« السابقةمتابعة »
The most authentic and important information respecting Milton is to be derived from his own writings. While all of them, in every part, reveal the man and represent his life, and while there are few of them from which facts of the external kind may not be gathered, there are portions of them which are expressly and even minutely autobiographical. As respects the period embraced in the present volume, these portions may be enumerated as follows: I. Among his prose writings in English and in Latin at a later period, there are several in which he gives summaries, or at least connected reminiscences, of the facts of his preceding life. The most notable passages of this kind occur perhaps in his Reason of Church Government (1641), his Apology for Smectymnuus (1642), and his Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano (1654). These and similar passages have been duly attended to, and, where necessary, are reproduced textually. II. All Milton's minor poetry, whether in English or in Latin, with the exception of a few English sonnets and one or two trifles in Latin, etc., — in other words, almost all that he wrote in verse during his whole life, besides Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, ---belongs to the period of this volume. The pieces number, in all, from five-and-forty to fifty, longer or shorter; and, having been produced, most of them, on special occasions, and sometimes with reference to passing incidents in the poet's life, they have an unusual interest for the biographer. About half of them, being in English, are generally known —some of them, indeed, such as the Ode on the Nativity, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, Comus, and Lycidas being among the best known poems in the English language. With these, accordingly, my duty has chiefly been to mention them in their proper chronological order, to examine them afresh with a view to extract their biographical import, and to set each of them successively, as exactly as might be, in its topographical and historical connections. As regards the equally numerous Latin poems of the series (and the few Italian poems may be included) more has been required of me. Though fully as characteristic as the English poems, and though perhaps richer in biographical allusions, they have been much less read; and it has been a part of my purpose to bring them forward again to that place of coördinate or nearly coördinate importance with their English associates from which the petty accident of their being in Latin has too long excluded them. To this end, I have either given an account of each of them by way of description and abstract, or, where requisite, have ventured on a literal prose translation. III. To the period of this volume there also belong nine of Milton's Latin “ Familiar Epistles” and one English letter of his. These are inserted in their proper places, the Latin Epistles being translated, I believe, for the first time. The same applies to certain letters to Milton, and to certain encomiums addressed to him in Latin and Italian. IV. Less known than any portion of Milton's Latin writings, nay, I may say, utterly unknown, are certain Latin compositions, also in our present period, forming a little series by themselves, distinguished by peculiar characteristics, and full of biographical light. I allude to his so-called Prolusiones Oratoriæ, or Academic Essays and Exercises, written while he was a student at Cambridge. These are seven in number; they occupy a considerable space; they are on different subjects, and in different moods - exactly the kind of things which, if dug up unexpectedly in manuscript, would be accounted a prize by the biographer. And yet, though they have been in print since 1674, I really have found no evidence that as many as ten persons have read them through before me. They would probably have never been read by me either, had they not come in my way as material; but, having read them, I have deemed it my duty to edit them as distinctly as possible, by describing each and translating all the more interesting parts.
Except where there is indication to the contrary, the edition of Milton to which I make my references, is that in eight volumes, containing both the poetry and the prose, published by Pickering in 1851. A new edition, based on this, is in preparation under the editorship of the Rev. J. E. B. Mayor, M. A., and Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge; which, I have no doubt, will be as handsome and more correct.
The first published memoir of Milton of which it is necessary to take account was that included in Anthony Wood's great work, the Athena et Fasti Oxonienses (first edition, 1691-2). The circumstance that Milton had been incorporated as M. A. at Oxford brought him within Wood's scheme; and the memoir occurs in the Fasti under the year of the incorporation, 1635 (Fasti I. 480—486, in Bliss's edition). In addition to Wood's noble constitutional accuracy, we have, in authentication of what is set down in this memoir, the fact that Wood was Milton's contemporary, being in his forty-second year when Milton died, and in circumstances, therefore, to ascertain much about him. Moreover, though Wood may have derived his information from various persons, we know that his chief informant was the antiquarian and gossip, John Aubrey (1626—1697), who had been personally acquainted with Milton, and who took unusual pains to obtain particulars respecting him from his widow, his brother Christopher Milton, and others. Ever since 1667, when Wood, being near the end of his first great work, the “ History and Antiquities of Oxford,” was looking forward to the “ Athenæ and Fasti” as its sequel, Aubrey, then a fellow of the Royal Society, and much out in the world of London, had been one of his correspondents, catering for information for him. Accordingly, in a letter from Aubrey to Wood, of date January 12, 1674–5, which I have seen among the Aubrey MSS. in the Ashmolean, the then recent burial of Milton is mentioned, among other news, thus : " Mr. J. Milton is buried at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, which [i. e. the grave] I will also see." In subsequent letters, Aubrey promises to send Wood an account of the grave, and to procure him other particulars about Milton ; and in one he records this interesting fact: “Mr. Marvell has promised me to write minutes for you of Mr. Jo. Milton, who lies buried in St. Giles Cripplegate Church.” This letter is of date May 18, 1675; but in a subsequent letter Aubrey has to record Marvel's own burial .