Neil Keeble and Nicholas McDowell (eds), The Complete Works of John Milton, Vol. 6: Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings

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i. Dating

Both the extant manuscript copy and the first printed version of the text are dated at the end 20 October, that is, a week after Lambert on 13 October 'ruptured the Commonwealth' by locking out the Rump Parliament.1

The friend of the title has not been identified,2 but there may in fact have been no 'friend' since 'letters to a friend' constituted a recognized pamphleteering genre of comment on current affairs.3 Although the text begins in apparently autobiographical incidental detail ('Sir upon the sad & serious discourse which we fell into last night' (447)), it was a common rhetorical strategy thus to situate published counsel within the context of a private conversation. Furthermore, the signature 'J. M.' follows the style of Milton's authorial designation in his other published writings. The text, then, may have been constructed as a letter for publication (though no contemporary edition is known). On the other hand, though the signature and date suggest it was finished, the text is very brief and stylistically unpolished, and it concludes by telling its addressee that 'With this you may doe what you please: put out, put in, communicate, or suppresse' (450), all of which suggests that it is indeed what it purports to be, a quickly written summary of Milton's views in response to a personal request to 'set downe my opinion' following a conversation the night before (447).

The Letter is so taken by Campbell and Corns, as it had been by Parker, who supposed that on the night of 19 October Milton discussed with his anonymous friend 'the political aspirations of John Lambert', the 'Achan' who was 'the author & fomentor of these disturbances' (448, 450). Lewalski similarly believes that 'some such encounter probably did occur much as Milton reports it', and further speculates that 'this may have been the start of Milton's association with a loose republican-radical coalition that attempted to deal with the ongoing crisis and stave off the restoration of pg 440the monarchy', on the grounds that 'his several treatises of these months are closely related to others of similar intent'. Evidence for his association with any such group, however, is wanting. Indeed, the Letter itself suggests rather (448) that, as Campbell and Corns remark, 'Milton had not followed closely the rapidly developing crisis and would seem to have been out of touch with the business of polities'.4

ii. Publication

The Letter to a Friend was first published (with this title) in the 1698 Complete Collection.5 It and The Present Means were printed from a manuscript which, says Toland, was 'communicated to me by a worthy Friend who, a little after the Author's Death, had them from his Nephew; and I imparted them to the Publishers of the new Edition of his Works in Folio'.6 The nephew was Edward Phillips, eldest son of Milton's sister Anne and her husband Edward, who, according to Aubrey, received 'all his papers' after Milton's death from his widow Elizabeth.7

The 1698 Complete Collection was a key publication in the literary campaign of the 1690s to adopt earlier Puritan and republican writers for the Whig cause.8 The collection's editors and publishers are not certainly known, though the deist and Whig John Toland, who supplied the prefatory biography dated 3 September 1698, clearly contributed, as did Milton's two nephews Edward and John Phillips.9 Toland's 'Life' was entered in the Stationers' Register on 15 December 1698 by John Darby junior. John T. Shawcross has pointed out that his involvement as one of the otherwise unidentified team of stationers and printers who produced the Complete Collection is confirmed by advertisements for that work in pg 441the separate edition of Toland's Life of John Milton that he published (1699) and in his printing of James Harrington's Oceana with a prefatory life of the author by Toland (1700), the latter identifying him as the printer of the Complete Collection.10 His father, also John, was a committed nonconformist and oppositional printer who, with his wife Joan (the widow of the radical printer Simon Dover), frequently attracted the attention of the Restoration authorities in connection with seditious publications. On his death in 1704 his son took over the business, but the entry in the Stationers' Register suggests that he had been actively involved for some years prior to this.11 The Complete Collection's spurious Amsterdam imprint was characteristic of a publishing tradition that could put out Andrew Marvell's The Rehearsal Transpros'd (in which Darby senior was involved) 'for the Assigns of John Calvin and Theodore Beza'.12 The Complete Collection was compiled over several years; its volume title-pages speak of its 'being finished' in 1698 and some title-pages for particular works bear the year-date 1694. An irregular signature sequence and confused pagination are a consequence of this prolonged gestation. Volume i carried as a frontispiece an engraving deriving from a portrait by William Faithorne (1616?–91) 'ad Vivum', undated but done when Milton was nearly 62 years old.13

A slightly different (untitled) version of the Letter to that printed in the 1698 Complete Collection is extant in the seventeenth-century notebook which once formed part of the vast manuscript collection (of some 60,000 pg 442items14) assembled by the antiquary and bibliophile Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872).15 During the century following his death his collection was gradually dispersed through a series of sales.16 Since 1921, when it was acquired by Columbia University and deposited in its Rare Book and Manuscript Library, this notebook, measuring 38.5 cm × 14.5 cm, has been known to Miltonists as the 'Columbia manuscript' (MS X823M64/S62).17 Its seventeenth-century provenance is not known, but at the start of the eighteenth century it was in the possession of Bernard Gardiner (1668–1726), Warden of All Souls College and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, some of whose accounts, lists of books, and a list of goods dated 26 November 1703 were written on blank leaves at the end. Texts of the Letter (pp. 21–3 of the notebook), of the Proposalls of Certaine Expedients, and of 156 of Milton's state letters are among the pieces entered by a single scribe.18 There is no evidence of the date of the scribe's work, but it must have been later than 20 October 1659, the date given at the end of the Letter. Though this is the same date as that of the 1698 text, the Columbia manuscript differs from this in some particulars (some variations in wording and accidentals, and some slight omissions).

