February 19, 2018
Milton, Ackroyd, Paradise LostOn this day in 1667 John Milton's Paradise Lost was entered in the Stationers' Register by printer Samuel Simmons. Milton's agreement with Simmons -- five pounds at signing, another five for each 1500 copies sold on a first edition of 4,500 -- is the earliest preserved author's contract. At this point, the fifty-eight-year-old Milton had been totally blind for fifteen years, probably from glaucoma. His habit during the decade it took to write Paradise Lost was to compose at night and then present himself to a scribe -- a nephew, daughter, or secretary -- each morning to be, as he put it, "milked." Such determined coping might add a personal level of interpretation to Satan's famous defiance in Book I:
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav'd over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng'd and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through EDEN took thir solitarie way.
"Yes, sir. I feel propitious."
"I am raising the savages to a knowledge of their Savior."
I did not know if he meant himself or someone else. "I am glad to hear it."
"Thank you. It would be a mighty thing to establish a nation of God in this western world. He rolled out of his hammock, and took my arm. "What a majestic chronicle might be unrolled to future ages! Think of Diodorus among the Greeks, and Livy among the Latins."
"I am trying, sir."
"I shall be Milton among the Americans! And you shall write it down."
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