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FOR THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS
John MILTON The active years of John Milton (1608-1674), Puritan poet and statesman, fell largely in that troubled period of the interregnum. With the possible exception of Shakespeare, Milton is the most sublime poet England has produced. Less widely known than Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and the minor poems are Milton's state papers, defending the government of the Commonwealth, in which he took an active part. His indefatigable labors eventually cost him his sight. The following is the conclusion of his famous Areopagitica (1644), a speech on the freedom of the press, in which the Puritan controversialist grows pardonably vehement.
LORDS and commons of England! con- name of Luther, or of Calvin, had been sider what nation it is whereof ye are, ever known; the glory of reforming all and whereof ye are the governors; a na our neighbors had been completely ours. tion not slow and dull, but of a quick, But now, as our obdurate clergy have ingenious, and piercing spirit; acute to with violence demeaned the matter, we invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, are become hitherto the latest and the not beneath the reach of any point the backwardest scholars of whom God ofhighest that human capacity can soar to. fered to have made us the teachers. Now Therefore the studies of learning in her once again by all concurrence of signs, deepest sciences have been so ancient, and and by the general instinct of holy and so eminent among us, that writers of good devout men, as they daily and solemnly antiquity, and able judgment, have been express their thoughts, God is decreeing persuaded that even the school of Pytha- to begin some new and great period in goras, and the Persian wisdom, took be- his church, even to the reforming of refginning from the old philosophy of this ormation itself. What does he then island. And that wise and civil Roman, but reveal himself to his servants, and as Julius Agricola, who governed once here his manner is, first to his Englishmen? for Caesar, preferred the natural wits of I say as his manner is, first to us, though Britain, before the labored studies of the we mark not the method of his counsels, French. Nor is it for nothing that the and are unworthy. Behold now this vast grave and frugal Transylvania sends city; a city of refuge, the mansion-house out yearly from as far as the mountain- of liberty, encompassed and surrounded ous borders of Russia, and beyond the with his protection; the shop of war hath Hercynian wilderness, not their youth, not ther
not there more anvils and hammers wakbut their staid men, to learn our lan- ing, to fashion out the plates and instruguage, and our theologic arts. Yet that ments of armed justice in defense of bewhich is above all this, the favor and the leaguered truth, than there be pens and love of heaven, we have great argument heads there, sitting by their studious to think in a peculiar manner propitious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new and propending toward us. Why else notions and ideas wherewith to present was this nation chosen before any other, as with their homage and their fealty, the that out of her, as out of Sion, should be approaching reformation; others as fast proclaimed and sounded forth the first reading, trying all things, assenting to tidings and trumpet of reformation to all the force of reason and convincement. Europe? And had it not been the ob- What could a man require more from a stinate perverseness of our prelates against nation, so pliant and so prone to seek the divine and admirable spirit of after knowledge? What wants there to Wickliffe, to suppress him as a schismatic such a towardly and pregnant soil, but and innovator, perhaps neither the Bo- wise and faithful laborers, to make a hemian Huss and Jerome, no, nor the knowing people, a nation of prophets, of
sages, and of worthies? We reckon more artfully together, it cannot be united into than five months yet to harvest; there a continuity, it can but be contiguous in need not be five weeks, had we but eyes this world. Neither can every piece of to lift up; the fields are white already. the building be of one form; nay, rather,
Where there is much desire to learn, the perfection consists in this, that out of there of necessity will be much arguing, many moderate varieties and brotherly much writing, many opinions; for opin- dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproion in good men is but knowledge in the portional, arises the goodly and the gracemaking. Under these fantastic terrors ful symmetry that commends the whole of sect and schism,' we wrong the earn- pile and structure. Let us therefore be est and zealous thirst after knowledge more considerate builders, more wise in and understanding, which God hath spiritual architecture, when great reforstirred up in this city. What some la- mation is expected. For now the time ment of, we rather should rejoice at, seems come, wherein Moses, the great should rather praise this pious forward prophet, may sit in heaven rejoicing to ness among men, to reassume the ill see that memorable and glorious wish of deputed care of their religion into their his fulfilled, when not only our seventy own hands again. A little generous pru- elders, but all the Lord's people are bedence, a little forbearance of one another, come prophets. No marvel then though and some grain of charity might win all some men, and some good men, too, perthese diligences to join, and unite into haps, but young in goodness, as Joshua one general and brotherly search after then was, envy them. They fret, and truth, could we but forego this prelatical out of their own weakness are in agony, tradition of crowding free consciences lest these divisions and subdivisions will and Christian liberties into
and undo us. The adversary again applauds, precepts of men.
