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BOOKS AND THEIR BEHAVIOUR.
much beforehand, but that I trust hereby to make it manifest with what small willingness I endure to interrupt the pursuit of no less hopes than these, and leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes, put from beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies, to come into the dim reflection of hollow antiquities sold by the seeming bulk, and there be fain to club quotations with men whose learning and belief lies in marginal stuffings, who, when they have, like good sumpters, laid ye down their horse-load of citations and fathers at your door, with a rhapsody of who and who were bishops here or there, ye may take off their packsaddles, their day's work is done, and Episcopacy, as they think, stoutly vindicated. Let any gentle apprehension, that can distinguish learned pains from unlearned drudgery, imagine what pleasure or profoundness can be in this, or what honour to deal against such adversaries.
On Books and their Behaviour.
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 progeny 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 life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. It is 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 persecution 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 the ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself-slays an immortality rather than a life.
For Liberty of Printing.
On the other side, that infection which is from books of controversy in religion is more doubtful and dangerous to the learned than to the ignorant; and yet those books must be permitted untouched by the licenser. It will be hard to instance where any ignorant man hath been ever seduced by any papistical book in English, unless it were commended and expounded to him by some of that clergy; and indeed all such tractates, whether false or true, are as the prophecy of Isaiah was to the eunuch, not to be “understood without a guide." But of our priests and doctors how many have been corrupted by studying the comments of Jesuits and Sorbonists, and how fast they could transfuse that corruption into the people, our experience is both late and sad. It is not forgot, since the acute and distinct Arminius was perverted merely by the perusing of a nameless discourse written at Delft, which at first he took in hand to confute. Seeing, therefore, that those
books, and those in great abundance, which are likeliest to taint both life and doctrine, cannot be suppressed without the fall of learning and of all ability in disputation, and that these books of either sort are most and soonest catching to the learned from whom to the common people whatever is heretical or dissolute may quickly be conveyed), and that evil manners are as perfectly learnt without books a thousand other ways which cannot be stopped, and evil doctrine not with books can propagate except a teacher guide, which he might also do without writing, and so beyond prohibiting; I am not able to unfold how this cautelous enterprise of licensing can be exempted from the number of vain and impossible attempts.
And he who were pleasantly disposed, could not well avoid to liken it to the exploit of that gallant man who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park gate. Besides another inconvenience, if learned men be the first receivers out of books, and dispreaders both of vice and error, how shall the licensers themselves be confided in, unless we confer upon them, or they assume to themselves above all others in the land, the grace of infallibility and uncorruptedness? And again, if it be true that a wise man, like a good refiner, can gather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea, or without book, there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from a fool that which being restrained will be no hinderance to his folly. For if there should be so much exactness always used to keep that from him which is unfit for his reading, we should in the judgment of Aristotle not only, but of Solomon, and of our Saviour, not vouchsafe him good precepts, and by consequence not willingly admit him to good books; as being certain that a wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred Scripture.
MILTON'S POETRY. [In our specimens we shall follow, as nearly as we can, chronological order. The hymn on the Nativity was written when the author was one-and-twenty, and the lines, “ At a Solemn Music," probably date about the same period. Of this piece, three draughts in his own handwriting still exist, containing many alterations, and the printed edition is ten lines shorter than the original.]
On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of heaven's eternal King,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Say, heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
To welcome Him to this His new abode,
Now while the heaven, by the sun's team untrod,
See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led Wizards baste with odours sweet';
HYMN FOR THE NATIVITY.
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at His blessed feet:
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
It was the winter wiid,
While the heaven-born Child
Nature in awe to Him
Had d ffd her gaudy trim,
It was no season then for her
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air,
And on her naked shane,
Pollute with sinful blame,
Confounded that her Maker's eyes
But He, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace;
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
No war, or battle's sound,
Was heard the world around :
The hooked chariot stood
Unstain'd with hostile blood;