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Milton’s Paradise Lost

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The Library has several copies of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, including a first edition of 1667 in its original format of ten books (it was later changed to twelve).

Milton composed the work between 1658 and 1663, having conceived of it as early as 1640. His eyesight having deteriorated due to glaucoma leaving him completely blind, he was obliged to compose the poem orally, giving dictation to friends and family, working on around twenty lines of verse a day.

Chetham’s Library copy of the first edition has the autograph inscription of Thomas Wilson, dated 1722, on the title page, as well as some ms alterations and additions to the page numbering. The date of the inscription indicates that the Library did not purchase a copy of the work on publication, indeed before the end of the seventeenth century the Library had only bought one of Milton’s works, The History of Britain, which was bought in 1672 for six shillings. Milton’s important religious and political works were simply not acquired.

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The Library holds another interesting later copy of Paradise Lost, printed in 1770 by the Foulis Brothers in Glasgow, who were celebrated for their magnificent editions of the classics and became known as the Elzevirs of Britain, after the family of Dutch printers. The elegant folio edition is bound in red morocco with gilt edges and marbled end-papers, and a medallion portrait of Milton on the centre of the lower board.