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a span of
The narrow seas that form our boundaries,—what were they in times of old ? The convenient highway for Danish and Norman pirates. What are they now ? Still but " waters." Yet they roll at the base of the inisled Ararat, on which the ark of the hope of Europe and of civilization rested !
Even so doth God protect us, if we be
I deny not but that it is of greatest 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 vial 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 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 burthen 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 life.
Milton's Speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing.
Thus far then I have been conducting a cause between an individual and his own mind. Proceeding on the conviction, that to man is intrusted the nature, not the result, of his actions, I have presupposed no calculations ; I have presumed no foresight. -Introduce no contradiction into thy own consciousness. Acting, or abstaining from action, delivering or withholding thy thoughts, whatsoever thou doest, do it in singleness of heart. In all things, therefore, let thy means correspond to thy purpose, and let the purpose be one with the purport.—To this principle I have referred the supposed individual, and from this principle solely I have deduced each particular of his conduct. As far, therefore, as the court of conscience extends, and in this court alone I have been pleading hitherto—I have won the cause. It has been decided, that there is no just ground for apprehending mischief from truth communicated conscientiously,—that is, with a strict observance of all the conditions required by the conscience ;—that what is not so communicated, is falsehood, and that to the falsehood, not to the truth, must the ill consequences be attributed.
Another and altogether different cause remains now to be pleaded ; a different cause, and in a different court. The parties concerned are no longer the well-meaning individual and his conscience, but the citizen and the state—the citizen, who may be a fanatic as probably as a philosopher, and the state, which concerns itself with the conscience only as far as it appears in the action, or still more accurately, in the fact ; and which must determine the nature of the fact not merely by a rule of right formed from the modification of particular by general consequences,—not merely by a principle of compromise, that reduces the freedom of each citizen to the common measure in which it becomes compatible with the freedom of all ; but likewise by the relation which the facts bear to its—the state's—own instinctive principle of self-preservation. For every depository of the supreme power must presume itself rightful: and as the source of law not legally to be endangered. A form of government may indeed, in reality, be most pernicious to the governed, and the highest moral honor may await the patriot who risks his life in order by its subversion to introduce a better and juster constitution ; but it would be absurd to blame the law by which his life is declared forfeit. It were to expect, that by an involved contradiction the law should allow itself not to be law, by allowing the state, of which it is a part, not to be a state. For, as Hooker has well observed, the law of men's actions is one, if they be respected only as men ; and another, when they are considered as parts of a body politic.*
But though every government subsisting in law,—for pure lawless despotism grounding itself wholly on terror precludes all consideration of duty—though every government subsisting in law must, and ought to, regard itself as the life of the body politic, of
* Eccl. Pol. I. xvi. 6.- Ed.
which it is the head, and consequently must punish every attempt against itself as an act of assault or murder, that is, sedition or treason ; yet still it ought so to secure the life as not to prevent the conditions of its growth, and of that adaptation to circumstances, without which its very life becomes insecure. In the application, therefore, of these principles to the public communication of opinions by the most efficient mean,
,—we have to decide, .whether consistently with them there should be any liberty of the press; and if this be answered in the affirmative, what shall be declared abuses of that liberty, and made punishable as such ; and in what way the general law shall be applied to each particular case.
First, then, ought there to be any liberty of the press? I do not here mean, whether it should be permitted to print books at all ;—for this essay has little chance of being read in Turkey, and in any other part of Europe it can not be supposed questionablebut whether by the appointment of a censorship the government should take upon itself the responsibility of each particular publication. In governments purely monarchical,—that is, oligarchies under one head—the balance of advantage and disadvantage from this monopoly of the press will undoubtedly be affected by the general state of information; though after reading Milton's
Speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing'* we shall probably be inclined to believe, that the best argument in favor of licensing under any constitution is that, which supposing the ruler to have a different interest from that of his country, and even from himself as a reasonable and moral creature, grounds itself on the incompatibility of knowledge with folly, oppression, and degradation. What our prophetic Harrington said of religious, applies equally to literary, toleration :-“If it be said that in France there is liberty of conscience in part, it is also plain that while the hierarchy is standing, this liberty is falling, and that if ever it comes to pull down the hierarchy, it pulls down that monarchy also : wherefore the monarchy or hierarchy will be
* Il y a un voile qui doit toujours couvrir tout ce que l'on peut dire et tout ce qu'on peut croire du droit des peuples et de celui des princes, qui ne s'accordent jamais si bien ensemble que dans le silence.
