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REV. A. J. CHURCH, M.A.,
HEAD-MASTER OF THE ROYAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL, HENLEY ON-THAMES.
SEELEY, JACKSON, & HALLIDAY, 54, FLEET STREET,
It is hoped that this edition of the Samson Agonistes will be found of use in promoting the study of English literature, now happily introduced into most of our schools. The Notes have necessarily been contracted into a space
much smaller than might have been conveniently filled with them. They are especially deficient in illustrations of the text, but they leave, I trust, none of the difficulties which it presents—and it presents very many—at least unattempted. I have tried throughout, with whatever success, to construe my author, and, much as I owe in other respects to the labours of those who have previously commented on the poem, I have been able to find in the performance of this task but very little help.
The question of spelling has been very perplexing; the more so, as the publishers and myself, after anxious consultation, found ourselves compelled to differ from the opinion of friends who are entitled to speak on this subject with no little authority. The easiest course
for a modern editor is to follow exactly, after making allowance for any casual errors, the orthography which may be supposed to have had the author's sanction. It may be doubted whether this is always expedient; it is not possible in the case of the poems which Milton wrote after he had lost his eyesight. The spelling of that which is committed to paper by dictation will probably be, in a great measure at least, the spelling of the amanuensis. With ourselves this would matter but little; all persons of education use, with a few unimportant exceptions, the same orthography. In Milton's days much more variety prevailed. Had the poet been his own scribe, we should not have been surprised to find some inconsistencies and eccentricities of spelling; and these may be expected to abound when his words had to be written down by others. When we come to examine the one edition of the Samson published in the poet's lifetime, we find these anticipations fully borne out. The word “their," to take an instance of the commonest kind, is variously spelt thir and their, the former being the more frequent of the two, while the latter occurs in several instances towards the middle of the poem, suggesting the idea that this portion may have been committed to paper by a different amanuensis. “Eye” is another word that varies : in line 460 we find eie, in 1626, eye; “me” is spelt indifferently mee and me; in two passages we find hee for “he”; in two others, dye for “die.” To reprint, indeed, exactly the edition of 1671 would be impossible. Modern readers would not tolerate such spelling as orecome, suttleties, sourse, weather (wether), outpowr'd, sok’t (soaked), rains (reins), to mention a few only of the many which might be cited. To have preserved these forms, to which no special linguistic interest can be supposed to attach, would have been to perplex the student. His chief—it may be said in this case his sole—concern lies with the matter of the book, and I cannot but think it right that his attention should not be diverted from this by peculiarities, in themselves of little importance, in the form of the words. In the matter of punctuation—the punctuation of the first edition is as uncertain as the spelling—I have considered myself at liberty to consult the convenience of the reader, and to make such use as I could of this help towards the interpretation of the text.