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in his Life of Milton, where, among the "particular friends" of Milton, who visited him most frequently during the eight years when he lived in his house in Petty France, Westminster (1652-1660), he mentions "Young' Lawrence (the son of him that was President of Oliver's Council), to whom there is a Sonnet among the rest in his printed Poems." This statement of Phillips has been overlooked by the commentators, or there would have been no question on the subject. He does not mention which of the sons of the President was the " Young Lawrence" so often at Milton's house; but, as the eldest son, Edward Lawrence, died in 1657, while Milton was still a tenant of the house in Petty France, it may be assumed that his visitor there was the second son, Henry Lawrence, who became heir in 1657, succeeded to the property on his father's death in 1664, and lived till 1679, or five years beyond Milton. This being concluded, however, or whichever son of the President is taken as "the Young Lawrence" addressed, it follows that the Sonnet cannot have been written so early as 1646; at which year, as we have seen, the future President's eldest son was only thirteen years of age. Ten years later that son was twenty-three years of age, and his brother Henry, the most probable recipient of the Sonnet, was a year or two younger. The Sonnet, then, we should say, was written after 1655, and when Milton was in his condition of total blindness. And, though this may not at first seem consistent with the cheerful vein of the Sonnet, the explanation is easy. Phillips's account of his uncle's life gives us a glimpse of the household in Petty France which is not altogether one of gloom. Milton's first wife indeed had died there in 1652 or 1653, soon after he had taken possession of the house; and he had thus been left in his blindness, a widower with three young daughters. But, even during the time of his widowhood, and more after his marriage with his second wife in Nov. 1656, the house was enlivened by the little hospitalities that had to be shown to the numerous visitors that came to see him. Some of these were foreigners of distinction; others were Londoners of rank; but most assiduous of all were former pupils, and other enthusiastic young men, who accounted it a privilege to read to him, or act as his amanuenses, and to hear him talk. There was a group of such young admirers,
and " young Lawrence" was one of them. Sometimes, as we are to fancy, he accompanied Milton in his walks, yielding him the tendance which a blind man required; and Milton's Sonnet is to be taken as a kindly message to the youth, in some season of bad weather, not to stop his visits on that account, but to let him have his company now and then within doors.
SONNET XXI.: TO CYRIACK SKINNER.
(Edition of 1673; and copy of the last ten lines, in the hand of an amanuensis, among the Cambridge MSS.)
This Sonnet also, like the last, might appear, on a first reading, to belong to a time before Milton's blindness. For it also is in a hospitable vein, and invites to leisure and mirth. Moreover the eighth line, “And what the Swede intend and what the French," might perhaps most naturally suggest a time before the Peace of Westphalia (1648), when French armies under Turenne and other generals, and Swedish and mixed armies under Vrangel and others, were fighting out the last dregs of that Thirty years' war the Swedish part in which had been so striking at an earlier stage. Yet, as the Swedish activity in Europe did not end in 1648 any more than the French-as, in fact, the wars of the Swedish King Charles X. (1654-1660) against Poland, Russia, and Denmark, were as loud matters of European rumour as the contemporary wars of the French King Louis XIV. against Spain in the Netherlands-it would be an ignorant interpretation of the line that would make it necessarily throw back the Sonnet to the close of the Thirty years' war. And the Sonnet itself, besides that it comes immediately after that to Mr. Lawrence in Milton's own volume of 1673, looks like an invitation in the same strain as that Sonnet, and written about the same time, but to a different person.. There is a correspondence even between the compliment of pedigree which opens this Sonnet, "Cyriack, whose grandsire, &c.," and that which opens its predecessor, "Lawrence, of virtuous father, &c." All that we know too of Cyriack Skinner and his connexion with Milton confirms the notion that the two Sonnets were written about the same time, i.e. about 1655, after
Milton was blind and when he was living in his house in Petty France.
Phillips, in his list of the friends of Milton who visited him there, mentions, "above all, Mr. Cyriack Skinner;" words which imply that Skinner was even a more frequent visitor than young Lawrence. There is even a probability that he had been one of Milton's pupils; for Wood describes him (Ath. Oxon. III. 1119) as "a merchant's son of London, an ingenious young gentleman and scholar to Jo: Milton," informing us farther that he became a leading member of Harrington's celebrated political debating club, called The Rota, which held its meetings in 1659 at "the Turk's Head in the New Palace Yard at Westminster." From the Sonnet itself we learn that, besides being thus interested in political speculations, or before being so interested, Skinner was an eager student of mathematical and physical science. Wood seems to have been wrong in calling him "a merchant's son of London;" for he is otherwise known as the third son of William Skinner, a Lincolnshire squire, who had married Bridget, second daughter of the famous lawyer and judge Sir Edward Coke. This explains the compliment of pedigree in the first line of the Sonnet. As this William Skinner died in 1627, Cyriack, his son, though described as "an ingenious young gentleman” in 1659, must have been considerably older than young Lawrence. There is extant a deed of conveyance, of the date May 7, 1660, by which Milton makes over to "Cyriack Skinner, of Lincoln's Inn, Gentleman," a Bond for 400/. given to Milton by the Commissioners of Excise (Mr. Leigh Sotheby's "Milton Ramblings," p. 129). The transaction proves how intimate Milton was with Skinner; for it was on the eve of the Restoration, when property invested in Excise Bonds was not likely to be worth much to Milton or his representatives. The deed also disproves the idea that Cyriack Skinner was himself a merchant, an idea which has somehow been substituted for the tradition that he was a merchant's son.
