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'there are peculiarities of Milton's spelling which are really significant, and ought therefore to be noted or preserved.' But who is to determine exactly which words are spelt according to the poet's own instructions, and which according to the printer's whim? It is notorious that in Paradise Lost some words were spelt upon a deliberate system, and it may very well happen that in the volume of minor poems which the poet saw through the press in 1645, there were spellings no less systematic. Prof. Masson makes a great point of the fact that Milton's own spelling, exhibited in the autograph manuscript of some of the minor poems preserved in Trinity College, Cambridge, does not correspond with that of the printed copy1. This is certainly true, as the reader may see for himself by comparing the passage from the manuscript given in the appendix with the corresponding place in the text. Milton's own spelling revels in redundant e's, while the printer of the 1645 book is very sparing of them. But in cases where the spelling affects the metre, we find that the printed text and Milton's manuscript closely correspond; and it is upon its value in determining the metre, quite as much as its antiquarian interest, that I should base a justification of this reprint. Take, for instance, such a line as the eleventh of Comus, which Prof. Masson gives as :—
Amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats.
A reader not learned in Miltonic rhythms will certainly read this line:
Amongst th' enthroned gods
But the 1645 edition reads:
Amongst the enthron'd gods
and so does Milton's manuscript. Again, in line 597, Prof. Masson reads:
It shall be in eternal restless change
But the 1645 text and Milton's manuscript read self-consum'd;
1 This manuscript, invaluable to all students of Milton, has lately been facsimiled under the superintendence of Dr. Aldis Wright, and published at the Cambridge University Press.
after which word there is to be understood a metrical pause to mark the violent transition of the thought.
Again in the second line of the Sonnet to a Nightingale Prof. Masson has :
Warblest at eve when all the woods are still
but the early edition, which probably follows Milton's spelling, though in this case we have no manuscript to compare, reads 'Warbl'st.' So the original text of Samson, 1. 670, has 'temper❜st.'
The retention of the old system of punctuation may be less defensible, but I have retained it because it may now and then be of use in determining a point of syntax. The absence of a comma, for example, after the word hearse in the 58th line of the Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester, printed by Prof. Masson thus:
And some flowers, and some bays
but in the 1645 edition :
And som Flowers, and som Bays,
goes to prove that for here must be taken as 'fore.
Of the Paradise Lost there were two editions issued during Milton's lifetime, and while the first has been taken as our text, all the variants in the second, not being simple misprints, have been recorded in the notes. In one respect, however, in the distribution of the poem into twelve books instead of ten, it has seemed best, for the sake of practical convenience, to follow the second edition. A word may be allowed here on the famous correction among the Errata prefixed to the first edition; 'Lib. 2. v. 414, for we read wee.' This correction shows not only that Milton had theories about spelling, but also that he found means, though his sight was gone, to ascertain whether his rules had been carried out by his printer; and in itself this fact justifies a facsimile reprint. What the principle in the use of the double vowel exactly was (and it is found to affect the other monosyllabic pronouns) it is not so easy to discover, though roughly it is clear the reduplication was intended to mark emphasis. For example, in the speech of the Divine Son after the battle in heaven (vi. 810-817) the pronouns which the voice would naturally emphasize are spelt with the double vowel:
Stand onely and behold
Therefore to mee thir doom he hath assig'n'd.
In the Son's speech offering himself as Redeemer (iii. 227-249) where the pronoun all through is markedly emphasized, it is printed mee the first four times, and afterwards me; but it is noticeable that these first four times the emphatic word does not stand in the stressed place of the verse, so that a careless reader might not emphasize it, unless his attention were specially called by some such sign:
Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life
I offer, on mee let thine anger fall;
Account mee man.
In the Hymn of Creation (v. 160-209) where ye occurs fourteen times, the emphasis and the metrical stress six times out of seven coincide, and the pronoun is spelt yee; where it is unemphatic, and in an unstressed place, it is spelt ye. Two lines are especially instructive:
Speak yee who best can tell, ye Sons of light (1. 160);
Fountains and yee, that warble, as ye flow,
Melodious murmurs, warbling tune his praise (1. 195).
