[Milton-L] Areopagitica and long-term, practical censorship practices

duran0 duran0 at purdue.edu
Wed Jul 2 18:53:59 EDT 2008

Dear scholars,
    I am curious about Milton¹s long-term position on post-publication
censorship.  We know that he is against pre-publication censorship in
Areopagitica (1644) -- I still have to review how his position changes in
the 1650s when he did a little state censoring himself.  Here is the kernel
of my query.
     In discussing ancient examples, Milton supports the fact that ³libels
were burnt, and the makers punisht by Augustus.  The like severity no doubt
was us¹d if ought were impiously writt¹n against their esteemed gods,² which
he labels exceptions to the otherwise free publication then (CPW 2.498).
So, he seems to approve of ancient works that might have argued ³Jove is
bad,² and by analogy contemporary works that might have argued ³God is bad.²
He goes on to approve of NOT suppressing ³for matters of State² (2.499). He
goes on selectively until he reaches his birthing metaphor: ³Till then [the
Inquisition] Books were ever as freely admitted into the World as any other
birth: the issue of the brain was no more stifl¹d then the issue of the
womb: no envious Juno sate cros-leg¹d over the nativity of any mans
intellectuall off spring; but if it prov¹d a Monster, who denies, but that
it was justly burnt, or sunk into the Sea² (2.505).
    What kind of ³Monster² would Milton approve of burning or sinking? In
the next few pages, it seems the answer is none, because ³to the pure all
things are pure² (2.512) that tricky passage so often brought out for
argument during the period.  So does Areopagitica just primarily argue via
pathos and address the immediate concerns, avoiding what do in the long term
with scandalous books included in the indices librorums produced by the
Inquisition, such as foreign-published books reviewed by the Catholic
Inquisition, and by extension obviously censored post-publication? Inquiring
minds want to know!

Many thanks in advance.


Angelica Duran
Associate Professor, English and Comparative Literature
Purdue University
500 Oval Drive / Heavilon Hall
West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
<duran0 at purdue.edu>

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