and waits the hour. When they have I doubt not, if some great and worthy branched themselves out, saith he, small stranger should come among us, wise to enough into parties and partitions, then discern the mould and temper of a peo- will be our time. Fool! he sees not the ple, and how to govern it, observing firm root, out of which we all grow, the high hopes and aims, the diligent though into branches; nor will beware alacrity of our extended thoughts and until he see our small divided maniples reasonings in the pursuance of truth and cutting through at every angle of his ill freedom, but that he would cry out as united and unwieldy brigade. And that Pyrrhus did, admiring the Roman do- we are to hope better of all these supcility and courage; If such were my posed sects and schisms, and that we shall Epirots, I would not despair the great- not need that solicitude, honest perhaps, est design that could be attempted to though overtimorous, of them that vex in make a church or kingdom happy. Yet this behalf, but shall laugh in the end at these are the men cried out against for those malicious applauders of our differschismatics and sectaries, as if, while ences, I have these reasons to persuade the temple of the Lord was building, some cutting, some squaring the marble, First, when a city shall be as it were others hewing the cedars, there should be besieged and blocked about, her navigable a sort of irrational men, who could not river infested, inroads and incursions consider there must be many schisms and round, defiance and battle oft rumored to many dissections made in the quarry and be marching up even to her walls and in the timber, ere the house of God can suburb trenches, that then the people, or be built. And when every stone is laid the greater part, more than at other times,
wholly taken up with the study of high1 Milton is here defending the forces that were dividing Protestantism into denomina
est and most important matters to be retions.
formed, should be disputing, reasoning,
reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a edge and new light sprung up and yet rarity and admiration, things not before springing daily in this city? Should ye discoursed or written of, argues first a set an oligarchy of twenty engrossers singular good will, contentedness and over it, to bring a famine upon our minds confidence in your prudent foresight and again, when we shall know nothing but safe government, lords and commons! what is measured to us by their bushel ? and from thence derives itself to a gallant Believe it, lords and commons! they who bravery and well grounded contempt of counsel ye to such a suppressing, do as their enemies, as if there were no small good as bid ye suppress yourselves; and I number of as great spirits among us as will soon show how. If it be desired to his was, who, when Rome was nigh be- know the immediate cause of all this sieged by Hannibal, being in the city, free writing and free speaking, there canbought that piece of ground at no cheap not be assigned a truer than your own rate, whereon Hannibal himself
en- mild, and free, and humane government; camped his own regiment.
it is the liberty, lords and commons ! Next, it is a lively and cheerful presage which your own valorous and happy of our happy success and victory.