In v. 694 it marks, as the voice by its emphasis would mark in reading, a change of subject:
So spake the false Arch-Angel, and infus'd
Bad influence into th' unwarie brest
Of his Associate; hee (i. e. the associate) together calls, &c.
An examination of other passages, where there is no antithesis, goes to show that the lengthened form of the pronoun is most frequent before a pause (as vii. 95); or at the end of a line (i. 245, 257); or when a foot is inverted (v. 133); or when as object it precedes its verb (v. 612; vii. 747), or as subject follows it (ix. 1109; x. 4). But as we might expect under circumstances where a purist could not correct his own proofs, there are not a few inconsistencies. There does not seem, for example, any special emphasis in the second we of the following passage:
Freely we serve.
Because wee freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall (v. 538).
On the other hand, in the passage (iii. 41) in which the poet speaks of his own blindness:
where, if anywhere, we should expect mee, we do not find it, though it occurs in the speech eight lines below. It should be added that this differentiation of the pronouns is not found in any printed poem of Milton's before Paradise Lost, nor is it found in the Cambridge autograph. In that manuscript the constant forms are me, wee, yee. There is one place where there is a difference in the spelling of she, and it is just possible that this may not be due to accident. In the first verse of the song in Arcades, the
This, this is shee;
and in the third verse:
This, this is she alone.
This use of the double vowel is found a few times in Paradise Regain'd; in ii. 259 and iv. 486, 497 where mee begins a line, and in iv. 638 where hee is specially emphatic in the concluding lines of the poem. In Samson Agonistes it is more frequent (e. g. lines 124, 178, 193, 220, 252, 290, 1125). Another word the spelling of which in Paradise Lost will be observed to vary is the pronoun their, which is spelt sometimes thir. The spelling in the Cambridge manuscript is uniformly thire, except once when it is thir; and where their once occurs in the writing of an amanuensis the e is struck through. That the difference is not merely a printer's device to accommodate his line may be seen by a comparison of lines 358 and 363 in the First Book, where the shorter word comes in the shorter line. It is probable that the lighter form of the word was intended to be used when it was quite unemphatic. Contrast, for example, in Book iii. 1. 59:
His own works and their works at once to view
with line 113:
Thir maker and thir making and thir Fate.
But the use is not consistent, and the form thir is not found at all till the 349th line of the First Book. The distinction is kept up in the Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes, but, if possible, with even less consistency. Such passages, however, as Paradise Regain'd, iii. 414-440; Samson Agonistes, 880-890, are certainly
spelt upon a method, and it is noticeable that in the choruses the lighter form is universal.
Paradise Regain'd and Samson Agonistes were published in 1671, and no further edition was called for in the remaining three years of the poet's lifetime, so that in the case of these poems there are no new readings to record; and the texts were so carefully revised, that only one fault (Paradise Regain'd, ii. 309) was left for correction later. In these and the other poems I have corrected the misprints catalogued in the tables of Errata, and I have silently corrected any other unless it might be mistaken for a various reading, when I have called attention to it in a note. Thus I have not recorded such blunders as Letbian for Lesbian in the 1645 text of Lycidas, line 63; or hallow for hollow in Paradise Lost, vi. 484; but I have noted content for concent, in At a Solemn Musick, line 6.
In conclusion I have to offer my sincere thanks to all who have collaborated with me in preparing this Edition; to the Delegates of the Oxford Press for allowing me to undertake it and decorate it with so many facsimiles; to the Controller of the Press for his unfailing courtesy; to the printers and printer's reader for their care and pains. Coming nearer home I cannot but acknowledge the help I have received in looking over proof-sheets from my sister, Mrs. P. A. Barnett, who has ungrudgingly put at the service of this book both time and eyesight. In taking leave of it, I may be permitted to say that it has cost more of both these inestimable treasures than I had anticipated. The last proof reaches me just a year after the first, and the progress of the work has not in the interval been interrupted. In tenui labor et tenuis gloria. Nevertheless I cannot be sorry it was undertaken.
H. C. B.