A Simplified Version of the Text
The Praiseworthy Qualities of the Members of Parliament
Some persons are surely in a position to convey their views and opinions directly to the highest authorities in the country (including the Parliament) with the intention of bringing about certain improvements. But there are also those who do not have this privilege to be able to speak directly to the authorities. Such persons have, therefore, to put down in writing what in their opinion should be done to promote the good of the people. Of course such persons do not know what kind of reception their writings would meet. Some of them are hopeful of a favorable reception for their views; others feel doubtful about the response which their writings would evoke. But, whether hopeful or doubtful, these persons do certainly aim at public good and therefore perform a noble task. I myself have undertaken a task of this kind, my aim being to achieve something that can contribute to public good. My aim in addressing the two Houses of Parliament is to promote the cause of freedom. This discourse of mine may not attain its purpose. But it will certainly be regarded as sure evidence of my desire to help and advance the cause of freedom. Now, freedom does not imply that there would be no occasion at all for the people to have any grievances against the government or against the authorities in general. There can never be a State in which people would never have any grievances. But freedom does imply that people’s grievances and complaints should be heard without any impediment, should be considered in depth, and should be redressed without delay. Wise men always look for this kind of freedom which represents the maximum extent to which freedom can be made available in a country. In our country we have already arrived at that stage at which such freedom is available; and yet we cannot ignore the fact that, immediately before such freedom was achieved, the country had passed through a phase when people were the victims of the dictatorial powers and the ignorance of the government. If the country was able to liberate itself from that dictatorial exercise of power, it was due firstly to the help given to us by God who proved to be our liberator, and secondly to you, Members of the two Houses of Parliament, and to your faithful guidance and unshakable wisdom. God’s glory is by no means diminished by the praise which is given to good men and worthy magistrates like you, Members of Parliament. If, therefore, I praise you for your commendable services to the country, I would by no means be under-estimating God’s help to us. But I would certainly be regarded as having been too slow, and even unwilling, in my praise of you. Praise does not necessarily mean flattery. Praise is genuine praise if some solid achievement or service is praised. Praise is also genuine if only those persons are praised who deserve it really and truly And praise is genuine praise when the person, who gives praise to another, is actually convinced of the truth of what he says in praise of somebody. What I really wish to say is that this discourse of mine has not been prompted by any motives of flattery. I am not following the example of Bishop Joseph Hall who had offered only hollow praise to Parliament a couple of years ago, and who in fact did some damage to your reputation. A trustworthy man is one who gives unstinted praise to any noble deed and who, at the same time, is not afraid to declare that similar deeds can be done even better. Such a man may be depended upon because such a man is sure to prove loyal. In other words, I claim to be a dependable man of whose loyalty you can be certain. Even the highest praise from me would not be flattery; and even the simplest kind of advice which I have to offer is a form of praise.
A Precedent Set by Isocrates in His Address to the Areopagus
You have proclaimed an order which I believe should be reconsidered by you. A reconsideration of it by you would justify the reputation which you have of being both honest and learned. ltwould also enhance your public image if you feel more pleased with the advice which I have to offer to you than other statesmen have felt pleased with public flattery. (Advice thus offered by me should give you greater pleasure than that which has been felt by other politicians through praise which was in fact only flattery). If that happens, people will come to know the difference between the quality of the character of the present Parliament and the quality of the character of those persons who have held political power in their hands in the past. The present Parliament of which you are the members, and which is required to meet at least once in three years, is far more generous than were Archbishop Laud and the Earl of Strafford who had been controlling the civil government of the country as well as its church government for eleven years (1629-1640). If you reconsider the order, to which I have referred, you would be respected more highly than other Courts which have in the past produced nothing memorable, and which have only succeeded in a display of their own wealth and power. You, Lords and Commons, are in my opinion possessed of the virtues of humility and gentleness; and you have been trying to emulate the example of the ancient Greeks whose civilization was characterized by the love of humanity. You are free from the arrogance of the Huns and other Norwegian tribes of the middle Ages. You are followers of the example of the polite wisdom of the ancients and of their literature. It was in ancient Greece that there lived a man by the name of Isocrates who urged the Areopagus to change the form of democracy which then existed in Athens. This man, a believer in the study of wisdom and eloquence, was honored not only in his own country but in foreign countries as well. Other men, having the same kind of intelligence and character, were also honored and respected in the same way; and, like him, they also had some stern advice to give to the governments of their countries. Such a man was Dion Pursues who, though an alien and a private creator, urged the Rhodians to-oppose an existing law which he felt was unjust. And, of course, there are other examples too of such bold and fearless reformers and rebels. Although I certainly do not regard myself as an equal of those men, I would certainly wish to be regarded as not being inferior to them. And if I am not inferior to such counsellors and advisers, I feel that you are definitely superior to most of those organizations and assemblies to whom the advice of those individuals was addressed. Indeed, you excel those assemblies and legislative bodies because you have shown yourselves to be more amenable to reason. You have always taken note of the voice of reason from whichever quarter it has come; and you have always been as willing to repeal or withdraw any Act passed by yourselves as you have been to repeal any Act passed by your predecessors, if found unreasonable or unfair.
Four Sections of This Discourse
You have always professed a love of truth, and you have professed it in emphatic words. At the same time you possess an upright judgment so that you are not partial even to your own views and ideas. It is because of this love of truth and this upright judgment, which you possess, that I have decided to draw your attention to an order which you have recently proclaimed. That order aims at regulating the business of printing. That order lays down that no book, pamphlet, or paper- shall be printed from now onwards, unless it has first been approved and licensed by an authority constituted for the purpose. Your order includes something more. For instance, it lays down that every man has the right to publish his own name as the author of what he has himself written. But I shall not touch upon anything else in your order, besides the censorship which it imposes upon all publications. People including myself had been under the impression that such censorship had ended with the end of the ecclesiastical rules with regard to the observance of Lent, and with the end of the Canon Law governing marriages. But now I find that you have revived that censorship. I am therefore going to offer to you some advice on this subject; and I am going to do so under the following heads:
(1) The hateful origin of licensing or censorship.
(2) Reading of books, whatever the kind to which they belong.
(3) The futility of the order which you have proclaimed.
(4) The harmful effects of this order on learning and on truth.
The Qualities of a Good Book; and the Harm Done By Banning It
I do not deny that it is a matter of great importance for the government and for the church to keep a vigilant eye upon the manner in which books affect the lives of the citizens, and to punish the writers of those books which do harm to the readers in any way. The authors of such books should certainly be imprisoned or otherwise dealt with to prevent the publication of harmful books. I also do not deny that books are a powerful force which can influence the readers as deeply and profoundly as their authors can personally do, and that, even after the deaths of the authors, their books continue to have a life of their own. Even books by dead authors can produce effects as dangerous as the mythical dragon’s teeth did after having been sown in the ground and having led to the emergence of armed men from that ground. But, while everything may be done to prevent evil books of this kind from being written, care has alsoto be taken not to suppress or prevent the publication of good books. Suppressing a good book is as wicked as killing a human being. Killing a human being means killing a reasonable creature who had been created by God in His own image; but suppressing or banning a good book means killing reason itself. There are many human beings whose character and actions are so bad that they can be regarded as a burden to the earth on which they live. But the value of a good book is enormous. A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. That I mean to say is that a good book enshrines the precious wisdom of a great man, and that it perpetuates that wisdom, keeping it alive for ever. When a man dies, he cannot be brought back to life. A man’s death is therefore certainly a loss; but this is a loss which can be endured. If a good book, containing some valuable truth, is destroyed, it also cannot be brought back to life; but the loss of this book means also the loss of that valuable truth which could have brought about a great improvement in the life of, not one nation, but many nations. It is therefore necessary that authors, who take great pains in writing books, should not be unduly persecuted or harassed. A book preserves and stores the wisdom of a man who had reached his conclusions after a good deal of intellectual labor, and after having enriched his mind by his experience of life. Therefore the suppression of a good book is tantamount to the murder of human being, and may even be tantamount to the assassination of a noble-minded person. If many good books are suppressed or prevented from coming into existence, this would be tantamount to a large-scale slaughter of human beings. According to a common belief, the life, whether of human beings or of anything else, consists of four elements (namely fire, water, earth, and air). But, according to the same belief, there is also a fifth element which goes into the making of the human mind and of the heavenly bodies. This fifth element is much more precious than the other four. To suppress or to ban a good book is tantamount to destroying this fifth element which consists of the very breath of reason and which is almost immortal. Killing a good book therefore means killing the ethereal fifth element or essence, the loss of which would evidently be incalculable.
