The Poetical Works of John Milton: With Translations of the Italian, Latin and Greek Poems from the Columbia University Edition

By David Masson; John Milton | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

TO PARADISE LOST.

I. 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 ( 1663-1677) 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 "Ecclesiæ Anglicane 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,
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams, or, from behind a cloud,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs."

-1-

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