The Absurd Times England, Prior Restraint, and Free Speech

Posted in Uncategorized by @honestcharlie on October 17, 2013

England, Prior Restraint, and Free Speech


We cannot remember ever spending a single issue talking about the government of a country other than our own. The reasons are quite clear: we should be talking about our own problems, as should those in other countries. Of course, if another country attacks us, we have the right to criticize, and vice versa. Since we do attack so many other countries, it is no wonder that so many individuals in other countries feel they have the right to criticize us. However, we are making an exception for England this time.

We tend to think of England as a land of free and open speech, well phrased, and with a long tradition of criticism. Yet its present government has seen fit to use its own legal structure to make it highly suspect and, on its face, quite insane.

The most idiotic farce of recent decades came when the British police came to the office of the Guardian that, along with the Independent, is an internationally respected and highly admired newspaper. They insisted that the paper turn over the “Snowden Papers,” or face drastic legal action, “the full force of the law,” as it has often been put.

The editor had the option of destroying the papers and did so. He went down to the basement, along with the police, and destroyed several computers that contained the documents. He carries around a piece of one of the hard drive just for the purpose of illustration.

The idiocy of this entire transaction is quite clear: the papers were stored digitally, and there are copies of it in the United States, Brazil, and several other places around the world. Anyone who has ever forwarded an e-mail knows how easily this can be done and certainly has at least an intuitive grasp of the idea. In other words, the exact same information can exist simultaneously in a multitude of different physical locations and yet one can have access to it from places where it does not physically exist.

However, once the editor had physically destroyed the hardware, the government seemed quite content and went on its way. It simply illustrated in glaring lights how insane and ludicrous the entire process was.

Until the Prime Minister set his mind (such as it is) to rectifying the situation by accusing the Guardian of hypocrisy, that is. Cameron, presumably a graduate of some English school, an achievement in itself we are led to believe, indicated that since the Guardian had uncovered the Murdock newspapers practice of hacking into the phones of private citizens, it had no right to reveal England’s cooperation with the United States’ NSA (whose activities we have already discussed in this forum in the past). He argues that such hypocrisy is to be condemned. How the revelations concerning Rupert Murdock’s newspapers relate to England’s spying can only be understood applying the Cro-Magnon reasoning powers of Cameron and we admit that we lack that particular capacity. I daresay that understanding the implications of string theory in physics would be a more comfortable task.

All of this, unfortunately, is compounded by the fact that England has in effect been fighting the battle of prior-restraint for over three centuries and one would have hoped it had been settled by now. Many students in the United States are familiar with John Milton’s work on the subject which is reproduced, uncensored and without Cameron’s permission, below. John Milton knew just about all that was to be known at the time, and even visited Galileo while he was under arrest by the Catholic Church, presumably to protect Jesus from a heliocentric solar system. One of Milton’s arguments, in fact, incorporates this visit.

Just one warning first: Milton said that he wrote prose with his “left hand,” meaning, of course, that he felt it was not his best medium. Also, unlike his poetry, Milton takes quite a bit of time to get “warmed up” to the task, so you can probably skip the first thousand words or so. In his great poetic works, on the other hand, he starts off strongly. From the first two books of his Paradise Lost, a couple passages come to mind, and I quote from memory and hunce may be a bit off:

Who overcomes by force hath overcome

But half his foe….

And in a line anticipating the Cognitive Therapy of the 21st Century:

The mind is its own place/

Can make a Hell of heaven, a Heaven of Hell.

(Or vice versa?)

At any rate, for the edification of Parliament and anyone else capable of reason and thought, here is the entire text:

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Areopagitica, by John Milton

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with

almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or

re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included

with this eBook or online at

Title: Areopagitica

A Speech For The Liberty Of Unlicensed Printing To The

Parliament Of England

Author: John Milton

Release Date: January 21, 2006 [EBook #608]

Language: English


Produced by Judith Boss and David Widger




This is true liberty, when free-born men,

Having to advise the public, may speak free,

Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;

Who neither can, nor will, may hold his peace:

What can be juster in a state than this?

Euripid. Hicetid.

They, who to states and governors of the Commonwealth direct their

speech, High Court of Parliament, or, wanting such access in a private

condition, write that which they foresee may advance the public good;

I suppose them, as at the beginning of no mean endeavour, not a little

altered and moved inwardly in their minds: some with doubt of what will

be the success, others with fear of what will be the censure; some with

hope, others with confidence of what they have to speak. And me perhaps

each of these dispositions, as the subject was whereon I entered,

may have at other times variously affected; and likely might in these

foremost expressions now also disclose which of them swayed most, but

that the very attempt of this address thus made, and the thought of whom

it hath recourse to, hath got the power within me to a passion, far more

welcome than incidental to a preface.

Which though I stay not to confess ere any ask, I shall be blameless, if

it be no other than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who

wish and promote their country’s liberty; whereof this whole discourse

proposed will be a certain testimony, if not a trophy. For this is not

the liberty which we 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 considered and speedily reformed,

then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look

for. To which if I now manifest by the very sound of this which I shall

utter, that we are already in good part arrived, and yet from such

a steep disadvantage of tyranny and superstition grounded into our

principles as was beyond the manhood of a Roman recovery, it will be

attributed first, as is most due, to the strong assistance of God our

deliverer, next to your faithful guidance and undaunted wisdom, Lords

and Commons of England. Neither is it in God’s esteem the diminution

of his glory, when honourable things are spoken of good men and worthy

magistrates; which if I now first should begin to do, after so fair a

progress of your laudable deeds, and such a long obligement upon the

whole realm to your indefatigable virtues, I might be justly reckoned

among the tardiest, and the unwillingest of them that praise ye.

Nevertheless there being three principal things, without which all

praising is but courtship and flattery: First, when that only is praised

which is solidly worth praise: next, when greatest likelihoods are

brought that such things are truly and really in those persons to whom

they are ascribed: the other, when he who praises, by showing that such

his actual persuasion is of whom he writes, can demonstrate that he

flatters not; the former two of these I have heretofore endeavoured,

rescuing the employment from him who went about to impair your merits

with a trivial and malignant encomium; the latter as belonging chiefly

to mine own acquittal, that whom I so extolled I did not flatter, hath

been reserved opportunely to this occasion.

For he who freely magnifies what hath been nobly done, and fears not to

declare as freely what might be done better, gives ye the best covenant

of his fidelity; and that his loyalest affection and his hope waits on

your proceedings. His highest praising is not flattery, and his plainest

advice is a kind of praising. For though I should affirm and hold by

argument, that it would fare better with truth, with learning and the

Commonwealth, if one of your published Orders, which I should name, were

called in; yet at the same time it could not but much redound to the

lustre of your mild and equal government, whenas private persons are

hereby animated to think ye better pleased with public advice, than

other statists have been delighted heretofore with public flattery. And

men will then see what difference there is between the magnanimity of a

triennial Parliament, and that jealous haughtiness of prelates and cabin

counsellors that usurped of late, whenas they shall observe ye in the

midst of your victories and successes more gently brooking written

exceptions against a voted Order than other courts, which had produced

nothing worth memory but the weak ostentation of wealth, would have

endured the least signified dislike at any sudden proclamation.

If I should thus far presume upon the meek demeanour of your civil and

gentle greatness, Lords and Commons, as what your published Order hath

directly said, that to gainsay, I might defend myself with ease, if any

should accuse me of being new or insolent, did they but know how much

better I find ye esteem it to imitate the old and elegant humanity of

Greece, than the barbaric pride of a Hunnish and Norwegian stateliness.

And out of those ages, to whose polite wisdom and letters we owe that we

are not yet Goths and Jutlanders, I could name him who from his private

house wrote that discourse to the Parliament of Athens, that persuades

them to change the form of democracy which was then established. Such

honour was done in those days to men who professed the study of wisdom

and eloquence, not only in their own country, but in other lands, that

cities and signiories heard them gladly, and with great respect, if they

had aught in public to admonish the state. Thus did Dion Prusaeus, a

stranger and a private orator, counsel the Rhodians against a former

edict; and I abound with other like examples, which to set here would be


But if from the industry of a life wholly dedicated to studious labours,

and those natural endowments haply not the worst for two and fifty

degrees of northern latitude, so much must be derogated, as to count me

not equal to any of those who had this privilege, I would obtain to be

thought not so inferior, as yourselves are superior to the most of them

who received their counsel: and how far you excel them, be assured,

Lords and Commons, there can no greater testimony appear, than when

your prudent spirit acknowledges and obeys the voice of reason from what

quarter soever it be heard speaking; and renders ye as willing to

repeal any Act of your own setting forth, as any set forth by your


If ye be thus resolved, as it were injury to think ye were not, I know

not what should withhold me from presenting ye with a fit instance

wherein to show both that love of truth which ye eminently profess, and

that uprightness of your judgment which is not wont to be partial to

yourselves; by judging over again that Order which ye have ordained to

regulate printing:–that no book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth

printed, unless the same be first approved and licensed by such, or at

least one of such, as shall be thereto appointed. For that part which

preserves justly every man’s copy to himself, or provides for the poor,

I touch not, only wish they be not made pretences to abuse and persecute

honest and painful men, who offend not in either of these particulars.

