Page images
PDF
EPUB

""

Thus the books of Protagoras were by the judges of Areopagus commanded to be burnt, and himself banish-' ed the territory for a difcourfe, begun with his confeffing not to know, "whether there were gods, or whether And against defaming, it was agreed that none fhould be traduced by name, as was the manner of Vetus Comoedia, whereby we may guefs how they cenfured libelling; and this courfe was quick enough, as Cicero writes, to quell both the defperate wits of other atheists, and the open way of defaming, as the event fhowed. Of other fects and opinions, though tending to voluptuousness, and the denying of divine providence, they took no heed, Therefore we do not read that either Epicurus, or that libertine school of Cyrene, or what the Cynic impudence uttered, was ever queftioned by the laws. Neither is it recorded, that the writings of those old comedians were fuppreffed, though the acting of them were forbid; and that Plato commended the reading of Ariftophanes, the loofeft of them all, to his royal fcholar Dionyfius, is commonly known, and may be excufed, if holy Chryfoftom, as is reported, nightly ftudied fo much the fame author, and had the art to cleanfe a fcurrilous vehemence into the ftyle of a roufing fermon. That other leading city of Greece, Lacedæmon, confidering that Lycurgus their lawgiver was fo addicted to elegant learning, as to have been the first that brought out of Ionia the scattered works of Homer, and fent the poet Thales from Crete to prepare and mollify the Spartan furlinefs with his fmooth fongs and odes, the better to plant among them law and civility; it is to be wondered how museless and unbookish they were, minding nought but the feats of There needed no licenfing of books among them, for they difliked all but their own laconic apophthegms, and took a flight occafion to chafe Archilocus out of their city, perhaps for compofing in a higher ftrain than their own foldiery, ballads, and roundels, could reach to; or if it were for his broad verses, they were not therein fo cautious, but they were as diffolute in their promifcuous converfing; whence Euripides affirms in Andromache, that their women were all unchafte. Thus much may give us light after what fort of books were prohibited among U 2

war.

the

[ocr errors]

the Greeks. The Romans alfo for many ages many ages trained up only to a military roughness, resembling moft the Lacedæmonian guife, knew of learning little but what their twelve tables and the pontific college with their augurs and flamins taught them in religion and law; fo unacquainted with other learning, that when Carneades and Critolaus, with the ftoic Diogenes, coming embassadors to Rome, took thereby occafion to give the city a tafte of their philofophy, they were fufpected for feducers by no less a man than Cato the cenfor, who moved it in the fenate to difmifs them fpeedily, and to banish all fuch Attic babblers out of Italy. But Scipio and others of the noblest senators with ftood him and his old Sabin aufterity; honoured and admired the men; and the cenfor himself at laft, in his old age, fell to the study of that whereof before he was fo fcrupulous. And yet at the fame time, Nævius and Plautus, the first Latin comedians, had filled the city with all the borrowed fcenes of Menander and Philemon. Then began to be confidered there also what was to be done to libellous books and authors; for Nævius was quickly caft into prison for his unbridled pen, and released by the tribunes upon his recantation; we read also that libels were burnt, and the makers punished by Auguftus. The like feverity, no doubt, was used, if aught were impioufly written against their efteemed gods. Except in these two points, how the world went in books, the magiftrate kept no reckoning. And therefore Lucretius, without impeachment, verfifies his Epicurifm to Memmius, and had the honour to be fet forth the fecond time by Cicero, fo great a father of the commonwealth,; although himself disputes against that opinion in his own writings. Nor was the fatirical fharpnefs or naked plainnefs of Lucilius, or Catullus, or Flaccus, by any order prohibited. And for matters of state, the ftory of Titus Livius, though it extolled that part which Pompey held, was not therefore fuppreffed by Octavius Cæfar, of the other faction. But that Nafo was by him banished in his old age, for the wanton poems of his youth, was but a mere covert of ftate over fome fecret caufe; and befides, the books were neither banished nor called in. From hence we fhall meet with

little else but tyranny in the Roman empire, that we may not marvel, if not fo often bad as good books were filenced. I fhall therefore deem to have been large enough, in producing what among the ancients was pu nifhable to write, fave only which, all other arguments were free to treat on.

