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I purposely abstained, indeed, from introducing into this edition any of the detached criticisms upon Milton’s poems which are to be met with in our Essayists or philological writers, (in the works of Monboddo and Blair, for instance, in the Tattler, Rambler, and Observer.) as I conceived that most readers would have greater pleasure in reading them in their original situations as opportunities presented them. Johnson's criticism on Milton's poetical works, annexed to his Life of Milton, may also be regarded as a separate Essay; but whoever desires a complete enumeration of all the occasional works of this kind, will find it in the ample list of editions, translations, and commentaries, appended to Mr. Todd's Life of Milton. As this edition is founded to so great an extent upon Dr. Newton's, the notes which have no signature will be understood to be his ; with the exception only of those upon Milton's Nuncupative Will, which Warton first published, and those upon the Latin Poems, which, as was observed before, are almost all from the pen of Mr. Warton. My own notes or references are signed with the letter E; all the others, whether introduced for the first time in this edition, or adopted from those already mentioned, bear the signatures of their respective writers. . The text and punctuation, except in a very few cases which are accounted for in the notes, are given from Newton’s edition. But the spelling is modernized in conformity with the practice of Mr. Ellis, Dr. Nott, and the most approved editors of the popular works of our earlier writers. And their practice has been defended by reasons too well known to need repetition here. Dr. Newton seems to have considered, that he printed the poems according to the spelling approved by Milton himself; but in this he appears to have been often mistaken. Milton, however, did not always observe the same mode of spelling; although with regard to some particular words he seems to have laid down for himself certain principles of orthography, which he caused to be exactly regarded even in the editions of his works printed when he had become blind. (See Richardson's Remarks, p. cxxvii—cxxxviii.) As Dr. Newton's notices, however, of these peculiarities were intentionally retained, the Corrector of the press conceived that the spelling of these words in the text also should not be modernized like that of the rest. So minute a circumstance might have been left unnoticed; but it affords mean opportunity of stating, that although my own avocations prevented my discharging this part of an Editor's duty, the task was devolved upon much more experienced hands, and the public is probably a gainer by the circumstance. It was not thought necessary to give any other verbal Index than that of Cruden, which Dr. Newton printed at the end of his edition of the Paradise Lost. The other Indexes are also printed from Dr. Newton's editions. Although a work of so unpretending a character as this cannot be put in competition with Mr. Todd's edition of Milton’s Poems, yet as both editions proceed to a certain extent upon the same plan, and are built in great measure upon the same foundations, I had no right to take advantage of his labours. The present commentary therefore was formed without any reference
to his; but as I took occasion, when the greater part of it was completed, to examine the corresponding portions of his work, I can bear testimony to his great industry and accuracy. Many of his additional notes also are learned and sensible, and would no doubt have been acceptable to the public, if I could with propriety have adopted them, and if the present edition had not been too voluminous without them. The only use, however, which I was entitled to make of his edition was in two or three places, where I had treated some subjects concisely, to refer my readers who desired fuller information to his preliminary Essays. His Life of Milton, since it had been published in 1809 as a separate work, I was of course at liberty to consult freely.
Upon comparing Newton's Life of Milton with the previous authorities, and with the various lives which have since appeared, it seemed sufficiently good to be reprinted. It is, indeed, faithfully built upon the best authorities, with very few and trifling inaccuracies, and comprises almost all the information which we possess on the subject; as a composition it is simple and unpretending, but not unpleasing; and perhaps in the good sense and impartiality with which it treats of Milton's character and sentiments it is not inferior to any of the lives of this eminent man which are yet extant. It was not without concern that I found it necessary to injure the general effect of Bishop Newton's performance by subjoining a considerable body of miscellaneous notes, not always in harmony with the Life either in style or substance. But the growing curiosity of the public on this subject, and the disputes which have arisen since
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the time of Bishop Newton on some minor points of Milton's life, appeared to call for some additional observations, which were, however, of too heterogeneous a character to be thrown together into an Appendix. In a word, I was desirous to state that there was no point of any interest connected with Milton, which was not touched upon, or at least referred to, either in the Life itself or in the notes; and I examined for this purpose nearly all the numerous Lives of Milton. Mr. Warton collected a great variety of curious collateral information, but relating rather to Milton’s friends than to the Poet himself; on which account, not to break the thread of Bishop Newton's narrative unnecessarily, Warton's notes of this description have been left, as they were, attached to the minor poems; and references only to them subjoined to the Life. A few particulars also respecting Milton’s life have been added in the notes from his Prose Works; for the reader would be pleased in some instances, especially where these passages were more ample than Newton's text, or differed in any respect from it, to hear Milton speaking for himself. And, lastly, Milton’s Nuncupative Will, which Mr. Warton was the means of bringing to light after it had been forgotten for above a century, is adopted from his edition, and annexed to the Life; as it is a great curiosity, and discovers some particulars in Milton's manners and circumstances which were before unknown.
The immediate purpose of the Preface is sufficiently answered by the preceding statement of what has, and what has not, been done in the present edition. But the Lives of Milton are become so numerous, and have been composed upon such different principles, that a brief account of them may not be without its use. It may also gratify some of Milton's admirers, who may not have leisure to wade through his Prose-writings, to be furnished with a list of references to the principal parts in them which relate to his personal history, feelings, and appearance. From the continual references, indeed, which some of his biographers have given to these passages, an inattentive reader may imagine them to be much more numerous than they really are; but the following are all the most interesting and most considerable of the kind. I refer to Dr. Birch’s edition of the Prose Works, in 4to. 1753. The preface to the second book of the Reason of Church Government, vol. i. p. 60—65, declares Milton’s dislike of controversy, and his sense of the necessity laid upon him to engage in it; and it contains his famous promise of some great work, in English and in verse, at some future period. In the Apology for Smectymnuus, vol. i. p. 114–119, (“Thus having “spent—needless hearing,”) he repels the calumnies thrown out against him of having led a riotous youth, and having been expelled from the University, and gives a general account of his studies from his youth upwards, and of his early love of chastity and virtue. In these two passages traces of the author of Comus, of Samson Agonistes, of Paradise Regained, and Paradise Lost, may easily be discovered. Some lofty thoughts respecting his style and his hopes are scattered in the Preface, and in the Postscript to the Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce, vol. i. p. 236, p. 239, and p. 256, and in the Dedication prefixed to Tetrachordon, p.