But that other clause of licensing books, which we thought had died with

his brother quadragesimal and matrimonial when the prelates expired, I

shall now attend with such a homily, as shall lay before ye, first the

inventors of it to be those whom ye will be loath to own; next what is

to be thought in general of reading, whatever 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

suppressed. 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 hindering and cropping

the discovery that might be yet further made both in religious and civil


I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and

Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how books demean 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 do

contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose

progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy

and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they

are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon’s

teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.

And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill

a man as kill a good 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 purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis

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

slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth

essence, the breath of reason itself, slays an immortality rather than

a life. But lest I should be condemned of introducing license, while I

oppose licensing, I refuse not the pains to be so much historical,

as will serve to show what hath been done by ancient and famous

commonwealths against this disorder, till the very time that this

project of licensing crept out of the Inquisition, was catched up by our

prelates, and hath caught some of our presbyters.

In Athens, where books and wits were ever busier than in any other part

of Greece, I find but only two sorts of writings which the magistrate

cared to take notice of; those either blasphemous and atheistical, or

libellous. Thus the books of Protagoras were by the judges of Areopagus

commanded to be burnt, and himself banished the territory for a

discourse begun with his confessing not to know WHETHER THERE WERE GODS,

OR WHETHER NOT. And against defaming, it was decreed that none should

be traduced by name, as was the manner of Vetus Comoedia, whereby we may

guess how they censured libelling. And this course was quick enough, as

Cicero writes, to quell both the desperate wits of other atheists,

and the open way of defaming, as the event showed. Of other sects 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 questioned

by the laws. Neither is it recorded that the writings of those old

comedians were suppressed, though the acting of them were forbid; and

that Plato commended the reading of Aristophanes, the loosest of them

all, to his royal scholar Dionysius, is commonly known, and may be

excused, if holy Chrysostom, as is reported, nightly studied so much the

same author and had the art to cleanse a scurrilous vehemence into the

style of a rousing sermon.

That other leading city of Greece, Lacedaemon, considering that Lycurgus

their lawgiver was so addicted to elegant learning, as to have been the

first that brought out of Ionia the scattered works of Homer, and sent

the poet Thales from Crete to prepare and mollify the Spartan surliness

with his smooth songs 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 war. There needed no licensing of books

among them, for they disliked all but their own laconic apophthegms, and

took a slight occasion to chase Archilochus out of their city, perhaps

for composing in a higher strain than their own soldierly ballads and

roundels could reach to. Or if it were for his broad verses, they were

not therein so cautious but they were as dissolute in their promiscuous

conversing; whence Euripides affirms in Andromache, that their women

were all unchaste. Thus much may give us light after what sort of books

were prohibited among the Greeks.

The Romans also, for many ages trained up only to a military roughness

resembling most the Lacedaemonian guise, knew of learning little but

what their twelve Tables, and the Pontific College with their augurs

and flamens taught them in religion and law; so unacquainted with other

learning, that when Carneades and Critolaus, with the Stoic Diogenes,

coming ambassadors to Rome, took thereby occasion to give the city a

taste of their philosophy, they were suspected for seducers by no less

a man than Cato the Censor, who moved it in the Senate to dismiss them

speedily, and to banish all such Attic babblers out of Italy. But Scipio

and others of the noblest senators withstood him and his old Sabine

austerity; honoured and admired the men; and the censor himself at

last, in his old age, fell to the study of that whereof before he was

so scrupulous. And yet at the same time Naevius and Plautus, the first

Latin comedians, had filled the city with all the borrowed scenes of

Menander and Philemon. Then began to be considered there also what was

to be done to libellous books and authors; for Naevius was quickly cast

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 Augustus. The like severity, no doubt, was used, if aught

were impiously written against their esteemed gods. Except in these two

points, how the world went in books, the magistrate kept no reckoning.

And therefore Lucretius without impeachment versifies his Epicurism to

Memmius, and had the honour to be set forth the second time by Cicero,

so great a father of the Commonwealth; although himself disputes against

that opinion in his own writings. Nor was the satirical sharpness or

naked plainness of Lucilius, or Catullus, or Flaccus, by any order

prohibited. And for matters of state, the story of Titus Livius, though

it extolled that part which Pompey held, was not therefore suppressed by

Octavius Caesar of the other faction. But that Naso was by him banished

in his old age, for the wanton poems of his youth, was but a mere covert

of state over some secret cause: and besides, the books were neither

banished nor called in. From hence we shall meet with little else but

tyranny in the Roman empire, that we may not marvel, if not so often bad

as good books were silenced. I shall therefore deem to have been large

enough, in producing what among the ancients was punishable to write;

save only which, all other arguments were free to treat on.

By this time the emperors were become Christians, whose discipline in

this point I do not find to have been more severe 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 themselves were forbid to read the books of

Gentiles, but heresies they might read: while others long before them,

on the contrary, scrupled 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, passing 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


After which time the Popes of Rome, engrossing 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 sparing in their censures, and the

books not many which they so dealt with: till Martin V., by his bull,

not only prohibited, but was the first that excommunicated the reading

of heretical books; for about that time Wickliffe and Huss, growing

terrible, were they who first drove the Papal Court to a stricter policy

of prohibiting. Which course Leo X. and his successors followed, until

the Council of Trent and the Spanish Inquisition engendering together

brought forth, or perfected, those Catalogues and expurging Indexes,

that rake through the entrails of many an old good author, with 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 straight into the new

purgatory of an index.

To fill up the measure of encroachment, their last invention was to

ordain that no book, pamphlet, or paper should be printed (as if St.

Peter had bequeathed them the keys of the press also out of Paradise)

unless it were approved and licensed under the hands of two or three

glutton friars. For example:

Let the Chancellor Cini be pleased to see if in this present

work be contained aught that may withstand the printing.

VINCENT RABBATTA, Vicar of Florence.

I have seen this present work, and find nothing athwart the

Catholic faith and good manners: in witness whereof I

have given, etc.

NICOLO GINI, Chancellor of Florence.

Attending the precedent relation, it is allowed that this

present work of Davanzati may be printed.


It may be printed, July 15.


Chancellor of the Holy Office in Florence.

Sure they have a conceit, if he of the bottomless pit had not long since

broke prison, that this quadruple exorcism would bar him down. I fear

their next design will be to get into their custody the licensing

of that which they say Claudius intended, but went not through with.

Vouchsafe to see another of their forms, the Roman stamp:

Imprimatur, If it seem good to the reverend Master of the

Holy Palace.

BELCASTRO, Vicegerent.

Imprimatur, Friar Nicolo Rodolphi, Master of the Holy Palace.

Sometimes five Imprimaturs are seen together dialogue-wise in the piazza

of one title-page, complimenting and ducking each to other with their

shaven reverences, whether the author, who stands by in perplexity at

the foot of his epistle, shall to the press or to the sponge. These

are the pretty responsories, these are the dear antiphonies, that so

bewitched of late our prelates and their chaplains with the goodly echo

they made; and besotted us to the gay imitation of a lordly Imprimatur,

one from Lambeth House, another from the west end of Paul’s; so apishly

Romanizing, that the word of command still was set down in Latin; as

if the learned grammatical pen that wrote it would cast no ink without

Latin; or perhaps, as they thought, because no vulgar tongue was worthy

to express 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 servile letters enow to

spell such a dictatory presumption English.

