Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books.

Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books. John Milton.
Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books.
Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books.
Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books.
"The earliest serious effort to illustrate an important work of English poetry"
Paradise Lost. A Poem in Twelve Books.

London: Jacob Tonson, 1688. Fourth edition overall, first illustrated and first folio edition. Folio (pages measure: 375 x 235 mm), collating: [4], 343, [7]. Complete with a frontispiece portrait of Milton and 12 plates, mainly by J B Medina. Contemporary English red morocco; covers with three concentric double fillet frames; spine with six raised bands, each compartment with a central lozenge and corner pieces; all edges gilt; contemporary combed marbled endpapers. Scattered slight spotting, stains, and age-toning; margins of a several early and late leaves worn and frayed, a couple of closed tears repaired not affecting text, occasional early marginal annotations. Extremities rubbed, lower corners a little worn, old repairs to the head and foot of the spine. A very good, authentic copy and quite scarce in a contemporary binding. And for what it's worth, I'd take this copy over one that's been washed, pressed, done-up and popped into a new binding with all the appeal of an aging call-girl in a prom dress.

The first illustrated edition of Paradise Lost with a full page engraving at the beginning of each of the twelve books. The 1688 Milton was also one of the earliest examples of a subscription edition in England (together with the Shakespeare Second Folio), the copyright jointly owned by Jacob Tonson and Richard Bentley. This copy has an 18th century ownership inscription of George Downing on the title page - possibly a member of the Downing family of Cambridgeshire, two of whom are in the subscribers’ list at the end of the book: Charles and William Downing, sons of George Downing, first baronet (1632-1684). If this is indeed a subscriber’s copy, the red morocco binding would be consistent.

Milton’s magisterial epic, considered one of the finest works in the English language. According to Samuel Johnson Paradise Lost was "…a poem which...with respect to design may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind.” Milton was in his late fifties – and blind – when the book was composed and so wrote the work almost entirely through dictation. He worked through incredible hardship, coping with the physical illness, gout, as well as the death of his young daughter and wife. Interestingly enough, Milton did not intend at first to write a poem about Satan and the creation of man but rather about King Arthur.

Despite its genius, the book did not become immediately popular until the 1688 edition. It was the first edition that was accompanied by illustrations and one of the earliest copies of a book to be sold by subscription. Most of the plates were by John Baptist Medina, and the ones depicting Satan surveying his kingdom and the rebel angels in his court are particularly vivid and notable.

PROVENANCE: (1) George Downing (inscription on title dated 1769). (2) Mary Frances Wright (inscription on title dated 1855).

ESTC R15589; Coleridge 93b; Pforzheimer 720.
(Item #1285)

Out of stock