But, if not a merchant, or a merchant's son, Cyriack Skinner had brothers, or other near relatives, in Daniel Skinner and Thomas Skinner, who are heard of as London merchants as early as 1651, carrying on business in Mark Lane. Nay more, a
son of this Daniel Skinner, merchant of Mark Lane, himselt named Daniel, became so very closely connected with Milton in the last years of his life that there has been much confusion, on that account, between him and (his uncle?) Cyriack. It may have been in or about 1673 that this Daniel Skinner, then a mere youth, who had been at Trinity College, Cambridge, and had in that year taken his B.A. degree, became, perhaps through Cyriack's recommendation, Milton's chief amanuensis. He was employed in making a fair transcript for the press of Milton's Latin Treatise De Doctrinâ Christianâ, which had been long in progress, and the rough copy of which, in the hands of various previous amanuenses, but especially of one, had at length been finished. Skinner had transcribed a considerable portion, amounting to 196 pages out of the total of 735 of which the MS. consisted, and had gone through the rest, making corrections and inserting a piece here and there, when Milton died. By Milton's own arrangement, the MS., thus ready for the press, together with a transcript of all Milton's Latin State-Letters written by him for the Council of State, Cromwell, and Richard Cromwell, remained in young Skinner's hands, with a view to their publication. As the Letters of State, from their nature, could not safely then be published in England, Skinner, in 1675, entered into negotiations with Daniel Elzevir, the famous printer of Amsterdam. The MSS., both of the Letters and of the Treatise of Theology, were in Elzevir's hands, when (1676) a surreptitious edition of the former was printed by a London bookseller, into whose hands copies of the Letters had come. Annoyed by this, the English Government made inquiries about the papers that Milton had left; and it was ascertained that Daniel Skinner, B.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge, had some such papers. He was communicated with; had a special interview with Sir Joseph Williamson, Secretary of State ; and was told that, if he proceeded farther in the business, he would get himself into trouble, hurt his prospects, &c. Letters on the subject also passed between Elzevir and Sir Joseph Williamson, and Elzevir engaged that he would have nothing more to do with the affair. Skinner went over to Amsterdam himself in 1676 to recover the MSS.; but, though he professed to be glad that they had not been printed, and had even offered to give
them up to the English Government, his movements were so uncertain that Government had to give him a hint through the authorities of Trinity College. A Letter is extant from the celebrated Dr. Isaac Barrow, then Master of Trinity, dated Feb. 13, 1676-7, addressed to Skinner, ordering his immediate return to College on pain of expulsion, and warning him against publishing any writing "mischievous to the Church or the State." This seems to have brought him back; for he took his M.A. degree in 1677, and in May 1679 he was promoted to a Senior Fellowship in the College. The price of his promotion, doubtless, was the surrender of the perilous MSS. At all events they did come into Sir Joseph Williamson's hands, and were stowed away by him, with other lumber, in one of the presses of the State Paper Office, where they lay untouched and unheard of till the year 1823. In that year they were discovered by Mr. Robert Lemon, Deputy Keeper of the State Papers, wrapped in the original sheet of brown paper, addressed "Mr. Skinner, Merchant," in which they had found their way back from Holland to the premises of young Skinner's father in Mark Lane. The discovery was hailed with interest; and in 1825 the long-lost treatise De Doctrinâ Christiana was given to the world by Dr. Sumner, Bishop of Winchester. The State Papers, having been already accessible in print since 1676, did not require fresh publication. The original MS. of the Treatise, partly in Daniel Skinner's hand, partly in other hands corrected by his, remains in the State Paper Office.
It is worth mentioning that the leaf of the Cambridge Volume of Milton MSS. which contains ten lines of the present Sonnet to Cyriack Skinner, and the whole of the following, is a leaf of quarto size, presenting every appearance of having been torn out of some other MS. volume, and that the paper is of the same quality and size as that used for a portion of the MS. of the Treatise of Christian Doctrine. The inference seems to be that that Treatise had been at least begun, as early as 1655, in the house in Petty France.