Very Little Censorship in Ancient Athens
I certainly do not mean to say that an unrestricted publication of all kinds of books should be permitted. I am not asking for unlimited freedom in the publication of books. But I do oppose the licensing of books; and I am opposed to the order which you have proclaimed in this context. Some of the oldest and most famous countries had been, opposed to any form of licensing till the emergence of the Roman Catholic court known as the Inquisition which was used by our church dignitaries and by some of our Presbyters as a basis for the imposition of restrictions on the publication of books. A brief review of the process by which the licensing of books came into existence is here necessary. In the ancient city of Athens, where books were produced in large numbers, there were only two kinds of writings on which the magistrates kept an eye: first, blasphemous and atheistically writings; and, second, libellous writings. In other words, the magistrates had to see that books of these two categories were not produced. It was as a consequence of this restriction that the books of Protagoras were ordered to be burnt and that the author himself was banished from the city. Protagoras had written blasphemous books. For instance, one of his books began with a statement that he did not know whether the gods really existed or not. Similarly, libellous books (that is, books defaming particular individuals) were also not tolerated; and it was therefore decreed that no particular individual should be defamed by name as had been done in the earliest form of Greek comedy. This decree proved quite effective in subduing and taming those authors who wanted to preach atheism and also those who wanted to defame particular individuals. No attempt was made in ancient Athens to prohibit or to control books of any other kind. For instance, there was no restriction at all on the writing of voluptuous books or those which denied the existence of any divine government or superintendence of this world. The philosopher Epicurus, who taught that pleasure was the highest good, was never prosecuted or even asked to justify or explain his creed. Similarly, philosophers like Diogenes, who taught the philosophy of cynicism, were never interrogated by any magistrate-ate because there was no law forbidding the propagation of a philosophy of this kind. Even the writing of the earliest form of Greek comedy was not forbidden. Aristophanes was the loosest of the ancient Greek comic dramatists; but Plato actually approved of the reading of this man’s plays by his pupil, Dionysius, the tyrannical ruler of Syracuse. Even St. John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople, subsequently studied the plays of Aristophanes every night, and actually drew from them his material for the preaching of his holy sermons. My real point here is that the authorities in the ancient city of Athens displayed quite a liberal attitude towards the writing of books of all kinds with the exception of books of the two categories already specified by me.
Very Little Censorship in Lacedaemon
I now come to the other leading city of ancient Greece, namely the city of Lacedaemon, The law-giver in this city was Lycurgus; and this man was himself so devoted to the acquisition of elegant learning that he collected the scattered works of Homer, and he sent the poet Thales from Crete to Lacedaemon to appease the ill-tempered Spartans with his sweet songs and odes, and also to encourage them to obey the laws and to practicepolite behavior. Actually those people were absolutely devoid of any poetical or literary taste, and they valued only war-like deeds. They disliked every form of literary activity except their own proverbs and sayings which were characterized by extreme brevity. They were so unliterary that they even banished Archilochus from their city for writing poems which were actually of a higher and finer quality than their own martial ballads. Evidently, they did not banish him for his licentious poems because they were themselves not morally very strict in their personal and social behavior. It is said that their women were all immoral; and so they could not have forbidden the writing of licentious books. In other words, even the people of this city were fairly liberal in their attitude to books and to the authors of books.
The Situation in Ancient Rome
Tie Romans had for many ages practicedonly military arts and skills. They had little learning except what they acquired _from their Twelve Tables, and what their priests taught them of religion and law. Indeed, the Romans were ignorant of all other kinds of learning. Such was their ignorance that, when the Greek ambassadors, Carneades and Critolaus, came to Rome in the company of the Stoic philosopher Diogenes and tried to speak to the Romans about their philosophy, they were regarded as deceivers wanting to mislead the people. In fact, they were suspected of being the enemies of Rome even by such a distinguished Roman Senator as Cato who wanted them to be banished from Italy immediately. However, Cato’s opposition to those Greek leaders of thought was countered by certain other Roman Senators such as Scipio who showed due honor to them. In fact, even Cato in his old age became genuinely interested in Greek philosophy and began to study it in right earnest. By this time, the first Latin dramatists, Naevius and Plautus, had —written several plays incorporating scenes borrowed from the work of the Greek comic dramatists such as Menander and Philemon.
The Liberal Attitude of the Ancient Roman Senate
The next step considered by the Roman Senate was the kind of treatment which should be meted out to the writers of books intended to defame and slander particular individuals. Naevius, the Roman comic dramatist was one of the offenders in this respect and he was thrown into prison for slandering particular individuals through his writings. He was released only when he had publicly withdrawn his defamatory statements. Emperor Augustus himself ordered the burning of libellous books and imposed penalties upon their writers. A similar attitude was adopted by the Roman authorities towards writers who wrote impious books attacking the gods who were held in great respect and worshipped by the people. But these were the only two kinds of books which were censured and condemned, namely books which defamed particular individuals, and books which attacked religious beliefs and the gods. The authorities did not bother their heads about any other kind of books. It was because of this liberal attitude of the authorities that Lucretius was able to versify his epicurean philosophy without any action being taken against him. Not only that, Such a great Roman statesman as Cicero himself subsequently edited Lucretius’s work although he did not agree with Lucretius’s views. Similarly, even the satirical writings and books dealing frankly and candidly with love and sex written by Lucilius, Catullus, and Horace* were not at all prohibited by the authorities. ‘The same liberal attitude was adopted by the authorities towards political writings. Titus Livius was not in any way penalized by Octavius Ceasar, the Emperor, for having praised the political party to which Pompey belonged even though Pompey was politically opposed to Octavius Caesar. However, Octavius Caesar did banish Ovid for having written loose and indecent poems in his youth, though this punishment was in reality given to him for some political reason which was kept a secret. No other books of the indecent or obscene kind were banished or banned. But, from that time onwards, the Roman authorities became more and more dictatorial, with the result that not only were bad books banned and legally proceeded against, but good books were also thus treated. In any case, I have dwelt at sufficient length on the liberal attitudes which prevailed among the ancient Greeks and Romans with regard to the writing of books. There was a fair degree of freedom allowed to authors in the choice of subjects for writing books; and the only books which were condemned or prohibited were those which dealt with the two subjects already specified, namely libelous books and impious books.
The Beginnings of Censorship
By this time the Roman emperors had become Christians. However, by being converted to Christianity, they did not become more strict with regard to the freedom which the authors enjoyed in the choice of their subjects. Only those books were prohibited or burnt which showed their authors to be heretics (that is, persons who criticized, and. tried to undermine, the traditional religious beliefs of the people); and such action was taken only under the authority of the emperor himself when it had been established, after a due investigation, that the books in question were really of this objectionable kind. But the writings of the heathen authors (that is, authors who had not embraced Christianity) were tolerated unless such writings were direct and abusive attacks upon Christianity. The writings of Porphyrius* and Proclus**, for instance, were certainly banned because they were undoubtedly meant to defame and undermine Christianity. A generally liberal attitude continued till the year 400 A.D. when, in a Carthaginian Council, the Bishops themselves were forbidden to read the books of the Gentiles (that is, heathens or pagans), though they were not forbidden to read books in which the Christian beliefs were criticized or opposed). Thus even here a distinction was made between books written by non-Christians and those written by Christians who did not endorse the orthodox Christian views. Only books written by non-Christians opposing Christianity were placed on the forbidden list; and even the writing of such books was by no means declared illegal. Bishops had only to declare which books were not commendable; and it was left to the conscience of the people to read what they liked and to reject what they did not like. It was only after the year 800 A.D. that any real restrictions on the writing of books came into existence. After that year the Roman Popes (or heads of the Roman Catholic Church) took some of the political powers of the government in their own hands and, in this way, extended their authority over the lives and the minds of the people. The Popes now began to decide what books should be burnt or prohibited; and they did so in an arbitrary manner. But even they were not too drastic in their judgments, and they did not ban too many books till Pope Martin V issued a special order prohibiting not only the writing, but also the reading, of heretical books. (Heretical books were those in which the authors expressed their disagreement with some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity). In this way, Pope Martin V tried to crush all opposition to the Christian Church and its doctrines. And he adopted this stern attitude because, by this time, men like Wyclif and Huss had begun to attack the Christian doctrines openly and in strong terms. The policy adopted by Martin V was followed by People Leo X and his successors. This process went on until the Council of Trent and the Spanish Inquisition began to collaborate to build up a system of preparing and notifying lists of books which were thought to be objectionable, and which the faithful Christians were expected to avoid altogether. This action by the Council of Trent and the Spanish Inquisition was certainly most tyrannical, and it was one which greatly hurt the feelings of many good authors. Action was certainly a severe attack upon the freedom of authors in choosing their subjects. And the prohibition extended not only to books which attacked the orthodox Christian beliefs but also books which for some other reason offended the judges. Restrictions thus imposed reached climax when it was ordained that any book meant for publication must be approved and licensed under the signatures of two or three friars. Indeed, the judges, who issued this ordinance, behaved as if St. Peter had himself handed over the keys of the printing presses to thermos enable them to throw open the presses only to those who had obtained their permission to print their books, and to close the presses to those whose books had been disapproved by the friars.
