It begins with a mystery. There are two frontispieces to Milton’s 1645 Poems. The first is well-known to Milton ists: William Marshall’s portrait of the author circled by a ribbon bearing a motto, with four of the muses in the four corners of the plate, and
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Milton’s Greek epigram below. A high-quality reproduction appears facing page 288 in the first volume of William Riley Parker’s biography. The second, otherwise virtually identical, omits the muses and both edits and rearranges the words on the ribbon. It is also a finer-quality engraving, with more lines per square inch. This frontispiece is reproduced as an [End Page 105] illustration for Gary Spear’s article on Milton and authorship appearing in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts (190).
The corrected frontispiece, discovered and noted independently by Spear, Roy Flannagan (“Editing Milton”), John T. Shawcross, and myself, prompted a great deal of excited speculation. We assumed that it was Marshall’s work, regarding the changes as further evidence of Milton’s direct engagement with the design of the book (compare Flannagan, “The 1645 Poems”), and wondering whether Milton’s publicly expressed displeasure with the first version may have brought about the improvement. Conjecture ended, however, when Shawcross recalled that he had examined the Spear illustration, owned by Wesleyan University, and noted a textual oddity: the frontispiece is not a reworking by Marshall, but a copy, engraved by Michael van der Gucht for the fifth edition (1713) of Paradise Regained, printed for Jacob Tonson, which includes the Poems (email to the author, 22 April 1999).1 This engraving, designed for a 12_ printing, has been tipped into the 8o first edition of the Poems. As un usual as this finding is, it is not idiosyncratic. At Shawcross’s suggestion, I re-examined the copy of the 1645 Poems owned by the University of Texas at Austin, and found exactly the same process at work.2
One possible explanation advanced by Shawcross is that a bookseller or collector at some point added the eighteenth-century engraving to replace missing frontispieces in the first editions. Shawcross’s Bibliography for . . . 1624–1700 notes that several copies of the first edition are missing their frontispieces (20), and, as the printing remained in inventory for over fifteen years (Moseley 17), the portraits could simply have fallen out of the books. Or, they could have been deliberately removed. Nevertheless, the action of placing an eighteenth-century engraving in a seventeenth-century book is peculiar, and it raises questions about the circumstances of the printing of the 1645 Poems, both as a publishing venture and as Milton’s personal project. Certainly, Milton’s dislike of the portrait is obvious, and the 1673 edition has no frontispiece. But someone thought that the integrity of the book demanded a portrait and supplied one. This action, together with a comparison of the two frontispieces and some investigation into the contexts of the first publication of Poems, suggests several directions for our appreciation of Milton’s activities in the 1640s and 50s. First, it sheds additional light on Milton’s conception of authorship and the possibility that his position was far more emphatic than Spear and others have argued. Next, it offers additional perspective on the rhetorical strategies of Eikono klastes and the reasons for its comparative failure. Fi nally, it offers a belated appreciation of the work of William Marshall and the vagaries of both the seventeenth-century book trade and midcentury readers.
As Parker, Spear, and Richard M. Johnson have argued, Milton uses the opportunity of the frontispiece to assert his proprietorship of the Poems.3 The appearance of the emblematic frontispiece characteristic of many late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century books was essentially the invention of the author (Corbett and Lightbowm 33–34), and it is easy to see Milton’s hand in the design of Poems. The choice of the muses of lyric and love poetry, history, astronomy, and tragedy alludes effectively to the range of contents, just as the table...