counsels have purchased us; liberty which in a body when the blood is fresh, the is the nurse of all great wits; this is that spirits pure and vigorous, not only to which hath rarified and enlightened our vital, but to rational faculties, and those spirits like the influence of heaven; this is in the acutest and the pertest operations that which hath enfranchised, enlarged, of wit and subtlety, it argues in what good and lifted up our apprehensions degrees plight and constitution the body is; so above themselves. Ye cannot make us when the cheerfulness of the people is so now less capable, less knowing, less eagsprightly up as that it has not only erly pursuing of the truth, unless ye first wherewith to guard well its own freedom make yourselves that made us so, less the and safety, but to spare, and to bestow lovers, less the founders of our true libupon the solidest and sublimest points of erty. We can grow ignorant again, controversy and new invention, it be- brutish, formal, and slavish, as ye found tokens us not degenerated, nor drooping us; but you then must first become that to a fatal decay, by casting off the old which ye cannot be, oppressive, arbitrary, and wrinkled skin of corruption to out- and tyrannous,
they were from live these pangs, and wax young again, whom ye have freed us. That our hearts entering the glorious ways of truth and are now more capacious, our thoughts prosperous virtue, destined to become
more erected to the search and expectagreat and honorable in these latter ages. tion of greatest and exactest things, is the Methinks I see in my mind a noble and issue of your own virtue propagated in puissant nation, rousing herself like a us; ye cannot suppress that, unless ye restrong man after sleep, and shaking her inforce an abrogated and merciless law, invincible locks; methinks I see her as an that fathers may dispatch at will their eagle, mewing her mighty youth, and own children. And who shall then stick kindling her undazzled eyes at the full closest to ye and excite others ? Not he mid-day beam, purging and unscaling her who takes up arms for coat and conduct, long abused sight at the fountain itself of and his four nobles of Danegelt; alheavenly radiance, while the whole noise though I dispraise not the defence of just of timorous and flocking birds with those immunities, yet love my peace better, if also that love the twilight, Autter about, that were all. Give me the liberty to amazed at what she means, and in their know, to utter, and to argue freely acenvious gabble would prognosticate a cording to conscience, above all liberties. year of sects and schisms.
What would be best advised then, if What should ye do then?
1 The censors that were to pace upon all suppress all this flowery crop of knowl- ' projected books and pamphlets.
it be found so hurtful and so unequal to there is for light and clear knowledge to suppress opinions for the newness, or the be sent down among us, would think of unsuitableness to a customary acceptance, other matters to be constituted beyond the will not be my task to say. I shall only discipline of Geneva, framed and fabrepeat what I have learned from one of ricked already to our hands. Yet when your own honorable number, a right the new light which we beg for, shines noble and pious lord, who, had he not in upon us, there be who envy and oppose, sacrificed his life and fortunes to the if it come not first in at their casements. church and commonwealth, we had not What a collusion is this, when as we are now missed and bewailed a worthy and exhorted by the wise man to use diliundoubted patron of this argument. Ye gence, "to seek for wisdom as for hidden know him, I am sure; yet I for honor's treasures" early and late, that another sake, and may it be eternal to him! shall order shall enjoin us, to know nothing name him, the lord Brook. He, writing but by statute? When a man hath been of episcopacy and by the way treating of laboring the hardest labor in the deep sects and schisms, left ye his vote, or mines of knowledge, hath furnished out rather now the last words of his dying his findings in all their equipage, drawn charge, which I know will ever be of dear forth his reasons as it were a battle and honored regard with ye, so full of ranged, scattered and defeated all objecmeekness and breathing charity, that next tions in his way, calls out his adversary to His last testament, who bequeathed into the plain, offers him the advantage love and peace to his disciples, I cannot of wind and sun, if he please, only that call to mind where I have read or heard he may try the matter by dint of arguwords more mild and peaceful. He there ment, for his opponents then to skulk, to exhorts us to hear with patience and hu- lay ambushments, to keep a mility those, however they may be mis- bridge of licensing where the challenger called, that desire to live purely, in such should pass, though it be valor enough in a use of God's ordinances, as the best soldiership, is but weakness and cowardice guidance of their conscience gives them, in the wars of Truth. For who knows not and to tolerate them, though in some dis- that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty. conformity to ourselves. The book it- She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor self will tell us more at large, being pub- licensings to make her victorious. Those lished to the world, and dedicated to the are the shifts and defences that Error parliament by him who both for his life uses against her power. Give her bui and for his death deserves that what ad- room, and do not bind her when she vice he left, be not laid by without pe- sleeps, for then she speaks not true, as rusal.
