Edward Jones ~ Oklahoma State University
From the Unknown to the Known: Why the Anonymous Life of Milton is no longer Anonymous

While scholars may still be unable to date what is most likely the earliest "life" of Milton, extant documentary evidence can remove the tag "anonymous" from its title. The seventeenth-century biographical narrative, conjectured to be the creation of one of Milton's students, turns out to be the work not of his nephew, John Phillips, but of his student and friend Cyriack Skinner. Two autograph letters by Skinner housed in the City Record Office of Hull (BRL 794 and 795), dated 9 March and 23 March 1668/69 respectively, demonstrate paleographical as well as distinct editing practices identical with those found in Bodleain MS Wood A.4 (the unsigned manuscript Life). A comparison of the manuscript with the letters (the centerpiece of this discussion) can finally settle this matter, which was initially proposed by William Riley Parker in the TLS in 1957 on the basis of a photostatic copy of one of the letters but questioned by R. W. Hunt in the same publication later that year. A close examination of both letters with the Bodley manuscript takes away virtually all doubt. Perhaps as importantly, once the account is assigned to Skinner, scholars gain the advantage of considering not just the details included in his life but the implications of his selections. For example, was Skinner's account of Milton's first marriage impacted by the fact that he was one of the students who spent time in the Milton household in the 1640s? In the 1650s, when Skinner became Milton's neighbor, do his remarks on his former teacher's growing reputation (marked by visits from foreign dignitaries and scholars) sound like those of an eyewitness? These are just two of many questions that can prove fertile for future biographical discoveries now that the attribution of the Anonymous Life can be assigned confidently to Skinner.