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ous friars.” “And this was the rare morsel so officiously snatched up, and so illfavouredly imitated by our In
, quisiturient bishops, and the attendant Minorites, their chaplains.”
He then answers the argument, that though the inventors were bad, the thing itself may be good, and proceeds to show that more good than evil must result from reading books of all kinds. In the course of his argument he makes the following observations :
I conceive therefore that when God did enlarge the universal diet of man's body, -saving ever the rules of temperance, – he then also as before left arbitrary the dieting and repasting of our minds, as wherein every mature man might have to exercise his own leading capacity. How great a virtue is temperance ! how much of moment through the whole life of man! Yet God commits the managing so great a trust, without particular law or prescription, wholly to the demeanour (management] of every grown
And therefore when he himself tabled the Jews from heaven, that omer,
man's daily portion of manna, is computed to have been more than might have well sufficed the heartiest feeder thrice as many meals. For those actions which enter into a man rather than issue out of him, and therefore defile not, God uses not to captivate (hold captive] under a perpetual childhood of prescription, but trusts him, with the gift of reason, to be his own chooser. There were but little work left for preaching if law and compulsion should grow so fast upon those things which heretofore were governed only by exhortation. Solomon informs us that much reading is a weariness to the flesh, but neither he nor any other inspired author tells us that such or such reading is unlawful; yet certainly, had God thought good to limit us herein, it had been much more expedient to have told us what was unlawful than what was wearisome.
which was every
As therefore the state of man now is, what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear, without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and seeks her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world ; we bring impurity much rather. That which purifies us is trial; and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that Vice promises to her followers and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure ;* her whiteness is but an excremental (superficial] whiteness : which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser—whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinasdescribing true temperance under the person of Guyon, brings him with his Palmer through the cave of Mammon,t and the Bower of earthly Bliss, that he might see and know and yet abstain.
Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely and with less danger scout [make excursion] into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates, and hearing all manner of reason ? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read. But of the harm that may result hence, three kinds are usually reckoned. First is feared the infection that may spread. But then all human learning and controversy in religious points must remove out of the world. Yea, the Bible itself: for that ofttimes relates blasphemy not nicely; it describes the carnal sense of wicked men not unelegantly; it brings in holiest men passionately murmuring against Providence through all the arguments of Epicurus ;f in other great disputes it answers dubiously and darkly to the common reader. And ask a Talmudist what ails the modesty of his marginal Keri that Moses and all the Prophets cannot persuade him to pronounce the textual Chetiv. For these causes we know the Bible itself put by the Papist into the first rank of prohibited * Sir Thomas Overbury said truly, in his Wife:
She is most truly good who best knows why. † His memory deceived him here, for the Palmer was not with Guyon in the cave.
I In the Ecclesiastes. § Of these terms the latter is the text, the former the marginal correction.
books. The ancientest Fathers must be next removed, as Clement of Alexandria, and that Eusebian book of Evangelic Preparation, transmitting (passing] our ears through a hoard of heathen obscenities to receive the Gospel. Who finds not that Irenæus, Epiphanius, Jerome, and others discover more heresies than they well confute, and that oft for heresy which is the truer opinion ?
He then replies to the argument, that the language of these and of the heathen writers is not generally known, by showing that they are known sufficiently for all evil purposes.
But, 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 these 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 “ derstood 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.
But, it was alleged, we should not expose ourselves to temptations without necessity, nor employ our time in vain things. To both these objections he replies, that “to all men such books are not temptations nor vanities, but useful drugs and materials wherewith to temper and compose effective and strong medicines, which man's life cannot want [do without]; while the rest, such as children and childish men, may be exhorted to forbear, but cannot be kept from them by all the licensing in the world.” He then comes to the authority of Plato, who being a man, he says, “ of high authority indeed,—but least of all for his Commonwealth,--in the book of his Laws, which no city ever yet received, fed his fancy with making many edicts to his airy burgomasters, which they who otherwise admire him wish had been rather buried and excused in the genial cups of an Academic night-sitting." He shows how utterly impracticable any scheme of this kind must be, and that under it music, dress, and everything else should be put under the licenser as well as books.
To sequester [ourselves] out of the world into Atlantic and Utopian politics, which never can be drawn into use, will not mend our condition ; but to ordain wisely, as in this world of evil, in the midst whereof God hath placed us unavoidably. Nor is it Plato's licensing of books will do this, which necessarily pulls along with it so many other kinds of licensing as will make us all both ridiculous and weary, and yet frustrate; but those unwritten, or at least unconstraining, laws of virtuous education, religious and civil nurture, which Plato there mentions as the bonds and ligaments of the Commonwealth, the pillars and the sustainers of every written statute. These they be which will bear chief sway in such matters as these, when all licensing will be easily eluded. Impunity and remissness for certain are the bane of a commonwealth; but here the great art lies--to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work. If every action which is good or evil in man at ripe years were to be under pittance, prescription, and compulsion, what were virtue but a name? what praise could be then due to well-doing? what gramercy (thanks] to be sober, just, and continent ?
Many there be that complain of Divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress. Foolish tongues! When God gave
him gave him freedom to choose ; for reason is but choosing. He had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. I We ourselves esteem not of that obedience or
* Alluding to Plato's Banquet. † He means the New Atalantis of Bacon and the Utopia of More. I This was the old name of puppet-shows.
love, or gift, which is of force; God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes. Herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue? They are not skilful considerers of human things who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin. For, beside that it is a huge heap increasing under the very act of diminishing, though some part of it may for a time be withdrawn from some persons, it cannot from all, in such a universal thing as books are.
And when this is done, yet the sin remains entire. Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left-ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste that came not thither so. Such great care and wisdom is required to the right managing of this point!
Suppose we could expel sin by this means; look! how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue ; for the matter of them both is the same. Remove that, and ye remove them both alike. This justifies the high providence of God, who, though he commands us temperance, justice, continence, yet pours out before us, even to a profuseness, all desirable things, and gives us minds than can wander beyond all limit and satiety. Why should we then affect a rigour contrary to the manner of God and of nature, by abridging or scanting those means which books freely permitted are to the trial of virtue and the exercise of truth? It would be better done to learn that the law must needs be frivolous which goes to restrain things uncertainly, and yet equally working to good and evil ; and, were I the chooser, a dram of well-doing should be preferred before many times as much the forcible hinderance of evil-doing. For God sure esteems the growth and completing of one virtuous person more than the restraint of ten vicious. And albeit whatever things we hear or see, sitting, walking, travelling, or conversing, may be fitly called our book, and is of the same effect that writings are; yet grant the thing to be prohibited were only books, it appears that this order hitherto is far insufficient to the end which it intends, etc.
He then shows how utterly impracticable this plan of