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NIFTEEN years ago last spring Mr. C. N. Greenough, now dean
of Harvard College, suggested to me Milton's influence in the eighteenth century as one of a number of desirable subjects for a doctor's thesis. Since that time, except for my first three years of teaching and a year and a half during the war, this study has taken all the hours not devoted to professional duties, all my summers, and all of three entire years. I am embarrassingly conscious that this expenditure of time is quite disproportionate to the results; yet, as Michael Wodhull (who had planned to complete his translation of Euripides in “about one year”) wrote, a century since, “notwithstanding about eight years have elapsed, during which I cannot charge myself with any gross degree of remissness or inattention, I feel much more inclined to express my fears, lest I should have been too hasty in the publication, than to apologise for my tardiness.”
The danger in a study of this kind is that the writer shall be as one who walks in a mist, seeing only what is immediately before him. More time for continuous reading, not alone in the poetry but in the philosophy and criticism of the period, together with more attention to its history, would, I realize, have made the work broader, richer, meatier, and in every way more significant. For the title indicates only the principal subject with which the book is concerned, since I have endeavored not alone to study Milton's influence (touching also on that of his more important followers), but to make some historical and critical evaluation of the works he influenced, to trace the course of blank-verse translations and the development of the principal types of unrimed poetry,--such as the descriptive, the epic, and the technical treatise, — to reach a better understanding of the eighteenth-century lyric awakening, to follow the history of non-dramatic blank verse from its beginnings to the boyhood of Tennyson, and of the sonnet from the restoration of the Stuarts to the accession of Victoria.
My method has been to examine, at least cursorily, all the available English poetry written between 1660 and 1837 regardless of its esthetic value or historical importance, and to reëxamine with more care all that seemed to have any real significance for my purposes. Notwithstanding a constant effort to reduce the bulk of the
footnotes, appendices, and bibliographies, such machinery presents an array almost as appalling to read as it was time-consuming to prepare. Yet in a field where assumptions and unsupported assertions have been rife and scholarship is still young, there is need of such dry bones of literary history.
I am grateful to the authorities and attendants of the Harvard Library for the courteous and generous treatment they have given me throughout many years, for their willingness to buy books I suggested, and for their very liberal purchases of other books through which in a relatively few years they have built up a notable collection of eighteenth-century literature. I owe much to my former teachers at Harvard, not only for information but for training and inspiration. To Mr. Greenough, who started me on this study, to Mr. Neilson (now president of Smith College), who read my thesis, chapter by chapter, as it was written and made many helpful suggestions, and to Mr. Kittredge, who gave me letters to various English libraries, ordered books I needed, and otherwise aided me, I am especially indebted. None of these gentlemen, however, are in any way responsible for the pages that follow; for, from the time my thesis was accepted until the rewritten and greatly enlarged work was submitted to the syndics of the Harvard University Press, the only person who has seen any of the manuscript (except Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Hall, who were good enough to read Part I) is my friend and assistant, Miss Addie F. Rowe. Since 1916 Miss Rowe has devoted all her time to the book, bringing to it rare patience and thoroughness, together with experience in preparing manuscripts for publication. She has pointed out and helped to remove infelicities of expression, has called my attention to books that I had not seen as well as to Miltonic phrases that I had not noticed, and in one way or another has improved every page.
Milton's poetry is cited from W. A. Wright's edition, Cambridge, 1903. I shall be glad to receive corrections or additions from any who will be kind enough to send them.
R. D. H. ROCHESTER, NEW YORK.