Paradise Lost (1667)/1877 Introduction

Paradise Lost by John Milton
1877 Introduction by David Masson
Header illustration for the introduction to the first edition of John Milton's Paradise Lost.JPG


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HOUGH ready for the press in 1665, Paradise Lost was not published till two years afterwards. Milton, in the fifty-ninth year of his age, and in the fifteenth or sixteenth of his total blindness, was then residing, with his third wife, and his three daughters by his first wife, in Artillery Walk, near Bunhill Fields, an obscure suburb of London, on the edge of that vast ruin of all the central parts of the City which had been caused by the Great Fire of September, 1666. The disturbance to business occasioned by that disaster, following so closely as it did on the Great Plague of 1665–6, may have had something to do with the delay of the publication. It was necessary, moreover, that the manuscript should be submitted to the proper authorities for licence; and the particular person who had to grant the licence in this case—viz. the Rev. Thomas Tomkyns, M.A., minister of the parish of St. Mary Aldermary, and one of the chaplains of the Archbishop of Canterbury—is said to have hesitated over a work by so notorious an old Republican and Anti-State-Churchman as Milton, and to have taken especial exception to one passage in the First Book of the poem. The difficulty was overcome, however; and there still exists the actual copy of that First Book as it had been submitted to Mr. Tomkyns, in the handwriting of one of Milton's amanuenses or paid scribes, with the word "Imprimatur" written by Mr. Tomkyns on the inside of the first leaf, and his signature appended in full. It was with the copy so licensed that Milton went to his publisher.

The publisher was Samuel Symons, or Simmons, printer, whose place of business was "next door to the Golden Lion in Aldersgate Street." He seems to have been the son or other near relative, and the successor in business, of a Matthew Simmons, who had been much employed in official printing for the Commonwealth Government, and with whom in that way Milton, during his Latin Secretaryship to that Government, had had frequent dealings. Milton's Eikonoklastes of 1648–9 had been published by this Matthew Simmons; and so, though there were not a few other publishers in London that had published for Milton at various times, it may have been more than chance that led Milton to Samuel Simmons with his Paradise Lost. One may see now in the British Museum the original agreement between them, of date April 27, 1667, as kept by Simmons, with Milton's seal attached, and his signature "John Milton," written for him by proxy, and witnessed by a "John Fisher" and by "Benjamin Greene, servant to Mr. Milton." In substance it was as follows:—For £5 then paid down to Milton he handed over the licensed manuscript to Simmons, with the stipulation that he was to receive another £5 when the first "impression," or edition, of the printed book should be sold off, a third £5 when the second "impression" should be sold off, and a fourth £5 when the third "impression" should be sold off—each "impression," or edition, to be counted as 1,300 copies, "retailed off to particular reading customers," though (to leave a margin for presentation copies) Simmons might print 1,500. Altogether, if we convert the money of that time into its present equivalent, it was as if an author now were to receive £17 10s. for the right to print, with a guarantee of the same sum at the end of the first edition, the same at the end of the second, and the same at the end of the third, each edition to consist of 1,300 copies. As nothing was said of any edition beyond the third, Milton may be supposed to have looked forward at the utmost to a sale of 3,900 copies, out of 4,500 that might be printed, and to have parted with his whole interest in the book, to that extent for a sum equal to about £70 now, one fourth paid in advance, and the rest left in prospect.

The printing of the book may have begun immediately after the agreement, for the registers of Stationers' Hall show this entry under the date August 20, 1667: "Mr. Sam. Symons entered for his copie, under the hands of Mr. Thomas Tomkyns and Mr. Warden Royston, a Booke or Copie Intituled Paradise Lost, a Poem in Tenne bookes, by J. M." To complete the formality of registration, one of the Wardens of the Stationers' Company had to add his name to that of the official licencer of any book registered; and Mr. Royston, a notable Royalist bookseller of the day, whom Milton had had occasion to know well in the time of his Secretaryship, was one of the Wardens that year.

