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A SPEECH FOR THE LIBERTY OF UNLICENSED PRINTING,
TO THE PARLIAMENT OF ENGLAND.
Τελέυθερον δ ̓ ἐκεῖνο, ἔι τις θελει πόλει
This is true Liberty, when freeborn men,
THEY, who to ftates and governors of the commonwealth direct their fpeech, high court of parliament! or wanting fuch accefs in a private condition, write that which they forefee may advance the public good; I fuppofe them, as at the beginning of no mean endeavour, not a little altered and moved inwardly in their minds; fome with doubt of what will be the fuccefs, others with fear of what will be the cenfure; fome with hope, others with confidence of what they have to fpeak. And me perhaps each of these difpofitions, as the fubject was whereon I entered, may have at other times variously affected; and likely might in these foremost expreffions now also disclose which of them fwayed moft, but that the very attempt of this addrefs thus made, and the thought of whom it hath recourse to, hath got the power within me to a paffion, far more welcome than incidental to a preface. Which though I ftay not to confefs ere any afk, I fhall be blameless, if it be no other, than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who wish and
promote their country's liberty; whereof this whole dif course proposed will be a certain teftimony, if not a trophy. For this is not the liberty which we can hope, that no grievance ever should arise in the commonwealth, that let no man in this world expect; but when complaints are freely heard, deeply confidered, and fpeedily reformed, then is the utmoft bound of civil liberty attained, that wife men look for. To which if I now manifeft, by the very found of this which I fhall utter, that we are already in good part arrived, and yet from fuch a steep disadvantage of tyranny and fuperftition grounded into our principles, as was beyond the manhood of a Roman recovery, it will be attributed firft, as is most due, to the ftrong affiftance of God, our deliverer; next, to your faithful guidance and undaunted wifdom, lords and commons of England! Neither is it in God's eftcem, the diminution of his glory, when honourable things are spoken of good men, and worthy magiftrates; which if I now firft fhould begin to do, after fo fair a progrefs of your laudable deeds, and fuch a long obligement upon the whole realm to your indefatigable virtues, I might be justly reckoned among the tardieft, and the unwillingeft of them that praise ye. Nevertheless there being three principal things, without which all praising is but courtfhip and flattery, firft, when that only is praised which is folidly worth praife; next, when greatest likelihoods are brought, that fuch things are truly and really in those perfons, to whom they are afcribed; the other, when he who praises, by fhowing that fuch his actual perfuafion is of whom he writes, can demonftrate that he flatters not; the former two of these I have heretofore endeavoured, refcuing the employment from him who went about to impair your merits with a trivial and malignant encomium; the latter as belonging chiefly to mine own acquittal, that whom I fo extolled I did not flatter, hath been referved opportunely to this occafion. For he who freely magnifies what hath been nobly done, and fears not to declare as freely what might be done better, gives ye the best covenant of his fidelity; and that his loyalest affection and his hope waits on your proceedings. His highest praifing is not flattery, and his plaineft advice
is a kind of praifing; for though I fhould affirm and hold by argument, that it would fare better with truth, with learning, and the commonwealth, if one of your published orders, which I should name, were called in yet at the fame time it could not but much redound to the luftre of your mild and equal government, whenas private perfons are hereby animated to think ye better pleased with public advice, than other statists have been delighted heretofore with public flattery. And men will then see what difference there is between the magnanimity of a triennial parliament, and that jealous haughtiness of prelates and cabin counsellors that ufurped of late, whenas they fhall obferve ye in the midft of your victories and fucceffes more gently brooking written exceptions against a voted order, than other courts, which had produced nothing worth memory but the weak oftentation of wealth, would have endured the leaft fignified diflike at any fudden proclamation. If I fhould thus far prefume upon the meek demeanour of your civil and gentle greatnefs, lords and commons! as what your pubfifhed order hath directly faid, that to gainfay, I might defend myself with eafe, if any fhould accufe me of being new or infolent, did they but know how much better I find ye efteem it to imitate the old and elegant humanity of Greece, than the barbaric pride of a Hunnish and Norwegian ftatelinefs. And out of thofe ages, to whose polite wifdom and letters we owe that we are not yet Goths and Jutlanders, I could name him who from his private houfe wrote that difcourfe to the parliament of Athens, that perfuades them to change the form of democraty which was then established. Such honour was done in thofe days to men who profeffed the study of wisdom and eloquence, not only in their own country, but in other lands, that cities and figniories heard them gladly, and with great refpect, if they had aught in public to admonifh the ftate. Thus did Dion Prufæus, a ftranger and a private orator, counsel the Rhodians against a former edict; and I abound with other like examples, which to fet here would be fuperfluous. But if from the industry of a life wholly dedicated to ftudious labours, and those natural endowments haply not the