The Rigours of Censorship
That is how the licensing of books began; and, of course, such licensing then became not only arbitrary but also over-strict. Sometimes a judge, before issuing an “imprimatur” (or a permit for the printing of a book), would suggest that the proposed book should be referred to the Chancellor; and sometimes a judge would certify that he had gone through the book and found nothing subversive of the Roman Catholic faith and of good manners in it. Sometimes a judge would make a very adverse comment upon a book submitted to him for scrutiny. He would, for instance, write in his comment that the Devil had himself dictated the writing of this book. And sometimes as many as five judges wrote down their comments on a proposed book, all differing in their views so that the author of the book, who had been waiting for the decision of the judges, did not know whether permission had been granted to him to publish his book or whether he had been ordered to be sent to jail. Such judgments subsequently came down to the priests and clergymen of various ranks in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, with the result that in our own time permission has to be obtained either from the Archbishop of Canterbury of from the Bishop of London for the publication of books. This means that even our nation has begun to follow the lead of the Roman Catholic Church in this sphere just as the English Protestant Church has previously been following the example of the Roman Catholic Church in using Latin instead of English as the medium of church services and in every other matter relating to the Church. It would seem that no man is to be thought learned unless he employs Latin in his writings or in his religious discourse. It would seem that the English language, which has played a leading role in the achievements of liberty, is not thought fit to be used for the writing of even a dictatorial order. That is why the Latin word “Imprimatur” continues to be used in the licensing of books. Now, it needs to be emphasized that the prevailing rule about the licensing of books has surely not come down to us from any ancient State or from any of our ancestors or even from the modern custom of any reformed city or Church. This rule has been derived only from the most anti-Christian Council (namely the Council of Trent) and from the most tyrannical Court (namely the Spanish Inquisition). Till that time there was no restriction on the writing and the printing of books, just as there was no restriction on the bringing of new children into the world. “There was no watchman to keep a watch over the printing of new books. According to a legend, Juno (the wife of the supreme god, Jupiter) had waited anxiously to prevent the birth of the warrior Hercules, and yet she had failed in her purpose. But in the case of the publication of new books no such power or authority had been on the watch to prevent their appearance. However, if any book did prove to be obnoxious or dangerous, due action was taken against it. Such a book was burnt or flung into the sea. But that a book should be judged even before it came into existence was never heard of till now. It is something unprecedented that a verdict should be passed against a book even before it has been published. Such an unjust measure was introduced only after the establishment of the Court known as the Inquisition. It was the head of the Roman Catholic Church who was responsible for the introduction of such .a drastic measure; and this measure was introduced as a consequence of the fear of the changes which seemed to threaten the stability of the Roman Catholic Church, making it desirable from the Pope’s point of view to think of all possible steps to prevent a rebellion against his Church. This measure was subsequently seized as a weapon by the Bishops and their subordinates to punish all those who showed any signs of independent thinking and of deviating from the path traditionally prescribed by the Roman Catholic Church. Now you, Members of Parliament, have proclaimed a licensing order. I do admit that you have no evil intentions, and that you have felt compelled by certain circumstances to pass it. You are all men of integrity and you cannot therefore be suspected of having any evil motives in passing this order. But I must tell you that this order is most unjust.
The Revival of Censorship, an Unwise Step
Some people would argue that a licensing order of this kind should be welcome even if the persons who were originally responsible for drastic measures of this kind were themselves bad. These people may be right; and yet I must point out that the best and the wisest governments in the course of the centuries had never made use of any such restriction on printing. Only the false leaders and tyrants were the men who first made use of any such restrictions to prevent books from being printed freely; and the purpose of all such steps and measures was to obstruct and hinder any possible revolt against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Such a revolt did ultimately come in the form what is known as the Reformation (which led to the advent of Protestantism). In other words, the motive behind all restrictions on the printing of books was not one that could be admired or commended. The introduction of restrictions of this kind must have cost their inventors a lot of toil and labor; and it would cost them even greater toil and labor to put any such invention to-a good use. In other words, any restrictive measures of this kind will not serve any beneficial purpose. This licensing order passed by- you may be compared to a tree which yields a dangerous-and suspicious fruit, as I hope to show in the course of this discourse. But, before I do that, I want to point out what the
Possible advantages and disadvantages are, in general, of the study of books.
The General View about the Reading of Books
Moses, Daniel, and Paul were all great readers of books. They were learned men who had studied the books of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Greeks. Paul especially did not think that the study of such books could do any harm to religion. In fact, he did not think it in the least dangerous to insert into the HolyScripture (that is, the holy Bible) some sentences from three Greek poets, one of them being a tragic dramatist of the name of Euripides. Still an objection was raised by some people who thought it unwise or imprudent to study the books of the Greeks and the other ancient nations. The general view of those, who discussed this question, was that there was nothing unlawful about reading such books and that their study could even prove useful. This became clear when Julian, who was originally a Christian, renounced Christianity on becoming the emperor and then proved to be a most cunning enemy of the Christian faith. This man issued a decree forbidding Christians to study the books of the heathens (namely the ancient Greeks) on the ground that, after reading those books, the Christians would try to overcome the non-Christians with the very weapons (namely the very arts and sciences) which the non-Christians had in their possession. And, indeed, the Christians found themselves at a great disadvantage as a result of Julian’s decree. Having been forbidden to study the books of the ancient writers, they had to devise other methods to keep and strengthen their religion and their culture. One such device was employed by the two Apollinaire (a father and his son) who tried to prove that the Bible had in it the seeds of all the seven liberal sciences. These two men (father and son), belonging to Alexandria, tried to prove that the Bible contained in germ the basic principles of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, logic, rhetoric, grammar, and music. These two men built up many discourses, dialogues, and poems with the material which they derived from the Bible. However, God helped the Christian religion even more than these two painstaking men because God took away from this world the very man, namely Julian, who had proclaimed that obnoxious decree by means of which he had tried to cripple Christianity. Julian had forbidden Christians to study the ancient Greek books because those books could make an enormous contribution to the knowledge and the learning of the Christians who naturally thought that, to be deprived of that treasure-house of learning, would mean a great loss to them. To be completely deprived of that learning meant even greater cruelty to them than the two Roman emperors, namely Decius and Diocletian, who were bitterly hostile to Christianity, inflicted upon Christians. Julian’s decree was, in short, meant to be a severe blow to the Christian faith; and his decree was that the Christians must not study the writings of the ancient Greeks. This decree had evidently political as well as religious implications.
