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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 (1663-1677) 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 "The Inconveniencies of Toleration; and, when he died in 1675, still young, he was described on his tomb-stone 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
"6 'as when the Sun, new-risen,
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 ct 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 Providentia 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 repre sentatives 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 1,300 copies, in the actual printing of each Simmons may go as high as 1,500 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 con
cerning 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 impres sion as if the same were due.t
*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.
+ 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."
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 it into the market. Accordingly, on the 20th of August, 1667, or four months after the foregoing agreement, we find this entry in the books of Stationers' Hall:
August 20, 1667: Mr. Sam. Symons entered for his copie, under the hands of Mr. Thomas Tomkyns and Mr. Warden Royston, a book or copie intituled "Paradise Lost, a Poem in Tenne bookes by J. M."
The date of the above entry in the Stationers' registers fixes the time about which printed copies of the Poem were ready for sale in London. There are few books, however, respecting the circumstances of whose first publication there is room for a greater variety of curious questions. This arises from the fact that, among the numerous existing copies of the First Edition, no two are in all particulars exactly alike. They differ in their title-pages, in their dates, and in minute points throughout the text. There is involved in this, indeed, a fact of general interest to English bibliographers. In the old days of leisurely printing, it was quite common for the printer or the author of a book to make additional corrections while the printing was in progress of which corrections only part of the total impression would have the benefit. Then, as, in the binding of the copies, all the sheets, having or not having the corrections so made, were jumbled together, there was no end to the combinations of different states of sheets that might arise in copies all really belonging to one edition; besides which, if any change in the proprietorship, or in the author's or publisher's notions of the proper title, arose before all the copies had been bound, it was easy to cancel the first title-page and provide a new one, with a new date if necessary, for the remaining copies. The probability is that these considerations will be found to affect all our early printed books. But they are applicable in a more than usual degree, so far as differences of titlepage are concerned, to the First Edition of Paradise Lost. Here, for example, is a conspectus of the different forms of title-page and other accompaniments of the text of the Poem that have been recognised among existing copies of the First Edition, We arrange them, as nearly as can be judged, in the order in which they were issued.
First title-page.-"Paradise lost. A Poem written in Ten Books By John Milton Licensed and Entred according to Order. London Printed, and are to be sold by Peter Parker under Creed Church neer Aldgate; And by Robert Boulter at the Turks Head in Bishopsgate-street; And Matthias Walker under St. Dunstons Church in Fleet-street. 1667." 4to. pp. 342.
Second title-page.-Same as above, except that the author's name "John Milton" is in larger type. 1667. 4to. pp. 342.
Third title-page.-" Paradise lost. A Poem in Ten Books. The Author J. M. [initials only]. Licensed and Entred according to Order. London Printed &c. [as before, or nearly so]. 1668. 4to. pp. 342.
Fourth title-page.-Same as the preceding, but the type in the body of the title larger. 1668. 4to. pp. 342.
Fifth title-page." Paradise lost. A Poem in Ten Books. The Author John Milton. London, Printed by S. Simmons, and to be sold by S. Thomson at the Bishops-Head in Duck-lane, H. Mortlack at the White Hart in Westminster Hall, M. Walker under St.