the old Proteus did, who spake oracles And now the time in special is, by only when he was caught and bound, but privilege to write and speak what may then rather she turns herself into all help to the further discussing of the mat- shapes, except her own, and perhaps tunes ters in agitation. The temple of Janus, her voice according to the time, as Micaiah with his two controversial faces, might did before Ahab, until she be adjured into now not unsignificantly be set open. And her own likeness. Yet is it not impossithough all the winds of doctrine were let ble that she may have more shapes than loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be one? What else is all that rank of in the field, we do injuriously by licens- things indifferent, wherein Truth may be ing and prohibiting to misdoubt her on this side, or on the other, without bestrength. Let her and Falsehood grap- ing unlike herself? What but a vain ple. Who ever knew Truth put to the shadow else is the abolition of "those worse, in a free and open encounter? ordinances, that handwriting nailed to Her confuting is the best and surest sup- the cross ?” What great purchase is this pressing. He who hears what praying Christian liberty which Paul so often
boasts of ? His doctrine is, that he who I speak of, whether in some point of doceats or eats not, regards a day or regards trine or of discipline, which, though they it not, may do either to the Lord. How may be many, yet need not interrupt the many other things might be tolerated in unity of spirit, if we could but find among peace, and left to conscience, had we but us the bond of peace. In the meanwhile, charity, and were it not the chief strong- if any one would write, and bring his hold of our hypocrisy to be ever judging helpful hand to the slow moving refone another.
ormation which we labor under, if I fear yet this iron yoke of outward Truth have spoken to him before others, conformity hath left a slavish print upon or but seemed at least to speak, who hath our necks; the ghost of a linen decency so bejesuited us that we should trouble yet haunts us. We stumble, and are im- that man with asking license to do so patient at the least dividing of one visible worthy a deed, and not consider this, that congregation from another, though it be if it comes to prohibiting, there is not not in fundamentals; and through our aught more likely to be prohibited than forwardness to suppress, and our back- Truth itself; whose first appearance to wardness to recover any enthralled piece our eyes, bleared and dimmed with of truth out of the gripe of custom, we prejudice and custom, is more unsightly care not to keep truth separated from and unplausible than many errors, even truth, which is the fiercest rent and dis- as the person is of many a great man, union of all. We do not see that while slight and contemptible to see to? we still affect by all means a rigid ex- And what do they tell us vainly of new ternal formality, we may as soon fall opinions, when this very opinion of theirs, again into a gross conforming stupidity, a that none must be heard but whom they stark and dead congealment of "wood and like, is the worst and newest opinion of hay and stubble" forced and frozen to- all others, and is the chief cause why gether, which is more to the sudden de- sects and schisms do so much abound, and generating of a church than many sub- true knowledge is kept at distance from dichotomies of petty schisms. Not that us; besides yet a greater danger which is I can think well of every light separation; in it. For when God shakes a kingor that all in a church is to be expected dom, with strong and healthful commo"gold and silver and precious stones”; it tions, to a general reforming, it is not unis not possible for man to sever the wheat true that many sectaries and false from the tares, the good fish from the teachers are then busiest in seducing. But other fry; that must be the angels' min- yet more true it is, that God then raises istry at the end of mortal things.
to his own work men of rare abilities and Yet if all cannot be of one mind, as more than common industry, not only to who looks they should be? this doubtless look back and revise what hath been is more wholesome, more prudent, and taught heretofore, but to gain further and more Christian, that many be tolerated, to go on some new enlightened steps in rather than all compelled. I mean not the discovery of truth. For such is the tolerated popery, and open superstition, order of God's enlightening his church, which, as it extirpates all religions and to dispense and deal out by degrees his civil supremacies, so itself should be ex- beam, so as our earthly eyes may best sustirpate, provided first that all charitable tain it. Neither is God appointed and and compassionate means be used to win confined, where and out of what place and regain the weak and the misled. That these his chosen shall be first heard to also which is impious or evil absolutely, speak; for he sees not as man sees, chooses either against faith or manners, no law not as man chooses, lest we should decan possibly permit, that intends not to vote ourselves again to set places, and unlaw itself; but those neighboring dif- assemblies, and outward callings of men, ferences, or rather indifferences, are what | planting our faith one while in that old