- "Paradise Lost: A Poem Written in Ten Books": An Authoritative Text of the 1667 First Edition, and: "Paradise Lost: A Poem Written in Ten Books": Essays on the 1667 First Edition
John Milton was a serial reviser of his works, even after publication. Both The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce and The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth underwent significant changes for their second editions, as did "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" (first published 1645, revised in 1673). Milton also revised Paradise Lost, first published in 1667, in both major and minor ways for its second edition of 1674, changing the original ten-book structure to [End Page 1049] twelve books while adding some transition lines and revising others. Milton's publisher also added the prefatory poems, including Andrew Marvell's famous "On Mr. Milton's Paradise Lost." Because most people assume that the 1674 edition represents Milton's final thoughts, that version forms the basis for all contemporary editions and scholarship. John T. Shawcross and Michael Lieb, however, believe that the primacy of the 1674 Paradise Lost is a serious error, and they try to prove that "Milton's epic in its first incarnation must be accorded the kind of careful attention that has been given its later incarnations over the centuries" (Essays, x). Even further, they propose that "Paradise Lost 1667 can no longer be 'silenced' as a poem that simply anticipates the 'true version' that appeared some seven years later and that has been canonized as Milton's final statement" (Essays, xi). To that end, they have produced two volumes, an edition of Paradise Lost 1667, and a collection of essays by a variety of senior and junior Miltonists that seek to engage "the first edition of Milton's epic both as a 'thing-in-itself' and as the product of the milieu to which it responds" (Essays, viii).
To say that one is publishing an edition of Paradise Lost 1667 is, however, a more complicated statement than one might initially think. On the one hand, the editors assert that they seek to provide "an authoritative text of the 1667 edition" (PL, ix). Yet between 1667 and 1674, Samuel Simmons printed the first edition six times with six different title pages, and each issue has its own variants and errors. Adding to the confusion, Simmons requested arguments for the ten books that were added to the fourth, fifth, and sixth issues along with statements explaining the additions. While the text cannot shift to reflect the various issues of Paradise Lost 1667, Lieb and Shawcross use the textual notes to explain these changes, and so, with a little imagination, the reader can reconstruct the fluid state of Paradise Lost between 1667 and 1674. The great value of this edition is that it makes available to Milton scholars and their students a very different Paradise Lost, in all its variant glory, than the one we conventionally read. One plunges right into the poem (presented in original spelling), with neither prefatory material nor, more unusually, intervening dedication or prefatory letter from the publisher. The poem as presented is stark, unadorned, and unrelenting, like the character of God in book 3. This edition will significantly affect both the scholarship and the pedagogy of Paradise Lost, and we owe Shawcross and Lieb a great debt for their labors.
The essays, on the other hand, are more of a mixed bag. Michael Lieb demonstrates how "the first edition is important not only on its own terms but as an essential part of our understanding of what transpired in the later editions" (23). Joseph A. Wittreich also examines how "the first edition holds clues to...