Paris – Independent publisher SP Books has published John Milton’s only surviving manuscript lost paradise, first published in book form. Alongside the handwritten poem, 12 iconic illustrations by William Blake.
The manuscript, which corresponds to Book I of the poem, consists of 33 pages written between 1658 and 1663. Milton had been blind since 1652 and composed his epic poem aloud, memorizing the lines and dictating them to members of his family, as well than friends like the English poet and satirist Andrew Marvell.
The genesis of Paradise Lost
The germ of the idea that became lost paradise seems to have been on Milton’s mind since about 1640. Evidence of this is the existence of sketches of a verse tragedy entitled Adam Unparadised. Milton was then 32 years old: his pamphlets in favor of civil and religious freedom had already given him a prominent political profile and after the Civil War, he was to flourish within the government of the Commonwealth of Cromwell. In private life, he wrote and suffered an unhappy marriage, as well as impaired eyesight.
The Restoration marked the end of two decades of public service. His writings were condemned and in 1660 he was even briefly imprisoned. From then on he devoted himself to scholarly study and writing. Completely blind since 1652, supported by his third wife – the previous ones had died in childbirth – and his daughters, Milton saw his health steadily decline. He continued his great poem nonetheless, composing aloud, memorizing the lines and then dictating them to family members, as well as friends like the poet Andrew Marvell.
The resulting manuscript of lost paradise is therefore a collective work. Milton used to compose in bed, at night or early in the morning. According to contemporary witnesses, he then “sat leaning back obliquely in a chair, his leg thrown over its elbow” to dictate the results, verbally correcting the transcripts as they came to him. reviewed by its amanuenses.
This fragment is the only surviving witness to the creative process behind lost paradise, and corresponds to Book I of the poem. It consists of 33 numbered pages and appears to be a clean copy by a professional scribe, compiled from drafts provided by Milton’s various assistants. Supervised by Milton, the corrections to the manuscript are present in five different hands.
It was used for the first edition of the poem in October or November 1667 and bears on the first page the imprimatur (that it be printed) of the “Papers”*, then necessary to print and publish a book: Let it be printed . Thomas Tomkyns, one of the religious servants of the most reverent father and lord in Christ, Lord Gilbert, by divine providence Archbishop of Canterbury. Richard Royston. Entered by George Tokefield, Clerk.
Although completed in 1665, lost paradise did not appear until two years later, due to the combination of a paper shortage resulting from the Second Anglo-Dutch War; a plague epidemic; and the Great Fire of London. Its publisher, Samuel Simmons, bought it for £5 and printed 1300 copies of the first edition selling them for 3 shillings each. His contract with Milton, the first of its kind between an author and a publisher, stipulated that Simmons had to pay an additional £5 on publication.
The manuscript was sold by Simmons to bookseller Brabazon Aylmer for £25 and then passed through various hands before it was acquired by J. Pierpont Morgan at Sotheby’s in London in 1904. It is now in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.