And thus ye have the inventors and the original of book-licensing ripped

up and drawn as lineally as any pedigree. We have it not, that can

be heard of, from any ancient state, or polity or church; nor by any

statute left us by our ancestors elder or later; nor from the modern

custom of any reformed city or church abroad, but from the most

anti-christian council and the most tyrannous inquisition that ever

inquired. Till then books were ever as freely admitted into the world

as any other birth; the issue of the brain was no more stifled than the

issue of the womb: no envious Juno sat cross-legged over the nativity

of any man’s intellectual offspring; but if it proved a monster, who

denies, but that it was justly burnt, or sunk into the sea? But that a

book, in worse condition than a peccant soul, should be to stand 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 first entrance of Reformation,

sought out new limbos and new hells wherein they might include our books

also within the number of their damned. And this was the rare morsel

so officiously snatched up, and so ill-favouredly imitated by our

inquisiturient bishops, and the attendant minorites their chaplains.

That ye like not now these most certain authors of this licensing order,

and that all sinister intention was far distant from your thoughts, when

ye were importuned the passing it, all men who know the integrity of

your actions, and how ye honour truth, will clear ye readily.

But some will say, what though the inventors were bad, the thing for

all that may be good? It may so; yet if that thing be no such deep

invention, but obvious, and easy for any man to light on, and yet best

and wisest commonwealths through all ages and occasions have forborne

to use it, and falsest seducers and oppressors of men were the first who

took it up, and to no other purpose but to obstruct and hinder the first

approach of Reformation; I am of those who believe it will be a harder

alchemy than Lullius ever knew, to sublimate any good use out of such

an invention. Yet this only is what I request to gain from this reason,

that it may be held a dangerous and suspicious fruit, as certainly it

deserves, for the tree that bore it, until I can dissect one by one the

properties it has. But I have first to finish, as was propounded, what

is to be thought in general of reading books, whatever sort they be, and

whether be more the benefit or the harm that thence proceeds.

Not to insist upon the examples of Moses, Daniel, and Paul, who were

skilful in all the learning of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Greeks,

which could not probably be without reading their books of all sorts;

in Paul especially, who thought it no defilement to insert into

Holy Scripture the sentences of three Greek poets, and one of them a

tragedian; the question was notwithstanding sometimes controverted among

the primitive doctors, but with great odds on that side which affirmed

it both lawful and profitable; as was then evidently perceived, when

Julian the Apostate and subtlest enemy to our faith made a decree

forbidding Christians the study of heathen learning: for, said he, they

wound us with our own weapons, and with our own arts and sciences they

overcome us. And indeed the Christians were put so to their shifts by

this crafty means, and so much in danger to decline into all ignorance,

that the two Apollinarii were fain, as a man may say, to coin all the

seven liberal sciences out of the Bible, reducing it into divers

forms of orations, poems, dialogues, even to the calculating of a new

Christian grammar. But, saith the historian Socrates, the providence of

God provided better than the industry of Apollinarius and his son, by

taking away that illiterate law with the life of him who devised it. So

great an injury they then held it to be deprived of Hellenic learning;

and thought it a persecution more undermining, and secretly decaying the

Church, than the open cruelty of Decius or Diocletian.

And perhaps it was the same politic drift that the devil whipped St.

Jerome in a lenten dream, for reading Cicero; or else it was a phantasm

bred by the fever which had then seized him. For had an angel been his

discipliner, unless it were for dwelling too much upon Ciceronianisms,

and had chastised the reading, not the vanity, it had been plainly

partial; first to correct him for grave Cicero, and not for scurril

Plautus, whom he confesses to have been reading, not long before; next

to correct him only, and let so many more ancient fathers wax old in

those pleasant and florid studies without the lash of such a tutoring

apparition; insomuch that Basil teaches how some good use may be made

of Margites, a sportful poem, not now extant, writ by Homer; and why not

then of Morgante, an Italian romance much to the same purpose?

But if it be agreed we shall be tried by visions, there is a vision

recorded by Eusebius, far ancienter than this tale of Jerome, to the

nun Eustochium, and, besides, has nothing of a fever in it. Dionysius

Alexandrinus was about the year 240 a person of great name in the Church

for piety and learning, who had wont to avail himself much against

heretics by being conversant in their books; until a certain presbyter

laid it scrupulously to his conscience, how he durst venture himself

among those defiling volumes. The worthy man, loath to give offence,

fell into a new debate with himself what was to be thought; when

suddenly a vision sent from God (it is his own epistle that so avers it)

confirmed him in these words: READ ANY BOOKS WHATEVER COME TO THY HANDS,


To this revelation he assented the sooner, as he confesses, because it

was answerable to that of the Apostle to the Thessalonians, PROVE ALL

THINGS, HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD. And he might have added another

remarkable saying of the same author: TO THE PURE, ALL THINGS ARE PURE;

not only meats and drinks, but all kind of knowledge whether of good or

evil; the knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the

will and conscience be not defiled.

For books are as meats and viands are; some of good, some of evil

substance; and yet God, in that unapocryphal vision, said without

exception, RISE, PETER, KILL AND EAT, leaving the choice to each man’s

discretion. Wholesome meats to a vitiated stomach differ little or

nothing from unwholesome; and best books to a naughty mind are not

unappliable to occasions of evil. Bad meats will scarce breed good

nourishment in the healthiest concoction; but herein the difference is

of bad books, that they to a discreet and judicious reader serve in

many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate.

Whereof what better witness can ye expect I should produce, than one of

your own now sitting in Parliament, the chief of learned men reputed in

this land, Mr. Selden; whose volume of natural and national laws proves,

not only by great authorities brought together, but by exquisite reasons

and theorems almost mathematically demonstrative, that all opinions, yea

errors, known, read, and collated, are of main service and assistance

toward the speedy attainment of what is truest. I conceive, therefore,

that when God did enlarge the universal diet of man’s body, saving ever

the rules of temperance, he then also, as before, left arbitrary the

dieting and repasting of our minds; as wherein every mature man might

have to exercise his own leading capacity.

How great a virtue is temperance, how much of moment through the whole

life of man! Yet God commits the managing so great a trust, without

particular law or prescription, wholly to the demeanour of every grown

man. And therefore when he himself tabled the Jews from heaven, that

omer, which was every man’s daily portion of manna, is computed to have

been more than might have well sufficed the heartiest feeder thrice as

many meals. For those actions which enter into a man, rather than issue

out of him, and therefore defile not, God uses not to captivate under

a perpetual childhood of prescription, but trusts him with the gift

of reason to be his own chooser; there were but little work left for

preaching, if law and compulsion should grow so fast upon those things

which heretofore were governed only by exhortation. Solomon informs us,

that much reading is a weariness to the flesh; but neither he nor other

inspired author tells us that such or such reading is unlawful: yet

certainly had God thought good to limit us herein, it had been much more

expedient to have told us what was unlawful than what was wearisome.

As for the burning of those Ephesian books by St. Paul’s converts;

’tis replied the books were magic, the Syriac so renders them. It was

a private act, a voluntary act, and leaves us to a voluntary imitation:

the men in remorse burnt those books which were their own; the

magistrate by this example is not appointed; these men practised the

books, another might perhaps have read them in some sort usefully.

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost

inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven

with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly

to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon

Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not

more intermixed. It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the

knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth

into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into

of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil. As

therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose,

what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil? He that can

apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures,

and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly

better, he is the true warfaring Christian.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and

unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out

of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without

dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring

impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by

what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the

contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to

her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her

whiteness is but an excremental whiteness. Which was the reason why our

sage and serious poet Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better

teacher than Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the

person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of

Mammon, and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and

yet abstain. Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this

world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning

of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with

less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading

all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is

the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.

But of the harm that may result hence three kinds are usually reckoned.

First, is feared the infection that may spread; but then all human learning

and controversy in religious points must remove out of the world, yea the

Bible itself; for that ofttimes relates blasphemy not nicely, it describes

the carnal sense of wicked men not unelegantly, it brings in holiest men

passionately murmuring against Providence through all the arguments of

Epicurus: in other great disputes it answers dubiously and darkly to the

common reader. And ask a Talmudist what ails the modesty of his marginal

Keri, that Moses and all the prophets cannot persuade him to pronounce the

textual Chetiv. For these causes we all know the Bible itself put by the

Papist put by the Papist into the first rank of prohibited books. The

ancientest Fathers must be next removed, as Clement of Alexandria, and that

Eusebian book of Evangelic preparation, transmitting our ears through a

hoard of heathenish obscenities to receive the Gospel. Who finds not that

Irenaeus, Epiphanius, Jerome, and others discover more heresies than they

well confute, and that oft for heresy which is the truer opinion?

