Imágenes de página
[ocr errors][merged small]

mighty ; nor is the human spirit to be deterred in its inquiries by the apprehension that such inquiry will expose to such reproach. "No more alarm is to be expressed in any quarter where men examine any subject for themselves, or freely express the result of their investigation, than where the same men breathe the air, or look upon the light of day. In all this land, we may propose our sentiments where and when we please, subject only to the restraints of the decencies and courtesies of life'; we may proclaim them from the press, in the pulpit, in the legislative hall, and on the house top; nor is there to be any self-constituted tribunal to ask us why we may do it, or to bid us pause; there is to be no breath of suspicion that is to come upon us for it, like the mist of the ocean, nor is there to be any tribunal this side heaven that is to be regarded as having a right to interfere, and to amerce us by fine, or imprisonment, by loss of limb, or life, or reputation for the honest expression of our sentiments.

These are the elements of our freedom. And only by principles like these can our freedom live. By such sentiments as these our country has attained the pre-eminence which God has given us. And these sentiments the result of all the thought, and toil, and blood in the cause of religion and liberty, we have received to be defended and to be transmitted unimpaired to future times. The great duty of these times is to guard these sentiments with a vigilance becoming the value of all our freedom; and if there is a voice of strength and power in the land it is to be lifted up on the slightest invasion of these principles and to give the note of alarm.

Our next inquiry, therefore is, whether there is now any thing in existence by which these rights are endangered. With entire freedom we shall here submit to the consideration of our readers several things which to our view have among us an ominous aspect; or some of the ways in which the entire freedom for which we contend is prevented or threatened. In doing this we shall call to remembrance some modes which have been practised in former times as illustrations of the manner in which this right may be attempted to be restrained, and of the evils against which we may be called to contend in our own.

The first which we specify as having been employed, and the most obvious, was the application of power directly to prohibit freedom of discussion, or the public expression of opinion. The exercise of this power has assumed various forms

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

according to the character of the times in which it has been deemed necessary. Extensively among the nations of antiquity the right of free discussion, and of an open expression of opinion was allowed, to an extent which to many would be thought to be dangerous even in these times. In Athens, there were but two kinds of books that were noticed by the magistrate, those which were blasphemous, and those which were atheistical; while a very wide limit was given to the expression of opinion in the ancient comedy, and in the discourses of their orators. The books of Protagoras were ordered to be burnt by the judges of the Areopagus because he began one of his discourses with the expression, that he did not know whether there were gods or not. But in regard to the great subjects of philosophy, and morals ; the inquiries of science, and the question of theology, there seems to have been the utmost liberty in the discussion of their various opinions. Lacedaemon was the other leading city of Greece. Lycurgus, their lawgiver, had distinguished himself by collecting the scattered poems of Homer, and introducing them into the Republic. Beyond this they do not seem to have distinguished themselves in literature. They were trained for war; and they satisfied themselves by the free expression of their sentiments in their apothegms. In Rome also we know that there was great liberty allowed in regard to the investigation of all subjects. It was only in the case of libel, or blasphemy, that notice was taken of books by the magistrate.* When, however, a tyrant occupied the throne; when there were any points which it was deemed desirable to conceal from the people; and when it was purposed to bind the mind in chains, then the course was pursued, which was so obvious, to attempt to prevent the right of discussion, and to commit the books to the flames. Thus we are told by Tacitus in the life of Julius Agricola : Veniam non petissem, nisi incursaturus tam saeva et infesta virtutibus tempora. Legimus cum Aruleno Rustico Paetus Thrasea, Herennio Senecioni Priscus Helvidius laudati essent, capitale fuisse ; neque in ipsos modo auctores, sed in libros quoque eorum saevitum, delegato triumviris ministerio, ut monumenta clarissimorum ingeniorum in comitio ac foro urerentur. Scilicet, illo igne vocem populi Romani, et libertatem Senatûs, et conscientiam generis humani aboleri arbitrabantur, etc.

