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  • The Provenance of De Doctrina Christiana
  • Gordon Campbell, Thomas N. Corns, John K. Hale, David I. Holmes, and Fiona J. Tweedie

We dedicate this publication to the memory of John Stachniewski (1953–1996).

1. Introduction

In August 1991 William Hunter used the occasion of the Fourth International Milton Symposium, in Vancouver, to set out his view that the attribution of De Doctrina Christiana to John Milton was unsafe. Responses by Barbara Lewalski and John Shawcross on the same day initiated a debate to which this report is a contribution. The research group was convened and co-ordinated by Thomas Corns (Bangor), whose expertise is centred on seventeenth-century prose and literary and linguistic computing. The other members of the group are Gordon Campbell (Leicester), who has archival skills and long experience of seventeenth-century theology, John Hale (Otago), a classicist with a unique command of Milton’s languages, David Holmes (West of England, Bristol), a stylometrician whose reputation has been built on authorship attribution studies, and Fiona Tweedie (Glasgow), an applied statistician and stylometrist who has undertaken the computer analyses that lie at the heart of this study.

The group has received substantial assistance from Robert Fallon, Stella Lanham, Jeremy Maule, Paul Sellin, Jonathan Smith, Eva Thury, Roy Flannagan and Linda Jones, and we are grateful for their efforts on our behalf. William Hunter and Paul Sellin have kindly provided the text of several articles prior to publication.

This report is the final stage of our contribution to the debate. On 19 March 1994 we presented a preliminary paper, consisting more of questions than of answers, to the British Milton Seminar in Birmingham. Second, we reported on our research in progress at a series of seminars and conference papers in Bangor (July 1995), Santa Barbara (July 1995), Rome (December 1995) and Bergen (June 1996). Third, on 5 October 1996 we published an electronic report entitled “Milton and De Doctrina Christiana” on the home pages of Milton Quarterly, and the English Department, Bangor, and on the same day presented our findings to the British Milton Seminar. Our fourth and final contribution is this printed report, which has been revised since we published the electronic version both to reflect rethinking occasioned by the communications of readers of the earlier version and also to incorporate further archival research. We regard our conclusions as no less open to further investigation than were the traditional assumptions about Miltonic authorship that Professor Hunter challenged.

We use the abbreviation MS to refer to page numbers of the manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana, and CE to refer to the Columbia edition of Milton’s works. In our transcriptions we have retained spelling and punctuation, but we have expanded contractions and abbreviations, lowered superscriptions and modernised i/j and u/v.

2. The history of the manuscript

The manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana was discovered in November 1823 by Robert Lemon, Sr., Deputy Keeper of His Majesty’s State Papers, in a “press” (that is, a large cupboard) in the Old State Paper Office in the Middle Treasury Gallery in Whitehall. Lemon’s delight at the discovery and his sense of his own heroic role are fully apparent in the manuscript reports which are bound together as Part Four of the document, all of which is now preserved in the Public Record Office as SP 9/61. The manuscript was found in a bundle together with a collection [End Page 67] of transcriptions of Milton’s State Papers (now SP 9/194), which are in the same hand as that responsible for the first part of De Doctrina Christiana. The treatise was wrapped in proof sheets of an Elsevier Horace and, together with the State Papers, wrapped in a dark paper envelope addressed “To Mr. Skinner, Mercht.” This Skinner is Daniel Skinner the elder, and the parcel was intended to be passed to Sir Joseph Williamson, Secretary of State for the Northern Department. The proof sheets disappeared long ago; the envelope has been misplaced more recently and was last seen in 1991.

Lemon’s initial speculations about the status and origins of the manuscript showed evident and rather self-important enthusiasm but little accuracy. The merchant Skinner...

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pp. 67-117
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2000
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