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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 armory 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 !
81. 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 lett 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. .
82. 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 wbile; and was the immediate image of a star-chamber decree to that purpose made in those 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 escape abroad, as the event shows. But of these sophisms and elenchs of merchandize 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.(53)
(53) Dr. Birch observes that the Areopagitica had not the proper effect on the Presbyterians, who had, at that time, the ascendant, and were as tenacious of continuing the restraints upon others, as they had been loud in their complaints of them, when imposed upon themselves. According to Toland, how. ever, (Life of Milton, p. 23.) the effect of the speech was such, that even one of the licensers themselves, called Mabbot, having assigned his reasons, retired from the office, in 1645. But this, it appears from Whitelocke, (Memorials, 8c. p. 403., Lond. 1732.) is erroneous ; for Mabbot did not retire till May 22, 1649: when, upon his desire and reasonings against licensing of books to be printed, he was discharged of that employment. And we find a particular account of the affair in a weekly paper, in quarto, entitled, A perfect diurnal of some passages in Parliament, and the daily proceedings of the army, under his excellency the Lord Fairfax, from May 21 to May 28, 1649, No. 304, where, p. 2531, we read as follows: “Mr. Mab. bot hath long desired several members of the house, and lately the council of state, to move the house that he might be discharged of licensing books for the future, for the reasons following: viz. Because many thousands of scandalous and malignant pamphlets have been published with his name thereunto, as if he had licensed the same, (though he never saw them) on purpose (as he conceives) to prejudice him in his reputation amongst the honest party of this nation. II. Because that employment (he conceives) is unjust and illegal, as to the ends of its first institution, viz. to stop the press from publishing any thing that might discover the corruption of Church and State, in the time of popery, episcopacy, and tyranny; the better to keep the people in ignorance, and carry on their popish, factious, and tyrannical designs, for the enslaving and destruction both of the bodies and souls of all the free people of this nation. Ill. Because licens. ing is as great a monopoly as ever was in this nation, in that all men's judgments, reasons, &c. are to be bound up in the licenser's, (as to licensing); for if the author of any sheet, book, or treatise, write not to please the fancy, and come within the com
pass of the licenser's judgment, then he is not to receive any stamp of authority for publishing thereof. IV. Because it is lawful (in his judgment) to print any book, sheet, &c. without licensing, so as the author and printers do subscribe their true names thereunto, that so they may be liable to answer the contents thereof; and if they offend therein, then to be punished by such laws as are or shall be for those cases provided. A committee of the Council of State being satisfied with these and other reasons of Mr. Mabbot concerning licensing, the Council of State reports to the house : upon which, the house ordered this day that the said Mr. Mabbot be discharged of licensing books for the future.”