Prejudices With Regard to the Reading of Books
Another significant event in this context may also be mentioned here. St. Jerome, a Father of the Christian Church in the fourth century, declared that the devil had whipped him in one of his dreams because he had been reading books by the ancient Roman politician, Cicero. Perhaps St. Jerome made this declaration under the influence of a fever. How could he have been whipped for reading Cicero who was an author of serious and grave writings, when St. Jerome had earlier been reading the books written by Plautus whose works were characterized by a certain degree of obscenity; and why should Jerome alone have been thus whipped when there had been many more Fathers of the Church who had been reading even more obscene works from which they drew a lot of pleasure? It may also be mentioned here that a bishop by the name of Basil had expressed the view that a mock- epic poem entitled Margites, written by Homer, was worth reading. And I ask why an Italian romance entitled Morgante should not be regarded as legitimate reading if Margites could be recommended by a bishop. And, in any case, if the quality of books is to be judged by the dreams which men see, then I would mention a dream seen by Dionysius Alexandrinus (the Bishop of Alexandria) who was famous for his piety and learning and who used to draw much strength and support for his opposition to the heretics from his study of their own books. He was once asked by a Presbyter how his conscience could permit him to study the books of the heretics when those books were evidently poisonous and dangerous from the Christian point of view. He replied that he had seen a dream, sent to him by God, urging him to read any books which came to his hands, and to judge them by his own faculty of reason. In other words, this Bishop of Alexandria claimed God’s own authority for reading books written by heretics; and he
Further claimed that he was competent enough, by virtue of his faculty of reason, to judge every book on its own merits. This bishop also claimed that God’s message to him through his dream had only been a confirmation of what the Apostle had told the people. The Apostle had said that people should judge all things by their own reason and should then stick to what seemed to them to be right and good. To these words of the Apostle, I would like to add something else which too was recommended by the same Apostle. I would like to add the following words: “To the pure all things are pure, not only meats and drinks, but all kinds of knowledge, whether of good or evil; the knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the will and conscience be not defiled.” This means that knowledge by itself cannot corrupt anybody. Books contain knowledge; and, if knowledge by itself cannot corrupt or contaminate human beings, books will surely not do that. A man, whose mind is pure, cannot be infected by evil only because he has gone through a book containing a knowledge of evil.
Bad Books and Good Books
Books may be compared to food. Some books contain knowledge of good, and others contain knowledge of evil. It is the same as with food. Certain kinds of food nourish human beings, while other kinds do much harm to them. It is because of this that God had told Peter in a dream that he could eat any kind of meat at his own discretion. God had said that every man should be allowed to choose the kind of meat which he felt like eating because every man could judge for himself which kind of meat was beneficial to him and which kind was harmful. If a man’s stomach was in a state of ill-health, even wholesome meat would do no good to him. In the same way, if a man’s mind is vile or wicked, even the best books would do no good to him but might become occasions for him to do evil deeds. Bad meat will hardly provide any nourishment even to the healthiest man. But in this respect bad books differ from bad meat. While bad meat does no good even to a healthy man, bad books do serve a useful purpose for men of a noble disposition. Bad books enable wise and judicious readers to discover good things, to contradict false things, and to illustrate both good and bad things. In the British Parliament of today there is a member by the name of Mr. Seldon who is the most learned man in the country today and who has produced a book dealing with natural and national laws. Mr. Selden has proved, by writing this book, that all kinds of opinions, including erroneous ones, having duly been studied and considered, can serve a very useful purpose because they enable us ultimately to reach the truest opinion. In other words, it is most desirable that all kinds of opinions, including the wrong and false ones, should be available to all human beings so that, through a discussion of them, the truth can be arrived at. It is probably for this reason that God did not prescribe a particular diet for human beings and provided them with many kinds of food, leaving it to their own judgment how much to eat and which kind of food to eat. Of course, every human being knows the value of moderation so far as eating any kind of food is concerned but, subject to the principle of moderation, a man is free to eat whatever he likes, and as much as he likes. God has given to every human being the faculty of reasoning and the power of judging every matter including the kind or the quantity of food which should be eaten. When God provided the homeless Jews with food from heaven, he did not put any restrictions upon the quantity which any one of them was to eat, leaving it to every individual to determine the quantity that he should eat. God does not believe in imposing a permanent restriction upon human beings with regard to the kind of food he should eat and the quantity he should consume. God has endowed all human beings with capacity to judge this and other things. If God had framed detailed rules governing all such matters and had expected human beings to obey those rules, there would have been no need for preachers to offer guidance and advice to human beings in any sphere of conduct. King Solomon said that much reading was tiresome for the human body but neither he nor any other wise man ever suggested that any kind of reading was unlawful. In other words, a man, according to Solomon, was free to read whatever he liked though it was desirable that a man should not read too much, because too much reading in his opinion was tiresome for the body.
The Real Meaning of Goodness or Virtue
Those people, who became the followers of St. Paul, burnt the Ephesian* books on the ground that they were books of magic. But the burning of these books by them was a private and voluntary act. They burnt these books which belonged to themselves, and they burnt them because of their feeling of guilt about them. No magistrate to judge the contents or to examine the quality of any book had been appointed by the authorities in consequence of the realization of those people about the undesirability of the books which they burnt. The books were burnt because they were thought to be misleading. But some other people might have regarded even these books as good enough to be studied in order that something useful might be extracted from them. Good and evil in this world exist inseparably, and they grow together in the same inseparable mixture. Our knowledge of good is interwoven with our knowledge of evil. So close is the inter- mingling of good and evil in this world that often it becomes very difficult for us to separate one from the other. This inter-mingling is almost as close as was the inter-mingling of the various kinds of seeds which Psyche was called upon to separate from one another, and which she was able to accomplish, not by her own judgment, but with the help of the ants. (Psyche had incurred the wrath of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, because Psyche had won the heart of Cupid who was the son of Venus, and who was not expected by his mother to fall in love with that woman. Venus therefore imposed a toil upon Psyche to test her skill, and placed before her a heap of seeds of different kinds, asking her to separate the different kinds from one another). The point here is that it is almost impossible for human beings to differentiate good and evil from each other because good and evil always exist together in a combination, so that to disentangle- one from the other is an arduous task. The knowledge of good and evil came to the first man and the first woman, whom God had created, from a single apple which they had eaten. According to the Biblical account, Adam and Eve acquired a knowledge of good and evil after eating the fruit (namely an apple) of a tree in the Garden of Eden. In other words, the knowledge of good and evil originated from a single source, and came to-Adam and Eve in an inter- mingled condition, and not separately. ‘This means that good can be known only if one has some knowledge of evil, and that evil can be known only if one has some knowledge of good. Nobody can choose the path of wisdom unless he first knows what is un wisdom. Nobody can avoid the path of evil unless he first has some idea of what is good. He is the true and firm Christian who, understanding and recognizing vice with all its temptations and delights, can yet resist and reject it in favor of the opposite (which is goodness or piety). Virtue can best be appreciated only when its opposite, namely sinfulness, is known to human beings. Virtue, which leads an isolated and exclusive life, away from all sin and evil, hardly has any reality or solidity. Only when a man knows the nature of evil can he understand and appreciate the nature of virtue; and only then can a man show his capacity to make the right choice. Innocence and purity can have any significance only when sin and impiety are known to the people. If virtue is unacquainted with the temptations, which vice holds out to people, it is not pure virtue. Such virtue is a blank virtue. Such virtue has only a surface whiteness, and not a whiteness permeating it. That is why I believe the poet Spenser to be a better teacher than such famous churchmen as Scotus and Aquinas. Spenser wrote The FairieQueene to teach certain lessons to his readers, and he did so in such a way as to give them an idea of how a virtuous man could follow the path of virtue even though there were temptations in his way to deflect him from that path. In Book Il of The FairieQueene, there is a knight by the name of Guyon who enters the cave of Mammon (the god of wealth) and is shown all the treasures which can become his if he agrees to accept Mammon as his master. Guyon rejects Mammon’s offer of all those treasures, and emerges as a virtuous man but only after he has seen with own eyes how rich and tempting were the treasures available to him. Thus a knowledge of vice and evil, which exist in this world, is absolutely necessary for human beings to be able to assert their virtue. It is only by surviving error that a man can feel confirmed in his knowledge of the truth. We can investigate the domain of sin and falsehood only by reading all kinds of tracts and pamphlets which are in circulation, and by listening to all kinds of arguments which the reason of man can invent and put forward. It is only by reading books of all kinds, without any distinction whatever, that we can judge what is right and what is wrong. We would not know which books are false and misleading unless we go through them; and we can go through them only if are free to read anything and everything that finds its way into print without any restriction or restraint.
