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Christian Works : Milton’s annotated Lycidas

Milton, John 1608-1674

Christian Works

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p><b>Adv. d. 38.5 (images 1-89)</b></p><p>This is a copy of the Cambridge memorial volume <i>Justa Edouardo King naufrago</i> (1638), a collection of poems honouring the memory of a Fellow of Christ’s College who perished in a shipwreck on the Irish sea. The volume is divided into two parts, the first containing twenty poems in Latin and three in Greek, the second (with a separate title-page promising <i>Obsequies to the memorie of M<sup>r</sup> Edward King</i>) with thirteen poems in English. The last poem in the volume, signed ‘J.M.’, is Milton’s ‘Lycidas’, one of the most celebrated elegies in the English language.</p><p>Much critical discussion has swirled around the question of Milton’s relationship with King, and of whether the poem is a sincere outpouring of emotion for a friend or an act of self-promotion, with King’s death as its pretext. While the circumstances of composition remain a matter for speculation, this copy contains some direct evidence for the poet’s engagement with the commemorative volume, since it is one of two surviving copies to bear corrections in the poet’s hand. Milton corrects errors in six lines and adds one line that is accidentally omitted from the printed text.</p><p>The corrections are small but some of them are significant. The word ‘lord’ in ‘your lord Lycidas’ is corrected to ‘lov’d’, while ‘the humming tide’ becomes ‘the whelming tide’. The copy in the British Library (C 21. c. 42) has a slightly different set of corrections, catching one misprint—‘And stridly [for ‘strictly’] meditate the thanklesse Muse?’—that is missed here.</p><p>We do not know why Milton marked up these copies. Percy Simpson, in his study of early modern proof-reading, suggested that he may have been planning to supply them as copy to Ruth Raworth, the printer of his 1645 <i>Poems</i>, or that he intended to give this copy to a personal friend. We know that Milton made comparable changes to the texts of copies of his prose works that he presented to the Bodleian Library and to the bookseller George Thomason; in one celebrated case, <i>Areopagitica</i>’s ‘true wayfaring Christian’ becomes a ‘true warfaring Christian’. In such tiny yet potentially momentous changes, we see Milton treating his own works with philological exactitude, and initiating an editorial tradition that continues to this day.</p><p><b>Adv. d. 38.6 (images 90-91)</b></p><p>This surviving proof sheet for Milton’s poem ‘Lycidas’ was pulled as it was on its way to publication in the Cambridge memorial volume <i>Justa Edouardo King naufrago</i>, published by Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel in 1638. The sheet, printed on one side only, preserves the proof of p. 21 of the volume, and also catches the page number and first line of p. 20, which would have faced p. 21 when the sheet was folded to make a quarto gathering.</p><p>The proof-corrections are in the hand of a press-corrector. As Percy Simpson commented in his study of early modern proof-reading, the fragment ‘shows a printer’s eye for the technical side of his work’. Five of the changes are to letters which had left only a partial impression, presumably because they were slightly misaligned; the rogue letters are found in the words ‘lawns’, gray’, ‘art’, ‘their’ and ‘neither’. Two missing hyphens are inserted, in ‘eye-lids’ and ‘a-field’. A full stop is added after ‘burnisht wheel’, and a turned letter is corrected in ‘Such, Lycidas’. A slight unevenness in the words ‘not mute’ appears to have gone uncorrected.</p><p>As Adv.d.38.5, a complete copy of <i>Justa Edouardo King naufrago</i> shows, Milton had to make several corrections to serious errors to the text of his poem in the volume. Simpson comments that the Cambridge printers ‘might with advantage have extended their vigilance to the text, which suffered more than the typography’.</p><p>The curious shape of the fragment derives from the fact that it was recycled as a paste-down, glued inside the back cover of another book. The book in question was a copy of the <i>De literis & lingua Getarum sive Gothorum</i> (1597) by Bonaventura Vulcanius, bound together with Jordanes’ <i>De Getarum, sive Gothorum origine & rebus gesti</i> (1597), now CUL M*12.45(F). Three other fragments removed from this binding, all of which bear proof corrections, and one of which seems to have been taken from a Cambridge edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible, printed by Daniel and Buck in 1640 (STC 2162:01), are preserved in a collection of such fragments at Syn.5.50.2. The red colouring at the edges of the Lycidas proof-sheet was presumably acquired when the page-edges of the Vulcanius volume were painted.</p><p>Many such historical relics have only survived because they were recycled in this way. The library’s other copy of Vulcanius, Pet.D.3.45, had endpapers made from fragments of royal building accounts from the time of Henry VIII that were long since donated to the Bodleian Library.</p><p>Jason Scott-Warren<br /> Faculty of English<br /> University of Cambridge </p></p>

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