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In the year 1654, we learn from a letter addressed to Milton by his friend Andrew Marvell, and first published by Dr. Birch, that Skinner 'had got near' his former preceptor, who then occupied lodgings in Petty France, Westminster, probably for the sake of their contiguity to the Council. This was the house next door to the Lord Scudamore's, and opening into St. James's park,' where he is said to have remained eight years; namely, from 1652 till within a few weeks of the restoration of Charles the Second. By a comparison of dates, it may be conjectured that he removed into it when obliged to leave the lodgings in Whitehall, which, as is proved by the following curious extracts from the Council books, had been provided for him at the public expense, and fitted up with some of the spoils of the late King's property.
"1649. Nov. 12. Ordered-That Sir John Hippesley be spoken to, that Mr. Milton may be accommodated with the Lodgings that he hath at Whitehall."
"1649. Nov. 19.
"1650. June 14.
That Mr. Milton shall have the Lodgings that were in the hands of Sir John Hippesley, in Whitehall, for his accommodation, as being Secretary to the Councell for Forreigne Languages.'
That Mr. Milton shall have a warrant to the Trustees and Contractors for the sale of the King's goods, for the furnishing of his Lodgeing at Whitehall with some Hangings."
COPY of the WARRANT of the Council of State, above-mentioned.
'These are to will and require you, forthwith, upon sight hereof, to deliver unto Mr. John Milton, or to whom hee shall appoint, such Hangings as shall bee sufficient for the furnishing of his Lodgings in Whitehall. Given at Whitehall 18°. Junii 1650.
To the Trustees and Contractors for
the Sale of the late King's Goods.'
"1651. April 10 Ordered-That Mr. Vaux bee sent unto, to lett him
"1651. June 11.
know that hee is to forbeare the removeing of Mr. Milton
out of his Lodgings at Whitehall, until Sir Henry Mildmay and Sir Gilbert Pickering shall have spoken with the Committee concerning that businesse."
That Lieutenant Generall Fleetwood, Sir John Trevor, Mr. Alderman Allen, and Mr. Chaloner, or anie two of them, bee appointed a Committee to go from this Councell to the Committee of Parliament for Whitehall, to acquaint them with the case of Mr. Milton, in regard of their positive order for his speedie remove out of his Lodgings in Whitehall, and to endeavour with them, that the said Mr. Milton may bee continued where he is, in regard of the employment hee is in to the Councell, which necessitates him to reside neere the Councell.'
About a year after Skinner had thus become the neighbour of Milton, the latter addressed to him that beautiful sonnet on the loss of his sight, which, in consequence of the allusion contained in it to the Defence of the People, was not published till twenty years after the author's death.
Cyriack, this three years day these eyes, though clear,
To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied
In liberty's defence, my noble task,
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask
It appears from the title, that the work entrusted to Skinner's care was originally intended to be a posthumous publication. The reproaches to which its author had been exposed in consequence of opinions contained in his early controversial writings, may have induced him to avoid attracting the notice of the public, during the ascendency of his political opponents, by a frank avowal of his religious sentiments. But by what means, by whom, or at what time this interesting document was deposited in the State Paper Office, is at present not known with certainty; every trace of its existence having been lost for nearly a century and a half, till it was discovered by Mr. Lemon in the manner above described.
In the absence of all positive evidence on this subject, it is due to the sagacity of Mr. Lemon to state the satisfactory conjecture originally formed by that gentleman, which subsequent discoveries have almost converted into a moral certainty. From the decided republican principles which Cyriack Skinner was well known to have adopted, it is not improbable that he was suspected of participating in some of the numerous political conspiracies which prevailed during the last ten years of the reign of Charles the Second, and that his papers were seized in consequence. Supposing this step to have been taken, the Milton manuscript would have come officially, with the other suspected documents, into the possession either of SIR JOSEPH WILLIAMSON, or SIR LEOLINE JENKINS; who held successively the office of Principal Secretary of State for the Southern or Home Department, during the whole of the period alluded to, that is, from 1674 to 1684. It was at this time the custom for the Secretaries, on retiring from office, to remove with them the public documents connected with their respective admi
nistrations; but both these distinguished statesmen, from a conviction of the inconvenience of a practice which has since been disused, bequeathed their large and valuable collections of manuscripts to His Majesty's State Paper Office. It was in the course of examining these papers for the purpose of arranging them in chronological order, and of forming a catalogue raisonné of their contents, that the identical manuscript came to light, of which the public, by His Majesty's gracious command, is now in possession."
It will be admitted that the above mode of accounting for the unexpected discovery of Milton's theological work among the neglected treasures of the State Paper Office, is at least plausible. It occurred, however, to Mr. Lemon, that an accurate inspection of the papers relative to the plots of 1677, 1678, and 1683, deposited in the same press with the manuscript, might perhaps afford some information respecting it. He has therefore recently examined the whole of this part of the collection, and in a bundle of papers containing informations and examinations taken in the year 1677, the following letter was discovered from a Mr. Perwich, written at Paris, March 15, 1677, and addressed to Mr. Bridgeman, Secretary to Sir Joseph Williamson, which appears to throw considerable light on the preceding conjecture.
I have a witnesse, as you desired.
Paris March 15-77.
(delivered) D'. Barrow's letter to Mr. Skinner, before I found him much surprised, and yet at the same time
6 In the same office have been lately discovered some curious documents, hitherto unknown, respecting both the family history and the official life of Milton, which, by the permission of Mr. Secretary Peel, are now incorporated, with other materials, into an account of him and his writings, about to be published by the Rev. Mr. Todd, the well-known and able editor of Milton's Poetical Works.
slighting any constraining orders from the Superiour of his Colledge, or any benefit he expected thence, but as to Milton's Workes he intended to have printed, (though he saith that part which he had in M. S. S. are noe way to be objected ag, either with regard to Royalty and Government) he hath desisted from the causing them to be printed, having left them in Holland, and that he intends, notwithstanding the College sumons, to goe for Italy this summer. is all I can say in that affaire. You have herein all our newes.
I am St,
Your most faithfull obd'. Servt.
For Wm. Bridgman Esq.
On this letter Mr. Lemon submits the following reasoning, which it is right to state in his own language:
From the words in the preceding letter, Superiour of his Colledge,' it evidently appears that Mr. Skinner, who at that period is thus proved to have had unpublished manuscripts of Milton in his possession, was a member of some Catholic religious order; and it is a very curious and interesting fact, which strongly corroborates the preceding conjecture, that in the original deposition of Titus Oates (which actually lay on the parcel containing the posthumous work of Milton when it was discovered) signed by himself, and attested by Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, on the 27th of September, 1678, a few days only before his mysterious murder, and also signed by Dr. Ezrael Tonge, and Christopher Kirkby, the name of MR. SKINNER is inserted, as A BENEDICTINE, in the list given in by Titus Oates of the persons implicated in the Popish plot of 1678.'