By this time the emperors were become chriftians, whose discipline in this point I do not find to have been more fevere than what was formerly in practice. The books of those whom they took to be grand heretics were examined, refuted, and condemned in the general councils; and not till then were prohibited, or burnt by authority of the emperor. As for the writings of heathen authors, unless they were plain invectives against christianity, as those of Porphyrius and Proclus, they met with no interdict that can be cited, till about the year 400, in a Carthaginian council, wherein bishops themfelves were forbid to read the books of gentiles, but herefies they might read; while others long before them on the contrary fcrupled more the books of heretics, than of gentiles. And that the primitive councils and bishops were wont only to declare what books were not commendable, paffing no further, but leaving it to each one's conscience to read or to lay by, till after the year 800, is observed already by Padre Paolo the great unmasker of the Trentine council. After which time the popes of Rome, engroffing what they pleased of political rule into their own hands, extended their dominion over men's eyes, as they had before over their judgments, burning and prohibiting to be read what they fancied not; yet fparing in their cenfures, and the books not many which they fo dealt with; till Martin the fifth, by his bull not only prohibited, but was the firft that excommunicated the reading of heretical books; for about that timé Wickliffe and Huffe growing terrible were they who firft drove the papal court to a ftricter policy of prohibit ing. Which courfe Leo the tenth and his fucceffors followed, until the council of Trent, and the Spanish inquifition engendering together brought forth or perfected those catalogues and expurging indexes, that rake through the entrails of many an old good author, with U 3 a viola

a violation worse than any could be offered to his tomb. Nor did they stay in matters heretical, but any subject, that was not to their palate, they either condemned in a prohibition, or had it ftraight into the new Purgatory of an index. To fill up the measure of encroachment, their laft invention was to ordain that no book, pamphlet, or paper, fhould be printed (as if St. Peter had bequeathed them the keys of the prefs alfo as well as of Paradise) unlefs it were approved and licensed under the hands of two or three gluttonous friars. For example:

Let the chancellor Cini be pleased to fee if in this prefent work be contained aught that may withftand the printing;

Vincent Rabbata, vicar of Florence.

I have feen this prefent work, and find nothing. athwart the catholic faith and good manners; in witness whereof I have given, &c.

Nicolo Cini, chancellor of Florence. Attending the precedent relation, it is allowed that this present work of Davanzati may be printed, Vincent Rabatta, &c.

It

may

be printed, July 15.

Friar Simon Mompei d'Amelia, chancellor of the holy office in Florence.

Sure they have a conceit, if he of the bottomlefs pit had not long fince broke prifon, that this quadruple exorcifm would bar him down. I fear their next defign will be to get into their cuftody the licenfing of that which they fay Claudius intended*, but went not through with. Vouchfafe to fee another of their forms, the Roman ftamp;

Imprimatur, If it seem good to the reverend mafter
of the holy palace,
Belcaftro, vicegerent.

* Quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, Sueton. in Claudio.

Imprimatur,

Imprimatur,

Friar Nicholo Rodolphi master of the holy palace.

Sometimes five imprimaturs are feen together dialogue wife in the piatza of one titlepage, complimenting and ducking each to other with their fhaven reverences, whether the author, who ftands by in perplexity at the foot of his epiftle, shall to the prefs or to the fpunge. These are the pretty refponfories, these are the dear antiphonies, that fo bewitched of late our prelates and their chaplains, with the goodly echo they made; and befotted us to the gay imitation of a lordly imprimatur, one from Lambeth-house, another from the weft end of Paul's; fo apishly romanizing, that the word of command ftill was fet down in Latin; as if the learned grammatical pen that wrote it would caft no ink without Latin; or perhaps, as they thought, because no vulgar tongue was worthy to exprefs the pure conceit of an imprimatur ; but rather, as I hope, for that our English, the language of men ever famous and foremost in the achievements of liberty, will not easily find fervile letters enow to spell fuch a dictatory prefumption englished. And thus ye have the inventors, and the original of book licenfing ripped up and drawn as lineally as any pedigree. We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient ftate, or polity, or church, nor by any statute left us by our anceftors elder or later; nor from the modern cuftom of any reformed city or church abroad; but from the most antichristian council, and the most tyrannous inquifition, that ever inquired. Till then books were ever as freely admitted into the world as any other birth; the iffue of the brain was no more ftifled than the iffue of the womb; no envious Juno fat crofslegged over the nativity of any man's intellectual offspring; but if it proved a monster, who denies but that it was juftly burnt, or funk into the fea? But that a book, in worfe condition than a peccant foul, fhould be to ftand before a jury ere it be born to the world, and undergo yet in darkness the judgment of Radamanth and his colleagues, ere it can pass the ferry backward into light, was never heard before, till that mysterious iniquity, provoked and troubled at the

U A

first

« PreviousContinue »