“ Andrew Marvel sepult. in St. Giles's Church in the Fields, 18th Aug., 1678 ”— the interesting promise still apparently unfulfilled. Aubrey himself, now a poor man, but industrious in gossip as ever, undertakes what Marvel had promised; and, accordingly, among the mass of papers
entitled Minutes of Lives, which he sent to Wood in 1680, and which Wood used in his "Athenæ and Fasti," a space was assigned to Milton larger than to almost any other of the numerous celebrities whom Aubrey had included in his researches. Aubrey was a credulous person, "roving and magotie-headed,” as Wood had occasion to describe him, and sometimes stuffing his letters with “folliries and misinformations; but he was "a very honest man," says Toland, and "most accurate" in what came within his own notice; and, if there is one of all his graphic memoirs and sketches which is more painstaking and minutely curious than the rest, it is his Memoir of Milton. After it had been partly used by Wood, however, it lay, with the other bundles of "Minutes,” among the MSS. in the Ashmolean, sometimes heard of and cited, but seldom seen, till the year 1813, when all the "Minutes" together, sifted hastily and not completely or exactly from the very confused papers which contained them, were published in the volumes known as the "Bodleian Letters." The greater and by far the richest part of these volumes consisting of Aubrey's Lives, the volumes themselves sometimes go by that name; and, since they were published, they have been a fresh source of information respecting Milton, nearer to the fountain-head than Wood's memoir. An edition of Aubrey's sketch of Milton by itself, more correctly taken from the original MS., was appended by Godwin to his "Lives of Edward and John Philips," published in 1815; to which also was appended a reprint of the third original Memoir of Milton in order of time, that by Milton's nephew and pupil, Edward Philips. This memoir was originally prefixed by Philips to his English edition of Milton's "Letters of State," published, in a small volume, in 1694. The date of the publication, and the relationship of the author to Milton, give Philips's Memoir a peculiar value; and it contains facts not related by Aubrey or Wood.
These three memoirs by Aubrey, Wood, and Philips-all of them in brief compass, and therefore cited by me, when there is occasion, simply by the names of their authors-are the earliest published sources of information respecting Milton, apart from his own writings. Toland's Life of Milton, originally prefixed to an edition of Milton's prose works published at Amsterdam in 1698 in two volumes folio, and printed separately, with additions, in 1699 and in 1761, might have added more to our knowledge, had not the author's
peculiar ideas of biography prevented him from using the opportunities which he had. He did, however, add something.
Among the subsequent biographies of Milton, and contributions to his biography, it is enough to note those which either added to the stock of facts, or tended, in a conspicuous manner, to increase or vary the impression. The “ Explanatory Notes on Paradise Lost” by the two Richardsons, including affectionate details respecting the poet's habits, appeared in 1734. Birch's Memoir was prefixed to his edition of Milton's Prose Works in 1738, and again to his second edition of the same in 1753. Peck's silly medley of odds and ends, entitled “ New Memories of the Life and Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton," appeared in 1740. Johnson's memorable Life of the Poet was written in 1779. In 1785, Thomas Warton published his first edition of Milton's Minor Poems, illustrated with notes biographical and critical; and a second edition of the same appeared in 1791. Incorporating Warton's Notes and those of other critics and commentators, Todd produced, in 1801, his standard variorum edition of Milton's Poetical Works, in six volumes, enlarged into seven in the subsequent edition of 1809, and again contracted into six in the last edition of 1826. Prefixed to the first of these editions was Todd's account of the Poet's Life — modified by new information in the subsequent editions. Almost contemporaneously with Todd's second edition of the Poetical Works appeared a new edition of the Prose Works by Charles Symmons, D. D. (1806), also with a Memoir. Todd's Life, in the edition of 1826, may be said to have been the last formal Biography of the Poet till the publication of Pickering's edition of the complete works in 1851, with the preliminary Life by the Rev. John Mitford. In the same year appeared Mr. C. R. Edmond's Biography, especially designed to bring out Milton's ecclesiastical principles. There has since been added to the list Mr. Keightley's succinct and clear account of the Life and Writings of the Poet (1856), accompanying his disquisitions on Milton's opinions and the several portions of the poetry. Among the fruits of recent Miltonic inquiries ought also to be mentioned Mr. Hunter's valuable pamphlet entitled Milton: A Sheaf of Gleanings (1850), the valuable Milton Papers edited for the Chetham Society by Mr. John Fitchett Marsh (1851), and various contributions to Notes and Queries. When Southey, many years ago, spoke of a Life of Milton as “yet a desid