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Parliament, referred by implication to Roger Williams's Bloody Tenent, which had been burnt by the hangman a day or two before; and here was Palmer mentioning, with less reserve, Milton's Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce as richly deserving the same fate. Williams, we know, was happily on his way back to America at the time; but Milton was at hand, in his house in Aldersgate Street, whenever he should be wanted.
To be preached at before the two Houses of Parliament, on a solemn Fast Day, by an eminent Divine of the Westminster Assembly, was, I should say, a ten times greater trial of a man's equanimity in those days than it would be in these to waken one morning and find oneself the subject of a scathing onslaught in the columns of the leading newspaper. It was positively the worst blast from the black trumpet of the wind-god Æolus then possible for any inhabitant of England; and not even that poor company of suitors to whom, in Chaucer's poem, fickle Queen Fame awarded this black blast from the wind-god, instead of the blast of praise from his golden trumpet which they were expecting, can have been more discomfited than most persons would have been had they been in Milton's place a day or two after Palmer's sermon.i
What did this Æolus, but he
i Cromwell was away with the Army; but Vano may have heard Palmer's sermon. Baillie was certainly present,
with the other Scottish Commissioners; and he was delighted with Palmer's outspokenness. See antė, p. 162.
That, the farther that it ran,
THE STATIONERS' COMPANY AND ENGLISH BOOK-CENSORSHIP :
THE PRINTING ORDINANCE OF JUNE 1643: MILTON COM-
Among the haunts and corners of London into which the smoke of Mr. Palmer's pulpit-blast against Milton had penetrated, and where it had whirled and eddied most persistently, was the Hall of the Stationers' Company, the centre of the London book-trade. Actually, as the reader has been informed (antè pp. 164-5), Palmer's sermon, and the general frenzy of the Assembly on the subject of the increase of heresy and schism, had so perturbed the whole society of booksellers that, on Saturday the 24th of August, the eleventh day after the sermon, they presented a petition to the Commons, exonerating themselves from all responsibility in the growing evil, and pointing out that the blasphemous and pernicious opinions complained of were ventilated in unlicensed and unregistered pamphlets, grievous to the soul of the regular book-trade, injurious to its pockets, and contrary to the express ordinance of Parliament. That such was the tenor of the Petition of the Stationers, and that they gave instances of illegal pamphlets of the kind described, , and laid stress on Milton's Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce as one most flagrant instance, appears from the action of the House of Commons in consequence. Without a day's delay (Aug. 26), the Commons referred the Petition to “the Committee for Printing," with instructions to hear parties, consider the whole business, consult the existing Parliamentary Ordinance for the regulation of Printing, and bring in a new or supplementary Ordinance with all convenient speed. They were likewise “diligently to inquire out” the authors, printers, and publishers of the Divorce Pamphlet, and of another, then in circulation, against the Immortality of the Soul. That the Committee might have fresh energy in it for the purpose, four new members were added, viz. Sir Philip Stapleton, Sir Thomas Widdrington, Mr. Stephens, and Mr. Baynton.
1 Chaucer's “ House of Fame," III. 516-564. Texelle is the trumpet's mouth (French tuyau, pipe or nozzle).
Here then, in the end of August 1644, Milton was not only within the smoke of infamy blown upon him by Palmer's sermon, but also within the clutches of a Parliamentary Committee. They might call him to account not only for publishing dangerous and unusual opinions, but also for having broken the Parliamentary Ordinance for the regulation of Printing We must now explain distinctly what that Ordinance was.
