John Milton, Aereopagita


Today is the birthday of the great English poet John Milton (1608-1674). I go back to Paradise Lost periodically as in inspiration both as a writer and as a rough draft of a human being. But as that book  is the third most influential work of literature in the English language (behind the King James Bible and Shakespeare), I don’t have to tell you about that, DO I?

Instead, let me call your attention to another work that everyone ought to know, his poltical tract Aereopagita, a relentless argument against pre-publication censorship, presented to Parliament in 1644. All of our political leaders ought to keep such writings constantly in their heads to remind them why we have the liberties which (from time to time) they seem only too happy to swap away for a mess of pottage.

Here’s one of my favorite sentences, in defense of the freedom to encounter “dangerous” ideas:

“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.”

The full text of the Aereopagita is available for free here.


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