Areopagitica "An Eagle Mewing Her Mighty Youth"

John Milton

"An Eagle Mewing Her Mighty Youth"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Although Milton had long been one of the most passionate and articulate defenders of Puritanism, he could not agree when the revolutionary Puritan Parliament, on June 14, 1643, ordered that no book, pamphlet, or paper should be printed without a license from the proper authorities. Milton believed implicitly in the individual nature of the search for truth and in the necessity for freedom of speech and conscience. He recognized that such freedoms would, of course, produce differences of opinion. This speech, addressed to Parliament and cast into the form of a classical oration, is Milton's response to the Parliamentary order and is a world-famous defense of freedom of the press. He first demonstrates that none of the great classical states had engaged in such repressive measures and then shows that censorship was invented by the Catholic Church, to the Puritans the greatest symbol of error and heresy. To the often repeated argument that difference of opinions breeds the dangers of sect and schism Milton replies that in their very ability to tolerate such differences and resolve them into truth lies the strength of the English people:

. . . when the cheerfulness of the people is so sprightly up, as that it has not only wherewith to guard well its own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and sublimest points of controversy and new invention, it betokens us not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay, but casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption to outlive these pangs, and wax young again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, destined to become great and honorable in these latter ages. Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.