Mém. du Card. de Retz. How severe a satire where it can be justly applied ! how false and calumnious if meant as a general maxim !
beforehand with it, if they see their true interest.”*_On the other hand, there is no slight danger from general ignorance : and the only choice, which Providence has graciously left to a vicious government, is either to fall by the people, if they are suffered to become enlightened, or with them, if they are kept enslaved and ignorant.
The nature of our constitution, since the Revolution, the state of our literature and the wide diffusion, if not of intellectual, yet of literary, power, and the almost universal interest in the productions of literature, have set the question at rest relatively to the British press. However great the advantages of previous examination might be under other circumstances, in this country it would be both impracticable and inefficient. I need only suggest in broken sentences—the prodigious number of licensers that would be requisite—the variety of their attainments, and—inasmuch as the scheme must be made consistent with our religious freedom—the ludicrous variety of their principles and creedstheir number being so great, and each appointed censor being himself a man of letters, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If these numerous licensers hold their offices for life, and independently of the ministry pro tempore, a new, heterogeneous, and alarming power is introduced, which can never be assimilated to the constitutional powers already existing :-if they are removable at pleasure, that which is heretical and seditious in 1809, may become orthodox and loyal in 1810 ;—and what man, whose attainments and moral respectability gave him even an endurable claim to this awful trust, would accept a situation at once so invidious and so precarious ? And what institution can retain any useful influence in so free a nation when its abuses have made it contemptible ? Lastly, and which of itself would suffice to justify the rejection of such a plan—unless all proportion between crime and punishment were abandoned, what penalties could the law attach to the assumption of a liberty, which it had denied, more severe than those which it now attaches to the abuse of the liberty, which it grants? In all those instances at least, which it would be most the inclination—perhaps the duty—of the state to prevent, namely, in seditious and incendiary publications (whether actually such, or only such as the existing government chose so to denominate, makes no difference in the argument).
* Syst. of Politics, vi. 10.-Ed.
the publisher, who hazards the punishment now assigned to seditious publications, would assuredly hazard the penalties of unlicensed ones, especially as the very practice of licensing would naturally diminish the attention to the contents of the works published, the chance of impunity therefore be so much greater, and the artifice of prefixing an unauthorized license so likely to escape detection. It is a fact, that in many of the former German states in which literature flourished, notwithstanding the establishment of censors or licensers, three fourths of the books printed were unlicensed —even those, the contents of which were unobjectionable, and where the sole motive for evading the law, must have been either the pride and delicacy of the author, or the indolence of the bookseller. So difficult was the detection, so various the means of evasion, and worse than all, from the nature of the law and the affront it offers to the pride of human nature, such was the merit attached to the breach of it- -a merit commencing perhaps with Luther's Bible, and other prohibited works of similar great minds, published with no dissimilar purpose, and thence by many an intermediate link of association finally connected with books, of the very titles of which a good man would wish to remain ignorant. The interdictory catalogues of the Romish hierarchy always present to my fancy the muster-rolls of the two hostile armies of Michael and of Satan printed promiscuously, or extracted at haphazard, save only that the extracts from the former appear somewhat the more numerous. even in Naples, and in Rome itself, whatever difficulty occurs in procuring any article catalogued in these formidable folios, must arise either from the scarcity of the work itself, or the absence of all interest in it. Assuredly there is no difficulty in obtaining from the most respectable booksellers the vilest provocatives to the basest crimes, though intermixed with gross lampoons on the heads of the church, the religious orders, and on religion itself. The stranger is invited into an inner room, and the proscribed wares presented to him with most significant looks and gestures, implying the hazard, and the necessity of secrecy. A creditable English bookseller would deem himself insulted, if such works were even inquired after at his shop. It is a well-known fact, that with the mournful exception indeed of political provocatives, and the titillations of vulgar envy provided by our anonymous critics, the loathsome articles are among us vended and offered