[Milton-L] PL: the gap between the early editions

Stephen B Dobranski sbdobranski at gsu.edu
Fri May 5 16:25:15 EDT 2017

I agree that Armory’s reasoning is questionable.

He argues, for example, that Simmons had intended to market Paradise Lost with one of the title pages, dated 1667, that bears Milton’s full name, but “For whatever reason, Simons’ [sic] courage drained away as the day of publication approached, and Milton’s prominence on the title-page shrank.” For the first issue, Simmons would thus have chosen the 1668 title page with its more cryptic attribution, “J. M.”, and waited until he felt confident about the book’s sales before he started drawing from the stockpile of earlier printed (and earlier dated) title-pages.

Such a narrative sounds plausible, but before accusing Simmons of a sudden loss of courage, we need to remember that in 1667 he had little to fear in terms of the text’s legality: the Reverend Thomas Tomkins had already licensed Milton’s epic, and the Stationer Richard Royston had approved its entry in the Register. If Simmons were truly concerned about the repercussions of publishing Paradise Lost, he should have suppressed the names of the three booksellers which are printed on the 1668 title page, especially Peter Parker, who together with Simmons had experienced some legal difficulty around this time.

The argument for the 1668 title page’s priority and Simmons’s sudden loss of courage also rests on the similarity between the entry for Paradise Lost in the Stationers’ Register and the wording on the 1668 title page (as Jonathan observes). But given how often only initials are used in the Register, this similarity seems coincidental rather than purposeful. Given, too, the various differences between the entry and the title page—the entry states “by I. M.” while the 1668 title page reads “The Author J. M.”; Simmons’s name appears in the entry but not on the title page; and the entry and title page differ dramatically in various spellings—it is difficult to accept that such a comparison reveals anything about the Stationer’s motives.

Nor did Simmons have reason to fear that his author’s reputation as a regicide would diminish the book’s popularity. That the first edition sold at least 1,300 copies within 17 months certainly seems a respectable success. The discovery of a copy of Paradise Lost owned by Charles II and bearing the fourth title page (which reads “The Author JOHN MILTON”) also indicates that the poet’s reputation would not have prevented even the king’s most loyal supporters from reading Milton’s epic. In fact, Milton’s notoriety would more likely have helped Simmons attract customers: on five of the title pages associated with Paradise Lost’s first edition, Milton’s name is featured in upper-case letters and constitutes almost the only reason offered for readers to purchase the poem.

I would suggest instead that the differences in Milton’s attributions on the title pages of Paradise Lost, although they may seem extraordinary by our modern standards, are not inconsistent with the variants we find in the successive title pages of other seventeenth-century texts.

I discuss this argument more fully in an article in Michael Lieb and John Shawcross’s Essays on the 1667 First Edition (Duquesne UP, 2007). It’s called “Simmons’s Shell Game.”

From: <milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu>> on behalf of Jonathan Olson <jonathan.olson at gmail.com<mailto:jonathan.olson at gmail.com>>
Reply-To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at richmond.edu>>
Date: Friday, May 5, 2017 at 4:59 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at richmond.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] PL: the gap between the early editions

That quotation from the Morgan Library's online exhibit strikes me as simply using Amory's idiosyncratic argument to justify why the public might care about a title-page that not only appears to be not the first title-page (it's usually considered the third of six), but is not even dated in the first year of publication: "But what if it were the first?!"

It's been ten years since I read the history of scholarship trying to sort out the chronology of the PL title pages, so I'm a bit rusty. But if I remember Amory's article correctly (I presume the Morgan Library is referring to his 1983 article in The Book Collector) he was not arguing that no copies of the poem were issued until 1668, but that the poem was issued in 1667 with three different title-pages--two dated 1667 and one dated 1668--and that Simmons issued the 1668 title-page with Milton's initials before the two 1667 title-pages with Milton's name spelled out.

As alluded to on the Morgan webpage, Amory's argument for the priority of this title-page rests on its similarity to the entry in the Stationers' Register. In fact Amory cites two similarities: identification of the author by initials as well as the fact that the stationers' entry is phrased "A Poem in Tenne bookes by I.M." Amory notes that the two 1667 title-pages read "A Poem Written in Ten Books" but that the 1668 title-page with initials reads "A Poem in Ten Books" like the SR entry.

I don't find this convincing enough. I think the 1668 title-page with initials has more continuity with the other 1668 title-page and the two 1669 title-pages because all four lack the word "Written" and all four also read "The Author" in place of the "by" used in both 1667 title-pages and the Stationers' Register.

I think the variant of the title-page in question--with a period/full stop after "Books"--also favors it following the 1667 title-pages. The addition of a period would have been necessitated by a shift from "A Poem Written in Ten Books by John Milton" (first and second title pages) to "A Poem in Ten Books. The Author John Milton" (third through sixth title-pages). As a stop-press correction it makes more sense as the third title-page.

There's also the matter of the imprint date. I believe the only reason to regard this title-page as misdated is that Amory's argument for its priority requires that it must have been misdated.

I'm happy to be corrected if I've misremembered or misrepresented Amory's argument! As I said it's been a while.

Very best,

Dr. Jonathan R. Olson
Assistant Professor of English
Honors College
Grand Canyon University
3300 West Camelback Road
Phoenix AZ 85017
United States

On Thu, May 4, 2017 at 10:35 PM, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com<mailto:dionhalic at gmail.com>> wrote:

Looking into 'why the longish gap –1667 to 1672– between PL Eds 1 & 2,' I find this astonishing note from the Pierpont Morgan Library that A) not a single copy of the 1667 Ed 1 was issued in 1667; B) the first issuance was in 1668, and bore a "1668" title page; C) because the publisher witheld "1667" copies until it became clear Milton's poem was not dying in controversy but rather flying off the shelves:



The bibliographer Hugh Amory argues persuasively for this being the earliest issue of the first edition of Paradise Lost (despite its title page, dated 1668), in which the anonymous author is identified only by his initials, "J. M." Similarly, the author is identified in the Stationers' Register on 20 August 1667 by his initials only. Amory speculates that Samuel Simmons, the printer and publisher of the first edition, decided against using Milton's full name on the title page "as the day of publication approached," substituting this version on which the author remained anonymous. Simmons's faltering confidence is understandable because Milton, a prominent supporter of regicide (he defended the execution of Charles I), was still widely regarded as a dangerous radical when Paradise Lost was first published.>>

Apparently we may be celebrating the 350th one year early. -Carl

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