Imágenes de páginas

sentences :-“For as in a body when the blood is fresh, the spirits pure and vigorous, not only to vital, but to rational faculties, and those in the acutest and the pertest operations of wit and subtlety, it argues in what good plight and constitution the body is; so when the cheerfulness of the people is so sprightly up, as that it has not only wherewith to guard well its own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and sublimest points of controversy and new invention, it betokens us not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay, by casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption to outlive these pangs, and wax young again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, destined to become great and honourable in these latter ages. Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation 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 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, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.

“ What should ye do then, should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge and new light sprung up and yet springing daily in this city ? Should ye set an oligarchy of twenty engrossers over it, to bring a famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel ? Believe it, lords and commons! they who counsel ye to such a suppressing, do as good as bid ye suppress yourselves; and I will soon show how. If it be desired to know the immediate cause of all this free writing and free speaking, there cannot be assigned a truer than your own mild, and free, and humane government; it is the liberty, lords and commons, which your own valorous and happy counsels have purchased us ;

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liberty which is the nurse of all great wits: this is that which hath rarefied and enlightened our spirits like the influence of heaven: this is that which hath enfranchised, enlarged, and lifted up our apprehensions degrees above themselves.

Yet when the new light which we beg for shines in upon us, there be who envy and oppose, if it come not first in at their casements. What a collusion is this, whenas we are exhorted by the wise man to use diligence,' to seek for wisdom as for hidden treasures,' early and late, that another order shall enjoin us, to know nothing but by statute ? When a man hath been labouring the hardest labour in the deep mines of knowledge, hath furnished out his findings in all their equipage, drawn forth his reasons as it were a battle ranged, scattered and defeated all objections in his way, calls out his adversary into the plain, offers him the advantage of wind and sun, if he please, only that he may try the matter by dint of argument; for his opponents then to skulk, to lay ambushments, to keep a narrow bridge of licensing where the challenger should pass, though it be valour enough in soldiership, is but weakness and cowardice in the wars of truth. For who knows not that truth is strong, next to the Almighty; she needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious, those are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power; give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she speaks not true, as the old Proteus did, who spake oracles only when he was caught and bound, but then rather she turns herself into all shapes except her own, and perhaps tunes her voice according to the time, as Micaiah did before Ahab, until she be adjured into her own likeness." *

Such was the Areopagitica of Milton. Compared with the sordid intolerance of the prelatical regime, and with the more recent and equally despicable bigotry of the presbyterians, it almost wears the majesty of inspiration ; and it

* Prose Works, vol. ii. pp. 94, 96.

may well be doubted whether the whole compass of literature furnishes a treatise enriched with such elevated sentiments, such glorious aspirations, and such stately and overwhelming eloquence.

If our estimate of the character of the presbyterians of that day could be lowered by any additional knowledge of their proceedings, it would be by the fact that Milton's plea for unlicensed printing, while it covered them with shame, led to no practical result, but that the barbarous system of controlling literature by the fetters of the magistrate was maintained until the time when their continued baseness and treachery to the cause of freedom sickened the nation, and involved them and the Independents, who were worthy of a better fate, in one common overthrow. They even witnessed unmoved the conversion of one of the licensers themselves. This was Gilbert Mabbot, who sought his discharge from this ignominious service, according to Jolland, in 1645. This date, however, would seem to be incorrect, as a minute statement of the case is given in a weekly paper entitled “ A perfect Diurnal of some Passages in Parliament, and the daily proceedings of the army under his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, from May 21st to May 28, 1649.” The statement is as follows :-“Mr. Mabbot hath long desired several members of the house, and lately the council of state, to move the house that he might be discharged of licensing books for the future, for the reasons following: viz. Because many thousands of scandalous and malignant pamphlets have been published with his name thereunto, as if he had licensed the same, (though he never saw them) on purpose (as he conceives) to prejudice him in his reputation amongst the honest party of this nation. II. Because that employment (he conceives) is unjust and illegal, as to the ends of its first institution, viz., to stop the press from publishing anything that might discover the corruption of church and state, in the time of popery, episcopacy, and tyranny; the better to keep the people in ignorance, and carry on their popish, fac

tious, and tyrannical designs, for the enslaving and destruction both of the bodies and souls of all the free people of this nation. III. Because licensing is as great a monopoly as ever was in this nation, in that all men's judgments, reasons, &c., are to be bound up in the licenser's (as to licensing); for if the author of any sheet, book, or treatise, write not to please the fancy, and come within the compass of the licenser's judgment, then he is not to receive any stamp of authority for publishing thereof. IV. Because it is lawful in his judgment) to print any book, sheet, &c., without licensing, so as the author and printers do subscribe their true names thereunto, that so they may be liable to answer the contents thereof; and if they offend therein, then to be punished by such laws as are or shall be for those cases provided. A committee of the council of state being satisfied with these and other reasons of Mr. Mabbot concerning licensing, the council of state reports to the house : upon which the house ordered this day that the said Mr. Mabbot be discharged of licensing books for the future.”




THE year

1645 constitutes an interval in which we find Milton refreshing his mind after a campaign of controversy with the more congenial pursuits of imaginative literature. He now published, with his name, an edition of all his English, Latin, and Italian poems. Of the twenty-three sonnets which Milton has left us, only ten were published in this volume, the rest having been produced subsequently. Dr. Johnson


that “they do not deserve any particular criticism, for of the best it can only be said, that they are not bad; and perhaps only the eighth and the twenty-first are truly entitled to this slender commendation. The fabric of a sonnet, however adapted to the Italian language, has never succeeded in ours, which having greater variety of termination requires the rhymes to be often changed.” Alluding once in conversation to the inferiority of Milton's sonnets to the other efforts of his muse, Dr. Johnson characteristically observed, “ Milton was a genius that could carve a Colossus from a rock, but could not cut heads upon cherry stones ;"

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