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The Life of Milton, by his nephew and pupil, Edward Philips, has been reprinted and prefixed to this edition of the poetical works. It is the most full and faithful memoir of the external circumstances of the poet, and it cannot be read without perceiving that the author had no political or partial object in the biography. It has been justly remarked that Philips knew much more of Milton than he has told and that if he could have foreseen the future national en"husiasm and interest in his uncle's biography and works, he would not have confined himself within such narrow limits. But insufficient as the narrative may be for the worshippers of Milton, it is certainly the most copious and exact detail of the private and public life of any early English poet.
The genuineness and authenticity of the memoir cannot be doubted. It originally appeared in a small duodecimo volume, entitled, “Letters of State, written by Mr. John Milton, to most of the sovereign princes and republics of Europe, from the year 1649 till the year 1659. To which is added an account of his Life. Together with several of his Poems; and a catalogue of his works, never before printed. London. Printed in the year 1694.” The name of Edward Philips does not appear to the book. It is, however, ascribed to him by Toland, in his Life of Milton, 1698, published while the younger Philips was still living; and Dr. Birch mentions that he had seen a copy, which, from a note in the handwriting of Philips, had been presented by Edward Philips to a friend as the production of his own pen.
The zealous and industrious research of the numerous biogrilphers and editors of Milton, as far as relates to the poetical works, has left nothing to be added to the valuable stores of their largo collections; and the limits of this edition will not admit any detailed account of their several labors and criticisms. Annual reprints of the poems, with volumes of biography and commentary, have, from year to year, displayed the increasing public interest in the character and works of Milton. The reader, however, must here content himself with a brief and general reference to the
original and subsequent éditions of the poems, and a chronological notice of the most popular annotations and biographies :—we can point out to him the right road, though we cannot accompany him in his travels.
The first publication of Milton appeared in small octavo, pp. 214, entitled, “Poems of Mr. John Milton, both English and Latini, compos'd at several times. Printed by his true copies." The songs were set in musick by Mr. Henry Lawes Gentleman of the Kings Chappel, and one of his Majestie's private musick. Printed and published according to order. London. Printed by Ruth Raworth for Humphrey Moseley, and are to be sold at the signe of the Princes Arms in Pauls Church Yard, 1645.”-From the preface of “The Stationer to the Reader,'' prefixed to this volume, it is evident that the poetical character of Milton was thus early known and admired. It has been a vulgar error, of general belief even in the present day, that the works of Milton were unknown and neglected till the last century.
" The Stationer to the Reader. “It is not any private respect of gain, gentle reader, for the slightest pamphlet is nowadayes more vendible than the words of learnedest men; but it is the love I have to our own language that hath made me diligent to collect, and set forth such peeces both in prose and verse, as may renew the wonted honour and esteem of our English tongue : and it's the worth of these both English and Latin poems, not the flourish of any prefixed encomiums that can invite thee to buy them, though these are not without the highest commendations and applause of the learnedst academics, both domestic and forrein: and amongst those of our own country, the unparalleled attestation of that renowned provost of Eaton, Sir Henry Wootton: I know not thy palate how it relishes such dainties, nor how harmonious thy soul is ; perhaps more trivial airs may please thee better. But howsoever thy opinion is spent upon these, that encouragement I have already received from the most ingenious men in their clear and courteous entertainment of Mr. Waller's late choice peeces, hath once more made me adventure into the world, presenting it with these ever-green, and not to be blasted laurels. The authors more peculiar excellency in these studies, was too well known to conceal his papers, or to keep me from attempting to solicit them from him. Let the event guide itself which way it will, I shall deserve of the age, by bringing into the light as true a birth, as the muses have brought forth since our famous Spencer wrote ; whose poems in these English ones are as rarely imitated.