It was reserved for periods that occurred under some form of

* Milton, p. 22–25.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Christianity to put forth the most decided opposition to the right of discussion. Often was the strong arm of

power reached forth in the dark ages of the christian church to repress the spirit of free investigation. It was in this form when church and State combined in one great purpose of tyranny; when superstition had gained the ascendency; when the lights of science had been put out; when the Bible had been withdrawn from the people ; and when the mighty powers of Europe were in fact controlled by a single mind, that the most successful effort was made to repress investigation. Then, regarding all points of human inquiry as settled by the fathers, or to be setiled by the infallible head of the christian world, the mass of mind regarded itself as having no occasion for exertion, and sunk down into indolent repose. The night of ages - a night that in its main features stands by itself in the history of man reigned over the world. None dared to express their sentiments on the great subjects that are adapted to expand the mind. Or if it did occur that here and there one dared to call in question some dogma of the church, it was easy to repress the rising spirit; to still the feeble voice; and all was again hushed. If there was an occasional gleam of light in some obscure quarter it was easy to extinguish that light, and all was again profound darkness over the world. And yet even there, the mind, in many cases, was true to the God that formed it for independence. Probably in every age there were some spirits that rose above this superincumbent mass of superstition, and that breathed the air of freedom. Their names have perished it may be ; but we know that in the time of greatest darkness the immortal mind of Wicklif emerged from the deep and dreadful night; and demonstrated that though the soul might long be borne down and enslaved; and though the power of empires might conspire to destroy the inextinguishable thirst of that soul for freedom, yet that all these shackles would be ultimately burst, and the mind would be free. And we are presented, also, even in the dark ages with another striking fact, demonstrating the activity of mind, and its pantings for freedom. The doctrines of the church were regarded as settled. The questions of government were not open for discussion. Even the pursuits of science were forbidden, or unknown. The friends of liberal science were not then in the christian church, for science is liberal, and its cultivation would have emancipated the human mind. And yet mind, immortal, restless mind,

[ocr errors]

could not slumber ; nor could the powers of men be totally paralyzed. It was then, to meet this state of things ;-to accommodate itself to this state of absolute tyranny, in regard to all that was liberal; to suit the laws and customs every where which had extinguished the right of free and liberal inquiry; and yet to evince the native and inextinguishable activity of mind, that there was created that mysterious, subtle, and profound system which constituted the scholastic philosophy, and the scholastic theology. It was a system of things which, as illustrative of the tendencies of the mind to free movement in some direction, must ever excite the wonder of mankind. There were few materials on which to act. There was really no freedom. Mind was pent up; nor did it dare to step beyond specified bounds, but was doomed to perpetual movements in a most narrow compass, and in endless circumgyrations. And yet there was activity, and profound thought. In this work there were minds of the highest order which this world has known; and in other circumstances the names of Duns Scotus, and Aquinas would have stood beside the names of Locke, of Des Cartes, of Leibnitz, of our own Edwards. Had there been freedom of discussion; had the same powers which created this subtle system, and raised this stupendous fabric, been allowed to have been employed in canvassing the subjects which are now open to the mind of man, who can tell to what an elevation human nature would have long since reached ? As it is, we regard the creation of that system in the circumstances in which they were placed, as furnishing the highest demonstration of the aspiring of the mind for freedom, and as showing its resources, and its burstings forth in spite of all the efforts which can be made to bind

s powers. For they, as Bacon says, had “sharp and strong wits, and abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading; but their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors, (chiefly Aristotle their dictator), as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and knowing little history either of nation or time, did, out of no great quantity of matter, and infinite agitation of wit, spin out unto us those laborious webs of learning, which are extant in their books. For the wit and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which is the contemplation of the creatures of God, worketh according to the stuff, and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself as the spider worketh his web, then it is endless, and brings forth Vol. IX. No. 26.


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit."*

In other times, the grand attempt to repress the right of free discussion has been by laws of censorship on books. This is one form of the exercise of direct power; and as is well known, has been practised with distinguished success in countries where freedom of discussion has been judged to be dangerous to the existing state of things. Where there is power; and where there is a consciousness of feebleness of argument to defend existing opinions, this is the only course which is left for power to pursue. We have not space to go further into a historical statement of this point, than to copy the striking and graphic description which is given of it by Milton.f

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 the fifth, by his bull, not only prohibited, but was the first that excommunicated the reading of heretical books; for about that time Wickliffe and Husse growing terrible, were they who first drove the papal court to a stricter policy of prohibiting. Which course Leo the tenth and his successors followed, until the council of T 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 as well as of Paradise) unless it were approved and licensed under the hands of two or three gluttonous 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 Rabbata, 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 Cini, chancellor of Florence. * Advancement of Learning, Works, Vol. II. 428. Ed. Lond. 1730. + Areopagitica, p. 26, 27, 28.

« AnteriorContinuar »