Ayers judged the Columbia manuscript text to be 'an apparently prior' version to that which supplied the copy for the Complete Collection edition. He did not expand on his reasons for this view, but it is persuasive.19 The Complete Collection incorporates interlinings in the Columbia manuscript, on two occasions it adopts manuscript corrections to the text and on two others it supplies a missing letter and makes good pg 443an obvious omission in the manuscript.20 This is consistent with the Complete Collection's being set from a copy derived from the Columbia manuscript.21 The evidence is too slight to be conclusive,22 but on these grounds this edition takes the manuscript as its copy-text.

The text was printed in the Columbia edition of Milton's works, edited by William Haller from the 1698 Complete Collection, and in the Yale edition of Milton's prose, edited by Robert W. Ayers from the Columbia manuscript.23

iii. Collations and Copy-Text

1698 Text

Title-Page: [vol. 1]: A | Complete Collection | of the | Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous | works | of | John Milton, | Both english and latin. | With som papers never before Publish'd. | [rule] In Three volumes. | [rule] | To which is Prefix'd | The life of the author, | Containing, | Besides the History of his Works, | Several Extraordinary Characters of Men and | Books, Sects, Parties, and Opinions. | [rule] | amsterdam, | Finish'd in the Year M.DC.XC.VIII. |

Title-Page: [vol. 2]: A | Complete Collection | of the | Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous | works | of | John Milton, | Both english and latin. | With som papers never before Publish'd. | [rule] | The Second Volume. | The Contents whereof follow in the next Leaf. | [ornament between rules] | amsterdam, | Finish'd in the Year M.DC.XC.VIII. | [Place this Title before the Signature Lll.] |

Half-Title: [ii.779] a | letter | to a | friend, | Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth. | Publish'd from the Manuscript. |

Running Title: None

Collation Formula of vol. ii: Fo. in fours; [two unsigned leaves]; 3L–3X4.; 3X2; 3Y–4C4; 4A–5K4; 5L2; 5M–5S4; [one unsigned leaf]; pp. [vi], 443–528, 525–68, 545–812, [813–14], 819–72, [2].

pg 444Collation Formula of A Letter: Fo. in fours; 5G2–5G3; pp. 779–81.

Contents of vol. ii: [unsigned leaf recto] title; [unsigned leaf verso] blank; [second unsigned leaf] 'The contents of the Second Volume'; 3L1 'four tracts' title; 3L1v blank; 3L2–5S4 text; 5S4v 'finis'; [unsigned leaf] blank.24

Catchword Errors in A Letter: None.

Copies Collated:

Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven

Ij M642 + C698B

Birmingham Central Library, Birmingham

Q 821. 473 (ref no. 87894; wanting vol. iii)

(2 copies)

Q 821. 473 (ref. no. 472244)

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Vet. A3c. 67, 68.

British Library, London

713. k. 8

Cambridge University Library, Cambridge

R. 2. 35–7

Christ's College Library, Cambridge

EE. 2. 5–7

Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh

*V. 16. 34–36 (vol. ii incorrectly bound to begin at p. 385 rather than p. 443)

Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

f 14491. 5* F (vols.i–ii bound as a single volume)

(2 copies)

f 14491. 5. 5* Lobby XI. 4. 11–13 (vols, ii–iii bound as a single volume)

Illinois University Library, Urbana-Champaign

XQ821 M64N 1698

John Rylands Library, University of Manchester (3 copies)

/7063 UCC Quarto/ QM823 (wanting vol. iii) /R. 165619

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Ai. 3. 15–17

Worcester College Library, Oxford

L. 7. 4–6

pg 445Print Variants: None. The copies of the Complete Collection collated all represent the same state of the text of A Letter.


The text is transcribed from Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library MS X823M64/S62. For conventions used in transcription, see the Editorial Procedures (19). Verbal variants from the Columbia Manuscript text in the Complete Collection are recorded in the notes against the siglum CC. Differences in spelling, typographical accidentals, punctuation, and layout (the Complete Collection text is not divided into paragraphs) are not recorded. pg 446


1 For Lambert's coup see General Introduction, pp. 98–9.

2 For suggested identifications, see p. 725 n. 1.

3 Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 214–18.

