Special Collections & Archives Blog

Paradise Lost, 1669

Monday, April 5, 2010 4:03 pm

The first issue of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost appeared in 1667. The anti-royalist Milton, blind and near sixty years old, had fallen on hard times in Restoration England, but Paradise Lost fit the apocalyptic mood of a nation that had recently suffered an outbreak of plague, the great fire of London, and defeat in the Anglo-Dutch wars.

Milton’s legal agreement with printer Samuel Simmons is one of the earliest English author contracts to survive. In it Simmons agrees to pay Milton £5 for the manuscript, plus an additional £5 after 1300 of the 1500 copy initial print run have sold, with any additional profits going to the printer. This was a fairly standard author contract of the day.

Sales of the work were sluggish at first, and Simmons reissued the first edition sheets of Paradise Lost with seven different title pages between 1667 and 1669. The 1669 reissue included, as per Simmons’s note to the reader, a 14-page “Argument” that provided a prose summary of each book’s plot.

The Printer to the Reader
Courteous Reader, There was no Argument at first intended to the Book, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procur’d it, and whithall a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not.
S. Simmons

It also includes Milton’s impassioned explanation of “why the Poem Rimes not”:

The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter…. This neglect then of Rime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem’d as an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover’d to Heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing.

It is not surprising that Milton’s first readers were nonplussed by his use of unrhymed iambic pentameter, since it was seldom used at the time except for dramatic works. But his influence on succeeding generations of English poets was great, and by the 19th century blank verse was the standard form for long poems.

Wake Forest’s Special Collections holds two copies of the 1669 Paradise Lost. The first copy was purchased in 1949 by the Friends of the Wake Forest College Library in memory of alumnus Joseph Quincy Adams, who was the first Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. This copy has been rebound in 20th century red morocco.

The second copy is from the library of Charles H. Babcock. It is bound in an unmarked brown calf leather typical of inexpensive bindings of the 16th-18th centuries. This book’s known provenance begins with a Robert Wynne who signed and dated the volume on April 20, 1719. It passed through the collections of railroad millionaire Ross Winans and well-known collector Marshall Clifford Lefferts before being purchased by Babcock, who eventually donated his library to Wake Forest College.

Comments

  1. The contract for PL is, remarkably, the earliest English book contract. It is not possible to state that its terms are standard for the times. In fact, as the research of Peter Lindenbaum has shown, this fact itself, and comparisons to later publishing terms, suggest that Milton negotiated the terms carefully using his significant knowledge of the book trade. JR

  2. What a good idea this is! Thanks, Megan.

  3. I love the new blog! Very interesting reading, and a great way to highlight the rare books. Thank you!

  4. I love this it is really neat to find out what is up in the treasure chests in Special Collections hopefully we will also get to see some of the archives treasures also….Can’t wait to see the next one.

  5. This is fascinating. I’ll look forward to subsequent postings!

  6. This is a pretty good concept, you should contact a book site like http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books or http://www.autobiography.net and see if you can start a section like this on their site.


Categories
ABCs of Special Collections
Collection News
Digital Projects
Exhibits
General
News & Events
Preservation
Rare Book of the Month
University Archives
What Are You Working On?
Tags
a day in the life of a librarian American Indians American Revolution archives Arthur Conan Doyle Baptist book repair workshops botany Charles Dickens Christmas detective fiction Documentary Film Edgar Allan Poe Elizabeth Blackwell Engraving gift books Harold Hayes herbal home movie day illustrations Ireland James Joyce John Charles McNeill John White Laurence Stallings Mary Shelley Maya Angelou medieval manuscripts poetry preservation mold programs Rare Book of the Month Rare Books Roanoke Shakespeare Sherlock Holmes Special Collections Strand Magazine Theodor deBry Thomas Hariot Travel Narratives Venice W.J. Cash wake forest Writers' Lives
Archives
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
December 2009
November 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
October 2008
September 2008
July 2008
April 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
Subscribe
Entries
Comments

Powered by WordPress.org, protected by Akismet. Blog with WordPress.com.