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This edition of Milton's Poetry is a reprint, as careful as Editor and Printers have been able to make it, from the earliest printed copies of the several poems. First the 1645 volume of the Minor Poems has been printed entire; then follow in order the poems added in the reissue of 1673; the Paradise Lost, from the edition of 1667; and the Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes from the edition of 1671.
The most interesting portion of the book must be reckoned the first section of it, which reproduces for the first time the scarce small octavo of 1645. The only reprint of the Minor Poems in the old spelling, so far as I know, is the one edited by Mitford, but that followed the edition of 1673, which is comparatively uninteresting since it could not have had Milton's oversight as it passed through the press. We know that it was set up from a copy of the 1645 edition, because it reproduces some pointless eccentricities such as the varying form of the chorus to Psalm cxxxvi; but while it corrects the errata tabulated in that edition it commits many more blunders of its own. It is valuable, however, as the editio princeps of ten of the sonnets, and it contains one important alteration in the Ode on the Nativity. This and all other alterations will be found noted where they occur. I have not thought it necessary to note mere differences of spelling between the two editions, but a word may find place here upon their general character. Generally it may be said that, where the two editions differ, the later spelling is that now in use. Thus words like goddess, darkness, usually written in the first edition with one final s, have two, while on the other hand words like vernall, youthfull, and monosyllables like hugg, farr, lose their double letter. Many monosyllables, e. g. som, cours, glimps, wher, vers, aw, els, don, ey, ly, so written in 1645, take on in 1673 an e mute, while words like harpe, windes, onely, lose it. By a reciprocal change ayr and cipress become air and cypress; and the vowels in daign, vail, neer, beleeve, sheild, boosom, eeven, battail, travailer, and many other words are similarly modernized. On the other hand there are a few cases where the 1645 edition exhibits the spelling which has succeeded in fixing itself, as travail (1673, travel) in the sense of labour ; and rob'd, profane, human, flood and bloody, forest, triple, alas, huddling, are found where the 1673 edition has roab'd, prophane, humane, floud and bloudy, forrest, tripple, alass and hudling. Indeed the spelling in this later edition is not untouched by seventeenth century inconsistency. It retains here and there forms like shameles, cateres, (where 1645 reads cateress), and occasionally reverts to the older-fashioned spelling of monosyllables without the mute e. In the Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester, it reads—' And som flowers and some bays.' But undoubtedly the impression on the whole is of a much more modern text.
In the matter of small or capital letters I have followed the old copy, except in one or two places where a personification seemed not plainly enough marked to a modern reader without a capital. Thus in Il Penseroso, l. 49, I print Leasure, although both editions read leasure; and in the Vacation Exercise, l. 71, Times for times. Also where the employment or omission of a capital is plainly due to misprinting, as too frequently in the 1673 edition, I silently make the correction. Examples are, notes for Notes in Sonnet xvii. 1. 13; Anointed for anointed in Psalm ii. 1. 12.
In regard to punctuation I have followed the old printers except in obvious misprints, and followed them also, as far as possible, in their distribution of roman and italic type and in the grouping of words and lines in the various titles. To follow them exactly was impossible, as the books are so very different in size.
At this point the candid reader may perhaps ask what advantage is gained by presenting these poems to modern readers in the dress of a bygone age. If the question were put to me I should probably evade it by pointing out that Mr. Frowde is issuing an edition based upon this, in which the spelling is frankly that of to-day. But if the question were pressed, I think a sufficient answer might be found. To begin with, I should point out that even Prof. Masson, who in his excellent edition argues the point and decides in favour of modern spelling, allows that there are peculiarities of Milton's spelling which are really significant, and ought therefore to be noted or preserved. But who is to determine exactly which words are spelt according to the poet's own instructions, and which according to the printer's whim? It is notorious that in Paradise Lost some words were spelt upon a deliberate system, and it may very well happen that in the volume of minor poems which the poet saw through the press in 1645, there were spellings no less systematic. Prof. Masson makes a great point of the fact that Milton's own spelling, exhibited in the autograph manuscript of some of the minor poems preserved in Trinity College, Cambridge, does not correspond with that of the printed copy'. This is certainly true, as the reader may see for himself by comparing the passage from the manuscript given in the appendix with the corresponding place in the text. Milton's own spelling revels in redundant e's, while the printer of the 1645 book is very sparing of them. But in cases where the spelling affects the metre, we find that the printed text and Milton's manuscript closely correspond; and it is upon its value in determining the metre, quite as much as its antiquarian interest, that I should base a justification of this reprint. Take, for instance, such a line as the eleventh of Comus, which Prof. Masson gives as :
Amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats.
