"FAST BY THE ORACLE OF GOD, I THENCE INVOKE THY AID TO MY ADVENTUROUS SONG": FIRST EDITION OF JOHN MILTON'S MASTERPIECE PARADISE LOST
Paradise Lost: A Poem in Ten Books.
Item Number: 95316
London: S. Simmons for S. Thomson, H. Mortlack, M. Walker, R. Boulter, 1668.
First edition of Milton’s masterpiece. Small octavo, bound in full 19th century navy morocco, gilt titles and tooling to the spine, raised bands, fleuron cornerpiece designs within gilt frames, all edges gilt, inner dentelles, marbled endpapers. With the fourth title with Milton‘s name spelled out and the correct imprint, the title and text within box rules, a reissue of sheet a4 added, containing Milton‘s argument for Books I-X, the defense of blank verse, and the errata. Armory’s second issue of the title page. In near fine condition, faint ownership signature and erasures. Housed in a custom cloth slipcase. An exceptional example, rare and desirable.
First published in 1667, “Paradise Lost is generally conceded to be one of the greatest poems in the English language; and there is no religious epic in English which measures up to Milton’s masterpiece… Milton performed an artist’s service to his God” (Magill, 511, 515). The present issue includes "Milton's synopsis of each book ("the Arguments" of Books 1-10), his defense of "the Verse," and a list of errata, adding sixteen pages of preliminary matter to the book. Simmons's note to the reader states that he had procured this explanation from Milton because readers of the poem had "stumbled" on first encountering it, asking "why the Poem Rimes not." Milton's strident defense of blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) is printed in large type that fills two pages. His chosen meter, although no longer fashionable by 1667, was the dominant mode of Shakespeare's plays and is the closest to the natural rhythms of English speech. Samuel Johnson later commented sarcastically that, "finding blank verse easier than rhyme, [Milton] was desirous of persuading himself that it is better" [Morgan Library]. Simmons issued the first edition over the course of several years, adding an updated title page with seven variations bearing dates of 1667, 1668 and 1669. Bibliographer Hugh Amory argued that the 1668 title page was issued earlier than the one bearing the date 1667.