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licensing is, and next proceeds to the proof of its acting as a discouragement to learning, and being an insult to learned men. Having gone through this matter, he thus addresses the Parliament:—
And lest some should persuadeye, 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 for 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.
* And than Milton himself thought. Galileo was not a prisoner when Milton was in Italy.
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 suspicious of all men, as to fear each book and the shaking of each 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.”
He then expands this last thought, and exposes the hypocrisy of those who maintained “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 who, when they had gained their ends, sought to reimpose the fetters on the press. Next, he shows that this practice, “instead of suppressing sects and schisms, raises them : and invests them with a reputation.” It may also, he says, prove a step-dame to truth, “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.t 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
* See above, p. 201.
f That is, constitution, as in “he was of a sanguine complexion,” and such-like phrases.
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 errant and implicit faith as any lay-papist of Loretto. A wealthy man, addicted to his pleasures and to his profits, finds religion to be a traffic so entangled and of so many fiddling 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 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 this 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 [being] 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 customhouse of certain publicans, that have the tonnaging and poundaging of all free-spoken truth, will straight give themselves up into your hands. Make them and cut them 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 into Doubtless a staunch and solid piece of framework as any January could freeze together.
To the clergy themselves the licensing system would be injurious, as it would cause a stagnation of intellect among them when they had nothing to contend against. But to the nation in general, the loss and detriment that it would cause would be “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.”
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.
The rest of the piece is devoted to an eloquent appeal to the Parliament, not by the imposition of this yoke to check the progress of the truth and of reformation which God is setting forth in the world, and in which “he reveals 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 me. thod 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 working to fashion out the plates and instruments 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 fealty, the approaching reformation; others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement. # * # # # #
Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant people, 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 unsealing 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.
Here we pause, advising the reader carefully to peruse the entire of this noble treatise.
HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
Of this work Warburton has given the following judgement:+—“It is written with great simplicity, contrary to his custom in his prose-writings, and is the better for it. But he sometimes rises into a surprising grandeur in the sentiments and expressions, as at the end of the second book. I never saw anything equal to this, but the conclusion of Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World.”
From this decision we dissent. We cannot discern the lauded simplicity; on the contrary, the inversions and Latinisms, with which it abounds, are far more offensive
* A noise was a band of music.
+ Milford's Life of Milton, p. lxxxi.