Nor boots it to say for these, and all the heathen writers of greatest

infection, if it must be thought so, with whom is bound up the life of

human learning, that they writ in an unknown tongue, so long as we are

sure those languages are known as well to the worst of men, who are both

most able and most diligent to instil the poison they suck, first into

the courts of princes, acquainting them with the choicest delights and

criticisms of sin. As perhaps did that Petronius whom Nero called his

Arbiter, the master of his revels; and the notorious ribald of Arezzo,

dreaded and yet dear to the Italian courtiers. I name not him for

posterity’s sake, whom Henry VIII. named in merriment his vicar of hell.

By which compendious way all the contagion that foreign books can infuse

will find a passage to the people far easier and shorter than an

Indian voyage, though it could be sailed either by the north of Cataio

eastward, or of Canada westward, while our Spanish licensing gags the

English press never so severely.

But on the other side that infection which is from books of controversy

in religion is more doubtful and dangerous to the learned than to

the ignorant; and yet those books must be permitted untouched by the

licenser. It will be hard to instance where any ignorant man hath been

ever seduced by papistical book in English, unless it were commended and

expounded to him by some of that clergy: and indeed all such tractates,

whether false or true, are as the prophecy of Isaiah was to the eunuch,

not to be UNDERSTOOD WITHOUT A GUIDE. But of our priests and doctors

how many have been corrupted by studying the comments of Jesuits and

Sorbonists, and how fast they could transfuse that corruption into the

people, our experience is both late and sad. It is not forgot, since the

acute and distinct Arminius was perverted merely by the perusing of a

nameless discourse written at Delft, which at first he took in hand to


Seeing, therefore, that those books, and those in great abundance, which

are likeliest to taint both life and doctrine, cannot be suppressed

without the fall of learning and of all ability in disputation, and that

these books of either sort are most and soonest catching to the learned,

from whom to the common people whatever is heretical or dissolute may

quickly be conveyed, and that evil manners are as perfectly learnt

without books a thousand other ways which cannot be stopped, and evil

doctrine not with books can propagate, except a teacher guide, which he

might also do without writing, and so beyond prohibiting, I am not able

to unfold, how this cautelous enterprise of licensing can be exempted

from the number of vain and impossible attempts. And he who were

pleasantly disposed could not well avoid to liken it to the exploit of

that gallant man who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park


Besides another inconvenience, if learned men be the first receivers out

of books and dispreaders both of vice and error, how shall the licensers

themselves be confided in, unless we can confer upon them, or they

assume to themselves above all others in the land, the grace of

infallibility and uncorruptedness? And again, if it be true that a wise

man, like a good refiner, can gather gold out of the drossiest volume,

and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without book;

there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage

to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from a fool, that which being

restrained will be no hindrance to his folly. For if there should be so

much exactness always used to keep that from him which is unfit for his

reading, we should in the judgment of Aristotle not only, but of Solomon

and of our Saviour, not vouchsafe him good precepts, and by consequence

not willingly admit him to good books; as being certain that a wise man

will make better use of an idle pamphlet, than a fool will do of sacred


‘Tis next alleged we must not expose ourselves to temptations without

necessity, and next to that, not employ our time in vain things. To both

these objections one answer will serve, out of the grounds already laid,

that to all men such books are not temptations, nor vanities, but useful

drugs and materials wherewith to temper and compose effective and strong

medicines, which man’s life cannot want. The rest, as children and

childish men, who have not the art to qualify and prepare these working

minerals, well may be exhorted to forbear, but hindered forcibly they

cannot be by all the licensing that Sainted Inquisition could ever yet

contrive. Which is what I promised to deliver next: that this order of

licensing conduces nothing to the end for which it was framed; and hath

almost prevented me by being clear already while thus much hath been

explaining. See the ingenuity of Truth, who, when she gets a free and

willing hand, opens herself faster than the pace of method and discourse

can overtake her.

It was the task which I began with, to show that no nation, or

well-instituted state, if they valued books at all, did ever use this

way of licensing; and it might be answered, that this is a piece of

prudence lately discovered. To which I return, that as it was a thing

slight and obvious to think on, so if it had been difficult to find

out, there wanted not among them long since who suggested such a course;

which they not following, leave us a pattern of their judgment that it

was not the rest knowing, but the not approving, which was the cause of

their not using it.

Plato, a man of high authority, indeed, but least of all for his

Commonwealth, in the book of his Laws, which no city ever yet received,

fed his fancy by making many edicts to his airy burgomasters, which they

who otherwise admire him wish had been rather buried and excused in

the genial cups of an Academic night sitting. By which laws he seems to

tolerate no kind of learning but by unalterable decree, consisting most

of practical traditions, to the attainment whereof a library of smaller

bulk than his own Dialogues would be abundant. And there also enacts,

that no poet should so much as read to any private man what he had

written, until the judges and law-keepers had seen it, and allowed it.

But that Plato meant this law peculiarly to that commonwealth which

he had imagined, and to no other, is evident. Why was he not else a

lawgiver to himself, but a transgressor, and to be expelled by his own

magistrates; both for the wanton epigrams and dialogues which he made,

and his perpetual reading of Sophron Mimus and Aristophanes, books of

grossest infamy, and also for commending the latter of them, though

he were the malicious libeller of his chief friends, to be read by the

tyrant Dionysius, who had little need of such trash to spend his

time on? But that he knew this licensing of poems had reference

and dependence to many other provisos there set down in his fancied

republic, which in this world could have no place: and so neither he

himself, nor any magistrate or city, ever imitated that course, which,

taken apart from those other collateral injunctions, must needs be vain

and fruitless. For if they fell upon one kind of strictness, unless

their care were equal to regulate all other things of like aptness to

corrupt the mind, that single endeavour they knew would be but a

fond labour; to shut and fortify one gate against corruption, and be

necessitated to leave others round about wide open.

If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must

regulate all recreation and pastimes, all that is delightful to man.

No music must be heard, no song be set or sung, but what is grave and

Doric. There must be licensing dancers, that no gesture, motion, or

deportment be taught our youth but what by their allowance shall be

thought honest; for such Plato was provided of. It will ask more than

the work of twenty licensers to examine all the lutes, the violins, and

the guitars in every house; they must not be suffered to prattle as they

do, but must be licensed what they may say. And who shall silence all

the airs and madrigals that whisper softness in chambers? The windows

also, and the balconies must be thought on; there are shrewd books, with

dangerous frontispieces, set to sale; who shall prohibit them, shall

twenty licensers? The villages also must have their visitors to inquire

what lectures the bagpipe and the rebeck reads, even to the ballatry

and the gamut of every municipal fiddler, for these are the countryman’s

Arcadias, and his Monte Mayors.

Next, what more national corruption, for which England hears ill abroad,

than household gluttony: who shall be the rectors of our daily rioting?

And what shall be done to inhibit the multitudes that frequent those

houses where drunkenness is sold and harboured? Our garments also should

be referred to the licensing of some more sober workmasters to see

them cut into a less wanton garb. Who shall regulate all the mixed

conversation of our youth, male and female together, as is the fashion

of this country? Who shall still appoint what shall be discoursed, what

presumed, and no further? Lastly, who shall forbid and separate all idle

resort, all evil company? These things will be, and must be; but how

they shall be least hurtful, how least enticing, herein consists the

grave and governing wisdom of a state.

To sequester out of the world into Atlantic and Utopian polities, which

never can be drawn into use, will not mend our condition; but to ordain

wisely as in this world of evil, in the midst whereof God hath placed

us unavoidably. Nor is it Plato’s licensing of books will do this, which

necessarily pulls along with it so many other kinds of licensing, as

will make us all both ridiculous and weary, and yet frustrate; but

those unwritten, or at least unconstraining, laws of virtuous education,

religious and civil nurture, which Plato there mentions as the bonds and

ligaments of the commonwealth, the pillars and the sustainers of every

written statute; these they be which will bear chief sway in such

matters as these, when all licensing will be easily eluded. Impunity and

remissness, for certain, are the bane of a commonwealth; but here the

great art lies, to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and

punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work.

If every action, which is good or evil in man at ripe years, were to be

under pittance and prescription and compulsion, what were virtue 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 divine

Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! When

God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but

choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is

in the motions. We ourselves 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 create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that

these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?