Not long after the date of this entry, and presumably in or about October, 1667, Paradise Lost was out in London, and was to be obtained at the book-shops by "particular reading customers" at the price of 3s. per copy; which is as if a similar book now were to sell for 10s. 6d. The title-page, as purchasers then first cast their eyes upon it, was in these words:—"Paradise lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books By John Milton. Licensed and Entred according to Order. London Printed, and are to be sold by Peter Parker under Creed Church neer Aldgate; And by Robert Boulter at the Turks Head in Bishopsgate-street; And Matthias Walker, under St. Dunstons Church in Fleet-street, 1667." So in mere continuous type; but for the exact look of this original title-page, and for the look of page after page of the ten books of the text in that original edition, down to the minutest details of typography and stationery, the reader is referred to the present facsimile. It is so accurate a reproduction, even to the printer's errata, that a person having it in his hands may, for that matter, imagine himself one of the first purchasers of the original, in October or November, 1667, who has just left Mr. Parker's shop, near Aldgate, or Mr. Boulter's, in Bishopsgate Street, or Mr. Walker's, in Fleet Street, with a fresh copy, and is turning over the leaves as he walks. Three peculiarities of the book are now worth noting:—(1) The name of the real publisher and printer, Simmons, does not appear on the title-page, but only the names of three booksellers to whom he had first consigned copies. (2) There was no numerical paging, but only a head-line to each page noting the number of the current "Book" of the poem, with a marginal numbering of the lines in tens. (3) There was no prefatory prose matter whatever, but one passed at once from the title-page to the text of the poem.

But the history of the first edition of Paradise Lost does not end here. The title-page, as just given, and as reproduced more exactly for the eye in the facsimile, is the title-page as it appeared in the copies that were first bound and issued for sale; and for the next eighteen months or more, as fresh sets of the sheets were bound and sent out from time to time, there was a succession of new title-pages, either in mere whim or to suit the circumstances. Thus, hardly had the first set of copies gone out with the title-page as given, when, in the same year, 1667, there followed another set, bound up with a title-page identical with the former in the wording, but with the author's name, "John Milton," printed in type of a different size. This may be called the second title-page. Then in the year 1668 the title-page was again varied at least four times. Early in that year copies were issued with the first words of the title varied thus: "Paradise lost. A Poem in Ten Books. The Author J. M.,"—the rest of the wording running as before, or nearly so. This may be called the third title-page. Other copies followed, exhibiting a fourth, identical with the last in the wording, and also giving only the author's initials, but differing somewhat in the size of the type. But, later in the year, there came copies with this fifth form of title-page, in which, it will be observed, Simmons inserts his own name for the first time, strikes out one of the booksellers named in all the copies hitherto, and substitute stwo others: "Paradise lost. A Poem in Ten Books. The Author John Milton. London, printed by S. Simmons, and to be sold by S. Thomson at the Bishops-Head in Duck Lane, H. Mortlock at the White Hart in Westminster Hall, M. Walker under St Dunstans Church in Fleet Street, and R. Boulter at the Turks-Head in Bishopsgate-street, 1668." Yet another variation followed in the same year; for copies have been found with a sixth title-page, the same in wording as the last, but with a different typographical ornamentation. Finally, in 1669, we have copies with this seventh title-page, discharging all the previous booksellers, and naming a single new one: "Paradise lost. A Poem in Ten Books. The Author John Milton. London, Printed by S. Simmons, and are to be sold by T. Helder, at the Angel, in Little-Brittain, 1669;" which wording, but with slight differences in the typography, is repeated in two other issues of copies in the same year. In short, no fewer than nine distinct forms of title-page have been found in copies of Paradise Lost belonging indubitably to the first edition; and it is possible that these may not be all.[1]

Studying these particulars, one construes the story as follows:—Simmons had printed off at once, in 1667, the entire number of copies, certainly as many as 1,300, but probably the full 1,500, that were, by his contract with Milton, to constitute the first edition or "impression." For the first supply of the market he had bound a certain number of these copies with the first form of title-page, and sent them to the three booksellers there named, keeping the remaining bales of the unbound sheets in his own premises. When he next binds a set of copies, still in 1667, for a second supply, his taste leads him to set up a new title-page for them, with the author's name in a different type. But this matter of the author's name becomes suddenly of some special importance. The sale at the three booksellers' shops seems to be slow: can it be because the undisguised appearance of the author's unpopular name in full in front of the book repels certain classes of people that might otherwise be purchasers? To catch such weak-minded customers, Simmons, probably after consultation with Milton, issues twice in 1668 sets of copies bound purposely with a title-page in which the author's name in full is not given, but only his initials. Still Simmons is not satisfied; still the sale lags. Can it be that the three booksellers that have been acting for Simmons are not doing their duty by the book? Something of this kind seems to be implied by the issue, in 1668, of what was perhaps the fifth binding of copies, with a title-page showing that one of the three has no farther concern with the book, and that two others, one of them in the West end, are now agents instead. By this time Simmons seems to have given up the idea that Milton's name did harm; for he not only restores it in full, but openly conjoins his own with it by first announcing himself as the printer. The slight variation in the same year to a sixth title-page with different ornamentation seems to imply nothing more than Simmons's readiness to set up a new title-page whenever he bound a new set of copies; but one sees more in the final changes of title-page in 1669, when Simmons gets rid of all his former agents, and makes his neighbour, Helder in Little Britain, the sole agent for the book thenceforward. Of course, one trade reason for the willingness of Simmons to set up new title-pages was that the book might continue to look like one of the current year. Paradise Lost saw the light in 1667; but there are yet persons who, on the faith of copies of the first edition dated 1668 or 1669, suppose the original publication to have been in one or other of these years.

