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act in the full consciousness of their moral responsibilities. They
“ born for the universe.” Let them fulfil their sacred trust, and the priceless inheritance which our fathers consecrated by their prayers and sealed with their blood, will be transmitted unimpared to a grateful and countless posterity.
And if, in the retributions of a righteous Providence, our nation shall hereafter descend to the grave of empires and republics, our sepulchral monument will bear for its inscription, a LITERATURE“ beyond all Greek, all Roman fame.”
AREOPAGITICA : A Speech for the liberty of unlicensed Printing, to
the Parliament of England. By John Milton. Boston Edition,
1826. ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ ΕΚΛΕΚΤΙΚΗ, or a discourse of the Liberty of Pro
phesying, with its just limits and temper, showing the unreasona-
I. p. 292 seq. Lond. 1835.
By Robert Hall. Works, Vol. II. p. 39 seq. New York, 1832.
It is not for the purpose of presenting an extended and formal review of these works that we have placed them at the head of this Article. It is rather to call the attention of our readers to the fact that three such minds should have deemed it necessary to engage in the defence of the right of free discussion; and to direct to these works, as far as may be in our power, the public mind. There are no productions in English literature which, on account of the importance of the principles involved in the discussion, as well as the manner in which such men could not fail to conduct it, more demand, in our view, the attention of these times. The fact that John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, and the indomitable lover of liberty, the
man so rich in varied learning, and so entirely master of all the powers of the English language ; — that JEREMY Taylor, the man most distinguished among English classical writers for fertility of imagination, for copiousness and richness of expression, as well as for profound thought ; and that Robert Hall, the most eloquent man of his age, deemed themselves called on to engage in the discussion of this subject, is a demonstration of its importance, and a pledge that all the powers of argument and persuasion are brought to its illustration and defence. No men have lived who were better able to do justice to this subject. No men can be found better qualified to command the rich and varied resources of the English language. It is an honor to English literature that such men engaged in this inquiry ; it is an honor to the language which we speak, that the noble sentiments which they defend, could be expressed in the manner in which it has been done.
This is one of the subjects which is to be discussed in each successive generation. It is not enough that the fetters which once bound the human mind have been broken ; it is not enough that the right of freedom of inquiry, and of opinion should be defended, and placed on a foundation which cannot be overthrown by argument. There are so many interests which men create, and which they wish to perpetuate that conflict with this right; and there are so many opinions which they entertain that they seem conscious cannot bear the light, and around which they endeavor to throw an inapproachable sacredness, that it is needful that the principles which shall guide the human mind on this subject should be often examined, and be presented without regard to existing opinions, customs and laws. In each age of the world, from causes which it is not needful now to state, there are barriers created of most formidable character that are fitted to impair or destroy this right. In the time of Milton one class of causes existed; in the time of Hall, another; in our own times, there may be others. Each age, and country furnishes its own obstacles to the exercise of this right; and the efforts, every where, of certain classes of men are put forth to bind the human mind in chains. We regard it as vital to the interests of religion and liberty in this land that this right should be stated and vindicated; and we propose, in the spirit of entire freedom, to state our views on this subject, and to call the attention of our readers to the history of this
Vol. IX. No. 26.
right; to its proper limits; to the arguments by which it is defended, and to the obstacles which exist in this country to its free and unembarrassed exercise.
There is no portion of history more interesting or instructive than that which pertains to the right of free discussion. It would seem to have been one of the most obvious of all positions that every man had the right not only to cherish his own sentiments, but to examine all subjects that should come before his mind; that he had a right freely to express his views, and as far as the considerations which had influenced his own mind would go, to suggest them to others; that it was the prerogative of the human understanding to investigate truth, and having investigated and found it, an undeniable privilege to be permitted to make that truth valuable to the species by imparting it to others. This right, certainly, seemed quite as clear as that of rendering diamonds or pearls, or metals valuable to society by their circulation and use, or of making a newly-discovered principle in the mechanic arts of use by imparting the knowledge of it to others. The right to investigate truth on all subjects seemed just as clear as the right conferred on the species to penetrate the bowels of the earth in search of the precious ores, or of discovering, and developing new principles in the arts, or of rendering the earth on which we live productive to meet the wants of man. Yet to nothing connected with the employment of mind, has there been a more steady and determined opposition, than to the right of untrammelled discussion. We shall soon state some of the causes which have led to this resistance. Meantime we may remark, that it is a subject of deep, but unavailing regret that the history on this subject has not been fully recorded. Nothing would more clearly illustrate the advancement of society, and nothing furnish more important principles to guide us now, than a record of the successive steps by which the present views of the right of free discussion have been reached. Over this loss we are compelled to sigh unavailingly; and to lament that so much talent and eloquence have been expended in detailing the progress of wars and sieges; the number and power of armies ; the position of military hosts on fields of blood; the pomp and pageantry of kings; and the useless splendors of triumphal processions, and so little on the progress of the human mind, and on the obstacles which have resisted or retarded its freedom. A single principle which goes to settle the freedom of the mind is of more value than most of the victories which occupy a large
space in the ancient records. But it is now too late to repair the loss. All that can be accomplished in regard to this deeply interesting history is to be effected by careful reflection on the events which are recorded. A few brief statements of laws which affect this subject; of edicts at various times either to repress or to encourage the spirit of free inquiry; a few statements of the persecutions which have been excited to suppress it; a few biographical notices of master spirits who have struggled to overcome the obstacles, and to give the human mind its utmost freedom, are all that now remain on this deeply interesting part of history. To trace this history, the attention must be fixed on the characteristics of different ages ; on the laws of past times ; on the maxims that have prevailed ; on the deference which is paid to power, or on the independence of thinking which is evinced by some bold and daring spirit; on the decrees of tyrants, and on the indications of the struggling of the human mind to be free.
Milton, in the work which we have placed at the head of this article, has gleaned perhaps nearly all that can now be gathered from the records of the past on the history of the right of free discussion. For these historical notices, as well as for a review of the most masterly defence of the “ liberty of unlicensed printing,” to be found in our language, we must now be content to refer our readers to the work itself. We shall have occasion, however, to illustrate our subject by copious extracts from that unrivalled defence. No man was ever yet more deeply imbued with the spirit of liberty than John Milton ; no man had a more profound knowledge of the strength, and manly vigor of the English tongue, “ the language” as he says, “ of men ever famous and foremost in the achievements of liberty ;" and none was ever endowed with an intellect better fitted by nature to do justice to the theme, or better disciplined by a fearless and independent struggling for truth and freedom - "natural endowments," as he says, “ haply not the worst for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude" - natural endowments most eminently adapted by the Author of the human intellect to vindicate the right of man to free and untrammelled thought.
We have remarked that the right to a free examination of all subjects seems to be one that is clear and indisputable. Yet it has been called in question ; it has been resisted; and there are still, as we shall state more fully in a subsequent part of this article, many maxims, and usages which resist or embarrass this
right. Men have vacillated on the subject, at one time urging it
The subject is undergoing a new examination in our own
As we purpose in this article to defend the liberty of unfet