The Alleged Harm Done By Unrestricted Reading of Books
It is said that such unrestricted reading of books can also have some harmful results. Three kinds of harm are generally mentioned in this context. The first is that, if we read all books the injury which they may cause to we will spread to other people also. But, if it be so, then all human learning must be removed, and all religious controversy must be forbidden because not only religious discussions but the Bible itself includes accounts of impiety, wickedness, sensuality, rebellion against God, human grievances, human discontent with the divine governance of this world, and similar other forms of irreligious and unholy deeds. If a mere knowledge of impiety and sinfulness can lead to a spread of these things, then the people should not be allowed to enter into any religious discussion, and should not be allowed to read even the Bible, Furthermore, the teachings of the old Fathers of the Church must also be prohibited. If, for instance, we were to go through the writings of Clement of Alexandria, we would necessarily become acquainted with numerous heathenish obscenities because Clement found it necessary to point out the immoralities of the ancient Greek religious beliefs. (The ancient Greeks were heathens, that is, men who lived in pre-Christian times and who, therefore, knew nothing of the Christian religion). Then the books of such religious controversialists as Irenaeus, Epiphanius, and Jerome should also be forbidden because these men, in their efforts to disprove certain heretical ideas, discovered some more heretical ideas in addition to those which they were trying to disprove. And, in some cases, these men committed the blunder of rejecting even true opinions and beliefs on the ground that they were heretical notions.
False Ideas Propagated Through the Medium of Latin
Before proceeding further, I should like to answer the objection which may here be raised by some persons. Somebody might say that all the books which I have mentioned here were written in a foreign language (namely Latin) which our people do not understand. As these books are written in Latin, the misleading ideas contained in them would not spread in the way in which an infection generally spreads. But my answer to this objection is that there are learned men in our country who understand Latin and who, after reading these books, are sure to discuss them with others through the medium of our language, namely English. Originally the learned men transmitted false ideas to the higher classes of society through the medium of Latin. For instance, a learned man by the name of Petronius Arbiter communicated some poisonous ideas to the Roman emperor, Nero; and then there was a learned author by the name of Skelton, who had served as a totem Prince Henry. (This Prince afterwards became King Henry V Ill). Skelton was jokingly described by Henry VIII as the representative of hell at his court. What I am trying to say is that even books written in foreign languages can spread their infection in a country like ours; and, in fact, the spread of dangerous ideas can even take a shorter period of time than a voyage to India would take by the new route being contemplated by navigators. In spite of all this, such books are in no danger of being forbidden under the new order which you, Members _of Parliament, have proclaimed. Such books do not come under the purview of the new order. They will still be read by the learned people who can then freely discuss their contents publicly, and who can themselves be infected by the dangerous ideas contained in those books. In fact, it is only the learned persons who can thus be infected by religious books which contain harmful and dangerous ideas. If ignorant people become infected, it is only through the discourses delivered to them by the learned clergymen who have studied books propounding religious doctrines. Indeed, no Papistical books* written even in the English language, can be understood by the common people without the help of a guide. Many priests and clergymen have been corrupted by their study of the comments made on religious doctrines by the Jesuits and by those scholars who had studied at the famous university of Sorbonne (in France), and they have then passed on that corruption to the common people. There is the well-known case of the learned man, Arminius, who was himself perverted by the study of a certain religious discourse which he had actually set out to oppose and demolish by exposing its falsity.
The Spread of False Ideas through Spoken Words
In the light of all this, it can safely be assumed that there is an abundance of books which can poison both the lives and the beliefs of the people through the false doctrines which they preach; and yet the suppression of such books cannot be effected without administering a heavy blow to thecause of learning and to the cause of free discussion and argumentation. Such books first of all infect the learned people who then communicate what they have imbibed to the common people. It is in this way that heretical and immoral ideas are propagated. And yet it is equally true that evil manners and bad habits spread among the people in a thousand other ways, in addition to their propagation through books. Evil doctrines and dangerous ideas find their way into the minds and the lives of the people through many other channels, besides the medium of books. A teacher can impart false notions to the people through his spoken words, and without the help of books; and the snag here is that nobody can be forbidden to open his mouth and speak to the people. And, if even bad manners and false doctrines can become current among the people through the spoken word and without the help of books, no purpose will be served by any official decree imposing a censorship on books. The licensing of books, which has been prescribed through your order, will merely prove to be one more futile attempt to control the spread of false ideas and doctrines. This order, proclaimed by you, would prove to be just as ineffective in checking the spread of false ideas as the shutting of a park gate would prove to prevent crows from entering a park. (Crows cannot be prevented from entering a park just because the park gate has been shut against them. In the same way the licensing order passed by you would not prevent the spread of false beliefs because there are numerous other ways in which false beliefs can become current)..
The Licensers Themselves By No Means Incorruptible
There is yet another disadvantage of the licensing order which you have passed. As pointed out above, the learned men themselves are the first who read books of all kinds and who then propagate false ideas and misleading doctrines. If that be so, how can the licensers themselves be prevented from spreading false ideas? The men appointed to grant licenses for the printing of books would themselves have to go through the books first; and there would be a danger of those men being themselves infected by the false ideas contained in those books. Where is the guarantee that those men would themselves prove to be incorruptible, and what guarantee is there that they themselves would stand firm against the influence of the ideas which those books seek to spread? We have also to keep in mind the fact that a wise man can draw some wisdom even from the worst kind of books, and that a fool remains a fool even after reading the best book. Such being the case, a wise man should not be deprived of the advantage which can accrue to his wisdom by his reading of a book which may on the whole be undesirable and even harmful, but from which a wise man can still derive some sort of wisdom. A wise man can make a good use of even a worthless pamphlet while a fool is unable to make a good use even of the sacred Scripture. Men like Aristotle and Solomon have left behind them many good precepts; and Jesus Christ himself left behind many wise sayings. To prevent a wise man from reading such precepts and sayings implies much the same thing as preventing him from the study of good books although, as already pointed out, a wise man can make a good use even of a worthless pamphlet.
The Medicinal Effect of Books
Another objection which is raised against the granting of freedom to people to read any kind of books, which they may like to read, is that people should not be allowed to expose themselves to temptations unduly, and that they should not be encouraged to spend their time in futile pursuits. Answer to this objection is that books, thought to be objectionable, are not temptations or futile reading to all men. These books are useful drugs, and they are means by which the lives of human beings can be maintained in proper health and even improved. As for those people, who are childish or foolish like children, and who are not competent to make a proper use of these drugs and medicines, they can be urged and exhorted to keep away from them, though they should not be coerced into doing so. Your licensing order is a form of coercion and it merely resembles the kind of coercion which was used by the Roman Catholic Court known as the Inquisition. My whole point in this part of my discourse is that yow licensing order does not, and cannot, serve the purpose for which it has been framed; and now I would like to dwell upon this point still further.
No Restrictions Imposed By Nations of the Past
Truth has a way of spreading itself at a quicker and faster pace than anything else. Even a systematic kind of propaganda cannot promote the spread of truth as fast as truth tends to spread itself. I have already pointed out that no nation of the world and no well-established political system, which attached any value at all to books, ever employed this method of licensing which you have decided upon. Someone might try to refute this argument by saying that this method of licensing is a form of wisdom which has recently been discovered. To this, my reply is that this method is so simple and of such an obvious nature that it must have occurred to somebody or the other long long ago and that, in spite of its obviousness, not even a single nation imposed it upon authors and publishers. If the nations of the past did not resort to this method, it was not because it did not occur to them or because they were ignorant of it. They did not employ it because they did not approve of it. Licensing of books was not instituted by the nations and the governments in the past because it was not thought by them to be a desirable or a commendable device.
