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The Star Chamber Decree.
The Star Chamber Decree against unlicensed printing was issued on July 11th, 1637, and consists of 33 clauses.
A brief summary of them is given below: 1. Seditious, schismatic, or offensive books or pamphlets
not allowed in the realm under pain of fine, imprison.
ment, or other corporal punishment. 2 and 3. All books and pamphlets to be licensed; the licensers
For law works: The Lord Chief Justices and the Lord
For state affairs: The Secretaries of State.
Bishops of London.
The Universities to license their own.
4. The licensing officer to print his imprimatur on the books
5 and 6. Books are not to be smuggled in from abroad. 7. The copyright of the Stationers' Company to be main
8. Names of printers and authors to appear on the book, 11 and 12. English books not to be printed on the Continent. 15. Twenty printing presses to be allowed, in addition to
His Majesty's Press and the University Presses.
18. Reprinted works to be re-licensed. 24. Unallowed printers to be set in the pillory and whipped
through the City. 25 and 26. The Masters and Wardens of the Stationers'
Company, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and
seize unlicensed presses. 27. Four founders of type allowed. 31. Offenders to be bound by sureties not to re-transgress. 32. Books to be imported into London only. 33. The Bodleian library to have a copy of every book
published. The clauses not mentioned deal with the number of apprentices and journeymen allowed to each printer or founder, and regulate their relations to each other.
fcandalous or unlicensed Papers, Pamphlets, Books, or any Copies of Books, belonging to the faid Company, or any Member thereof, without their Approbation and Confents; and to seize and carry away such Printing Presses, Letters, together with the Nut, Spindle, and other Materials of every fuch irregular Printer, which they find fo misemployed, unto the Common Hall of the said Company, there to be defaced and made unserviceable according to ancient Custom; and likewise to make diligent Search in all suspected Printing. houses, Warehoufes, Shops and other Places for 'fuch fcandalous and unlicensed Books, Papers, Pamphlets, and all other Books, not entered, nor signed with the Printer's name as aforesaid, being printed or reprinted by such as have no lawful Interest in them, or any Way contrary to this Order, and the same to seize and carry away to the faid Common Hall, there to remain till both or either House of Parliament shall dispose thereof, And likewife to apprehend all Authors, Printers, and other persons whatsoever employed in compiling, printing, stitching, binding, publishing and dispersing, of the faid fcandalous, unlicensed, and unwarrantable Papers, Books and Pamphlets, as aforesaid, and all those who shall resist the faid Parties in searching after them; and to bring them before either of the Houses, or the Committee of Examinations, that so they may receive such further Punishments as their Offences shall demerit; and not to be released until they have given Satisfaction to the Parties employed in their Apprehension for their Pains and Charges, and given fufficient Caution not to offend in like fort for the future; and all Justices of the Peace, Captains, Constables and other Officers, are hereby ORDERED and Required to be aiding and assisting to the aforesaid Persons, in the due Execution of all and fingular the Premises, in the Apprehension of all Offenders against the fame; and in case of Oppofition to break open Doors and Locks:
And it is further ordered, that this Order be forthwith printed and published, to the End that Notice may be taken thereof, and all Contemners of it left inexcuseable.
Style and Argument.
Classic model.-Milton himself acknowledges that the form of his pamphlet was inspired by the Oration of Isokrates to the Great Council of Athens, called the Areopagus, an oration written about the year 400 B.C. The objects of the two orations, however, are entirely dissimilar, that of Isokrates being to induce the Areopagus to open its doors only to men of worth and dignity, and to restore the democratic institution of Solon,
The Areopagitica is therefore a written speech, and is in consequence, in the first person, giving it thus a more direct path to the readers it wished to influence. Like its classic model, too, it is divided into Exordium, or Opening Statement, Argument, and Peroration or Close. An analysis of these follows this chapter.
Criticisms.—The following are among the criticisms which have been levelled against the work: “ Some tedious historical digressions, and some little sophistry.”
(WARTON.) “Our language sank under him." (ADDISON.) Through all his greater works there prevails a uniform
peculiarity of diction, a mode and cast of expression which bears little resemblance to that of any former writer; and
which is so far removed from common use that an unlearned 1
reader, when he first opens his book, finds himself surprised by a new language.
He had formed his style by a perverse and pedantic principle. He was desirous to use English words with a foreign idiom. . He wrote no language, but formed a Babylonish dialect in itself harsh and barbarous, but made by exalted genius and extensive learning, the vohicle of so much instruction and so much pleasure, that, like other lovers, we find grace in its
deformity.” (DR. JOHNSON.) “ Milton was a very bad prose-writer. He remained poor and
without glory." (VOLTAIRE.) “ He has transformed into his native idiom the dignified forms
and phraseology of Attic oratory.” (HOLT WHITE.)
“ It is to be regretted that the prose writings of Milton should, in our time, be so little read. As compositions, they deserve the attention of every man who wishes to become acquainted with the full power of the English language. They abound with passages compared with which the finest declamations of Burke sink into insignificance. They are a perfect field of cloth of gold. The style is stiff with gorgeous embroidery." (MACAULAY.)
“The polemical writings of Milton, which chiefly fall within this period, contain several bursts of his splendid imagination and grandeur of soul. They are, however, much inferior to the Areopagitica, or Plea for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. Many passages in this famous tract are admirably eloquent; an intense love of liberty and truth glows through it, the majestic soul of Milton breathes such high thoughts as had not been uttered before; yet even here he frequently sinks in a single instant from his highest flights to the ground; his intermixture of familiar with learned phraseology is unpleasing, his structure is affectedly elaborate, and he seldom reached any harmony. If he turns to invective, as sometimes in this treatise, it is mere ribaldrous vulgarity blended with pedantry; his wit is always poor and without ease. An absence of idiomatic grace, and an use of harsh inversions violating the rules of the language, distinguish, in general, the writings of Milton, and require, in order to compensate them, such high beauties as will sometimes occur.” (HALLAM.)
“Even in his finest passages he never seems to know or care how a period is going to end. He piles clause on clause, links, conjunction to conjunction, regardless of breath, or sense, or the most ordinary laws of grainmar. In his very highest flights he will drop to grotesque and bathos. . . . A harsh and sometimes both needless and tasteless adaptation of Latin words a rugged and grandiose vocabulary."