That Simmons was in some anxiety, for a while, about the sale of the book appears from another circumstance, appertaining more particularly to that issue of copies in 1668 which bore what I have numbered as the fifth form of title-page. Then, more evidently than at any other time in the eighteen months after the first publication, Simmons seems to have tried to "push" the sale. He changed the agents, increased their number, and distributed them more through the town; and he put his own name to the book, while restoring Milton's in full. But he did more. He had heard by that time that it was an objection to the book that people could not tell from the title-page what it was about. The name Paradise Lost conveyed but vague preliminary conceptions; even the opening lines, announcing the subject, failed to indicate its full nature and extent; not till people were actually some way into the poem could they tell that it contained Satan and the Wars in Heaven, and the Fall of the Rebel Angels, and the Creation of the World, and many other supernatural grandeurs, inwrought with the terrestrial story of Adam and Eve; nay, after the poem was read through, only very intelligent readers could grasp the scheme, or remember the connection of the parts! Might not all this be remedied if Mr. Milton would supply a Prose Sketch of the whole poem, divided into ten pieces to fit the ten Books? With some request like this Simmons must have gone to Milton in his house near Bunhill Fields; and Milton agreed to do what was wanted. He did so the more readily, perhaps, because he saw an opportunity, in doing so, of noticing another objection to his epic, of which Simmons may also have heard, though it must have reached Milton independently, and was more likely to rouse him than Simmons. The great objection among such of the critics and wits of the Restoration as had looked into the poem was that it did not rhyme. There was then a controversy between the partisans of rhyme and those of blank verse even for the drama; and it was incredible boldness for any one, in the midst of that controversy, to have put forth an Epic, a long narrative poem, written wholly in that kind of verse which many thought too lax for the stage itself. There was hardly a precedent for it in English; or anything that could be cited as a precedent was old, rare, and uncouth. Who could read such a poem? Who could take pleasure in it, coming incessantly to the ends of the lines and missing that boom of rhymes to which the English ear had been accustomed in all non-dramatic poetry from Chaucer downwards? Milton must have been longing to reply to this objection, to express his scorn for it; and Simmons's application for a prose argument to be prefixed to the poem, specifying the contents of the Books severally, gave him the opportunity. Accordingly, having dictated a prose argument, he added his well-known prefatory paragraph entitled "The Verse," in which he not only vindicated his use of blank verse, but claimed it as one of his highest services to literature to have ventured on that experiment, and demanded for his Paradise Lost, however "vulgar readers" might cavil, the special credit of being "an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover'd to Heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing." Simmons, having received the prose argument and this prefatory paragraph, together with a list of some Errata that had been detected in the text of the poem, was at the trouble of printing all in the form of fourteen new pages of matter, to come between the title-page and the text in all future issues of copies. He introduced the additions by a note of four lines in his own name, thus: "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, is procured.—S. Simmons." The fourteen pages of additional matter with this note of introduction had been printed off, and inserted into a good many copies sent out for sale with the fifth title-page, before the bad grammar of Simmons's note attracted Milton's attention. When it did so, he amended Simmons's note for him thus: "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 withall a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not.—S. Simmons." This amendment was adopted by Simmons, and there are copies of the fifth title-page issue with the amended and extended form of his note; but, as he retained copies of the sheet that had been printed off with the shorter and ungrammatical form of that note, it is a matter of chance whether in any copy of the First Edition of Paradise Lost that left the binder's late in 1668, or early in 1669, there shall be found the one form of Simmons's note or the other. All such copies, however, differ from preceding copies in having the fourteen pages of prefatory prose matter inserted between the title-page, whatever form it takes, and the beginning of the poem itself. The issue of the set of copies with the fifth title-page in 1668, therefore, marks an epoch in the early history of the book. Some time in 1668, after the book had been out for half a year or more, it seemed to Simmons to need a push; and Milton agreed, and helped him.

