The Oxford Milton: Rethinking the Life and the Text

Gordon Campbell, University of Leicester

          In recent years I have worked with Thomas Corns on a new biography of Milton and a new eleven-volume edition of Milton's works, both for Oxford University Press. Why are such enterprises necessary?
          I should like to begin by considering collected editions of Milton's works. The Victorians were well-served by David Masson's three-volume edition of the poetry and the five-volume Bohn edition of Milton's prose. In the early twentieth century, the great edition was the exemplary Columbia Milton, which is rightly respected as an embodiment of the highest standards of editorial scholarship; it offered scrupulous texts and a wonderful two-volume index, but no commentary. The late twentieth century saw the publication of the Yale edition of Milton's prose, which is widely referenced in the secondary literature. Does it really need to be replaced? The answer is yes, and I should like to take a few moments to explain why this edition should be consigned to the dustbin of history. Some of the problems are rooted in policy, notably the decision to print English translations of Milton's Latin works instead of the Latin originals. The effect of this policy has been to canonise English translations, some of them not very good, and to render the editions of the Latin works entirely useless for scholarly purposes. Other problems were rooted in the management of the edition. The general editor, Don Wolfe, was a fine Miltonist, but he delegated the volumes and the editions of individual works to academics who in some cases had no standing as Miltonists or as editors. They had been trained as literary scholars, and so were fine at explicating flower imagery in Lycidas, but fell short when it came to dealing with the intellectual contours of Milton's world, which included classical antiquity, the church fathers and the Latinate humanist culture of seventeenth-century Europe. Worst still, there is little evidence that Don Wolfe checked the editions before they went to press, and they are filled with errors. Let me, to illustrate the point, go briefly through the eight volumes.
          Volume 1 had the anti-prelatical tracts and the Commonplace Book. The latter was far too demanding for its editor, Ruth Mohl. Milton refers to Cyprianus seu quis alius, Book three' by which he means Cyprian or pseudo-Cyprian; Mohl translates it as 'Cyprian or someone else'. Milton mentions the Emperor Valentinian, and Mohl has a long note on Valentianian III; the difficulty is that Milton was talking about Valentinian I. It would be cruel to go on, but suffice it to say that there are scores, perhaps hundreds, of errors in the annotation. We all make mistakes, but no-one was checking. Will Poole, who is editing the CB for Oxford, has the historical knowledge and linguistic skills requisite to produce a properly annotated edition.
            The sheer scale of the annotation in volume 1 was overwhelming, and the British were distinctly sniffy. This was of course 1953, long before the International Milton Symposia created a friendly global community of Miltonists. The anonymous TLS reviewer, for example, said of volume 1 that it was 'a monument indeed of transatlantic scholarship, a massive sepulchral slab which will keep the poet's minor prose works safely and forever dead'.
          Volume 2 was edited by Ernest Sirluck, who was a central figure in the heroic age of Milton scholarship in Canada. His introduction is magnificent, still worth reading after sixty years, but he was not allowed to edit the volume that he was introducing. The editions of the divorce tracts do not reflect his rigorous scholarly standards, and the representation of the historical content of Milton's views on divorce is feeble. The TLS review, possibly by the same snooty anonymous reviewer, said of volume 2 that 'like its predecessor it is a monument of American scholarship. Like it, to English tastes it will seem too monumental'. The edition of Doctrine and Discipline in this volume also suffered from the decision to print a composite version of the two editions rather than two separate editions. Reviewers complained, and rightly so.
          In volume 3, the tracts of 1649, the volume of complaint became louder. Alastair Fowler checked quotations, and declared that 50% contained errors of transcription or numerical reference: a shocking score.
          Volume 4 contained the Latin defences, but without any Latin. One of the reviewers on this occasion was Barbara Lewalski, who, as always, tried to be generous, noting that Wolfe's 283-page general introduction 'affords God's plenty', but conceding that she was 'less than heartily grateful for all of it', and indeed wondering why an introduction to the regicide tracts should contain accounts of Rembrandt and the Diggers. And within the volume, as Barbara Lewalski observed, 'there seems to have been some failure to define lines of responsibility between the editors', hence the significant amount of duplication and contradiction.
          Volume 5 contained the History of Britain and the State Papers. Alas, Max Patrick was past his prime, and the State Papers were vastly beyond his competence in European diplomatic history. A lot of work has been done since then, notably by Leo Miller, Bob Fallon and Edward Jones, and Edward's edition will be a giant step forward.
