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for licentious or injurious practices, such as blasphemy, or libel, or immorality; and if the printer or publisher were found guilty, to be punished with a specified fine.
In this his immortal work, even more so than by his exposures of prelatical rank in the church, he greatly served the cause of rational, restrained liberty; because, if the press be free, we dare bishops, or any others, to be oppressive. In those he lops off the branches, and removes the excrescences of arbitrary power; but in this he lays the axe to the root of the tree:- in those he corrected the diseases of the body politic; in this he infuses new blood into the system, by which he at once hurled oppression to the ground, and introduced the means of producing political strength and beauty, and preserving civil and religious life and liberty. It is in this work that he introduces Galileo, and his hard and cruel fate. “ There it was, [Italy] that I found and visited the famous GALILEO, grown old a prisoner to the Inquisition, for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licencers thought. And though I knew that England was then groaning loudest under the prelatical yoke, , nevertheless I took it for a pledge of future happiness, that other nations were so persuaded of her liberty. Yet was it beyond my hope, that those worthies who were then breathing in her air,
should be her leaders to such a deliverance as shall never be forgotten by any revolution of time that this world hath to finish.”
He first proves that the ancient Republics of Greece and Italy never prohibited any but immoral, defamatory, or atheistical publications. Nor did they judge of those crimes, by inferences or inuendoes: as, for instance, they never suppressed the writings of the Epicureans, which denied the doctrine of Providence and a future state, if they did not publish their formal doubts or denials of the existence of a Deity. Yet he argued, that it was beyond contradiction, that those nations maintained an excellent government, distributing public and private justice, and abounding in all knowledge and virtue, infinitely above those who have been, in modern times, the purgers, corruptors, or executioners of books !
The Roman emperors, he states, were tyrants; and none but tyrants would imitate their conduct, or think of quoting them as examples.
He remarks, in respect to the primitive Christians, that they observed no uniformity in regard to this subject. At first they encouraged the reading of all the heathen writers, but prohibited those which were heretical among themselves; afterwards they contended for the propriety of confuting the books of heretics, and suppressing the heathen works, even if they did not relate to
religion; as he mentions a Carthagenian council, about A. D. 400, when even the bishops were prohibited from reading the works of the heathen writers. He shows, that had that infamous and barbarous resolution been thoroughly executed, as it was, to a considerable degree, to what a depth of meanness it would have reduced the world, depriving it of so many inimitable historians, orators, philosophers, and poets; the repositories of inestimable treasures, consisting of warlike and heroic deeds, the best and wisest rules of
government, the most perfect rules and examples of eloquence and politeness, and such divine lectures of wisdom and virtue, that the loss of Cicero's works alone, or those of Livy, could not be repaired by all the fathers of the church. He
proceeds to show, that where, in process of time, the clergy were exalted even above the chief magistrate himself, they burnt and destroyed every thing which did not favour their power or superstition ; and laid a restraint upon reading, as well as upon writing, without excepting the very BIBLE. Nor did they stop in their course till the inquisition reduced this abominable practice to the perfection of an art, by expurgatory indexes and licensing. He then shows, that all the consequences of such tyranny had been produced in England, such as depriving men of their natural liberty, stilling their parts, introducing of igno
rance, engrossing all advantages to one party, and the like; and that all these objections had been made by the Presbyterians against the prelates before the civil wars; but now, finding themselves in the bishops' pulpits, and possessed of their power, they exercised the same authority, and even with more intolerable rigour and severity. Then, after having given the history of the origin, progress, and mischief of licensing, he proves, that if we regard the reasons usually alleged, to prohibit the publishing of any books besides, on the subjects he first excepted, such as the fear of wresting, or mistaking their meaning, then we must be prohibited from reading the Bible, the Fa. thers, or almost any other sort of books. He then, in the second place, shows that the ends proposed by licensing the press, could not by that means be attained. In the third place he contends, that no man is fit to be a licenser, nor in any one single faculty, unless he is universally learned, or a better scholar than all the authors whose labours he is to licence; and that admitting these things to be possible, which he did not grant, he would neither find strength nor time enough to peruse all books; and should he use deputies, he was most likely to have ignorant, lazy, and mercenary fellows. He then points out the various discouragements which follow to all literature, and any new discoveries which is the pretence, in po
pish countries, and even to the not re-printing of ancient authors in any language, and comes to the conclusion, that licensing is both unjust in itself, and dishonourable to a free government. He exposes this practice with all the felicity of language, by a number of different representations. “ A man,” says he,
may be an heretic in the truth; and if he believes only because his pastor says so, or the 'Assembly' so determines, without knowing any other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy. There is not any burden that some would gladlier put off to another, than the charge and care of their religion. Who knows not that there be some Protestants who live in as arrant implicit faith as any lay papist of Loretto? A wealthy man, addicted to his pleasures and his profits, finds religion to be a traffic so entangled, and of so many piddling accounts, that of all mysteries he cannot bear to keep a stock going upon that trade; what does he therefore, but resolves to give over toiling, and to find out some factor, to whose care and credit he may commit the whole management of his religious affairs, and that must be some divine of note and estimation ! To him he adheres, resigns the whole warehouse of his religion, with all the locks and keys, into his custody, and indeed makes the very person of that man his religion, esteem his associating with him a suffi