A reader not learned in Miltonic rhythms will certainly read this line :
Amongst th' enthronèd gods
But the 1645 edition reads :
Amongst the enthron'd gods
and so does Milton's manuscript. Again, in line 597, Prof. Masson reads:
It shall be in eternal restless change
But the 1645 text and Milton's manuscript read self-consum'd;
This manuscript, invaluable to all students of Milton, has lately been facsimiled under the superintendence of Dr. Aldis Wright, and published at the Cambridge University Press.
after which word there is to be understood a metrical pause to mark the violent transition of the thought.
Again in the second line of the Sonnet to a Nightingale Prof. Masson has :
Warblest at eve when all the woods are still
but the early edition, which probably follows Milton's spelling, though in this case we have no manuscript to compare, reads "Warbl'st.' So the original text of Samson, 1. 670, has 'temper'st.'
The retention of the old system of punctuation may be less defensible, but I have retained it because it may now and then be of use in determining a point of syntax. The absence of a comma, for example, after the word hearse in the 58th line of the Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester, printed by Prof. Masson thus :
And some flowers, and some bays
but in the 1645 edition :
And som Flowers, and som Bays,
For thy Hears to strew the ways, goes to prove that for here must be taken as 'fore.
Of the Paradise Lost there were two editions issued during Milton's lifetime, and while the first has been taken as our text, all the variants in the second, not being simple misprints, have been recorded in the notes. In one respect, however, in the distribution of the poem into twelve books instead of ten, it has seemed best, for the sake of practical convenience, to follow the second edition. A word may be allowed here on the famous correction among the Errata prefixed to the first edition ; ‘Lib. 2. v. 414, for we read wee.' This correction shows not only that Milton had theories about spelling, but also that he found means, though his sight was gone, to ascertain whether his rules had been carried out by his printer; and in itself this fact justifies a facsimile reprint. What the principle in the use of the double vowel exactly was (and it is found to affect the other monosyllabic pronouns) it is not so easy to discover, though roughly it is clear the reduplication was intended to mark emphasis. For example, in the speech of the Divine Son after the battle in heaven (vi. 810-817) the pronouns which the voice would naturally emphasize are spelt with the double vowel :
Stand onely and behold
Therefore to mee thir doom he hath assig'n'd. In the Son's speech offering himself as Redeemer (iii. 227-249) where the pronoun all through is markedly emphasized, it is printed mee the first four times, and afterwards me; but it is noticeable that these first four times the emphatic word does not stand in the stressed place of the verse, so that a careless reader might not emphasize it, unless his attention were specially called by some such sign:
Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life
Account mee man. In the Hymn of Creation (v. 160-209) where ye occurs fourteen times, the emphasis and the metrical stress six times out of seven coincide, and the pronoun is spelt yee; where it is unemphatic, and in an unstressed place, it is spelt ye. Two lines are especially instructive:
Speak yee who best can tell, ye Sons of light (1. 160); and
Fountains and yee, that warble, as ye flow,
Melodious murmurs, warbling tune his praise (1. 195). In v, 694 it marks, as the voice by its emphasis would mark in reading, a change of subject :
So spake the false Arch-Angel, and infus'd
Of his Associate ; hee (i.e. the associate) together calls, &c. An examination of other passages, where there is no antithesis, goes to show that the lengthened form of the pronoun is most frequent before a pause (as vii. 95); or at the end of a line (i. 245, 257); or when a foot is inverted (v. 133); or when as object it precedes its verb (v. 612; vii. 747), or as subject follows it (ix. 1109; X. 4). But as we might expect under circumstances where a purist could not correct his own proofs, there are not a few inconsistencies. There does not seem, for example, any special emphasis in the second we of the following passage :
Freely we serve.