          Volume 6 was De Doctrina Christiana, again without the Latin, which means that Milton's treatise is now widely known as Christian Doctrine. There is a wonderful appendix offering corrections to Sumner's edition of the Latin text, and those involved in editing De Doctrina for the Oxford Milton have been struck by the acuity of Kelley's corrections. Barbara Lewalski, again in diplomatic mode, thought that the usefulness of the edition was 'somewhat diminished' by the fact that the information that Kelley records could only be read against the Columbia edition of the Latin text. Kelley's copy of the Columbia De Doctrina, found recently at Princeton, seems to indicate that he was at least considering a Latin transcription. There was also an issue with Kelley's introduction. His views on Milton's theology had been published as This Great Argument many years earlier. These views were memorably challenged by Hunter, Patrides and Adamson in a book called Bright Essence. In his edition Kelley simply ignored their work and stated his own views. There is a case for polemic in scholarship, but editions are no place for personal hobby horses. Patrides made this point with his customary Obama-style eloquence in an open letter of protest published in Milton Quarterly in 1973:
The author of an introduction carries a burden which differs fundamentally from the responsibilities of the author of a book or an article. The latter invariably has a thesis to propound, and may if he chooses press it upon us with extravagant rhetoric or even brutal militancy. But the author of an introduction must additionally do justice to viewpoints other than his own. The challenge is formidable, and the strain intolerable; but where the one is met and the other overcome, the given introduction may perchance be numbered among the justly respected efforts of disinterested scholarship in earnest pursuit of the truth.
Patrides concluded that Kelly's edition was marred by gross partisanship, and that the Editorial Board had abdicated their responsibilities in allowing the edition to go ahead.
Worse was to come, in that Volume 7 was to be the low point of the Yale Milton. Austin Woolrych wrote a brilliant book-length introduction, but he was not allowed to edit or even supervise the editing of the volume that he was introducing. The catastrophe at the centre of this edition was Of Civil Power and The Likeliest Means. The editor, if that is the correct term, simply photocopied the 1659 editions and told the printer to get on with the job. The printer, quite naturally, had no expertise in 17th-century printing conventions, such as the long s, and the result is the most incompetent edition of the twentieth century. Yale University Press acted with honour, and withdrew all copies of Yale VII; it was Leo Miller who proposed an analogy to the recalling of cars to Detroit factories. One of the few libraries to disobey was the Bodleian, and anyone who wants to see the original volume 7 will find it on the open shelves of the Upper Reading Room.
          The final volume, number 8, was a miscellany. Walter Ong, like Kelley, annotated a Latin text that wasn't there. The quality of some of the annotation was weak. Milton mentions the Philistines in the preface to Samson Agonistes, and the note defines the Philistines as 'an aggressive people of as yet undetermined origin, occupying southwestern Palestine.... They oppressed the Israelites'.  This sort of politically tendentious statement has no place in a scholarly edition.
            In short, this edition was a disaster, and I was sorry to hear that Yale had contemplated ventilating the corpse a few years ago.
            The Oxford Milton aspires to be a worthy successor to the Columbia Milton, and to obliterate the Yale Milton from the historical memory. The failure of management on the Yale Milton has been a salutary lesson for Tom Corns and myself, and we have become interfering editors. The first volume to be published, Laura Knoppers' edition of PR and SA, was a triumph, and set a standard for subsequent volumes. This edition deals with the text and with early reception in ways that are unprecedented. Every editor of the Oxford Milton is obliged to inspect significant numbers of early copies with a view to detecting textual variants and to noting the comments of early readers. The result of such investigations, as can be seen from Laura Knoppers’ edition, is a substantial body of new material that supports our understanding of the text of Milton.
            Three more volumes are in press and will appear early next year: The Shorter Poems, edited by Barbara Lewalski and Estelle Sheehan (writing as Estelle Haan), will be the most important edition since John Carey's Longman edition of the Shorter Poems, but our English poems will have a more rigorous text, with old spelling and punctuation, and Estelle's translation and annotation of the Latin poems will set a new standard in that challenging field. Neil Keeble and Nick McDowell's edition of the Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings has sound texts and an unprecedented quality of annotation. In many ways the most important volume in the Oxford Milton will be the edition of De Doctrina Christiana. John Hale's edition, latterly with the assistance of Donald Cullington, is in many ways the first scholarly edition of this complex treatise. When De Doctrina was first published, the Latin manuscript was sent to Cambridge University Press, and was set by the printer, who had the MS beside him in the printshop. This was the same practice as that used in Yale VII, but there was a key difference, in that the CUP printer understood seventeenth-century manuscripts, and so did quite a good job; Kelley's appendix to Yale 6 shrewdly outlines its shortcomings.
