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Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams."
Milton was a contemporary of Sir Thomas Browne, and, like all great poets, was a master of resounding prose. All that he wrote, both in verse and prose, is severely classic in its form. His Samson Agonistes is perhaps the finest example of a play written in English after the manner of the Greek dramas.
Milton wrote The Areopagitica in defence of the liberty of publishers and printers of books. And it stands for all time as the first and greatest argument against interference with the freedom of the press.
The Areopagitæ were judges at Athens in its more flourishing time, who sat on Mars Hill and made decrees and passed sentences which were delivered in public and commanded universal respect.
I will quote one of the finest passages in this great and splendid utterance:
"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 dragons' 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 burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious lifeblood of a master-spirit; embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. 'Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof, perhaps, there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse.
“We should be wary, therefore, what persecutions we raise against the living labours of public men; how we spill that seasoned life of man preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom, and, if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays an immortality rather than a life.”
This is a fine defence of the inviolability of a good and proper book.
A bad book will generally die of itself, but there is something horribly malignant about a wicked book, as it must always be worse than a wicked man, for a man can repent, but a book cannot.
It is the men of letters who keep alive the books of the great from generation to generation, and they are never likely to preserve a wicked book from oblivion. Ultimately such go to light fires and encompass groceries.
MY DEAR ANTONY,
Milton, of whom I wrote in my last letter, was five years older than Jeremy Taylor, of whom I am going to write to-day. The latter's writings differ very much from Milton's, although they were contemporaries for the whole of the former's life.
From the grave and august periods of Milton to the sweet beauty of Jeremy Taylor is as the passing from out the austere halls of Justice to lovely fields full of flowers.
Your and my great kinsman, Coleridge, pronounced Jeremy Taylor to be the most eloquent of all divines; and Coleridge was a great critic.
Indeed, there seems to dwell permanently in Jeremy Taylor's mind a compelling sweetness and serenity. His parables, though sometimes perhaps