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DAVID MASSON, M.A., LL.D.,
PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC AND ENGLISH LITERATURE
PREFACE TO VOL. II.
WHEN I first undertook this Work, it was my deliberate purpose to make it not only a complete Biography of Milton, but also, in a certain studied connexion therewith, the channel of which might widen or narrow itself on occasion, a continuous Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of England through Milton's whole Time. This I announced in the title of the Work, and in my Preface to the First Volume; but I am not sure that the announcement made way fast enough to adjust that Volume at once to preconceived ideas of literary form. Now, while it is the right of the public to say what they want in the shape of a book, it is equally the right of an author to say what he means to offer; and, accordingly, I repeat that this Work is not a Biography only, but a Biography together with a History. As regards the extent and minuteness of the included Biography, I do not anticipate that there will be much complaint. Of brief Lives of Milton the number is already past counting; I have been guilty of more than one such myself: if anything more is wanted, it certainly seems to be some such larger and more particular Biography as that which I am now prosecuting. What may be less according to precedent and expectation is the combination of such a Biography with a contemporary History. The reason for the combination, however, lies deeper than my own mere pleasure in the toil of a complex enterprise. Whatever may be thought by a hasty person looking in on the subject from
the outside, no one can study the Life of Milton as it ought to be studied without being obliged to study, extensively and intimately, the contemporary History of England, and even, incidentally, of Scotland and Ireland too. Experience has confirmed my previous conviction that it must be so. Again and again, in order to understand Milton, his position, his motives, his thoughts by himself, his public words to his countrymen, and the probable effects of those words, I have had to stop in the mere Biography, and range round, largely and windingly, in the History of his Time, not only as it is presented in well-known books, but as it had to be rediscovered by express and laborious investigation in original and forgotten records. Thus, on the very compulsion, or at least by the suasion, of the Biography, a History grew on my hands. It was not in human nature to confine the historical inquiries, once they were in progress, within the precise limits of their demonstrable bearing on the Biography, even had it been possible to determine these limits beforehand; and so the History assumed a co-ordinate importance with me, was pursued often for its own sake, and became, though always with a sense of organic relation to the Biography, continuous in itself. I venture to think that this incessant connexion of the History and the Biography in my own thoughts through many years, the History always sending me back more fully informed for the Biography, and the Biography again suggesting new tracks for the History, is a sufficient warrant for the form of the publication. In the present volume, however, I have adopted an arrangement which may suit most readers. A glance at the Table of Contents will show what the reader is to expect throughout, and will enable him to select or to omit. Only I should wish it to be distinctly understood that the History is not offered as a mere popular compilation, to serve as stuffing or setting for the Biography, but as a work of independent search and method from first to last, which has