The Absurdity of the Restrictions Suggested By Plato
Plato certainly suggested certain restrictive devices and methods to keep writers and authors under check. He did so in his famous book, the Republic, which contained his theory of an ideal form of government. In that work, he did propose several restrictions upon authors. For instance, he recommended that no poet should read out his poems to any citizen until the judges and the law-keepers had gone through them and approved of them. But Plato meant this restriction to be applied only to the kind of republic which he had described in his book, and which did not actually exist anywhere in the world. Besides, if Plato really meant what he said, he should first have imposed a similar restriction upon himself. He was the framer and inventor of many unwise epigrams and a writer of many misleading dialogues. In other words, he was himself a breaker of the rules which he laid down for the guidance of other writers, and he should therefore have been expelled by the magistrates to whom he had assigned this responsibility in his ideal republic. Besides, Plato was himself a habitual reader of certain objectionable books such as the works of the Greek comic dramatist Aristophanes who had written books of the most glaring kind of slander against some of his own friends. Not only did Plato himself read such obnoxious works but he even urged the tyrannical ruler, Dionysius, to do the same even though that ruler hardly had any need or any time for reading them. Obviously Plato knew that the restrictions, which he was imposing upon poets and other writers, would never take a practical shape because the kind of republic which he advocated would never come into existence anywhere in the world. Even if a republic of his conception had come into existence somewhere, none of the restrictions proposed by him would ever have been introduced, and would ever in any case, have proved effective or fruitful.
Censorship of Books, a Danger to All Kinds of Freedom
No form of strictness in the case of books can yield any good result, if similar strictness is not imposed upon all kinds of social activity. If books have to be prohibited so that they may not poison the minds of the readers, then a hundred other kinds of prohibition must also be imposed upon the people to prevent them from being poisoned and corrupted in a hundred other ways. If, therefore, printing is to be regulated and controlled in order to improve civil life, then all kinds of recreations and pastimes, which are a source of pleasure to human beings, must also be regulated and controlled because they too can mislead and corrupt human beings. -muss, music must be forbidden; and no songs, with the exception of such as are grave and of a martial nature, must be sung or heard. Dancing must, likewise, be forbidden, and only those gestures and movements of the limbs should be permitted which are thought to be decent and dignified. More than twenty licensers will then be required to inspect all the musical instruments such as the lutes, the violins, and the guitars in every house to make sure that they are not used to produce any tunes except those which have been duly licensed. Furthermore, all the singing in private chambers, where lovers whisper words of love to each other, must also be silenced. No music should be allowed in the windows and on the balconies of people’s homes. As for books, which have dangerous title-pages with provoking words printed on them, they must also be disallowed or rigidly controlled. Twenty licensers will be most inadequate to take the necessary measures in all these spheres of life. Then there will be the people of the villages who would also have to be protected against the corrupting influence of their recreations and their pastimes. Officials will have to be appointed to visit villages and to make sure that the violins and the bagpipes do not play tunes suggestive of any kind of obscenity, because the tunes of these musical instruments have the same effect on the peasants which romances like the Arcadia and the Diana have on the courtiers and the learned class of people in the city. Then something will have to be ‘done to prevent the excessive eating and drinking which prevail in English households and which have brought a bad name to this country. What kind of authority will be constituted to control the over- eating and over-drinking in which our people indulge? Then, perhaps, even our clothes require some kind of supervision by officials so that people can be prevented from putting on garments which are sexually alluring. Even the conversations of men and women might have to be controlled because of the lack of any restraint at present in this respect. Who shall determine what kind of conversation should be permitted, and what kind of conversation should be banned? Finally, who shall prevent people from mixing with bad company which has a corrupting influence?
No Governmental Control Possible Over All Forms of Behavior
None of these things can really be controlled by any means whatsoever; but a wise government should certainly take measures to reduce every kind of evil to the minimum without having to appoint numerous officials to exercise control over all kinds of bad habits, whether in the field of eating and drinking, or in the matter of clothes, or in the sphere of social intercourse and conversation. It is impossible for any country to pull itself out of the world, and to withdraw into some kind of ideal universe like the New Atlantis of Bacon’s conception or the Utopia of Thomas More’s conception. No ideal republic can actually exist though thinkers like Bacon and More have certainly conceived such republic’. The only thing that can be done is to govern this world, and the countries in this world, wisely so as to prevent the spread of evil which certainly exists in this world of God’s creation and from which there is no escape. Plato’s remedy of imposing a restriction on the publication of books will never succeed because such a restriction would involve the imposition of restrictions in many other spheres of life also. With too many restrictions upon life, the world would become a ridiculous and boring place, and the restrictions themselves would not fully serve the purpose for which they would be introduced. Under these circumstances only the unwritten codes of conduct and the unwritten laws of good education, religious piety, and social behavior can prove effective. In fact, the unwritten laws can prove a great support even for the written laws which are passed by any legislative body. While the laws laid down by legislative bodies may be evaded and shelved by people bent upon leading their lives in accordance with their own inclinations, the unwritten laws including the recognized modes of living can prove more useful.
The Freedom of Choice Absolutely Essential
The great art of government is to find out in which spheres of activity laws are necessary to prevent people from going astray, and in which spheres of activity persuasion and guidance can serve the purpose effectively. A law should be passed only where persuasion and wise counsel are likely to fail. And, in any case, if parliament or some other authority is to decide which actions of the people need no permission from the authorities, and which actions require a permit or a licensee from the government, then virtue, which we praise so highly, would be reduced to a mere name, and would no longer exist as a good to be cultivated and strengthened. It is only when a man has the freedom to choose either good or evil by the exercise of his own will, that virtue has any meaning. We call a man virtuous if he chooses the path of virtue by his own will. But, if there are laws to govern a man’s choice of the path which he has to follow in every sphere of life, then the word “virtue” loses its meaning altogether. Some people blame God for having allowed Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman) to disobey his injunction not to eat the fruit of a certain tree in the Garden of Eden. Such persons are foolish in criticizing God for having allowed Adam and Eve the freedom to do what they liked. God had given to both Adam and Eve the faculty of reason; and it was only because He had endowed them with the reasoning faculty that He also gave them the freedom of choice, the freedom to eat the forbidden fruit or not to eat it. A man’s choice of a course of action has to be determined by the reason with which God has endowed him. If God had himself decided that Adam should not eat the forbidden fruit, then Adam would have been a mere artificial Adam and a kind of puppet. In our day-to-day life, we admire the virtues of obedience, love, and generosity if these are shown towards us by others voluntarily. We would not value these qualities in anybody who shows these under some compulsion or under some threat. God left it to Adam to make his own choice whether to eat the forbidden fruit or not; and, of course, God had to reward or to punish Adam in accordance with the choice that he made. In our own lives we are surrounded by pleasures and delights which God has created; and God has also created the passions which dwell within us. We too have the freedom of choice. We may choose the path of sinful pleasures, or we may choose the path of innocent pleasures. Our choice will show whether or not we are virtuous.
The Need of Wisdom in the Management of Human Affairs
There are people who assert that sin can be eradicated by the removal of the conditions in which sin has its origin, and under which sin thrives. Such people have no sense in their heads. To try to eradicate sin by removing the conditions in which sin can thrive or by removing the very basis and the grounds which lead to sinfulness would not only be impractical but also self-defeating. In the sphere of the publication of books, such a method would certainly be futile. A certain number of books may be prohibited but the total number of books which await publication is so large that only a universal ban on all books can prevent the publication of bad books. Even if a universal ban on all books is imposed, the sinfulness of bad books would yet remain. Even if the entire accumulated wealth of a greedy man were to be taken away from him, the sin of greed would yet remain in his nature. If all the young men were to be made prisoners, and if all the women who excite a lustful desire in young men, were also to be removed from their presence, the young men would certainly not become chaste because their lust can by no means be eradicated, and certainly not by the method of segregation. What is needed therefore is care and wisdom in the right management of all human affairs. Even if sin could be removed by the methods mentioned above, much virtue would also get expelled from this world in the process because the substance and the materials, which give rise either to sin or to virtue, are the same. (Human nature remains the same, and the conditions under which human beings live in society are also very much the same even though there may be variations). God commands human beings to follow the path of moderation, the path of justice, and the path of abstinence; and yet God provides human beings with an abundance of all desirable and enjoyable things which catch the attention of human beings and which excite their desire, If God can follow such a course, namely the provision of all kinds of pleasure, why should the government of a country exercise so much rigour as to impose a ban on the publication of books? A government should not become more strict even than God.
