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EXORDIUM.—The Ordipance of Parliament against printing unlicensed Books. The plan and order of this Discourse. The great influence of Books on all public affairs. The ill consequences of suppressing good ones. A view of the methods taken by ancient Common-Wealths, to restrain the publication of -pernicious Books: in Athens; in Lacedæmon; in Rome. How far, and in what manner, the publication of dangerous Books was restrained, under the Roman Emperors, after they were become Christians.
The Popes began to prohibit the reading of Books that they disliked, about the year 800. At last, about the time of the Council of Trent, they ordained that no new Book should be printed till it had been approved
by a Licenser. i The Bishops, in imitation of the Popes, introduced this custom of Licensing into England. Of the effect of reading all sorts of Books, and whether it does most good or harm. The Liberty of choosing what Books to read, as well as that of choosing what meats to feed on, ought to be left to every Man's own discretion. . An examination of what Plato says upon this subject in his Book de Republica. The Ordinance against printing Books without a License is not sufficient to prevent the printing of seditious Books, though that was the principal reason for making it. To make it effectual, it must be formed completely upon the model of the Licensing Ordinances of the Inquisition. These restraints upon the Liberty of the Press will neither prevent the growth of Sects and Schisms, nor contribute to the amendment of the manners of the People. It is almost impossible to find persons properly qualified to be Licensers, that will undertake the Office. The Ordinance against printing Books without a License is a great discouragement to Learning and learned Men. This restraint is an indignity offered to the whole People of England, by supposing them to be so ignorant, weak, and unsteady, as to be in danger of being
led astray, by every new Book that is published. It is also a disgrace to the Ministers.by.supposing them not to have so instructed their flocks as to make them proof against the influence of bad Books. The learned Men of Italy lamented the restraints upon the Liberty of the Press which they laboured under, and considered it as the cause of the low state of Learning among them. That the like complaint is now generally made by the learned Men of England. This restraint upon Printing is a species of Tyranny similar to that whịch the People suffered under the late Bishops. It is owing to the pride and persecuting spirit of some of the Presbyterian Clergy. The preventing the Publication of new Opinions is a hindrance to the knowlege of the Truth, and of the grounds on which it is built. A description of a luxurious rich Man indolently resigning himself in matters of Religion to the direction of a Clergyman. A general outward conformity, arising from Ignorance and Indolence, and attended with an indifference in matters of Religion, will be the consequence of this restraint upon the Liberty of the Press, among the Laity. And the Clergy will grow ignorant of the true grounds of Religion. We ought never to
desist from our inquiries after Truth, from a vain opinion that we have completely attained to it. The English Nation was always remarkable for their love of Knowlege, and their diligence in the pursuit of Truth. A description of the zeal and eagerness with which the vast number of people then in London were studying and examining the Doctrines of Religion. Diversity of opinions will arise hence, but ought not to be esteemed an evil. The great tranquillity of the People in London, though in a time of war and danger, and their earnest application to the business of Reformation, are proofs of their confidence in their Leaders, the two Houses of Parliament, and a strong presage
of a final victory. A fine and just compliment to the Parliament. The late worthy Lord Brook was of opinion that different Sects of Religion ought to be tolerated. It is more particularly fit at this time, while the Reformation of Religion is yet in agitation and incomplete, to permit Men to publish their Thoughts without restraint. Many Things are in their nature indifferent, and a difference in opinion concerning them ought to be permitted. Truth is to be discovered, but by slow degrees, by the free communication of the Thoughts of learned