Yet one other fact about this famous First Edition. Not only are copies of it to be found with at least nine varieties of title-page, bearing date 1667, 1668, or 1669; and not only do these copies have or lack the fourteen pages of interpolated prose-matter (consisting of "The Argument," the Apology for the Verse, and the List of Errata), according as they were bound and issued after or before Simmons's effort in 1668 to "push" the book by that insertion; but minute differences may be found here and there in the printing of the poem itself in these various copies. Such differences are very rare indeed, and hardly ever of the least particle of consequence. By way of specimen, I may mention that, while a copy now before me of the date 1669, with Helder's name in the imprint, exhibits several miscountings of the lines in tens in the margin between line 810 and line 1010 of Book IX., no such errors are to be found in the corresponding margins of the present facsimile, taken from a copy of the first issue in 1667. Comparisons of other copies have detected similar instances of corrections of marginal misnumberings in other places, with sometimes also such a discrepancy in the text as a with instead of in. How are these small variations to be accounted for? Not, I think, by the supposition that, for the later issues, a leaf was occasionally cancelled and reprinted on account of some error discovered in it—in which case copies of the later issues should be found the most correct, whereas we have just seen an instance to the contrary. Rather, I think, by the supposition that, during the original slow printing by hand-press of the whole first impression of 1,300 or 1,500 copies in 1667, that happened which sometimes happens even yet in a printing-office with steam machinery: viz. the detection of errors in time to correct them for a portion of the impression. Thus several of the sheets, as kept in bales for binding, might be in different states of correctness, and a later-bound copy might have one of these sheets in its first or less correct state.

All in all, the First Edition of Paradise Lost was a very carefully printed book. It may rank, I think, as the best-looking book of Milton's printed in his life-time—superior both in compositor's work and in press-work to any of his pamphlets, and certainly superior to any other volume of his in verse form. He must have taken all the pains possible to a blind man to insure correctness, and he must have had scholarly friends to revise the sheets for him, and to read them aloud to him for his approval. But much must have been due to Simmons and his office readers. The punctuation and the spelling I conceive to have been mainly theirs. In neither of these matters did they adhere to the manuscript copy that had been supplied them, if I may judge by a comparison of two pages of the extant First Book of that manuscript, as they have been facsimiled by Mr. Leigh Sotheby, with the corresponding parts of the printed First Edition. In the matter of the pointing, indeed, they did not deviate very much from that copy; but they did deviate sufficiently to show that they adopted the pointing of the copy only when it suited them. The result was an empirical system of pointing throughout, as good as was then common, perhaps a little better, and not inconvenient to the reader even now, though far astray from that strict principle of logical sentence-analysis which ought now to regulate pointing universally. But in the matter of spelling they took their own way still more evidently. They conformed more to our present orthography on the whole than their copy did, but used capitals and italics according to the habits or rules of their own printing-office; and, for the rest, they exhibited that utter indifference to uniformity, that fluttering among several spellings of the same word, that capricious departure from most of our present spellings only to return to them again, which we see in all books of the period, and from which we learn conclusively that English spelling had by that time wholly lost whatever of attempted stability or of true phonetic significance it may have formerly had. One use of the present facsimile is that it will afford useful means of studying the characteristics of English spelling in the seventeenth century, and especially that phenomenon of instability, of conformity to our present spelling in one place or many places, and arbitrary variation from it the next moment or in other places, which is the most noteworthy characteristic of all. You have flower, just as now, but also flowr, flowre, flour, floure, and flouer; you have seize, just as now, but also sieze, seise, and sease; and so with almost any test-word you may pursue through the text—our spelling of it almost always found, often or occasionally, but with one or more alternatives at option. Not that there are not peculiar spellings in the original edition which have a real significance, etymological or phonetic, and which ought therefore to be carefully preserved in modern editions. Examples are highth for our height, stupendious for our stupendous, sovran for our sovereign, harald for our herald, voutsafe for our vouchsafe, and a few more. These are genuine old forms; and, what is more, some of them are express Miltonisms. For reasons of music, or of other effect, he must have preferred such forms; and he must have given directions that they should be strictly retained wherever they appeared in the manuscript he had dictated, and have taken pains to know that this had been done.[2]

The First Edition of Paradise Lost was sold out early in 1669, not long after the transference by Simmons of his last remaining copies to Helder of Little Britain. The proof exists in the form of Milton's receipt to Simmons, written by proxy, and dated April 26, 1669, for the second £5, due by the agreement. At least 1,300 copies of the poem, therefore, had been disposed of in about eighteen months; and one sees no reason why Simmons should not then have immediately printed a second edition. For about five years, however, except in so far as there may have been an available surplus in the extra 200 copies which Simmons had been entitled to print originally, the book was suffered to remain out of print. During these five years Milton had various transactions with other publishers than Simmons. The publisher of his Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, which appeared together in a small octavo volume in 1671, was John Starkey, of the Mitre in Fleet Street; and the publisher of the Second Edition of his minor poems, which appeared in 1673, and contained pieces not included in the First Edition of 1645, was Thomas Dring, who varied his address, within the year of the publication, from "The White Lion, next Chancery Lane End" to "The Blew Anchor next Mitre Court over against Fetter Lane." Nor, so far as I remember, had Simmons anything to do with several prose publications of Milton's during the same interval.