Compulsion and Coercion, Most Undesirable
Books should be freely available; and printers and publishers should have full freedom to print and publish them so that people ‘can read them freely and decide for themselves which of them are good and which of them are bad. It is only through such freedom that the quality of books can be judged. Whether a book teaches virtue or not, and whether a book contains some truth or not, can be decided only if people have the freedom to go through it, and if it was not banned at the very source. If a book is capable of doing even a little good to the people, then it is a book worthy of esteem because even a little service to society is preferable to the forcible prevention of evil-doing. To use force in order to prevent the harm which any particular book can do is a wrong course of action because the use of force to prevent the publication of books would also imply the prevention of the little good which any book could have done to the people. God himself aims more at the growth and completion of one single virtuous person than at the prevention of ten wicked persons from coming into existence. (In other words, God would not bother about the emergence or the coming into existence of ten wicked persons but would pay greater attention to the development of one virtuous person). Human beings are influenced in the influenced in the course of their lives by everything. They are influenced by whatever they see or hear; they are influenced by things while sitting, while walking, while travelling, and while talking. Books are only one of the numerous influences in a man’s life. But, if only books are to be prohibited, then this licensing order passed by you has so far proved ineffective to serve the purpose for which it was passed because a certain weekly periodical, which is a strong supporter of the English monarchy and which is hostile to the parliament and the common people, continues to be printed and circulated in spite of your licensing order.
Numerous Officials Required to Enforce This Order
Perhaps you would say that the order has not been put into effect properly. But, if the order has not properly been enforced in the cae of that particular periodical, how can it be presumed that it will prove more effective in the case of other publications. And, if this order has to be made more effective, you, Members of Parliament, will, have to perform yet another labor. You must ban all those books which are objectionable but which had already been published before your new licensing order was passed. You will have to draw up a list of all the objectionable books which are already in circulation and then to declare all those books illegal. You will have further to decree that no foreign books should be put up for sale here till they have been duly scrutinized and approved. Such a task will require the services of a large number of men, who should be well-educated and competent to perform this task. Then there is another category of books also. These books are partly excellent and therefore useful, and partly objectionable and therefore harmful. Harmful portions in such books will have to be deleted so that the useful portions can be retained for the benefit of those who may wish to read them. Now this task will require many more officials who can go through these books and make the required deletions and expunctions. This means still more work for the government officials. Besides, all those publishers and printers, who habitually publish objectionable material, will have to be stopped from continuing this injurious practice. In short, you will have to take certain drastic steps to lend the required force to your order. You may even have to follow the example set by the Council of Trent and the Inquisition to render your order effective though I know that you will certainly not like to follow that detestable example. If at all you feel inclined to follow that hateful and dangerous example, your licensing order will still prove defective and will still not serve the purpose which you had in mind.
Impossible to Prevent the Emergence of Sects and Groups
If the purpose of this licensing order is to prevent the emergence of religious sects and groups, this purpose will not be achieved because religious sects have been known to come into existence not so much by means of books as through unwritten traditions and beliefs. The Christian religion itself used to be only a sect at one time (that is, in the beginning) and, when it began to spread, it did so not through any written or published books and pamphlets but through the spoken word. Christianity spread all over Asia without the help of any published material. And, if the purpose of this licensing order is to bring about an improvement in the social manners and the moral behavior of the people, even a cursory look at the conditions prevailing in Italy and Spain will show that no improvement at all in this respect has taken place in those countries in spite of all the rigid restrictions that have been imposed upon the publication of books there.
The Laborious and Tedious Task of the Licensers
There is’ yet another reason why this licensing order will not serve any purpose. Those appointed to implement this order must-be men of sound judgment and integrity of character, besides being well-educated. The licensers must be men possessing more than average ability; they must be studious and taught men who can really judge the quality of books because, if their judgment of books proves to be unsound, much harm would be done to the cause of learning. The work of the licensers would demand a lot of labor. It is a very tedious and boring kind of work because the licensers would have to do a lot of reading in view of the numerous books which would be submitted to them for scrutiny and for permission to publish them. To have to go through all this material at all times, whether a licenser is in the mood to read it or not, would mean a most tiring affair. It is my view that already the persons appointed to the position of licensers are finding it a most tough and unpleasant kind of labor. No man possessing any real ability or worth would therefore come forward to undertake the duties of a licenser at the low remuneration which would be offered to him. The only men to accept this kind of work would be ignorant or negligent or irresponsible ones, or those who are merely interested in getting their salaries whatever the amount involved, this again goes to show that your licensing order will not serve the purpose at which it aims.
A Serious Discouragement to the Cause of Learning
I now come to the last of the four headings under which I have arranged this discourse of mine. Having demonstrated that your licensing order will not serve the purpose for which it is intended, I now proceed to deal with the harm which it is bound to cause. First and foremost, this order will prove to be the greatest discouragement and the worst insult which can be offered to learned persons and to the cause of learning. There are people who possess an inborn love of learning, and who pursue learning not for the sake of any financial gain but for its own sake. These persons aim only at serving God, and serving the cause of truth. Such persons feel satisfied only with the reputation and the good name which their pursuit of learning is likely to bring them. Books written by such persons are sure to strengthen people’s faith in God and to promote the welfare of mankind. Bishops and other church dignitaries have often in the past opposed any move which could lead to the discouragement of learning. When, for instance, a move was made to distribute the income of the churches fairly and equitably, and not to pay exorbitant sums of money to the higher ranks among the clergymen, this move was opposed by the highest authorities in the church on the ground that this sort of thing would dampen the enthusiasm of those who are interested in the pursuit of learning. Their enthusiasm would decline because of the reduced remuneration which they would receive as a consequence of that decision. It was thought that higher salaries were one of the contributory causes encouraging learned persons to continue their pursuit of learning. I do not, of accept such a plea because I believe that no true lover of learning needs any incentive in the form of money. It is only the pretenders to learning who desire any monetary incentives. And, if a true lover of learning does not need any monetary incentive, how can we expect him to submit to the authority of a licenser of books? No true lover of learning, who has written a book, would like to submit to the humiliation of seeking a licenser’s Permission to publish that book especially when he knows that the licenser is by no means a man of better judgment or greater learning than he himself. A learned man’s act of submitting his book to the licenser’s office for permission to publish that book is like a schoolboy’s submitting his composition to his teacher in the school for correction or for approval. This licensing order is therefore no better than a schoolmaster’s rod which serves as a threat or a warning to a schoolboy to do his work with due care. A licenser would give his judgment upon a book without taking into consideration the ultimate issue of the matter because he would consider only the minimum requirements which a book should meet. Under these circumstances, an author, who has to face the legal consequences of not obtaining a licenser’s approval before publishing his book, would find himself in no better a position than a fool or a foreigner.
An Insult to the Dignity of a Learned Man
It should not be forgotten that every great author, who writes his books for the whole world to read, takes the greatest possible pains in writing it. An author makes use of all his reason and his faculty of thought while writing a book. He searches his material; he meditates upon his subject; most probably he discusses the subject with some of his friends who themselves are men of sound judgment. It is only after an author has taken all such steps that he begins his task of writing a book. And, if such an author is still suspected of being immature or unsound in his judgment, and if he is still required to obtain a licenser’s permission to publish his book, it amounts to his being treated in a most dishonorable and disgraceful manner. An author burns the midnight oil, night after night, before he completes his book; and this book then has to be submitted to a licenser who is so busy a man that he can spare very little time to glance through its pages in order to decide whether the book should be cleared for publication or not. This is nothing but an insult to the dignity of learning. While the author himself has taken great pains and has spent a long time in writing his book, the licenser can only go through it hastily in order to take a decision about it.