4 Parker, Biography, i. 535–6; Campbell & Corns, Milton, 290; Lewalski, Life, 369.

5 Complete Collection, ii. 779–81. When the Complete Collection was republished in 1738 'for A. MILLAR, at Buchanan's Head, against St. Clement's Church in the Strand' in two volumes (with reordered and expanded contents), with a prefatory 'Historical and Critical Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. John Milton' by Thomas Birch, the Letter was included at i. 582–4 (though, uniquely of the texts printed, omitted from the edition's list of contents).

6 Complete Collection, i. 37.

7 Darbishire, Early Lives, pp. xxxvi, 4, 343.

8 On this campaign, see Edmund Ludlow, A Voyce from the Watch Tower, ed. A. B. Worden, Camden 4th ser. 21 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1978), 17–31; Blair Worden, Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity (London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2001), 65–121; George Sensabaugh, That Grand Whig Milton (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1952), 180, 190–3.

9 Parker, Biography, i. 656; Nicholas Von Maltzahn, 'The Whig Milton, 1667–1700', in Armitage, Milton & Republicanism, 248–52.

10 Eyre, Transcript, iii. 485; Parker, Life, ii. 1196–7; John T. Shawcross, Milton: A Bibliography for the Years 1624–1700 (Revised) and for the Years 1701–1799, 1698.2 (Primary), at <>/. Peter Lindenbaum, 'Rematerializing Milton', Publishing Studies, 41 (1997), 5–6, notes that the bookseller Awnsham Churchill entered 'Milton's Prose Works' in the Stationers' Register on 30 January 1689 (Eyre, Transcript, iii. 345), but whether this corresponds to the 1698 Complete Collection, and whether Churchill was involved with the latter, are not known.

11 For Darby, husband, wife, and son, see ODNB s.n.; Plomer, Printers and Booksellers, s.n.; McKenzie & Bell, Book Trade, index; Worden, Roundhead Reputations, 86–8.

12 Annabel Patterson et al. (eds.), The Prose Works of Andrew Marvell, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), vol. i, pp. xxiii–xxvii, 22–3. For the tradition of oppositional printing, see N. H. Keeble, The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1987), 93–126; Richard L. Greaves, Enemies Under His Feet: Radicals and Nonconformists in Britain, 1664–1677 (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1990), 167–90.

13 On this portrait and engraving see Parker, Biography, i. 614–15, 635; ii. 1135–6; Campbell & Corns, Milton, 352; and on Faithorne, see Jane Turner (ed.), The [Grove] Dictionary of Art, 34 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1996), x. 757–8; Leo Miller, Milton Portraits: An Impartial Enquiry into their Authenticity, special issue of Milton Quarterly, 10 (1976), 1–43.

14 As noted, with his signature, on its flyleaf, the notebook was classified as MS no. 3993 in Phillipps's collection (Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum in Bibliotheca D. Thomas Phillipps Bart (privately printed and published in parts from Middle Hill from 1824 [May 1837]), 56).

15 For Phillipps see ODNB and, more at large, A. N. L. Munby, Phillipps Studies, 5 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951–60), condensed in Nicholas Barker, Portrait of an Obsession: The Life of Thomas Phillipps, the World's Greatest Book Collector (London: Constable, 1967).

16 See A. N. L. Munby, Phillipps Studies, vol. 5: The Dispersal of the Phillipps Library (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960).

17 The notebook was sold by Sotheby's to B. F. Stevens in 1919 and by him to Columbia University in 1921. For the sale-catalogue description of the manuscript see Book Auction Records, 18 (1921), 534.

18 For an account of the manuscript and its contents see Thomas Ollive Mabbott and J. Milton French in Columbia Works, xiii. 594, and Maurice Kelley in YP i. 954–5; French, Life Records, iv. 277–80; Peter Beal, Index of English Literary Manuscripts, vol. ii: 1625–70, pt. 2: Lee-Wycherley (London: Mansell, 1993), 81–2.

19 YP vii. 322.

20 See pp. 725, 726, 727, 729, nn. 5, 15, 25, 29, 40, 76.

21 The Columbia MS itself could not have been the source for the Complete Collection, since, had it been, that edition would have included from it Milton's Proposalls of Certaine Expedients, which it did not print, while it did include from manuscript The Present Means, which is not in the Columbia MS. See further pp. 454, 528.

22 It remains possible that the Columbia MS and the Complete Collection both derived from a shared original, and that the corrections in the Columbia MS were the result of errors by the scribe in transcription from this original.

23 Columbia Works, vi. 101–6; YP vii. 323–33.

24 For a fuller bibliographical description of all three volumes, see John T. Shawcross, Milton: A Bibliography for the Years 1624-ijoo (Binghampton: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies. 1984), 120–3, available in revised form at <>.

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