They are not skilful considerers of human things, who imagine 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

universal 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 jewel left, ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness. Banish all

objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can

be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste, that came not

hither so; such great care and wisdom is required to the right managing

of this point. Suppose we could expel sin by this means; look how much

we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue: 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 pours out before us, even to a

profuseness, 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 trial of

virtue 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 evil. And were I the

chooser, a dream of well-doing should be preferred before many times

as much the forcible hindrance of evil-doing. For God sure esteems the

growth and completing of one virtuous person more than the restraint of

ten vicious.

And albeit whatever thing we hear or see, sitting, walking, travelling,

or conversing, may be fitly called 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 oftener, but weekly, that

continued court-libel against the Parliament and City, printed, as the

wet sheets can witness, and dispersed among us, for all that licensing

can do? Yet this is the prime service a man would think, wherein this

Order should give proof of itself. If it were executed, you’ll say.

But certain, if execution be remiss 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 frustrate, behold a new labour, Lords and

Commons, ye must repeal and proscribe all scandalous and unlicensed

books already printed and divulged; after ye have drawn them up into a

list, that all may know which are condemned, and which not; and ordain

that no foreign books be delivered out of custody, till they have

been 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

useful 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 damnified. In fine, when the multitude

of books increase upon their hands, ye must be fain to catalogue all

those printers who are found frequently offending, and forbid the

importation of their whole suspected typography. In a word, that this

your Order may be exact and not deficient, ye must reform it perfectly

according to the model of Trent and Seville, which I know ye abhor to


Yet though ye should condescend to this, which God forbid, the Order

still would be but fruitless and defective to that end whereto ye meant

it. If to prevent sects and schisms, who is so unread or so uncatechized

in story, that hath not heard of many sects refusing books as a

hindrance, and preserving their doctrine unmixed for many ages, only by

unwritten traditions? The Christian faith, for that was once a schism,

is not unknown to have spread all over Asia, ere any Gospel or Epistle

was seen in writing. 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 inquisitional rigour

that hath been executed upon books.

Another reason, whereby to make it plain that this Order will miss

the end it seeks, consider by the quality which ought to be in every

licenser. It cannot be denied but that he who is made judge to sit upon

the birth or death of books, whether they may be wafted into this world

or not, had need to be a man above the common measure, both studious,

learned, and judicious; there may be else no mean mistakes in the

censure of what is passable or not; which is also no mean injury. If

he be of such worth as behooves him, there cannot be a more tedious and

unpleasing journey-work, a greater loss of time levied upon his head,

than to be made the perpetual reader of unchosen books and pamphlets,

ofttimes huge volumes. There is no book that is acceptable unless at

certain seasons; but to be enjoined the reading of that at all times,

and in a hand scarce legible, whereof three pages would not down at any

time in the fairest print, is an imposition which I cannot believe

how he that values time and his own studies, or is but of a sensible

nostril, should be able to endure. In this one thing I crave leave of

the present licensers to be pardoned for so thinking; who doubtless took

this office up, looking on it through their obedience to the Parliament,

whose command perhaps made all things seem easy and unlaborious to

them; but that this short trial hath wearied them out already, their

own expressions and excuses to them who make so many journeys to solicit

their licence are testimony enough. Seeing therefore those who now

possess the employment by all evident signs wish themselves well rid of

it; and that no man of worth, none that is not a plain unthrift of his

own hours, is ever likely to succeed them, except he mean to put himself

to the salary of a press corrector; we may easily foresee what kind of

licensers we are to expect hereafter, either ignorant, imperious, and

remiss, or basely pecuniary. This is what I had to show, wherein this

Order cannot conduce to that end whereof it bears the intention.

I lastly proceed from the no good it can do, to the manifest hurt it

causes, in being first the greatest discouragement and affront that can

be offered to learning, and to learned men.

It was the complaint and lamentation of prelates, upon every least

breath of a motion to remove pluralities, and distribute more equally

Church revenues, that then all learning would be for ever dashed and

discouraged. But as for that opinion, I never found cause to think that

the tenth part of learning stood or fell with the clergy: nor could I

ever but hold it for a sordid and unworthy speech of any churchman

who had a competency left him. If therefore ye be loath to dishearten

utterly and discontent, not the mercenary crew of false pretenders to

learning, but the free and ingenuous sort of such as evidently were born

to study, and love learning for itself, not for lucre or any other end

but the service of God and of truth, and perhaps that lasting fame and

perpetuity of praise which God and good men have consented shall be the

reward of those whose published labours advance the good of mankind;

then know that, so far to distrust the judgment and the honesty of one

who hath but a common repute in learning, and never yet offended, as not

to count him fit to print his mind without a tutor and examiner, lest

he should drop a schism, or something of corruption, is the greatest

displeasure and indignity to a free and knowing spirit that can be put

upon him.

What advantage is it to be a man, over it is to be a boy at school,

if we have only escaped the ferula to come under the fescue of an

Imprimatur; if serious and elaborate writings, as if they were no more

than the theme of a grammar-lad under his pedagogue, must not be uttered

without the cursory eyes of a temporizing and extemporizing licenser? He

who is not trusted with his own actions, his drift not being known to

be evil, and standing to the hazard of law and penalty, has no great

argument to think himself reputed in the Commonwealth wherein he was

born for other than a fool or a foreigner. When a man writes to the

world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he

searches, meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers

with his judicious friends; after all which done he takes himself to be

informed in what he writes, as well as any that writ before him. If, in

this the most consummate 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, unless he

carry all his considerate diligence, all his midnight watchings and

expense of Palladian oil, to the hasty view of an unleisured licenser,

perhaps much his younger, perhaps his inferior in judgment, perhaps one

who never knew the labour of bookwriting, and if he be not repulsed or

slighted, must appear in print like a puny with his guardian, and his

censor’s hand on the back of his title to be his bail 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 privilege and dignity of learning.

And what if the author shall be one so copious of fancy, as to have many

things well worth the adding come into his mind after licensing, while

the book is yet under the press, which not seldom happens to the best

and diligentest writers; and that perhaps a dozen times in one book? The

printer dares not go beyond his licensed copy; so often then must the

author trudge to his leave-giver, that those his new insertions may be

viewed; and many a jaunt will be made, ere that licenser, for it must be

the same man, can either be found, or found at leisure; meanwhile either

the press must stand still, which is no small damage, or the author lose

his accuratest thoughts, and send the book forth worse than 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 authority, 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 licenser to blot or

alter what precisely accords not with the hidebound humour which he

calls his judgment? When every acute reader, upon the first sight of a

pedantic licence, will be ready with these like words to ding the book

a quoit’s distance from him: I hate a pupil teacher, I endure not an

instructor that comes to me under the wardship of an overseeing fist. I

know nothing of the licenser, but that I have his own hand here for his

arrogance; who shall warrant me his judgment? The State, sir, replies

the stationer, but has a quick return: The State shall be my governors,

but not my critics; they may be mistaken in the choice of a licenser,

as easily as this licenser may be mistaken in an author; this is

some common stuff; and he might add from Sir Francis Bacon, THAT


licenser should happen to be judicious more than ordinary, which will

be a great jeopardy of the next succession, yet his very office and his

commission enjoins him to let pass nothing but what is vulgarly received


Nay, which is more lamentable, if the work of any deceased author,

though never so famous in his lifetime 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 venturous edge, uttered in the height

of zeal (and who knows whether it might not be the dictate of a divine

spirit?) yet not suiting with every low decrepit humour 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 fearfulness or the presumptuous

rashness of a perfunctory licenser. And to what an author this violence

hath been lately done, and in what book of greatest consequence to be

faithfully published, 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 authority to gnaw 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 hapless

race of men, whose misfortune it is to have understanding. Henceforth

let no man care to learn, or care to be more than worldly-wise; for

certainly in higher matters to be ignorant and slothful, to be a common

steadfast dunce, will be the only pleasant life, and only in request.

And it is a particular disesteem of every knowing person alive, and most

injurious to the written labours and monuments of the dead, so to me it

seems an undervaluing and vilifying of the whole nation. I cannot set

so light by all the invention, the art, the wit, the grave and solid

judgment which is in England, as that it can be comprehended in any

twenty capacities how good soever, much less that it should not pass

except their superintendence be over it, except it be sifted and

strained with their strainers, that it should be uncurrent without

their manual stamp. Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be

monopolized and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards. We must

not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land,

to mark and licence it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks. What is it

but a servitude like that imposed by the Philistines, not to be allowed

the sharpening of our own axes and coulters, but we must repair from

all quarters to twenty licensing forges? Had anyone written and divulged

erroneous things and scandalous to honest life, misusing and forfeiting

the esteem had of his reason among men, if after conviction this only

censure were adjudged him that he should never henceforth write but

what were first examined by an appointed officer, whose hand should be

annexed to pass his credit for him that now he might be safely read; it

could not be apprehended less than a disgraceful punishment. Whence to

include the whole nation, and those that never yet thus offended, under

such a diffident and suspectful prohibition, may plainly be understood

what a disparagement it is. So much the more, whenas debtors and

delinquents may walk abroad without a keeper, but unoffensive books must

not stir forth without a visible jailer in their title.