At length, however, Simmons did bestir himself. In 1674, the last year of Milton's life, there was published "Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books. The Author John Milton. The Second Edition Revised and Augmented by the same Author. London, Printed by S. Simmons next door to the Golden Lion in Algersgate-street, 1674." This Second Edition differed from the first in being a small octavo instead of a quarto, and in having a numbered paging in the ordinary way, and without the convenient accompaniment of a marginal numbering of the lines in tens. But the chief difference was the division of the poem in this edition into twelve books, instead of the original ten. This was done by breaking what had been Books VII. and X. in the First Edition into two books each. The prose argument was re-arranged to correspond, and, instead of being printed entire at the beginning, was distributed into pieces at the heads of the several books. Prefixed were two sets of laudatory verses on the poem, which Milton had received since its first publication, one in Latin by Samuel Barrow, a well-known physician and public man of the time, and the other in English by Milton's friend Andrew Marvell, but both signed only with the initials of the writers. The words "Revised and Augmented" on the title-page of the new edition are somewhat of an exaggeration. Having stopped Book VII. at line 640 and converted the rest of that book into Book VIII., Milton does expand what had formerly been line 641 of Book VII. into the four lines that now form the opening of Book VIII.; and, similarly, in breaking the former Book X. into the present Books XI. and XII., he smooths the junction between these two books by throwing in the five lines that now open Book XII. There are, besides, two or three slight insertions or changes in the course of the text of the poem; but substantially, save for the re-arrangement in twelve books, the Second Edition is a reprint of the first, correct enough, but in much less handsome form, and with some of the errata of the first left unamended.

As Milton died on the 8th of November, 1674, all that had come to himself, in the shape of money for his Paradise Lost, was the £10 (worth £35 now) he had received for the First Edition in the two payments of 1667 and 1669. It was to his representatives and administrators that Simmons had to account for the additional due on the completed sale of the current Second Edition, and for any further payments in terms of the original agreement. There was a law-suit in 1674-5 between Milton's widow and his three "undutiful" daughters by his first wife reflecting the inheritance of his little property. This may account for the fact that, though the Second Edition of Paradise Lost must have been exhausted in 1678, when Simmons published "The Third Edition," it was not till the 21st of December, 1680, that he settled with the widow. On that day she gave him a receipt for: "which," said the receipt, "is in full payment for all my right, Title, or Interest, which I have, or ever had, in the Copy of a Poem Intituled Paradise Lost, in Twelve Books in 8vo, by John Milton, Gent., my late husband." The discharge was repeated by her in still more emphatic legal form in a document dated April 29, 1681. Of the £8 paid her £5 had been due to her for the Second Edition; and for the additional £3 the poor lady had parted with the £5 more that would have been forthcoming from the Third Edition, then current, and with all chances beyond that from a new bargain after the expiry of Milton's original agreement for three editions. Paradise Lost had been worth, to the author and his family, exactly £18 in all, a sum equal to about £63 now. Nor was the publisher Simmons to make more out of the poem than he had already made; which cannot have been very much. While negotiating with the widow he had sold the future copyright for £25 to Brabazon Aylmer, of The Three Pigeons in Cornhill; in 1683 this Aylmer sold half the copyright to the rising young bookseller, Jacob Tonson, then of the Judge's Head in Chancery Lane; in 1690-1 Tonson acquired the other half; and from that time till about 1760, such were the old notions and customs of the book-trade, that the sale of Paradise Lost, and indeed of all Milton's poetry, was an almost unbroken monopoly of the famous firm of the Tonsons. In 1727, when the Tonsons were already rolling in wealth, much of it derived from their numerous editions of Paradise Lost and the other poems of Milton, in all varieties of forms, Milton's widow died in extreme old age and in very straitened circumstances at Nantwich, and Milton's youngest and last surviving daughter, Deborah Clarke, died in mere penury in London.


Edinburgh: Dec., 1876.

  1. See Bohn's Lowndes, Art. "Milton;" also Leigh Sotheby's Ramblings in Elucidation of Milton, pp. 81-82; also Introduction to Paradise Lost in Cambridge Edition of Milton's Poetical Works, pp. 8-9.
  2. This whole subject of Milton's Spelling I have discussed more at large in an Essay "On Milton's English," prefixed to the Cambridge Edition of Milton's Poetical Works.