MILTON, John (1608-1674). Areopagitica; A Speech ... for the Liberty of Unlicenc'd Printing, to the Parliament of England. London: [?Augustine Mathewes], 1644.\n\n4° (183 x 135mm). Typographic headband. (Variable light browning, occasional light inkmarking, skilfully repaired marginal worming and tears occasionally very slightly affecting text, small mark and light abrasions on title, lacking final blank F2.) Late 19th-/early 20th-century crushed blue morocco janseniste by Rivière and Son, spine lettered in gilt, gilt edges. Provenance: manuscript '10' on margin of title--Thomas Edward Watson, Newport (bookplate; by descent to the present owners).\n\nFIRST EDITION. 'THE ARGUMENT FOR FREEDOM HAS NEVER, BEFORE OR SINCE, BEEN SO MAGNIFICENTLY OR FORCEFULLY EXPRESSED' (PMM). The abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641 (and the consequent removal of the apparatus of censorship) had seen an exponential growth in the number of works printed, accelerated by the political disputes immediately preceding the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. The government sought to re-impose control over printing by its Ordinance of 14 July 1643, enacted shortly before the publication of Milton's The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce in late July or August 1643. Milton's pamphlet provoked clerical opinion into issuing a complaint against the author under the new Ordinance, to which Milton responded with Areopagitica, his counterblast against his critics: 'What we owe to Milton first and foremost is the isolation of the freedom of the press from all the other forms of toleration, especially religious toleration, disputed and advocated at the time; it is this, and the vigour of the matchless prose in which it was advocated, that give Milton's words their life today' (PMM).\n\nShawcross notes that the printer of Areopagitica 'may have been Augustine Mathewes' (the putative printer of Milton's A Masque presented at Ludlow Castle [i.e. Comus], 1637 and Epitaphium Damonis. Argumentum, 1640). In this copy the word 'wayfaring' has not been amended to 'warfaring' and the side-note on p. 8 is untrimmed (Pforzheimer states that the work 'in fine state as [his copy] with the marginal note intact, [...] is uncommon'). Grolier Wither to Prior 569; Pforzheimer 707; PMM 133; Shawcross Milton 61; Wing M-2092; Wise Ashley III, p.151.