"ONE OF THE GREATEST, MOST NOBLE AND SUBLIME POEMS WHICH EITHER THIS AGE OR NATION HAS PRODUCED": FIRST EDITION OF MILTON'S PARADISE LOST, 1669—THE MACCLESFIELD COPY
MILTON, John. Paradise Lost. A Poem in Ten Books. The Author John Milton. London: Printed by S. Simmons, and are to be sold by T. Helder at the Angel in Little Brittain, 1669. Small quarto, 19th-century full olive pebbled morocco, gilt armorial crest on front cover (Macclesfield), raised bands, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. $45,000.
First edition, fifth title page, of Milton's poetic masterpiece, his dramatic vision of Satan's expulsion from Heaven and the temptation of Adam and Eve. The excellent Macclesfield copy, with the arms of the Earls of Macclesfield in gilt on the front cover of the morocco binding by Hatton. "Rare" (Wickenheiser).
John Dryden referred to Paradise Lost as "one of the greatest, most noble and sublime poems which either this age or nation has produced." Although the tremendously difficult circumstances under which Milton produced the work are legendary— he had been blinded by long years of service as secretary under Cromwell and was in political disfavor after the restoration of Charles II— the troubled printing history of the work is less well known. The publisher Samuel Simmons reluctantly agreed to print a small first edition of 1300 copies, as he was assuming a heavy risk in sponsoring an epic poem, for which no precedent in English publishing had been established. As payment for the first edition, Milton received a total of ten pounds. The many issues of the first edition are distinguishable only by variations in the title page, and all six states of title pages can be found combined with one or another states of preliminary leaves (with or without the printer's note, itself appearing in two different settings—four lines and six lines). "The sheets of the various issues were evidently mixed and made up indiscriminately by the binder, and therefore copies of apparently the same issue will be found to differ from each other in that some will have more of the errors corrected than others" (Wither to Prior). This copy bears the fifth cancel title page as described in Pforzheimer (with T. Helder listed as bookseller and "Angel" set in roman type). It contains preliminaries with the four-line "The Printer to the Reader" at the top of A2r—likely produced around the time of the printing of the fourth state of the title page. Wing M2142. Pforzheimer 718. Wickenheiser 601. Wither to Prior, 603. Lowndes, 1558 (seventh title page). From the esteemed collection of the Earls of Macclesfield, North Library at Shirburn Castle, renowned for its extensive holdings in the fields of science and early technology, history, travel and the military, with the Macclesfield coat-of-arms ("Sapere aude") in gilt on the front cover, armorial bookplate with manuscript shelf notations, and discreet blindstamp to first leaf of text.
Title page with a bit of soiling, skillful paper repairs to outer edge; a few minor marginal tears and repairs to corners of text, rarely touching border only, not text, which is generally clean. Morocco joints rubbed, binding sound and attractive. An exceptionally desirable copy with distinguished provenance.