The Delay and the Suspense
And then there is another consideration also which must not be lost sight of. While the book has been submitted to the licenser, the author might stumble upon a new idea which he would like to include in his book, or, a new idea might flash upon the author’s mind, and he might think it to be too precious an idea to be left out of book. In such a case the author would have to rush to the licenser’s office in order to get back his book so that he might include the new material in it. Then he must go through the whole procedure once again in order to re-submit his revised book to the licenser. All this would lead to further delayin the publication of the book because the licenser has to deal, not with one book, but with many, “The period of suspense and uncertainty for the author is thus prolonged so that the author does not know whether his book will go to the printing press or whether he himself would be ordered by the licenser to be put the bars for having written an objectionable book. How can any learned man, under these circumstances, impart any learning to the readers through his books when his books are themselves subjected to a scrutiny by a licenser who himself has a narrow outlook because of his limited knowledge and learning?
The Readers’ Adverse Reaction to the Licensing of Books
No reader can feel impressed by a book when he knows that it had been first perused by the official licenser and approved for publication by him. The licenser’s stamp of approval would rather lower the book in the estimation of the readers than raise it. Not only will the reader think of the licenser’s arrogance but he might also doubt the adequacy of the licenser’s knowledge and the soundness of his judgment. Somebody may reply to this objection by saying that the licenser was appointed by the government and that, therefore, the licenser’s ability and integrity should not be doubted. But is the government not liable to make mistakes? What is the guarantee that all the licensers appointed by the government will be competent men or reliable men or men of a soundjudgment? Even if a licenser is unquestionably competent and well qualified, there is always the possibility that he would allow the publication of only those books which are likely to be received favorably by the reading public. A licenser would always try to assure himself that the books, approved by him for publication, ae such as accord well with the views and opinions which are current in the country and which are popular.
An Example of a Possible Injustice to Dead Authors
This raises yet another point. It is possible that a book written by an author, who has died, may be submitted to a licenser for his permission to publish it. In such a case, if the book contains even one sentence which the licenser finds objectionable, and which might have been written by the author in a moment of excessive enthusiasm, the licenser would pause and hesitate to give his approval to the publication of the book. That one sentence, objectionable from the licenser’s point of view, might actually have been dictated to. The author by a divine spirit. In other words, that one sentence could have been the product of a moment of divine-inspiration. And yet the licenser would condemn the whole book because of that one sentence which seems to him at the time to be objectionable but which at some later date might be regarded as one of the most precious pearls of wisdom. The licenser would surely have done his job but mankind has, at least for the time being, been deprived of a most valuable pearl. Mankind has suffered a loss on account of the timidity of a licenser or because of the haste, or the arrogance, or the narrowness of the mind, of a licenser. I could give you a concrete example of this kind of thing, but I shall refrain from doing so here. All I want to emphasize now isthat, if you do not take steps to remedy such a situation, and if you allow the licensers to do such a glaring injustice to authors, and sometimes to the works of authors who are dead, it will be a great misfortune for the entire community of authors. If such a situation is allowed to continue, men will no longer care for learning, and they will only try to acquire what is known as worldly wisdom which is different from learning. Men will then tend to become ignorant and lazy in high and exalted matters; and the general level of learning and intellectual attainment will go on declining, and then every Christian meeting may come to be suspected of being an assembly of non-conformists of which the authorities will feel afraid. But I am sure that a country, governed according to the rules of justice, and a church built upon the foundations of a firm faith and true knowledge, will not be so easily frightened by every minor threat to them. All’ learned men, and all truly religious men, are bound to feel discouraged by a licensing order which restricts the freedom of writing and which, following the example of the Inquisition, gives so much authority to a licenser who will exercise it to the fullest.
The Possibility of an Increase in the Number of Sects
It is evident that a move in the direction of a complete censorship of books has been made through this licensing order; and this order has been passed by a parliament which is still in existence and which is actively performing its functions. There was a time when it was thought necessary to curb the powers of the bishops and, at that time, the freedom of the press was respected on the that it was the people’s birthright and their privilege to enjoy that freedom. But now, when the authority of the bishops has duly been curtailed, restrictions on the publication of books have been revived so that a new class of officials will function to censor books and thus to suppress the truth which the books might contain. The freedom of the press has once more been brought under a severe form of censorship which will be exercised by a committee consisting of twenty church dignitaries. This will lead to the cancellationof one of the basic privileges of the people, and to a form of tyranny under which authors would feel most miserable. All this will happen when the parliament is yet in session and is quite active. And far from preventing the emergence of religious sects and schisms, the new system will lead to just the opposite result. This licensing order is therefore not going to serve the purpose at which it aims, but will achieve the very opposite of that purpose. Viscount St. Albans (or Francis Bacon) rightly pointed out that, if scholars and learned men were persecuted through such measures (as this licensing order), they would become ‘ even more powerful than before, instead of being totally suppressed. A forbidden piece of writing is like a spark of truth which flies in the very faces of those who to extinguish it. This licensing order may, therefore, prove to be a nursing mother to religious sects. (In other words, this order will encourage and strengthen the religious sect’s already in existence and will lead to the formation of more such sects to divide the people and increase sectarian feelings). Furthermore, this licensing order will act as a step-mother to Truth, and will make it impossible for us to preserve even that much of truth and knowledge as is already in our possession.
The Need to Maintain the Spirit of Inquiry and a Questioning Attitude
Just as our bodily organs and our physical strength can be maintained only if we give regular exercise to them, in the same way our faith and knowledge can thrive only by being exercised and. by being constantly put to use. Truth has rightly been compared to a fountain the water of which should be kept flowing and not allowed to stagnate. If the water of a fountain does not flow freely, it will form a muddy pool. In the same way, if faith and knowledge are not kept in circulation through discussion, they will harden into a tradition and encourage an attitude of permanent conformity. (It is necessary to subject religious faith and the knowledge of things in general to a continuing examination and scrutiny). A man must develop within himself the spirit of inquiry and an attitude of questioning. If. A man clings to certain beliefs just because the clergyman has taught him those beliefs, or because the Presbyterians have urged him to do so, then his beliefs will themselves constitute a kind of heresy. Even if a man’s beliefs be really true, those beliefs will become a kind of heresy if he does not keep examining them and inquiring into them. (The word “heresy” means a belief which opposes the established and recognized ideas. A heresy therefore means a false belief. Even truth becomes a heresy if it is not constantly reviewed and investigated). Beliefs should not be allowed to become stagnant. They must not become fixed ideas to be maintained in their existing form, and never to be doubted or questioned. Even true beliefs therefore need to be constantly refreshed and reinvigorated.
The Practice of Religion by Proxy
Some people would feel very happy if they can hand over the charge of their religion and its care to somebody else. In other words, there are people who would be glad to put their religion in the keeping and the custody of somebody else so that they may themselves be relieved of the burden of the responsibility of maintaining their religious faith intact. There are many people of the Protestant or the Puritan faith who believe in their religion unquestioningly just as the Roman Catholics, who used to visit Loreto (a place of pilgrimage), believed passively and subserviently in the doctrines of their religion. Such people, whether of the Roman Catholic or the Protestant faith, would not like to exert themselves in any way so far as the religious aspect of their lives is concerned. A wealthy man, for instance, wishes to enjoy the pleasures of life as also to multiply his wealth. Such a man would not like his religious faith to become an encumbrance for him. He would not like his religious faith to obstruct either his pleasures or his efforts to make more and more money through his business. Such a man would be glad to hand over the charge of his religion to some agent who can perform all the rituals and the ceremonies of religion on his behalf, and who even offers prayers and worship on his behalf. Such a man would then leave it to his agent to perform all the religious duties and functions on his behalf, just as a big businessman might hand over the charge of his store of commodities and merchandise to an agent and give him all the ‘locks and keys of that store in order that he himself should not have to bother his head about the details of his business. In such a case, the agent, who is deputed to? Perform all the religious duties on behalf of his master, becomes the very embodiment of his master’s religion. The master then begins to think! Enough that he has an agent to look after his religious affairs, He begins to think himself a pious man merely because his agent is performing every religious duty on his behalf. The master’s sole concern now is to keep his agent pleased. The agent is naturally some clergyman who becomes a regular visitor at the house of the man on whose behalf he functions, this clergyman receives all kinds of gifts from his master in return for the religious duties which he performs on his master’s behalf. He is most hospitably treated whenever he visits his master’s house, and is provided with excellent food and wine, In fact, he is fed better than even Jesus Christ could feed himself when on one occasion, wanting to satisfy his hunger, he