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This edition of Milton's Poetry is a reprint, as careful as Editor and Printers have been able to make it, from the earliest printed copies of the several poems. First the 1645 volume of the Minor Poems has been printed entire; then follow in order the poems added in the reissue of 1673 ; the Paradise Lost, from the edition of 1667; and the Paradise Regain’d and Samson Agonistes from the edition of 1671.
The most interesting portion of the book must be reckoned the first section of it, which reproduces for the first time the scarce small octavo of 1645. The only reprint of the Minor Poems in the old spelling, so far as I know, is the one edited by Mitford, but that followed the edition of 1673, which is comparatively uninteresting since it could not have had Milton's oversight as it passed through the press. We know that it was set up from a copy of the 1645 edition, because it reproduces some pointless eccentricities such as the varying form of the chorus to Psalm cxxxvi; but while it corrects the errata tabulated in that edition it commits many more blunders of its own. It is valuable, however, as the editio princeps of ten of the sonnets, and it contains one important alteration in the Ode on the Nativity. This and all other alterations will be found noted where they occur. I have not thought it necessary to note mere differences of spelling between the two editions, but word may find place here upon their general character. Generally it may be said that, where the two editions differ, the later spelling is that now in use. Thus words like goddess, darkness, usually written in the first edition with one final s, have two, while on the other hand words like vernall, youthfull, and monosyllables
like hugg, farr, lose their double letter. Many monosyllables, e. g. som, cours, glimps, wher, vers, aw, els, don, ey, ly, so written in 1645, take on in 1673 an e mute, while words like harpe, windes, onely, lose it. By a reciprocal change ayr and cipress become air and cypress; and the vowels in daign, vail, neer, beleeve, sheild, boosom, eeven, battail, travailer, and many other words are similarly modernized. On the other hand there are a few cases where the 1645 edition exhibits the spelling which has succeeded in fixing itself, as travail (1673, travel in the sense of labour; and rob'd, profane, human, flood and bloody, forest, triple, alas, huddling, are found where the 1673 edition has roab’d, prophane, humane, floud and bloudy, forrest, tripple, alass and hudling. Indeed the spelling in this later edition is not untouched by seventeenth century inconsistency. It retains here and there forms like shameles, cateres, (where 1645 reads cateress), and occasionally reverts to the older-fashioned spelling of monosyllables without the mute e. In the Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester, it reads — And som flowers and some bays.' But undoubtedly the impression on the whole is of a much more modern text.
In the matter of small or capital letters I have followed the old copy, except in one or two places where a personification seemed not plainly enough marked to a modern reader without a capital. Thus in Il Penseroso, l. 49, I print Leasure, although both editions read leasure; and in the Vacation Exercise, l. 71, Times for times. Also where the employment or omission of a capital is plainly due to misprinting, as too frequently in the 1673 edition, I silently make the correction. Examples are, notes for Notes in Sonnet xvii. 1. 13; Anointed for anointed in Psalm ii. 1. 12.
In regard to punctuation I have followed the old printers except in obvious misprints, and followed them also, as far as possible, in their distribution of roman and italic type and in the grouping of words and lines in the various titles. To follow them exactly was impossible, as the books are so very different in size.
At this point the candid reader may perhaps ask what advantage is gained by presenting these poems to modern readers in the dress of a bygone age. If the question were put to me I should probably evade it by pointing out that Mr. Frowde is issuing an edition based upon this, in which the spelling is frankly that of to-day. But if the question were pressed, I think a sufficient answer might be found. To begin with, I should point out that even Prof. Masson, who in his excellent edition argues the point and decides in favour of modern spelling, allows that