From the beginning of the Long Parliament, as we know r sufficiently by this time, there had been a relaxation, or
rather a total break-down, of the former laws for the regulation of the Press. In the newly-found liberty of the nation to think and to speak, all bonds of censorship were burst, and books of all kinds, but especially pamphlets on the current questions, were sent forth by their authors very much at their own discretion. The proportion of those that went through the legal ceremonial of being authorized by an appointed licenser, and registered in the Stationers' books by the Company's clerk under farther order from one of the Company's wardens, must, I should say, have been quite inconsiderable in comparison with the number that flew about printed anywhere and anyhow. Milton had been conspicuously careless or bold in this respect. Not one of his five Anti-Episcopal pamphlets, published in 1641 and 1642, had been licensed or registered; nor did any one of them bear his name, though he made no real concealment of that, and though each of them bore the printer's or publisher's name, or the address of the shop where it was on sale. Milton's friends, the Smectymnuans, had attended to the legal punctualities in some of their publications; but Milton's practice
i See the text of the order, antè, pp. 161-5; I now add the names of the new
members of Committee from the Conmons Journals, Aug. 26, 1644.
seems to have been the more general one among authors and pamphleteers. Nor did they need to resort any longer to clandestine presses, or to printers and booksellers who, not being members of the Stationers' Company, had no title to engage in such book-commerce at all, and were liable to prosecution for doing so. Even regular booksellers and printers who were freemen of the Stationers' Company had been infected by the general lawlessness, and had fallen into the habit of publishing books and pamphlets without caring whether they were licensed, and without taking the trouble of registering their copyright; which, indeed, they could hardly do if the books were unlicensed. All Milton's AntiEpiscopal pamphlets, I think, were published by such regular printers or booksellers. But worse and worse. Some of the less scrupulous members of the Stationers' Company had found an undue advantage in this lax conduct of the bookbusiness, and had begun to reprint and vend books the copyright in which belonged to their brethren in the trade. This last being the sorest evil, it was perhaps as much in consequence of repeated representations of its prevalence by the authorities of the Stationers' Company as on any grounds of public damage by the circulation of political libels and false opinions, that the Parliament still kept up the fiction of a law, and made attempt after attempt to regain the control of the Press. That they did so is the fact. Entries on the subject —sometimes in the form of notices of petitions from the Stationers' Company, sometimes in that of injunctions by Parliament to the Stationers' Company to be more vigilantare found at intervals in the Journals of both Houses through 1641 and 1642. Particular books were condemned, and their authors inquired after or called to account, and offending printers and publishers were also brought to trouble. The Parliament had even tried to institute a new agency of censorship in the form of Committees for Printing, and licensers appointed by these Committees. Such licensers were either members of Parliament selected for the duty, or Parliamentary officials, or persons out-of-doors in whom Parliament could trust. Through 1641 and 1642 I find the following persons, among others, licensing books—John Pym, Sir Edward Deering, the elder Sir Henry Vane, Mr. (Century) White, and a Dr. Wykes; but I find evidence that the Parliament and its Committees for Printing had really, in a great measure, to leave the licensing of books to the Wardens of the Stationers' Company. In short, the Press had escaped all effective supervision whatsoever. This is most strikingly proved by the Stationers' Registers for 1642. While for the previous year, ending Dec. 31, 1641, the total number of entries on the Register had been 240, the total number in this year, ending Dec. 31, 1642, was only 76; of which 76 less than half fell in the second half of the year, when the Civil War had just commenced. Actually, of all the publications which came out this year in England, not more than at the rate of three a fortnight regularly registered throughout the whole year, and hardly more than one a week during the second half of the year! Clearly, censorship and registration had then become an absolute farce.
The same state of things continued into the first half of the year 1643. Between Jan. 1 of that year (Jan. 1, 1642-3, as we now mark it) and July 4, I find the number of entries to have been not more than 35—still a preposterously small number in proportion to the crowd of publications which these six months must have produced. But exactly at the middle of this year the Registers exhibit a remarkable phenomenon. Although in the first half of the year only 35 new publications had been registered, the entries in the second half of the year swell suddenly to 333, or ten times as many as in the first half. In the month of July alone there were 63 entries, or nearly twice as many as in the preceding six months together; in August there were 57; in September 58; in October 48; in November 56; and in December 51. Little wonder that, on going over the Registers long ago, I made this note in connexion with the year 1643: “Curious year: the swelling out in the latter half, so that only 35 in first half and 333 in second: inquire into causes.” I ought to have known the chief cause at the time I made the note. It
1 My MS. notes from the Stationers' Registers for the years named.