As a supplementary note to the volume of Milton’s Letters of State in the Columbia edition of his Works (Volume xm), as well as an illuminating guide to his reputation immediately subsequent to his death, when Williamson’s phrase, “that late Villain Milton,” would have met with nearly unanimous approval, it seems worth while to furnish a summary of information bearing on their publication. The gathering of this material has been in progress now for some time. The principal contributors have been Sumner (in his edition of the Christian Doctrine), Hamilton, Masson, Tanner and Howarth (editors of Pepys), and Han- ford. Their contributions being somewhat scattered, I have here brought together the chief items. I am also able to add several new letters which have not previously been published, to correct and clarify certain dates, and, I hope, to arrange the whole in such a way that its story unfolds logically and easily.
The record is probably still incomplete. New letters will probably yet be found among the voluminous Williamson documents, among Pepys papers still unprinted, and elsewhere. No one, so far as I know, has investigated thoroughly the Dutch archives for light on the Letters. In private libraries there may be other papers like that from Longleat (printed below) which have never been gathered into the Milton fold. But as a summary of findings up to the present time and a skeleton of what may reasonably be hoped for in the future, this list may be a fairly complete record. 1649-1659. Milton writes Letters of State as Latin Secretary. 1674 (before December?). The Danish resident persuades Milton to have the Letters transcribed (see Milton’s Works, ed. John Toland (1698), I, 188.
The amanuensis may have been Daniel Skinner. There must have been several copies of the Letters.
We may be certain of the following:
- The original individual drafts which Milton saved after writing each letter, which were the basis of all subsequent collections, but which probably no longer exist;
- A copy, stolen from Milton, used as the basis of the surreptitious edition of 1676, and now lost;
- Skinner’s transcript, first sent to the Dutch printer Daniel Elzevir, later recovered, deposited with Sir Joseph Williamson in London, and now preserved in the Public Record Office (“the Skinner transcript”);
- Another transcript of Skinner’s, which he showed to Williamson while the former set was with Elzevir, and which is no longer known to be extant;
- The copy now preserved in the Columbia University Library (“the Colum- bia manuscript”);
- A letter-book of Cromwell letters, formerly belonging to Richard Bridgeman, and now in the Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. A 260, containing a small number of those usually accepted as Milton’s with a great many others, and labeled in an old hand as being “without doubt, the compositions of John Milton”;
- A similar book, MS. Rawl. A 261, containing many of the same letters and others as well. The last two sets were probably not made for Milton.
1674. Milton plans to publish the Letters. In the preface to the Episto- larum Familiarum (1674, sig. A3) the printer says that the intention had been to publish the public letters in that same volume, but that the authorities prevented him.
1674. Someone steals one copy of the Letters? Elzevir (letter to Sir Joseph Williamson, November 20, 1676) says that some one “les avoit derobe au feu Milton,” and Skinner (letter to Samuel Pepys, November 9/19, 1676) mentions “a poore fellow that had formerly surreptitiously gott’um from Milton.” Masson (Life, vi, 806) ventured the guess that it was Phillips who supplied the surreptitious copy to the printer; if so, there would be no question of stealing them. 1674. Milton leaves his Letters to Daniel Skinner. Skinner (letter to Pepys, November 9/19, 1676) mentions Milton’s papers, “which he left behind him to me.” Though Aubrey says, “vidua Affirmat she gave all his papers … to his Nephew,” Edward Phillips, it is natural to assume that after Skinner had received the two collections which he most desired, Phillips got what remained. Skinner’s statement receives sup- port, if any were needed, from an undated and unsigned letter now in the collection of the Marquis of Bath at Longleat. Previously published in Notes and Queries, IV, iii (1869), 144, it is here printed from a transcript kindly furnished me by its owner.
From the details mentioned in it, I should date it about the last of October, 1676: I am informed that since the death of Mr. Milton his Books have byn lookt over by one Mr. Skinner a scholar and a bold young man who has cull’d out what he thought fitt, & amongst the rest he has taken a manuscript of Mr. Milton’s written on the Civil & Ecclesiastical Government of this Kingdom [i.e., the Letters and the Christian DoctrineJ which he is resolved to print and to that purpose is gone into Holland and intends to print it at Leyden (and at this present is either there or at Nemeguen) and then to bring and disperse the copys in England. Mr. Skinner is nephew (or of nearer relation) to that Skinner that occasion’d that difference between the two Houses of Parliament, and I am informed his Father is in some office at the Custom house.
1675. Skinner sends Milton’s papers to Elzevir. This fact becomes clear from subsequent events. Masson suggests that since Elzevir was this year visiting London, Skinner may have met him there and delivered the packet personally.
1675 (November 2). Elzevir agrees to print the Letters. He writes (to Williamson, November 20, 1676), “H y a environ un an que je suis convenu avec Monsieur Skinner d’imprimer les lettres de Milton, et un autre manuscript en Théologie.” Skinner (to Pepys, November 9/19,
1676) confesses, “I had agreed with a printer at Amsterdam to have urn printed.”
1676 (May ?). Moses Pitt, London printer, tells Skinner he has bought Milton’s papers and desires to collaborate with him. Skinner (attesta- tion of October 18, 1676) states: Mr Pitts .. . about 4 or 5 moneths agoc told me he had mett withall and bought some of Mr Miltons papers, and that if I would procure an agreement betwixt him And Elseviere at Amsterdam … he would communicate them to my perusall.
This statement agrees with that of Elzevir (to Williamson, November 20, 1676) that “un certain libraire de Londres avoit eu quelques lettres
de quelqu’un, qui les avoit dérobé au feu Milton.”
1676. Philip van Limborch advises Elzevir not to publish Milton’s Christian Doctrine. According to Z. C. von Uffenbach, Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen Holland und Engelland (Ulm, 1754), ui, 585, Limborch sagte, dass ihme ein Buchhändler ein Systema Theologia von Miltov zu unter- suchen gegeben, ob er es drucken solle. Er habe es ihm aber wiederrathen, weil der Arrianismus durch und durch auf das heftigste darinenn zu finden gewesen. Wo das Manuscript hergekommen, wisse er nicht.
1676. Elzevir declines to publish the Letters. He writes (to Williamson, November 20, 1676), “ . . . y avant trouvé des choses que je jugeois estre plus propres d’estre suppriméz que divulgéz, j’ay pris resolution de n’imprimer n’y l’un n’y l’autre.” Skinner (to Pepys, November 9/19,
1676) rejoices to fmd that “he has not printed one tittle of ’um.” 1676. Elzevir writes Skinner of his decision not to publish. Elzevir informs Williamson (November 20, 1676): J’avois escrit pour ce sujet à Mons’ Skinner à Cambridge; mais comm’il n’a pas esté au dit lieu depuis quelque temps, ma lettre ne luy estoit pas parvenue. 1676 (July?).