            There is also the delicate issue of competence in Latin. Bishop Sumner, the first translator, was not a proficient translator, but at proof-stage his translation was read by a man called William Sidney Walker, whose brilliance in the ancient languages, as John Carey memorably says, 'was matched only by his incapacity for every other department of life'.  The Sumner-Walker translation had merits, but it was deeply flawed by a decision to render the thousands of Biblical quotations into the English of the King James Bible, in its 1769 text. As Milton was reading Junius-Tremellius, a Protestant Latin Bible, and also writing from memory and translating afresh, there are many points at which the translation becomes detached from what Milton actually wrote. This translation nonetheless proved durable, and was reprinted in the Bohn Milton, the Columbia Milton, and its derivative the Student's Milton. Maurice Kelley and John Carey decided to start afresh. Kelley's papers, now in the Princeton Library, contain material that suggests that his command of Latin was less than magisterial. John Carey had studied Latin to A-level, taken the Virgil papers in the first year of the Oxford English course and written a PhD thesis on Milton and Ovid, so his Latin was strong, and he did a much better job than Sumner had done. That said, Carey may well be the finest living literary critic, but he is not a classicist, much less a neo-Latinist. John Hale, like Estelle Sheehan, is both. The comments on Milton's Latinity in the De Doctrina edition achieve a depth that was far beyond the capabilities of earlier editors, and the translation represents the range and vigour of the original Latin. This is an edition that will persevere for generations.
            Another seven volumes will follow in the next few years, and we will then have a worthy successor to the Columbia Milton. We are dealing with the text and with early reception in ways that are unprecedented. Every editor of the Oxford Milton is obliged to inspect significant numbers of early copies with a view to detecting textual variants and to noting the comments of early readers. The result of such investigations, as can be seen from Laura Knoppers’ edition, is a substantial body of new material that supports our understanding of the text of Milton. The Oxford Milton is testing the scholarly sinews of a generation of Miltonists, and we are determined that we shall not be found wanting. The Columbia Milton has served us well for 80 years, and we bid it farewell with gratitude; the Oxford Milton aspires to serve the Milton community for the next 80 years, and we are confident that it will do so.
            I should now like to turn to biography. When I was young, a Miltonist was inducted into the tribe by reading the six massive volumes of David Masson's life of Milton. Those with an interest in Milton's life also had to read Darbishire's edition of the early lives, and the five volumes of French's Life Records. Then, in 1968, came William Riley Parker's two volume biography. I bought my copy for a massive £15, at a time when I was renting a house for £25 a month. In 1968 many students and academics were on the barricades, but Miltonists did so while working their way through Parker's 666 pages of text, 548 pages of endnotes and 275 pages of index, an index that lists hundreds of people who aren't mentioned in the text.
            This was surely the definitive biography of Milton. Indeed, I took the view that once one had digested Darbishire, French and Parker, mastery of Milton's life was complete. I was, as usual, wrong. Darbishire's transcriptions turned out to be shaky. French, on the other hand, was a brilliant transcriber, and had a command of early modern Chancery documents that no subsequent Miltonist has achieved. That said, there are weaknesses. Because of World War Two, and the high cost of transAtlantic travel, French had to rely on English archivists to recover and transcribe many documents. He did a brilliant job with what he had, but there is a disadvantage in working with documents selected by others. French's other weakness was a limited understanding of contiental Europe and its humanist networks. This means, for example, that whenever he prints a letter from Lugdunum, he translates it as Lyons, in southern France;  Lugdunum was indeed a Latin name for Lyon, but it was also the Latin name for Leiden, in the Netherlands, and that is where the letters were written.
            Parker took legal documents on trust from French, but did an enormous amount of work on parish records himself, work that was not superseded until Edward Jones took up the gauntlet and showed how much Parker had missed. The problem was not dereliction of duty, but, as with French, the War. Parker drafted his biography during the war, and completed a draft by 1946. When he eventually came to England in 1963, it was not to conduct research, but to escape from the consequences of his own eminence in order to write the biography. President Johnson asked him to conduct a review of modern language teaching in America, and that isn't the sort of task that allows a scholar to finish a biography. He did finish it, however, but like French, he never examined most of the documents himself. Neither, for example, ever saw the records of the Goldsmiths Company, instead relying on transcriptions sent by post. When Parker declared that Milton had missed a payment on a loan and therefore may have been in financial difficulty, he was relying on an archivist who had not noticed that the entry recording Milton's payment is on the wrong page. A wholly unnoticed entry records that the Miltons were resident in the Red Rose on Bread Street, which may imply that the plaque is on the wrong house.
