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It is mentioned by the biographers of Milton (Toland's Life of John Milton, p. 148, 12mo. London, 1699; Newton's Life of Milton, Vol. I.
xl. and Ixiji. 8vo. London, 1757 ; Symmons's Life of Milton, appended to his edition of the Prose Works, Vol. VII. p. 500, London, 1806) that about the time when he was thus released from public business, he entered upon the composition of three great works, more 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.'. these valuable documents, and perhaps it might be advisable that a fair transcript of them should be made, under their sanction, to guard against loss or damage by any accident which may happen to the originals.
In allusion to the work which is thus called by Wood, on the authority of Aubrey, Idea Theologiæ, 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 treatise on Divinity was known to have been compiled by Milton, and deposited, either for safe custody, or from motives of friendship, in the hands of Cyriack Skinner ; since which time all traces of it have been lost. It is necessary to show, in the next place, what are the grounds for supposing that the original work, from which the following translation has been executed, is the identical treatise so long concealed from the researches of all the editors and biographers of the author of Paradise Lost.
It is observable that neither Wood, nor any of the subsequent biographers of Milton, have mentioned the language in which his theological treatise was
* Lise, p. 148.
written. To prefix a learned title to an English composition would be so consistent with Milton's own practice, as well as with the prevailing taste of his age, that the circumstance of Aubrey's ascribing to it a Latin name affords no certain proof that the work itself was originally written in that language. In the latter part of the year 1823, however, a Latin manuscript, bearing the following title, JOANNIS Miltoni AnGLI DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA, Ex saCRIS DUNTAXAT LIBRIS PETITA, DISQUISITIONUM LIBRI DUO POSTHUMI, was discovered by Mr. Lemon, in the course of his researches in the Old State Paper Office situated in what is called the Middle Treasury Gallery, Whitehall. It was found in one of the presses, loosely wrapped in two or three sheets of printed paper, with a large number of original 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.* 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,
* William Skynner, f>Bridget second daughter
Thornton College in of Sir Edward Coke, the County of Lin- Knt. Chief Justice of coln, Esq. Son and England, and relict of Heir of Sir Vincent William Berney, Esq. Skynner, Knt.
Will (in which she is deWill dated August 3, scribed of Thornton
1627, proved Fcbrua- College, widow,) dated
Sept. 26, 1648, proved
Edward Skypner ofŞAnn, daughter of William Skyn. Cyriack Skynner, 3d=Bridget living 1634.
Thornton College Sir Wm. Went- ner second son son 1634- named in aforesaid, Esq. son worth, Knt, of 1634, named in 1657, of the Parish Elizabeth wife of and heir, 1648. Ashby Puero1648 and in of St. Martin in the
Philip Weslid of Will dated May rum in Com. 1657.
Fields, where he was
Grimsby in Com. 20, 1657, proved Linc. Grandfa
buried Aug. 8, 1700. Linc. 1648. Sept. 11 follow- ther of Thos.
Administration of his ing. Earl of Straf
effects granted to his Theophila, married ford.
Daughter, August 20, 1648.
To-day deep thoughts resolve with me to drench
In mirth that, after, no repenting draws;
Let Euclid rest, and Archimedes pause,
Toward solid good what leads the nearest way;
For other things mild Heav'n a time ordains,
That with superfluous burden loads the day,
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 commonwealth, were the most ingenious and smart that were ever 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
* Fasti Oxonienses, Life of Mr. James Harrington, 389.