« PreviousContinue »
congenial to his taste than the employments in which he had been recently engaged, and fitted to occupy his mind under the blindness with which he had been afflicted for nearly three years. The works commenced under these circumstances were Paradise Lost, a Latin Thesaurus, intended as an improvement on that by Robert Stephens, and a body of Divinity compiled from the Holy Scriptures, all which,' according to Wood (Fasti Oxonienses, Part I. 1635, col. 486, edit. 1817) 'notwithstanding the several troubles that befel him in his fortunes, he finished after His Majesty's Restoration.' After enumerating the works of Milton then published, Wood says; These I think are all the things he hath yet extant; those that are not, are, a Body of Divinity, which my friend (Aubrey) calls Idea Theologiæ, now, or at least lately, in the hands of the author's acquaintance, called CYRIACK SKINNER, living in Mark Lane, London; and the Latin Thesaurus, in those of EDWARD PHILIPPS, his nephew.'
In allusion to the work which is thus called by Wood, on the authority of Aubrey, Idea Theologia, Toland has the following passage: He wrote likewise a System of Divinity, but whether intended for public view, or collected merely for his own use, I cannot determine. It was in the hands of his friend CYRIACK SKINNER, and where at present is uncertain." Dr. Symmons also says, in a note, Vol. VII. p. 500: An answer to a libel on himself, and a system of Theology, called, according to Wood, Idea Theologiæ, are compositions of Milton which have been lost. The last was at one time in the hands of Cyriack Skinner, but what became of it afterwards has not been traced.'
It appears then from the above testimonies, that a treati Divinity was known to have been compiled by Milton, and dep either for safe custody, or from motives of friendship, in the of Cyriack Skinner; since which time all traces of it have lost. It is necessary to show, in the next place, what are the gr for supposing that the original work, from which the following lation has been executed, is the identical treatise so long conc from the researches of all the editors and biographers of the autho Paradise Lost.
It is observable that neither Wood, nor any of the subsequ biographers of Milton, have mentioned the language in which his t logical treatise was written. To prefix a learned title to an Eng composition would be so consistent with Milton's own practice, as w as with the prevailing taste of his age, that the circumstance of Aubre ascribing to it a Latin name affords no certain proof that the work its was originally written in that language. In the latter part of the ye 1823, however, a Latin manuscript, bearing the following title, JOANN MILTONI ANGLI DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA, EX SACRIS DUNTAXA LIBRIS PETITA, DISQUISITIONUM LIBRI DUO POSTHUMI, was discovere by Mr. Lemon, in the course of his researches in the Old Stat Paper Office, situated in what is called the Middle Treasury Gallery Whitehall. It was found in one of the presses, loosely wrapped i two or three sheets of printed paper, with a large number of origina letters, informations, examinations and other curious records relative to the Popish plots in 1677 and 1678, and to the Rye House plot in 1683. The same parcel likewise contained a complete and corrected copy of all the Latin letters to foreign princes and states written by
Milton while he officiated as Latin Secretary; and the whole was enclosed in an envelope superscribed, To Mr. Skinner, Merch. The address seems distinctly to identify this important manuscript with the work mentioned by Wood, though an error has been committed, either by himself or his informant, with respect to its real title.
Mr. Cyriack Skinner, whose name is already well known in association with that of Milton, appears, from a pedigree communicated by James Pulman, Esq., Portcullis Poursuivant at Arms, to have been the grandson of Sir Vincent Skinner or Skynner, knight, whose eldest son and heir, William Skynner, of Thornton College in the County of Lincoln, Esq., married Bridget second daughter of Sir Edward Coke, knight, Chief Justice of England.3 England. The affinity between Cyriack
Skinner and this distinguished ornament of the English Bar, is thus alluded to by Milton in his 21st Sonnet:
To CYRIACK SKINNER.
Cyriack, whose grandsire, on the royal bench
Of British Themis, with no mean applause
Pronounc'd, and in his volumes taught, our laws,
Which others at their bar so often wrench;
And what the Swede intends, and what the French.
Toward solid good what leads the nearest way;
And, when God sends a cheerful hour, refrains.
All the biographers of Milton have mentioned that Cyriack Skinner was his favourite pupil, and subsequently his particular friend. Wood incidentally notices him in speaking of the well-known club of Commonwealth's men, which used to meet in 1659 at the Turk's Head in New Palace Yard, Westminster. Besides our author (James Harrington) and H. Nevill, who were the prime men of this club, were Cyriack Skinner, a merchant's son of London, an ingenious young gentleman, and scholar to Jo. Milton, which Skinner sometimes held the chair, Major John Wildman,' &c. &c. Wood further says that the discourses of the members about government, and ordering a com
Fasti Oxonienses, Life of Mr. James Harrington, 389.
monwealth, were the most ingenious and smart that ever were heard; for the arguments in the Parliament House were but flat to them.' They were fond, it appears, of proposing models of democratical government, and at the dissolution of the club in February, 1659, at which time the secluded members were restored by General Monk, all their models,' Wood says, 'vanished.' These models are not now of common occurrence, but two of them are in the possession of the Rev. Henry J. Todd, from whom the following information respecting them is derived. One is entitled 'A Modell of a Democraticall Government, humbly tendered to consideration by a friend and wellwisher to this Commonwealth,' 4to. London, 1659. The title of the other is Idea Democratica, or a Commonweal Platform,' 4to. London, 1659. Both consist of a very few leaves only, and neither are enumerated by Wood among Harrington's pieces. Mr. Todd supposes with much probability, that as the chair was often taken by the ingenious young gentleman, as Wood terms Skinner, he was concerned in the publication of these antimonarchical curiosities. Care however must be taken not to confound him with another individual of the same name, who likewise took a part against the crown in the politics of the day; viz. Augustine Skinner, one of the small Rump Parliament of ninety members in 1659. It was probably the latter who belonged to the Committee appointed by the House to consider all orders, &c. touching absent, that is, the secluded members; in which Committee is the leader of the Rota Club, Sir James Harrington,' as he was then usually called, though not knighted. Harrington is the fifth in the list of the Committee, and Mr. Skinner' the twelfth.5
* See A brief Narrative of the late forcible Seclusion of divers Members of the House of Commons,' 1660. P. 6.