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Home » , » Briefly describe the negative arguments Milton put forward against licensing?

The imposition of the licensing system in printing caused immediate concern in Milton. As he was an advocate for freedom of thought and expression, he opposed the order and wrote this classical oration to show that restriction in printing is neither desirable nor practicable. Because the purpose for which this control was imposed could never be achieved however strictly it was applied.

Milton first pointed out that there was no good precedent for licensing. If it is said that it is a newly invented precaution, the answer is that it can have been easily neglected because it was found in the past to have utterly failed. Plato introduced licensing in reading in his ideal Commonwealth, but in practice, he did not keep his precepts. Many persons complain of divine Providence for allowing Adam to transgress. But Milton interprets it as the ways of God to men. God gave him reason to choose freely. Otherwise, he would have been an artificial Adam or merely a puppet. We do not like obedience love or gift which is forced upon us. He left Adam free to choose, so for his choice, he is liable. God has created a passion within us and pleasures around us. It is not wise to make us virtuous by removing the objects of sin from us. Though we take from a covetous person all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left, we cannot take from him his covetousness. We cannot expel sin without expelling virtue because both of them exist in everything. The book is a universal thing and so it cannot be purged of evil entirely. Suppose we restrict the publication of a book in one country but we cannot stop its circulation because the same material may enter into a book published in a different country.

Everything we hear or do is our book. But, supposing that the restriction of printed books is enough in itself to keep out evil, the order of Parliament cannot even do this. Writings that it aims at repressing are still circulated. Many books are partly useful and excellent, partly culpable and pernicious. The work of examining the existing books will require many more officials, the arrangement of which is practically impossible. Besides, the books in circulation are to be classified as readable and unreadable. Otherwise, if there is a single book containing undesirable elements is enough to defile the knowledge of the Commonwealth. So, making a list of the good books already in existence is an impossible task 

To appoint the required number of qualified licensers for the purpose of scrutiny is humanly impossible. The licenser will have to equip himself with all knowledge, otherwise, how can he verify the books of really meritorious authors. For all these reasons the order for licensed printing is bound to be abortive.


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