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those, who affected to consider the restraint press as the protection of religion and
To the jealousy of government, demanding an enslaved press, he replies with incontrovertible truth," 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" as to dread the most unlimited freedom of discussion. "I deny not," says the eloquent pleader, "but that it is of great
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 viol, 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
i P.W. vol. i. 289.
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 a 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, and slays an immortality rather than a life.”
Nothing can be more consonant with the general interests of the community than our author's liberal yet guarded plan. Let the press be as free as the air or the light of hea
ven: without the check of a question, let it pour its good and its bad into the world; but let the names of those, by whom it is employed, be in the hands of the public to ensure a proper responsibility to the laws for any infringement of good order, for whatever violation may be offered to morals or to the peace of individuals. By the strict confinement of this diffuser of opinion, if, in truth, it were practicable among an active and enlightened people, a doubtful and fallacious tranquillity might, probably, be obtained: but it would be the repose of barbarous ignorance; it would be stagnation and not calm; it would be diseased and melancholy slumber, separated, by infinite degrees from that strong and active and sparkling health which, in the intellectual and the moral not less than in the natural world, is maintained, as it is produced by agitation and ferment, by opposition and conflict. In that dissonance of religious and political hostility, which excited the alarm of the timorous and the bigotted in the convulsed and distracted times of our author, he could distinguish nothing but the sprightly vigour of a young people, exulting in the exercise of their powers, "casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption, waxing young
again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, and destined to become great and honourable in these latter days." "Methinks I see in my mind," says the advocate of freedom in a strong burst of eloquence," a noble and puissant nation rousing herself, like the strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her, as an eagle, muing 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.” *
His attack on presbyterian inconsistency is strong and irresistible. and irresistible. "Who cannot discern the fineness of this politic drift, and who are the contrivers? that while the bishops were to be baited down, then all presses might be open; it was the people's birth-right 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
* P.W. vol. i. 324. The passage should have ended here with "means." The imagery is spoilt and broken by the coneluding words "sects and schisms."
no more but to make room for others into their seats under another name, the episcopal arts begin to bud again; the cruise of truth must run no more oil; liberty of printing must be enthralled 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." The language of this composition is every where lucid and elevated; figurative and impressive; and, though not entirely free from learned idioms and constructions," for the age, in which it was written, it is remarkably pure, and sufficient to entitle the writer to a high place among the masters of style.
Though the Presbyterians in parliament had power to resist the force of this eloquent reasoning, it could not be heard without effect. If, however, it covered the faces of these traitors to their cause with shame, it was unable to bend their hearts into contrition. That egregious insult on freedom and the community, a licenser of the press, was certainly con
PW. vol. i. p. 315.
m Such as-" For which Britain hears ill abroad." "But is become a dividual movement." "And me perhaps each of these dispositions, as the subject was, whereon I entered, have at other times variously affected," &c. &c.