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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 speech, high court of parliament! or wanting fuch accefs in a private condition, write that which they forefee may advance the public good; I suppose 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 dispositions, 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 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 ask, I shall be blamelefs, if it be no other, than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who wifh and
promote their country's liberty; whereof this whole difcourfe 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 com plaints 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 moft due, to the ftrong affiftance of God, our deliverer; next, to your faithful guidance and undaunted wisdom, lords and commons of England! Neither is it in God's eftcem, the diminution of his glory, when honourable things are fpoken of good men, and worthy magiftrates; which if I now firft fhould begin to do, after so fair a progress 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 praifes, 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 the best covenant of his fidelity; and that his loyaleft 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 fhould 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 haughtinefs of prelates and cabin counfellors that ufurped of late, whenas they fhall obferve ye in the midst 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 dislike 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 publifhed order hath directly faid, that to gainfay, I might defend myself with ease, if any fhould accufe me of being new or infolent, did they but know how much better I find ye esteem it to imitate the old and elegant humanity of Greece, than the barbaric pride of a Hunnish and Norwegian ftateliness. And out of thofe ages, to whose polite wisdom and letters we owe that we are not yet Goths and Jutlanders, I could name him who from his private house 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 respect, if they had aught in public to admonish the ftate. Thus did Dion Prufæus, a ftranger and a private orator, counfel 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, so much muft 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 profefs, 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, firft 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 discovery that might be yet further made, both in religious and civil wisdom.
I deny not, but that it is of greateft concernment in the church and commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye VOL. I.
how books demean themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprifon, and do fharpeft juftice on them as malefactors; for books are not abfolutely 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 vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragons teeth; and being fown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unless wariness 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 destroys a good book, kills reafon 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 lifeblood of a mafter fpirit, 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 seasoned life of man, preferved and ftored up in books; fince we see 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 fhould be condemned of introducing licence, while I oppose licenfing, I refufe 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 licenfing crept out of the inquifition, was catched up by our prelates, and hath caught fome of our prefbyters.
In Athens, where books and wits were ever bufier than in 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.