            Parker created a Milton that is still with us, a liberal-minded tolerationist in Parker's own image. As he explains in the first sentence, he felt able to write about Milton because he liked him. He also, I regret to say, used the biography to promote a hobby-horse, namely his view that Samson Agonistes was a work of the 1640s. Given that we don't know when it was written, this is a perfectly respectable minority position. Parker had championed an early date for Samson in another book, and Ernest Sirluck had written a lengthy and closely-argued rebuttal. Parker, like Kelley in the De Doctrina edition, chose to ignore his opponent, and compromised the probity of his biography by presenting a partisan rather than a balanced view.
            What has happened since 1968? Thanks to the efforts of Leo Miller, John Shawcross and Edward Jones, vast amounts of new material have been uncovered. Revisionist historians led by Kevin Sharpe have refocussed our view of seventeenth-century history. We nonetheless stuck with Parker until the new millennium, which has seen four new biographies. First, Barbara Lewalski, writing in the historiographical tradition of Christopher Hill,  published an exemplary biography that showed the academic community how best to integrate biographical narrative with literary analysis. Second, Anna Beer wrote a popular account for non-academic readers of literary biography, and her volume was a welcome replacement for A.N. Wilson's under-researched literary biography. Third, Neil Forsyth wrote a biography with lots of emphasis on the poems, and this is the biography that you would recommend to undergraduates. Finally, Tom Corns and I wrote a biography designed to accompany the Oxford edition of Milton's works.
            The other biographers can speak for themselves, so I am going to explain why Tom and I thought that our biography was needed. As I explained, neither French nor Parker was able to examine the original documents, so our examination of those documents was the first since Masson's, and of course many fewer documents were available to Masson. Some of these new documents have proved highly significant, particularly the discovery of the records of the Laudian chapel-of-ease in Hammersmith; it was this discovery that confirmed the growing body of evidence that young Milton was a ceremonialist and not a Puritan, and so we recast the conventional account of Milton's youth. We have also found it easier to travel than did French and Parker, and have paid more heed to historical geography, so our account of the Italian journey represents fresh perspectives. That said, our austere dependence on the archival record and our scrupulous timidity about undocumented speculation, left significant gaps, principally about things we did not know. While we still decline to join up the dots when dots are missing, it would perhaps be useful to isolate and consider the known unknowns of young Milton’s life. In so doing we are following a tradition inaugurated by Parker, who used his notes to outline unsolved biographical problems. We have been able to resolve many of Parker's questions, but some remain, and we have discovered many new ones. For purposes of this talk, I will restrict myself to young Milton.
            The known unknowns take two forms: elements that could be documented if only we could find the documents, and the domestic and private and interior life that will never be documented. An example of the former is that we do not know when and where Milton's first marriage took place; an example of the latter is why the marriage failed after a few weeks.
In terms of his life before Cambridge, questions of a fairly minor kind abound. Where on Bread Street was Milton born? Put another way: is the plaque in the right place? Certainly John Milton senior was associated with at least two properties in Bread Street, the leaseholds of which were passed to his elder son. Did he go to school in Essex or visit his relatives there? Those relatives were on his mother’s side, and she is a rather shadowy figure about whom we would like to know more.
            Much, traditionally, has been made of the appointment of Thomas Young as a tutor, a supposed marker of his father’s puritan leanings (a hypothesis our biography has challenged, as our more perceptive readers have noted). But there is strong evidence that Young was not alone. We suggest on the basis of archival evidence that, perhaps, Patrick Young was among their number. Young was a scholar-librarian and an excellent Biblical linguist, and he was also plugged in to the European humanist network; his correspondents included Lucas Holste at the Vatican, so it may have been he who wrote the letter of introduction for Milton.
But who were the language tutors who taught Milton Italian, French, Spanish, Syriac and Aramaic? We find it altogether likely that his native-speaker mastery of Italian, manifest in poems written before his extended sojourn in Italy, was acquired through contact, presumably of a formal pedagogic kind, with the Italian Protestant community centred on Cheapside, just across from the family home; but certain knowledge could perhaps provide a larger context for his relations with one Protestant of Italian descent, Charles Diodati.

