A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton: Correctly Printed from the Original Editions: with an Historical and Critical Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, Containing Several Original Papers of His, Never Before Published

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by John Milton

Works of Milton

Title page from A Complete Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author John Milton
Editor Thomas Birch
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed for A. Millar
Date 1738
Edition {{{edition}}}
Language English
Volumes 2 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. Folio (32 cm.)
Location Shelf N-5
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Frontispiece, volume one.
John Milton (1608-1674), was an English poet and polemicist, and a civil servant under Oliver Cromwell. Best known for his canonical epic poem, Paradise Lost, Milton began to write poetry in English and Latin at Cambridge in 1625.[1] From this early poetry one can see Milton’s critical view of Catholicism. His first published poem was a commendatory poem in the second published folio of Shakespeare’s work in 1632, titled “On Shakespeare.”[2]

Greatly affected by the deaths of his mother and his friend and fellow poet Edward King, Milton traveled abroad to Paris and throughout Italy in 1638.[3] When he returned to England, Milton published five anti-prelatical pamphlets that criticize the governance of the Church. With the dissolution of his first marriage in 1642 he began to write extensively on divorce, saying that the breakdown of a marriage should constitute grounds for divorce.[4]

Milton’s career from 1641-1674 fluctuated between a focus on poetry, political and religious criticisms, and histories. Milton’s political writings from 1649-1655 are marked by a disbelief in the divine right of kings, advocacy for a more republican government, and his controversial defense of regicide that made him infamous across Europe. He also wrote a formidable proposal for the reformation of the English education system[5], treatises on the importance of a free press, and a treatise against the use of tithes. After becoming blind in 1652, Milton began to dictate his writing.[6]

Bookplate of John Rigby, front pastedown, volume two.

Milton’s political writing in the 1650s controversially challenged monarchy as the best form of government. Instead, he advocated for a republic comprised of a “Grand or Supreme Council” of virtuous aristocrats. This political philosophy of “republican exclusivism” greatly influenced the United States’ founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson.[7] Jefferson specifically used Milton’s ideas that criticized the governance of the church to argue for the separation of church and state in Virginia.

Milton's books were ordered to be burned and he was imprisoned in the Tower after the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Milton dictated Paradise Lost from around 1658-1663. This epic poem presents the story of Genesis, with shockingly humanized depictions of God, Satan, Adam and Eve. Paradise Regained, somewhat a sequel to Paradise Lost, depicts Jesus’ wanderings in the desert. It was published in 1671, along with Samson Agonistes. Milton published History of Britain in 1671, though it was written in the 1650s. His last published work, shortly before his death in 1674, was a reorganized version of Paradise Lost in twelve books.

“In life Milton was both praised and scorned; praised for his achievements in poetry and scorned for his writings on church and state.”[8] In the eighteenth century, Milton’s work was “largely responsible for the shift from rhyme to blank verse, and also for many features of poetic diction and syntax.”[9] Milton’s Paradise Lost permeated the arts, inspiring imitation and parody in written work. It also became the cornerstone for a focus on the “sublime,” as well as the inspiration for a focus on the picturesque in the visual art of the time.[10]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Milton’s Prose works. 2.v. fol. and given by Thomas Jefferson to his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph. Later appears on Randolph's 1832 estate inventory as "'Milton's Works (damaged)' (2 vols., $2.00 value)." The only two-volume, folio edition of Milton's works was published in 1738. Both George Wythe's Library[11] on LibraryThing and the Brown Bibliography[12] include the 1738 edition, and this was the edition purchased by the Wolf Law Library.

Inscription, front free endpaper, volume one.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary calf with matched period rebacking. Previous owner's inscription, "Samuel C. Lewis, London, Jan. 9, 1904" appears on the front free endpaper. Both volumes have the armorial bookplate of John Rigby with the Latin motto "Esse quam videri" (to be rather than to seem) on the front pastedown. This may be Sir John Rigby, Attorney General and Lord Justice of Appeal.[13]

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. Gordon Campbell, "Milton, John (1608–1674)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed September 26, 2013. All biographical information is from this source unless otherwise noted.
  2. W.P. Trent, “John Milton," The Sewanee Review 5, no. 1 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1897): 2-3.
  3. Pauline Lacy Smith, “John Milton as an Educator,” Peabody Journal of Education 23, no. 3 (Taylor & Francis, Ltd., Nov. 1945): 170-71.
  4. Trent, 8-9.
  5. Smith, 173.
  6. W.H. Wilmer, “The Blindness of Milton,” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 32, no. 3 (University of Illinois Press, July 1993): 308.
  7. Nathan R. Perl-Rosenthal, “The ‘Divine Right of Republics’: Hebraic Republicanism and the Debate over Kingless Government in Revolutionary America,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 66, no. 3 (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Jul. 2009): 538.
  8. eNotes, s.v. "John Milton," accessed October 23, 2013.
  9. Campbell, "Milton, John."
  10. Ibid.
  11. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on November 13, 2013.
  12. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433.
  13. The Records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn: The Black Books, Vol. IV: A.D. 1776 to A.D. 1845 (London: Lincoln's Inn, 1902).

External Sources

Read volume one of this book from the Internet Archive. Read volume two of this book from the Internet Archive.