worft for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude, fo much must be derogated, as to count me not equal to any of those who had this privilege, I would obtain to be thought not fo inferior, as yourselves are fuperior to the most of them who received their counfel; and how far you excel them, be affured, lords and commons ! there can no greater teftimony appear, than when your prudent spirit acknowledges and obeys the voice of reafon, from what quarter foever it be heard speaking; and renders ye as willing to repeal any act of your own setting forth, as any fet forth by your predeceffors.
If ye be thus refolved, as it were injury to think ye were not, I know not what should withhold me from prefenting ye with a fit inftance wherein to fhow both that love of truth which ye eminently profess, and that uprightness of your judgment which is not wont to be partial to yourselves; by judging over again that order which ye have ordained "to regulate printing; that no book, pamphlet, or paper, fhall be henceforth printed, unless the fame be firft approved and licensed by such, or at least one of fuch, as fhall be thereto appointed." For that part which preferves juftly every man's copy to himself, or provides for the poor, I touch not; only with they be not made pretences to abuse and perfecute honest and painful men, who offend not in either of these particulars. But that other claufe of licenfing books, which we thought had died with his brother quadragefimal and matrimonial when the prelates expired, I fhall now attend with fuch a homily, as fhall lay before ye, first the inventors of it, to be those whom ye will be loth to own; next, what is to be thought in general of reading, whatever fort the books be; and that this order avails nothing to the fuppreffing of fcandalous, feditious, and libellous books, which were mainly intended to be fuppreffed. Laft, that it will be primely to the difcouragement of all learning, and the ftop of truth, not only by difexercifing and blunting our abilities, in what we know already, but by hindering and cropping the difcovery that might be yet further made, both in religious and civil wifdom.
I deny not, but that it is of greateft 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 sharpeft juftice on them as malefactors; for books are not abfolutely helene dead things, but do contain a progeny of life in them to be as active as that foul was whofe progeny they are; nay, they do preferve as in a vial the pureft efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigoroufly productive, as those fabulous dragons teeth; and being fown up and down, may chance to fpring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlefs warinefs be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reafonable creature, God's image; but he who deftroys a good book, kills reafon itfelf, 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 lifeblood of a mafter spirit, imbalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. It is true, no age can reftore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great lofs; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the lofs of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse. We fhould be wary therefore what perfecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that feafoned life of man, preferved and ftored up in books; fince we fee a kind of homicide may be thus committed, fometimes a martyrdom; and if it extend to the whole impreffion, a kind of maffacre, whereof the execution ends not in the flaying of an elemental life, but ftrikes at the æthereal and fifth effence, the breath of reason itself, flays an immortality rather than a life. But left I should be condemned of introducing licence, while I oppofe licenfing, I refuse not the pains to be fo much hiftorical, as will ferve to fhow what hath been done by ancient and famous commonwealths, against this disorder, till the very time that this project of licensing crept out of the inquifition, was catched up by our prelates, and hath caught fome of our presbyters.
In Athens, where books and wits were ever busier than any other part of Greece, I find but only two forts of writings which the magiftrate cared to take notice of; thofe either blafphemous and atheistical, or libellous.