When did Milton enter St Paul’s School? Was it in the fifth form in 1621, or had he been a pupil in the lower school? A late entry could suggest a sheltered and pampered childhood, in which the young prodigy was protected from the rigours of a flogging institution through prolonged private tuition in the family home – though children needed to be able to read and write English and Latin before they could enter St Paul’s. However, since all pertinent records would seem to have been incinerated along with the school and adjacent cathedral in 1666, the emergence of further evidence seems unlikely.
At university, we have, we believe, established likely reasons for his father’s choice of college and tutor, and we have peopled the landscape in which he lived. But who, really, were Milton's friends? Where did he go during the long vacations and the plague years of 1625 and 1630? To what extent did he remain in Cambridge during his postgraduate years, when attendance was optional? Among that collection of foul papers gathered and bound together into what is misleadingly termed the Trinity Manuscript, it would be fascinating to learn the earliest history of the earliest examples; which, if any, originated in his Cambridge days?
Portraits are another problematical area. The recently rediscovered portrait said to represent Milton's mother is certainly not her. We question the authenticity of the National Portrait Gallery’s portrait of the poet as a young man; proof of its provenance is a known unknown. But what of the much younger Milton, the little lad whose picture rests on an easel in the Morgan Library?  Under what circumstances was his portrait painted?
At least some of these questions may eventually be answered, but our second category, that of the domestic and private and interior life, is less likely to be tractable to scholarly investigation. Ad Patrem hints ambiguously at Milton’s relationship with his father after he graduated, and the lack of a commemorative poem for either parent may or may not signify something, but how might one characterise the young Milton’s relationship with his parents? And what of relationships with Diodati or Edward King or William Chappell or Nathaniel Tovey or his fellow students at Christ’s College? Is it the case that Diodati was the only person Milton ever loved, and what might that mean? You may recall the response that Princess Diana elicited from Prince Charles after she said ‘I love you so much’; Charles replied ‘whatever love means’. And Edward King? Generations of Miltonists have said that Milton and King were not good friends, but there is not the slightest bit of evidence to support that view or its contrary, except in the sense that ‘Lycidas’ may provide some hints.
            The relationship with William Chappell is one of the most difficult questions arising from the Cambridge years. We can make a reasonable guess about why Milton’s father chose Chappell to be his son’s tutor: Milton’s family was Arminian and ceremonialist, and Chappell was the most prominent Arminian ceremonialist in Cambridge. Milton remained of that persuasion at Cambridge – witness, for example, his memorial poem for Lancelot Andrewes – so it seems unlikely to have been a theological issue that occasioned a rift between Milton and Chappell.
            Our guess is that the rift occurred early in the Easter Term of 1627; the evidence is that Milton signed documents in London on 25 May and 11 June, during term time. But what happened? There are two sources, one benign and one hostile. The benign source is Milton’s brother Christopher, who told John Aubrey that:
His 1st Tutor there was Mr Chapell, from whom receiving some unkindnesse, he was afterwards (though it seemed [contrary to] ye rules of ye Coll:) transferred to the Tuition of one Mr Tovell, who dyed Parson of Lutterworth.
Tovell's name was in fact Tovey, and he did not die parson of Lutterworth, but rather parson of Aylestone, in Leicester, where I live. Above the word ‘unkindnesse’, Aubrey (then or later) wrote ‘whip’t him’. This account implies that fault lay with the unkindness of Chappell, though ‘unkindnesse’ could itself be some sort of euphemism or a laconic dismissal of an episode of corporal punishment. And was Milton whipped?  Whipping was certainly a common pedagogical device, and Milton may have whipped John and Edward Phillips. If Milton was whipped as an undergraduate, it would have been unusual for a lad of his age, but not unprecedented. Chappell had no right to whip students, as that right was reserved to the praelector and the deans, but what went on in the chambers of tutors was not recorded.
   The second bit of evidence is a letter written in May 1654 by the exiled royalist Bishop John Bramhall, who wrote from Antwerp to his son to excoriate Milton as
one who was sometime Bishopp Chappell’s pupil in Christ Church in Cambridge, but turned away by him, as he well deserved to have been both out of the University and out of the society of men. If Salmasius [and his] his friends knew as much of him as I, they would make him go near to hang himself.
