and tyrannical designs, for the enslaving and destruction both of the bodies and souls of all the free people of this nation. III. Because licensing is as great a monopoly as ever was in this nation, in that all men's judgments, reasons, &c., are to be bound up in the licenser's (as to licensing); for if the author of any sheet, book, or treatise, write not to please the fancy, and come within the compass of the licenser's judgment, then he is not to receive any stamp of authority for publishing thereof. IV. Because it is lawful (in his judgment) to print any book, sheet, &c., without licensing, so as the author and printers do subscribe their true names thereunto, that so they may be liable to answer the contents thereof; and if they offend therein, then to be punished by such laws as are or shall be for those cases provided. A commiitee of the Council of State being satisfied with these and other reasons of Mr. Mabbot concern. ing licensing, the Council of State reports to the house: upon which, the house ordered this day that the said Mr. Mabbot be discharged of licensing books for the future."--ED.

TRACTS ON THE COMMONWEALTH.

EDITOR'S PRELIMINARY REMARKS. DURING the confusion and disorders of the year 1659, when, after the death of Cromwell, notwithstanding a republican majority in the parliament, the partisans of the Stuarts, in conjunction with the dregs of the populace, clamoured for the restoration of the exiled family, Milton, inspired with shame and indignation by the relapse of his countrymen, or a large portion of them at least, into their old passion for servitude, composed the following pieces, in which he warns the nation against their fatal error, foretells the evils they would inevitably bring upon themselves, and to which they should see no end, but by undoing what they were now so eager to accomplish. His prophecy was fulfiiled to the letter; and, after a disgraceful interval of twentyeight years, the Stuarts, together with the doctrines of the divine right of kings and passive obedience, were finally banished together from these realms in 1688. The first of these tracts, Dr. Symmons observes, “ was first published by Toland, and is well worthy of the reader's attention. After an interval of a few months, he inscribed to Monk, who now seemed to command the issue of things, his 'Mode of Establishing a Commonwealth;' a piece intended rather to expose the evils necessarily consequent to the nation's relapse into its old vassalage under kings, and to demonstrate the preference of a republican to a monarchical government, than to propose any just model of a popular constitution."*

LETTER TO A FRIEND

CONCERNING THE
RUPTURES OF THE COMMONWEALTH.

SIR,-Upon the sad and serious discourse which we fell into last night, concerning these dangerous ruptures of the commonwealth, scarce yet in her infancy, which cannot be without some inward flaw in her bowels, I began to consider more intensely thereon than hitherto I have been wont, resigning myself to the wisdom and care of those who had the government; and not finding that either God or the public required more of me than my prayers for them that govern. And since you have not only stirred up my thoughts, by acquainting me with the state of affairs more inwardly than I knew before; but also have desired me to set down my opinion thereof, trusting to your ingenuity, I shall give you freely my

* Life of Milton, p. 477.

apprehension, both of our present evils, and what expedients, if God in mercy regard us, may remove them.

I will begin with telling you how I was overjoyed, when I heard that the army, under the working of God's Holy Spirit, as I thought, and still hope well, had been so far wrought to Christian humility, and self-denial, as to confess in public their backsliding from the good old cause, and to shew the fruits of their repentance, in the righteousness of their restoring the old famous parliament, which they had without just authority dissolved. I call it the famous parliament, though not the harmless, since none well-affected but will confess, they have deserved much more of these nations, than they have undeserved. And I persuade me, that God was pleased with their restitution, signing it, as he did, with such a signal victory, when so great a part of the nation were desperately conspired to call back again their Egyptian bondage.

So much the more it now amazes me, that they, whose lips were yet scarce closed from giving thanks for that great deliverance, should be now relapsing, and so soon again backsliding into the same fault, which they confessed so lately and so solemnly to God and the world, and more lately punished in those Cheshire rebels; that they should now dissolve that parliament, which they themselves re-established, and acknowledged for their supreme power in their other day's humble representation: and all this, for no apparent cause of public concernment to the church or commonwealth, but only for discommissioning nine great officers in the army; which had not been done, as is reported, but upon notice of their intentions against the parliament.

I presume not to give my censure on this action, not knowing, as yet I do not, the bottom of it. I speak only what it appears to us without doors, till better cause be declared, and I am sure to all other nations most illegal and scandalous, I fear me barbarous, or rather scarce to be exampled among any barbarians, that a paid army should, for no other cause, thus subdue the supreme power that set them up. This, I say, other nations will judge to the sad dishonour of that army, lately so renowned for the civilest and best ordered in the world, and by us here at home, for the most conscientious. Certainly, if the great officers and soldiers of the Holland, French, or Venetian forces, should thus sit in council, and

« PreviousContinue »