John Milton: Paradise Lost

London: Samuel Simmons, 1669 (Sp Coll 933)

Book One, Line 263.

Special Collections holds four copies of the first edition of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, first published in 1667. The first edition was produced in several different "issues" which all vary slightly. The volume discussed here is the sixth issue of the first edition, printed in 1669.

The image below is of a section of the text from Book Four, showing the passage where Satan leaps the gates of the Garden of Eden. You may observe some differences from modern editions of the poem in the appearance of the printed text. The long ‘ſ’ has been used in place of the now standard ‘s’, and there are several differences and variations from modern spelling. At the bottom of the left hand page is the first word of the next line on the following page, ‘One’: this is known as a catchword and was standard in early printed books. Catchwords were introduced to aid the person setting up the type - known as the compositor - tell which page of type followed which, so ensuring the inked type would print onto the paper in the correct order. They had the added, but incidental, benefit of helping the reader in following the text. Another difference you may notice is that the pages of this edition of Paradise Lost have not been numbered. Each leaf (or page) may be identified, however, by its 'signature'; these were used by the book binder - commonly a different person from the printer - to ensure that books were bound in the correct order. The signature M2 can be seen at the bottom of the right hand page below.

Book 4, Lines 146-209. Satan entering the Garden of Eden and sitting in the Tree of Life in the form of a bird.

This volume contains some annotations by previous readers. On the title page there is a possible ownership inscription ‘John Mcartine’ and John Milton’s name has been copied out twice. On leaf P3r there is another inscription, ‘Perlegit Johannes Holmes 1770’ which means that the book was read through by John Holmes in 1770 - he was obviously quite proud of this, as he repeats his assertion on leaf Mm3r: ‘Perlegit hunc librum Johannes Holmes’.

Title page with ownership inscription.

Other first editions of Paradise Lost held in Special Collections:

Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.23 (1668)
Sp Coll BD7-f.23 (1668)
Sp Coll BD7-f.31 (1669)

Also by John Milton and held in Special Collections:

Of prelatical episcopacy… (1641) and A discourse showing in what state the three kingdoms are in… (1641) Sp Coll 92
An apology for Smectymnuus (1654) and The reason of church-government… (1641) Sp Coll 2172
A reply to the answer (printed by His Majesties command at Oxford) to a printed book intituled Observations upon some of His Majesties late answers and expresses (1642) Sp Coll Ogilvie 1258
Observations concerning the originall of government… (1652) Sp Coll S.M. 3002
Paradise Regained (1671[first edition]) Sp Coll BD7-f.26 and Sp Coll 934

Go to the next book: The Faerie Queene