Nor is it to the common people less than 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, whenas,

in those popish places where the laity are most hated and despised, the

same strictness is used over them. Wisdom we cannot call it, because

it stops but one breach of licence, nor that neither: whenas those

corruptions, which it seeks to prevent, break in faster at other doors

which cannot be shut.

And in conclusion it reflects to the disrepute of our ministers also, of

whose labours we should hope better, and of the proficiency which their

flock reaps by them, than that after all this light of the Gospel which

is, and is to be, and all this continual preaching, they should still be

frequented with such an unprincipled, unedified and laic rabble, as

that the whiff of every new pamphlet should stagger them out of their

catechism and Christian walking. This may have much reason to discourage

the ministers when such a low conceit is had of all their exhortations,

and the benefiting of their hearers, as that they are not thought fit

to be turned loose to three sheets of paper without a licenser; that all

the sermons, all the lectures preached, printed, vented in such numbers,

and such volumes, as have now well nigh made all other books unsaleable,

should not be armour enough against one single Enchiridion, without the

castle of St. Angelo of an Imprimatur.

And lest some should persuade ye, Lords and Commons, that these

arguments of learned men’s discouragement at this your Order are mere

flourishes, and not real, I could recount what I have seen and heard in

other countries, where this kind of inquisition tyrannizes; when I have

sat among their learned men, for that honour I had, and been counted

happy to be born in such a place of philosophic freedom, as they

supposed England was, while themselves 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. And though I knew

that England then was groaning loudest under the prelatical yoke,

nevertheless I took it as a pledge of future happiness, that other

nations were so persuaded of her liberty. Yet was it beyond my hope that

those worthies were then breathing in her air, who should be her leaders

to such a deliverance, as shall never be forgotten by any revolution of

time that this world hath to finish. When that was once begun, it was as

little in my fear that what words of complaint I heard among learned men

of other parts uttered against the Inquisition, the same I should hear

by as learned men at home, uttered in time of Parliament against an

order of licensing; and that so generally that, when I had disclosed

myself a companion of their discontent, I might say, if without envy,

that he whom an honest quaestorship had endeared to the Sicilians was

not more by them importuned against Verres, than the favourable opinion

which I had among many who honour ye, and are known and respected by ye,

loaded me with entreaties and persuasions, that I would not despair to

lay together that which just reason should bring into my mind, toward

the removal of an undeserved thraldom upon learning. That this is

not therefore the disburdening of a particular fancy, but the common

grievance of all those who had prepared their minds and studies

above the vulgar pitch to advance truth in others, and from others to

entertain it, thus much may satisfy.

And in their name I shall for neither friend nor foe conceal what

the general murmur is; that if it come to inquisitioning again and

licensing, and that we are so timorous of ourselves, and so suspicious

of all men, as to fear each book and the shaking of every leaf, before

we know what the contents are; if some who but of late were little

better than silenced from preaching shall come now to silence us from

reading, except what they please, it cannot be guessed what is intended

by some but a second tyranny over learning: and will soon put it out of

controversy, that bishops and presbyters are the same to us, both name

and thing. That those evils of prelaty, which before from five or six

and twenty sees were distributively charged upon the whole people, will

now light wholly upon learning, is not obscure to us: whenas now the

pastor of a small unlearned parish on the sudden shall be exalted

archbishop over a large diocese of books, and yet not remove, but keep

his other cure too, a mystical pluralist. He who but of late cried down

the sole ordination of every novice Bachelor of Art, and denied sole

jurisdiction over the simplest parishioner, shall now at home in his

private chair assume both these over worthiest and excellentest books

and ablest authors that write them.

This is not, ye Covenants and Protestations that we have made! this is

not to put down prelaty; this is but to chop an episcopacy; this is

but to translate the Palace Metropolitan from one kind of dominion into

another; this is but an old canonical sleight of commuting our penance.

To startle thus betimes at a mere unlicensed pamphlet will after a

while be afraid of every conventicle, and a while after will make a

conventicle of every Christian meeting. But I am certain that a State

governed by the rules of justice and fortitude, or a Church built

and founded upon the rock of faith and true knowledge, cannot be so

pusillanimous. While things are yet not constituted in religion, that

freedom of writing should be restrained by a discipline imitated from

the prelates and learnt by them from the Inquisition, to shut us up all

again into the breast of a licenser, must needs give cause of doubt and

discouragement to all learned and religious men.

Who cannot but discern the fineness of this politic drift, and who are

the contrivers; that while bishops were to be baited down, then all

presses might be open; it was the people’s birthright and privilege in

time of Parliament, it was the breaking forth of light. But now, the

bishops abrogated and voided out of the Church, as if our Reformation

sought no more but to make room for others into their seats under

another name, the episcopal arts begin to bud again, the cruse of truth

must run no more oil, liberty of printing must be enthralled again

under a prelatical commission of twenty, the privilege of the people

nullified, and, which is worse, the freedom of learning must groan

again, and to her old fetters: all this the Parliament yet sitting.

Although their own late arguments and defences against the prelates

might remember them, that 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 punishing of wits enhances their authority,

saith 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. This Order, therefore, may prove a nursing-mother to

sects, but I shall easily show how it will be a step-dame to Truth: and

first by disenabling us to the maintenance of what is known already.

Well knows he who uses to consider, that our faith and knowledge thrives

by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion. Truth is compared in

Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual

progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.

A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only

because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without

knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he

holds becomes his heresy.

There is not any burden that some would gladlier post off to another

than the charge and care of their religion. There be–who knows not that

there be?–of Protestants and professors who live and die in as arrant

an implicit faith as any lay Papist of Loretto. A wealthy man, addicted

to his pleasure and to his profits, finds religion to be a traffic so

entangled, and of so many piddling accounts, that of all mysteries he

cannot skill to keep a stock going upon that trade. What should he do?

fain he would have the name to be religious, fain he would bear up with

his neighbours in that. What does he therefore, but resolves to give

over toiling, and to find himself out some factor, to whose care and

credit he may commit the whole managing of his religious affairs; some

divine of note and estimation that must be. To him he adheres, resigns

the whole warehouse of his religion, with all the locks and keys, into

his custody; and indeed makes the very person of that man his religion;

esteems his associating with him a sufficient evidence and commendatory

of his own piety. So that a man may say his religion is now no more

within himself, but is become a dividual movable, and goes and comes

near him, according as that good man frequents the house. He entertains

him, gives him gifts, feasts him, lodges him; his religion comes home at

night, prays, is liberally supped, and sumptuously laid to sleep; rises,

is saluted, and after the malmsey, or some well-spiced brewage, and

better breakfasted than he whose morning appetite would have gladly fed

on green figs between Bethany and Jerusalem, his religion walks abroad

at eight, and leaves his kind entertainer in the shop trading all day

without his religion.

Another sort there be who, when they hear that all things shall be

ordered, all things regulated and settled, nothing written but what

passes through the custom-house of certain publicans that have the

tonnaging and poundaging of all free-spoken truth, will straight give

themselves up into your hands, make ’em and cut ’em out what religion ye

please: there be delights, there be recreations and jolly pastimes that

will fetch the day about from sun to sun, and rock the tedious year

as in a delightful dream. What need they torture their heads with that

which others have taken so strictly and so unalterably into their own

purveying? These are the fruits which a dull ease and cessation of our

knowledge will bring forth among the people. How goodly and how to be

wished were such an obedient unanimity as this, what a fine conformity

would it starch us all into! Doubtless a staunch and solid piece of

framework, as any January could freeze together.

Nor much better will be the consequence even among the clergy

themselves. It is no new thing never heard of before, for a parochial

minister, who has his reward and is at his Hercules’ pillars in a warm

benefice, to be easily inclinable, if he have nothing else that may

rouse up his studies, to finish his circuit in an English Concordance

and a topic folio, the gatherings and savings of a sober graduateship,

a Harmony and a Catena; treading the constant round of certain common

doctrinal heads, attended with their uses, motives, marks, and

means, out of which, as out of an alphabet, or sol-fa, by forming and

transforming, joining and disjoining variously, a little bookcraft, and

two hours’ meditation, might furnish him unspeakably to the performance

of more than a weekly charge of sermoning: not to reckon up the infinite

helps of interlinearies, breviaries, synopses, and other loitering gear.

