Item of the Day: Milton’s Areopagitica (1753)

Full Title: The Works of John Milton, Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous. Now more correctly printed from the ORIGINALS, than in any former Edition, and many Passages restored, which have been hitherto omitted. To which is prefixed, An Account of his Life and Writings. Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand, MDCCLIII.


A SPEECH for the Liberty of Unlicens’d PRINTING,


This is true liberty, when free born men,

Having to advise the public, may speak fre,

Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;

Who neither can nor will may hold his peace;

What can be juster in a state than this? (Euripid. Hicetid.)

THEY, who to states and governors of the commonwealth direct their speech, high court of parliament! or wanting such access in a private condition, write that which they foresee may advance the public good; I suppose them, as at the beginning of no mean endeavor, not a little altered and mov’d inwardly in their minds: Some with doubt of what will be success, others with fear of what will be the cinsure; some with hope, others with confidence of what they have to speak. And me perhaps each of these dispositions, as the subject was whereon I entered, may have at other times variously affected; and likely might these foremost expressions, now also disclose which of them sway’d most, but that the very attempt of this address thus made, and the thought of whom it hath recourse to, hath got the power within me to a passion, far more welcome than incidental to a preface. Which though I stay not to confess ere any ask, I shall be blameless, if it be not other, than the joy and gratulation which it brings to all who wish and promote their country’s liberty; whereof this whole discourse proposed will be a certain testimony, 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 considered, and speedily reform’d, then is the utmost bound of civl liberty attain’d that wise men look for. To which I now manifest, by the very sound of this which I shall utter, that we are already in good part arrived, and yet from such a steep disadvantage of tyranny and superstition grounded into our principles, as was beyond the manhood of Roman recovery, it will be attributed first, as is most due, to the strong assistance of God, our deliverer; next, to your faithful guidance and undaunted widsom, lords and commons of England! Neither is it in God’s esteem, the diminution of his glory, when honourable things are spoken of good men, and worthy magistrates; which if I now first should begin to do, after so fair a progress of your laudable deeds, and such a long obligement upon the whole realm to your indefatigable virtues, I might be justly reckon’d among the tardiest, and the unwillingest that praise ye.

Nevertheless there being three principal things, without which all praising is but courtship and flattery, first, when that only is praised which is solidly worth praise; next, when greatest liklihoods are brought, that such things, are truly and really in those persons, to whom they ascribed; the other, when he who praises, by shewing that such his actual persuasion is of whom he writes, can demonstrate that he flatters not: the fomer two of these I have heretofore endeavorured, rescuing 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 so extolled I did not flatter, hath been reserv’d opportunely to this occasion. 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 praising is not flattery, and his plainest advice is a kind of praising: for though I should affirm and hold argument, that it would fare better with truth, with learning, and the commonwealth, if one of your publish’d orders which I should name, were called in; yet at the same time it could not but much redound to the lustre of your mild and equal government, whenas private persons are hereby animated to think ye better pleased with publick advice, than other statists have been delighted therefore with public flattery. And men will then see what difference there is between the magnanimityof a triennial parliament, and that jealous haughtiness of prelates and cabin counsellors that usurp’d of late, whenas they shall observe ye in the midst of your victories and successes more gently brooking written exceptions against a voted order, than other courts, which had produced nothing worth memory but the weak ostentation of wealth, would have endured the least signified dislike at any sudden proclamation. If I should thus far presume upon the meek demanour of your civil and gentle greatness, lords and commons! as what your publish’d order hath directly said, that to gainsay, I might defend myself with ease, if any should accuse me of being new or insolent, 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 stateliness. And out of those 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 discourse to the parliament of Athens, that persuades them to change the form of Democraty which was then established. Such honour was done in those days to men who professed the study of wisdom and eloquence, not only in their own country, but in other lands, that cities and signiories heard them gladly, and with great respect, if they had aught in public to admonish the state. Thus did Dion Prusaeus, a stranger, and a private orator, counsel the Rhodians against a former edict: and I abound with other like examples, which to set here would be superfluous. But if from the industry of a life wholly dedicated to studious labours, and those natural endowments haply not the worst for two and fifty degrees of northern latitude, so 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 so inferior, as yourselves are superior to the most of them who receiv’d their counsel; and how far you excel them, be assured, lords and commons! there can no greater testimony appear, than when your prudent spirit acknowledges and obeys the voice of reason, from what quarter soever it be heard speaking; and render ye as willing to repeal any act of your own setting forth, as any set forth by your predecessors. . . .




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Filed under 1750's, Liberty, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Printing

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