AREOPAGITICA A SPEECH FOR THE LIBERTY OF UNLICENSED PRINTING TO THE PARLIAMENT OF ENGLAND

John Milton

This is true liberty, when free-born men,

Having to advise the public, may speak free,

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 endeavour, not a little

altered and moved inwardly in their minds: some with doubt of what will

be the success, others with fear of what will be the censure; 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 in these

foremost expressions now also disclose which of them swayed 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 no 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 reformed,

then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained that wise men look

for. To which if 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 a 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 wisdom, 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 reckoned

among the tardiest, and the unwillingest of them 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 likelihoods are

brought that such things are truly and really in those persons to whom

they are ascribed: the other, when he who praises, by showing that such

his actual persuasion is of whom he writes, can demonstrate that he

flatters not; the former two of these I have heretofore endeavoured,

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 reserved 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 by

argument, that it would fare better with truth, with learning and the

Commonwealth, if one of your published 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 public advice, than

other statists have been delighted heretofore with public flattery. And

men will then see what difference there is between the magnanimity of a

triennial Parliament, and that jealous haughtiness of prelates and cabin

counsellors that usurped 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 demeanour of your civil and

gentle greatness, Lords and Commons, as what your published 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 democracy 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.