Aubrey’s source was Milton’s brother, but who was Bramhall’s source? It seems likely that it was Chappell, his fellow Irish bishop; if so, the words imply that the rift between Milton and Chappell was never resolved. ‘Out of the society of men’ may imply a sexual offence, but no such offence was recorded in surviving College records or in the records of the Vice-Chancellor’s Court, though the latter has never been systematically explored. 
            And was Milton rusticated? Again, there are neither college nor university records, and Milton graduated at exactly the same time as those who matriculated with him, so his absence from Cambridge in the term in which the incident occurred may simply have been a cooling-off period; indeed the revised regulations allowed for one term to be taken without residence.
            Bramhall’s suggestion that disclosure of what he knew about Milton would cause Milton to hang himself certainly implies scandal. And if a sexual scandal, it could have been heterosexual or homosexual. Women acted as bed-makers, and were on occasion seduced or raped or paid for sex by students. At St John’s College in 1625  all women under  the age of 50 were banned from working as bed-makers. A generation earlier, Samuel Ward, one of the translators of the King James Bible, described how in Trinity College a woman was carried from chamber to chamber during the night; he described this as a grievous sin, but confided to his diary that it occasioned an ‘adulterous dream that night’. Instead of the legendary bishop and the actress, we may have the youthful advocate of episcopacy and the bed-maker.
             Alternatively, there may have been a homoerotic scandal. Such activities did go on, despite the fact that they were a capital offence. Indeed, Bramhall’s friend and fellow Irish bishop, John Atherton, had been hanged for incest and sodomy. Atherton was evidently heterosexual, but was also found guilty of a homosexual act of male buggery, which carried a capital sentence. His self-loathing may be reflected in his wish, which was granted, that he be buried in a churchyard rubbish dump.  But was Milton primarily homosexual at that stage? Indeed, do such distinctions map with such precision onto the sexual sensibilities and practices of an earlier age? Perhaps, and if so that might tell us something about his friendship with Diodati and the failure of his first marriage. On the other hand, in the same term in which he was in London, if the account in Elegia Sexta is to be believed, he went women-watching on the fashionable city promenades and in the fields outside the walls. Such walks, like the passagiato, afforded opportunities to inspect possible mates in full plumage.  Milton’s account of falling in love at first sight may be wholly literary, as the echoes of the Dante’s first sight of Beatrice (also on 1 May) may imply, but they are certainly heterosexual.
            Finally, there are questions surrounding to journey to Italy. Why did he go? It was certainly unusual for a Protestant of Milton’s class to undertake a continental journey.  Maybe his father was trying to raise the social standing of the family, or perhaps Milton was escaping from his father or from a scandal (one opponent said that he financed his journey by selling his buttocks while travelling) or from the attentions of a government that had mutilated and imprisoned Prynne, Bastwick and Burton. Perhaps Milton simply wanted to go. Italy offered a musical culture in which he was interested and learned societies to which he had access by virtue of his class, linguistic ability and (possibly) letters of introduction. Milton’s own account of the journey is shaped by the polemical needs of the Defensio secunda: he uses the journey to affirm his social and intellectual standing as a European figure, so he does not mention private matters such as the death of Diodati, nor does he offer hostages to fortune by talking about meeting Galileo or dining at the English College or meeting Cardinal Barberini.  Parker lists a whole series of questions that have been answered: who was Selvaggi, who wrote in praise of Milton? Who was Dr Holding, whom Milton met at the English College? How did Milton gain access to Galileo? Did Milton belong to any academies other than the Svogliati? We now know the answers to these questions (the last of which was answered by Estelle), but many questions remain. What were the poems that Milton read to the academies? What, if anything, went wrong at the English College to make Milton think that there was a Jesuit plot to poison him? Did he ever intend to go to Sicily and Greece? Why does he say that he hurried home to serve his nation, when in fact he stopped for a month in Venice? When and how did he learn of the death of Diodati? He implies in Epitaphium Damonis he had regarded it as an unsubstantiated rumour until he came home. And on his return, to whom in Italy did he send copies of Epitaphium Damonis? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but we commend them to the next generation of biographers.
            The Oxford edition of Milton's works, and the four new biographies of Milton, all mark considerable advances in knowledge, but it would be otiose to pretend that they are in any way definitive. We hope that the edition will have a shelf life of 80 years, but the biographies will soon become part of the history of Milton biography. Edward Jones will soon publish an account of Milton as seen through the prism of parish records, and that will contain much new material. Nicholas McDowell has signed up to write an intellectual biography of Milton, and there will be others. I wish them fair sailing and good fortune.