But as for the multitude of sermons ready printed and piled up, on every

text that is not difficult, our London trading St. Thomas in his vestry,

and add to boot St. Martin and St. Hugh, have not within their hallowed

limits more vendible ware of all sorts ready made: so that penury he

never need fear of pulpit provision, having where so plenteously to

refresh his magazine. But if his rear and flanks be not impaled, if his

back door be not secured by the rigid licenser, but that a bold book

may now and then issue forth and give the assault to some of his old

collections in their trenches, it will concern him then to keep waking,

to stand in watch, to set good guards and sentinels about his

received opinions, to walk the round and counter-round with his fellow

inspectors, fearing lest any of his flock be seduced, who also then

would be better instructed, better exercised and disciplined. And God

send that the fear of this diligence, which must then be used, do not

make us affect the laziness of a licensing Church.

For if we be sure we are in the right, and do not hold the truth

guiltily, which becomes not, if we ourselves condemn not our own weak

and frivolous teaching, and the people for an untaught and irreligious

gadding rout, what can be more fair than when a man judicious, learned,

and of a conscience, for aught we know, as good as theirs that taught

us what we know, shall not privily from house to house, which is more

dangerous, but openly by writing publish to the world what his opinion

is, what his reasons, and wherefore that which is now thought cannot be

sound? Christ urged it as wherewith to justify himself, that he preached

in public; yet writing is more public than preaching; and more easy

to refutation, if need be, there being so many whose business and

profession merely it is to be the champions of truth; which if they

neglect, what can be imputed but their sloth, or unability?

Thus much we are hindered and disinured by this course of licensing,

toward the true knowledge of what we seem to know. For how much it hurts

and hinders the licensers themselves in the calling of their ministry,

more than any secular employment, if they will discharge that office as

they ought, so that of necessity they must neglect either the one duty

or the other, I insist not, because it is a particular, but leave it to

their own conscience, how they will decide it there.

There is yet behind of what I purposed to lay open, the incredible loss

and detriment that this plot of licensing puts us to; more than if some

enemy at sea should stop up all our havens and ports and creeks, it

hinders and retards the importation of our richest merchandise, truth;

nay, it was first established and put in practice by Antichristian

malice and mystery on set purpose to extinguish, if it were possible,

the light of Reformation, and to settle falsehood; little differing from

that policy wherewith the Turk upholds his Alcoran, by the prohibition

of printing. ‘Tis not denied, but gladly confessed, we are to send our

thanks and vows to Heaven louder than most of nations, for that great

measure of truth which we enjoy, especially in those main points between

us and the Pope, with his appurtenances the prelates: but he who thinks

we are to pitch our tent here, and have attained the utmost prospect of

reformation that the mortal glass wherein we contemplate can show us,

till we come to beatific vision, that man by this very opinion declares

that he is yet far short of truth.

Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was

a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his

Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race

of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his

conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin

Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them

to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth,

such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for

the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb,

still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and

Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming; he shall

bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into

an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these

licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of opportunity,

forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to

do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyred saint.

We boast our light; but if we look not wisely on the sun itself, it

smites us into darkness. Who can discern those planets that are oft

combust, and those stars of brightest magnitude that rise and set with

the sun, until the opposite motion of their orbs bring them to such a

place in the firmament, where they may be seen evening or morning? The

light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but

by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge. It

is not the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitring of a bishop, and the

removing him from off the presbyterian shoulders, that will make us a

happy nation. No, if other things as great in the Church, and in the

rule of life both economical and political, be not looked into and

reformed, we have looked so long upon the blaze that Zuinglius and

Calvin hath beaconed up to us, that we are stark blind. There be who

perpetually complain of schisms and sects, and make it such a calamity

that any man dissents from their maxims. ‘Tis their own pride and

ignorance which causes the disturbing, who neither will hear with

meekness, nor can convince; yet all must be suppressed which is not

found in their Syntagma. They are the troublers, they are the dividers

of unity, who neglect and permit not others to unite those dissevered

pieces which are yet wanting to the body of Truth. To be still searching

what we know not by what we know, still closing up truth to truth as we

find it (for all her body is homogeneal and proportional), this is the

golden rule in theology as well as in arithmetic, and makes up the

best harmony in a Church; not the forced and outward union of cold, and

neutral, and inwardly divided minds.

Lords and Commons of England! consider what nation it is whereof ye are,

and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull, but of a

quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy

to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human

capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of learning in her deepest

sciences have been so ancient and so eminent among us, that writers of

good antiquity and ablest judgment have been persuaded that even the

school of Pythagoras and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the

old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil Roman, Julius

Agricola, who governed once here for Caesar, preferred the natural wits

of Britain before the laboured studies of the French. Nor is it for

nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from

as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian

wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language

and our theologic arts.

Yet that which is above all this, the favour and the love of Heaven,

we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and

propending towards us. Why else was this nation chosen before any other,

that out of her, as out of Sion, should be proclaimed and sounded forth

the first tidings and trumpet of Reformation to all Europe? And had it

not been the obstinate perverseness of our prelates against the divine

and admirable spirit of Wickliff, to suppress him as a schismatic and

innovator, perhaps neither the Bohemian Huns and Jerome, no nor the name

of Luther or of Calvin, had been ever known: the glory of reforming all

our neighbours had been completely ours. But now, as our obdurate clergy

have with violence demeaned the matter, we are become hitherto the

latest and the backwardest scholars, of whom God offered to have made

us the teachers. Now once again by all concurrence of signs, and by

the general instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly

express their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great

period in his Church, even to the reforming of Reformation itself: what

does he then but reveal himself to his servants, and as his manner is,

first to his Englishmen? I say, as his manner is, first to us, though we

mark not the method of his counsels, and are unworthy.

Behold now this vast city: a city of refuge, the mansion house of

liberty, encompassed and surrounded with his protection; the shop of war

hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates

and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered truth, than

there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing,

searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with

their homage and their fealty, the approaching Reformation: others as

fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and

convincement. What could a man require more from a nation so pliant and

so prone to seek after knowledge? What wants there to such a towardly

and pregnant soil, but wise and faithful labourers, to make a knowing

people, a nation of prophets, of sages, and of worthies? We reckon more

than five months yet to harvest; there need not be five weeks; had we

but eyes to lift up, the fields are white already.

Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much

arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but

knowledge in the making. Under these fantastic terrors of sect and

schism, we wrong the earnest and zealous thirst after knowledge and

understanding which God hath stirred up in this city. What some lament

of, we rather should rejoice at, should rather praise this pious

forwardness among men, to reassume the ill-deputed care of their

religion into their own hands again. A little generous prudence, a

little forbearance of one another, and some grain of charity might win

all these diligences to join, and unite in one general and brotherly

search after truth; could we but forgo this prelatical tradition of

crowding free consciences and Christian liberties into canons and

precepts of men. I doubt not, if some great and worthy stranger should

come among us, wise to discern the mould and temper of a people, and how

to govern it, observing the high hopes and aims, the diligent alacrity

of our extended thoughts and reasonings in the pursuance of truth and

freedom, but that he would cry out as Pyrrhus did, admiring the Roman

docility and courage: If such were my Epirots, I would not despair the

greatest design that could be attempted, to make a Church or kingdom


Yet these are the men cried out against for schismatics and sectaries;

as if, while the temple of the Lord was building, some cutting, some

squaring the marble, others hewing the cedars, there should be a sort

of irrational men who could not consider there must be many schisms and

many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber, ere the house

of God can be built. And when every stone is laid artfully together,

it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in

this world; neither can every piece of the building be of one form;

nay rather the perfection consists in this, that, out of many

moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly

disproportional, arises the goodly and the graceful symmetry that

commends the whole pile and structure.

