« AnteriorContinuar »
CONTENTS OF VOLUME II.
1. EARLIEST EDITIONS OF THE POEM.
It was possibly just before the Great Fire of London in September 1666, and it certainly cannot have been very long after that event, when Milton, then residing in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, sent the manuscript of his Paradise Lost to receive the official licence necessary for its publication. The duty of licensing such books was then vested by law in the Archbishop of Canterbury, who performed it through his chaplains. The Archbishop of Canterbury at that time (1663-1667) was Dr. Gilbert Sheldon ; and the chaplain to whom it fell to examine the manuscript of Paradise Lost was the Rev. Thomas Tomkyns, M. A. of Oxford, then incumbent of St. Mary Aldermary, London, and afterwards Rector of Lambeth and D.D. He was the Archbishop's domestic chaplain, and a very great favourite of his, -quite a young man, but already the author of one or two books or pamphlets. The nature of his opinions may be guessed from the fact that his first publication, printed in the year of the Restoration, had been entitled “The Rebel's Plea Examined ; or, Mr. Baxter's Judgment concerning the Late War.” A subsequent publication of his, penned not long after he had examined Paradise Lost, was entitled 1 “ The Inconveniences of Toleration”; and, when he died! in 1675, still young, he was described on his tombstone as having been " Ecclesia Anglicana contra Schismaticos assertor eximius.” A manuscript by a man of Milton's political and ecclesiastical antecedents could hardly, one would think, have fallen into the hands of a more unpropitious examiner.
It is, accordingly, stated that Tomkyns hesitated about giving the licence, and took exception to some passages in the poem, -particularly to that (Book I. vv. 594-599) where it is said of Satan, in his diminished brightness after his fall, that he still appeared
“as when the Sun, new-risen,
Perplexes monarchs." At length, however, Mr. Tomkyns was satisfied. There still exists the first book of the actual manuscript which had been submitted to him. It is a fairly written copy, in a light, not inelegant, but rather characterless hand of the period, -of course, not that of Milton himself, who had been for fourteen years totally blind. It consists of eighteen leaves of small quarto, stitched together ; and on the inside of the first leaf, or cover, is the following official licence to print in Tomkyns's hand :-
Imprimatur: Tho. Tomkyns, Rmo. in Christo Patri ac Domino, Dno. Gilberto, divinâ Providentiâ Archiepiscopo Cantuariensi, a sacris domesticis.
The other books of the manuscript having received a similar certificate, or this certificate on the MS. of the first book sufficing for all, the copy was ready for publication by any printer or bookseller to whom Milton might consign it. Having already had many dealings with London printers and booksellers, Milton may have had several to whom he could go ; but the one whom he favoured in this case, or who favoured him, was a certain Samuel Simmons, having his shop “next door to the Golden Lion in Aldersgate Street.” The date of the transaction between Simmons and Milton is April 27, 1667. On that day an agreement was signed between them to the following effect :-Milton, “ in consideration of Five Pounds to him now paid,” gives, grants, and assigns to Simmons “all that Book, Copy, or Manuscript of a Poem intituled Paradise Lost, or by whatsoever other title or name the same is or shall be called or distinguished, now lately licensed to be printed”; on the understanding, however, that, at the end of the first impression of the Book- "which impression shall be accounted to be ended when thirteen hundred books of the said whole copy or manuscript imprinted shall be sold or retailed off to particular reading customers”—Simmons shall pay to Milton or his representatives a second sum of Five Pounds; and further that he shall pay a third sum of Five Pounds at the end of a second impression of the same number of copies, and a fourth sum of Five Pounds at the end of a third impression similarly measured. To allow a margin for presentation copies, we suppose, it is provided that, while in the account between Milton and Simmons each of the three first impressions is to be reckoned at 1300 copies, in the actual printing of each Simmons may go as high as 1500 copies. At any reasonable request of Milton or his representatives, Simmons, or his executors and assigns, shall be bound to make oath before a Master in Chancery “concerning his or their knowledge and belief of, or concerning the truth of, the disposing and selling the said books by retail as aforesaid whereby the said Mr. Milton is to be entitled to his said money from time to time," or, in default of said oath, to pay the Five Pounds pending on the current impression as if the same were due.
1 The manuscript is described, and a facsimile of a portion of it is given, in Mr. S. Leigh Sotheby's “Ramblings in elucidation of the Autograph of Milton,” 1861: pp. 196, 197. It was then in the possession of William Baker, Esq., of Bayfordbury, Hertfordshire, to whom it had descended, with other Milton relics, from the famous publishing family of the Tonsons, connected with him by ancestry.
It has been inferred from the wording of this document that Milton, before his bargain with Simmons, may have begun the printing of the poem at his own expense. There seems no real ground, however, for thinking so, or that what was handed over to Simmons was anything else than the fairly copied manuscript which had received the imprimatur of Mr. Tomkyns. With that imprimatur Simmons might proceed safely in printing the book and bringing
1 The original of this document,-or rather that one of the two originals which Simmons kept,-is now in the British Museum. To the poet's signature" John Milton” (which, however, is written for him by another hand) is annexed his seal, bearing the family arms of the double-headed eagle; and the witnesses are “ John Fisher” and “Benjamin Greene, servt. to Mr. Milton.”