Paradise Lost

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by John Milton

Paradise Lost

Title page from Paradise Lost: A Poem, in Twelve Books, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author John Milton
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published Birmingham: Printed by John Baskerville for J. and R. Tonson in London
Date 1758
Edition {{{edition}}}
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [33], 416 p.
Desc. 8vo (24 cm.)
Location Shelf M-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

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]

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, but was interrupted by these tumultuous events. His portrayal of man's susceptibility to the evils of Satan mirrors his views of the failure of the Commonwealth and the restoration of monarchy.[8] Paradise Lost is the great English epic; more than political allegory, the poem presents shockingly humanized depictions of God, Satan, Adam and Eve.

"In life Milton was both praised and scorned; praised for his achievements in poetry and scorned for his writings on church and state."[9] 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."[10] 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.[11]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "Milton’s Paradise lost & regained. Baskerville. 2.v. 8[vo]." This was one of the titles kept by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson sold a Baskerville set of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regain'd to the Library of Congress in 1815, but the volumes no longer exist to verify Wythe's prior ownership. Both George Wythe's Library[12] on LibraryThing and the Brown Bibliography[13] include the 1758 set based on Millicent Sowerby's use of that edition in Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson.[14] The Wolf Law Library followed Sowerby's recommendation and purchased a copy of the 1758 set for the George Wythe Collection.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary full calf with red and brown lettering labels, gilt.

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)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), 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), pp. 2-3.
  3. Pauline Lacy Smith, "John Milton as an Educator," Peabody Journal of Education, 23, no. 3 (Taylor & Francis, Ltd., Nov. 1945), pp. 170-71.
  4. Trent, pp. 8-9.
  5. Smith, p. 173.
  6. W.H. Wilmer, "The Blindness of Milton," The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 32, no. 3 (University of Illinois Press, Jul. 1993,) p. 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, Third Series, 66, No. 3 (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Jul. 2009), p. 538.
  8. Joan Webber, "Milton's God," ELH, 40, no. 4 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), p. 518.
  9. eNotes, s.v. "John Milton", accessed October 23, 2013.
  10. Campbell, "Milton, John."
  11. Ibid.
  12. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe", accessed on February 24, 2014.
  13. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  14. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 4:424 [no.4288].

External Links

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