Let us therefore be more considerate builders, more wise in spiritual

architecture, when great reformation is expected. For now the time seems

come, wherein Moses the great prophet may sit in heaven rejoicing to

see that memorable and glorious wish of his fulfilled, when not only

our seventy elders, but all the Lord’s people, are become prophets. No

marvel then though some men, and some good men too perhaps, but young in

goodness, as Joshua then was, envy them. They fret, and out of their own

weakness are in agony, lest these divisions and subdivisions will undo

us. The adversary again applauds, and waits the hour: when they have

branched themselves out, saith he, small enough into parties and

partitions, then will be our time. Fool! he sees not the firm root, out

of which we all grow, though into branches: nor will beware until he

see our small divided maniples cutting through at every angle of his

ill-united and unwieldy brigade. And that we are to hope better of

all these supposed sects and schisms, and that we shall not need that

solicitude, honest perhaps, though over-timorous, of them that vex in

this behalf, but shall laugh in the end at those malicious applauders of

our differences, I have these reasons to persuade me.

First, when a city shall be as it were besieged and blocked about, her

navigable river infested, inroads and incursions round, defiance and

battle oft rumoured to be marching up even to her walls and suburb

trenches, that then the people, or the greater part, more than at other

times, wholly taken up with the study of highest and most important

matters to be reformed, should be disputing, reasoning, reading,

inventing, discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not

before discoursed or written of, argues first a singular goodwill,

contentedness and confidence in your prudent foresight and safe

government, Lords and Commons; and from thence derives itself to a

gallant bravery and well-grounded contempt of their enemies, as if there

were no small number of as great spirits among us, as his was, who when

Rome was nigh besieged by Hannibal, being in the city, bought that piece

of ground at no cheap rate, whereon Hannibal himself encamped his own


Next, it is a lively and cheerful presage of our happy success and

victory. For as in a body, when the blood is fresh, the spirits pure and

vigorous, not only to vital but to rational faculties, and those in the

acutest and the pertest operations of wit and subtlety, it argues in

what good plight and constitution the body is; so when the cheerfulness

of the people is so sprightly up, as that it has not only wherewith 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 prosperous

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 undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and unscaling her

long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the

whole noise of timorous and 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 would 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 of twenty engrossers over it, to bring a

famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is

measured to us by their bushel? Believe it, Lords and Commons, they

who counsel ye to such a suppressing do as good as bid ye 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 the liberty, Lords and Commons, which your own valorous and happy

counsels have purchased us, liberty which is the nurse of all great

wits; this is that which hath rarefied 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 pursuing

of the truth, unless ye first make yourselves, that made us so, less

the lovers, less the founders of our true liberty. We can grow ignorant

again, brutish, formal and slavish, as ye found us; but you then

must first become that which ye 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; ye cannot suppress that, unless ye reinforce an

abrogated and merciless law, that fathers may dispatch at will their own

children. And who shall then stick closest to ye, and excite others?

not he who takes up arms for coat and conduct, and his four nobles of

Danegelt. Although I dispraise not the defence of just immunities, yet

love my peace better, if that were all. Give me the liberty to know, to

utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

What would be best advised, then, if it be found so hurtful and so

unequal to suppress opinions for the newness or the unsuitableness to

a customary acceptance, will not be my task to say. I only shall repeat

what I have learned from one of your own honourable number, a right

noble and pious lord, who, had he not sacrificed his life and fortunes

to the Church and Commonwealth, we had not now missed and bewailed a

worthy and undoubted patron of this argument. Ye know him, I am sure;

yet I for honour’s sake, and may it be eternal to him, shall name him,

the Lord Brook. He writing of episcopacy, and by the way treating of

sects and schisms, left ye his vote, or rather now the last words of his

dying charge, which I know will ever be of dear and honoured regard with

ye, so full of meekness and breathing charity, that next to his last

testament, who bequeathed love and peace to his disciples, I cannot

call to mind where I have read or heard words more mild and peaceful. He

there exhorts us to hear with patience and humility those, however

they be miscalled, that desire to live purely, in such a use of God’s

ordinances, as the best guidance of their conscience gives them, and

to tolerate them, though in some disconformity to ourselves. The book

itself will tell us more at large, being published to the world, and

dedicated to the Parliament by him who, both for his life and for his

death, deserves that what advice he left be not laid by without perusal.

And now the time in special is, by privilege to write and speak what may

help to the further discussing of matters in agitation. The temple of

Janus with his two controversial faces might now not unsignificantly be

set open. And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to

play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously,

by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and

Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and

open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing. He who

hears what praying there is for light and clearer knowledge to be sent

down among us, would think of other matters to be constituted beyond

the discipline of Geneva, framed and fabricked already to our hands. Yet

when the new light which we beg for shines in upon us, there be who envy

and oppose, if it come not first in at their casements. What a collusion

is this, whenas we are exhorted by the wise man to use diligence, to

seek for wisdom as for hidden treasures early and late, that another

order shall enjoin us to know nothing but by statute? When a man hath

been labouring the hardest labour in the deep mines of knowledge,

hath furnished out his findings in all their equipage: drawn forth

his reasons as it were a battle ranged: scattered and defeated all

objections in his way; calls out his adversary into the plain, offers

him the advantage of wind and sun, if he please, only that he may try

the matter by dint of argument: for his opponents then to skulk, to lay

ambushments, to keep a narrow bridge of licensing where the challenger

should pass, though it be valour enough in soldiership, is but weakness

and cowardice in the wars of Truth.

For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? She needs

no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious;

those are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power.

Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she

speaks not true, as the old Proteus did, who spake oracles only when he

was caught and bound, but then rather she turns herself into all shapes,

except her own, and perhaps tunes her voice according to the time, as

Micaiah did before Ahab, until she be adjured into her own likeness. Yet

is it not impossible that she may have more shapes than one. What else

is all that rank of things indifferent, wherein Truth may be on this

side or on the other, without being unlike herself? What but a vain

shadow else is the abolition of those ordinances, that hand-writing

nailed to the cross? What great purchase is this Christian liberty which

Paul so often boasts of? His doctrine is, that he who eats or eats not,

regards a day or regards it not, may do either to the Lord. How many

other things might be tolerated in peace, and left to conscience, had we

but charity, and were it not the chief stronghold of our hypocrisy to be

ever judging one another?

I fear yet this iron yoke of outward conformity hath left a slavish

print upon our necks; the ghost of a linen decency yet haunts us.

We stumble and are impatient at the least dividing of one visible

congregation from another, though it be not in fundamentals; and

through our forwardness to suppress, and our backwardness to recover

any enthralled piece of truth out of the gripe of custom, we care not to

keep truth separated from truth, which is the fiercest rent and disunion

of all. We do not see that, while we still affect by all means a rigid

external formality, we may as soon fall again into a gross conforming

stupidity, a stark and dead congealment of wood and hay and stubble,

forced and frozen together, which is more to the sudden degenerating of

a Church than many subdichotomies of petty schisms.

Not that I can think well of every light separation, or that all in a

Church is to be expected gold and silver and precious stones: it is not

possible for man to sever the wheat from the tares, the good fish from

the other fry; that must be the Angels’ ministry at the end of mortal

things. Yet if all cannot be of one mind–as who looks they should

be?–this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian,

that many be tolerated, rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated

popery, and open superstition, which, as it extirpates all religions and

civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that

all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the

weak and the misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely

either against faith or manners no law can possibly permit, that intends

not to unlaw itself: but those neighbouring differences, or rather

indifferences, are what I speak of, whether in some point of doctrine

or of discipline, which, though they may be many, yet need not interrupt

THE UNITY OF SPIRIT, if we could but find among us THE BOND OF PEACE.

In the meanwhile 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 this, 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 errors, even as the

person is of many a great man slight and contemptuous to see to. And

what do they tell us vainly 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 distance from

us; besides yet a greater danger which is in it.

For when God shakes a kingdom with strong and healthful commotions to

a general reforming, ’tis 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. For such is the order of God’s enlightening his

Church, to dispense and deal out by degrees his beam, so as our earthly

eyes may best sustain it.

Neither is God appointed and confined, where and out of what place these

his chosen shall be first heard to speak; for he sees not as man sees,

chooses not as man chooses, lest we should devote ourselves again to set

places, and assemblies, and outward callings of men; planting our faith

one while in the old Convocation house, and another while in the Chapel

at Westminster; when all the faith and religion that shall be there

canonized is not sufficient without plain convincement, and the charity

of patient instruction to supple the least bruise of conscience, to

edify the meanest Christian, who desires to walk in the Spirit, and not

in the letter of human trust, for all the number of voices that can be

there made; no, though Harry VII himself there, with all 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 Parliament, 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 John, 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 set 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 very 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 them 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 scape abroad, as the event shows.

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 misinformed, 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.

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