PATRICK HUME'SAnnotations on Milton's “Par adise Lost” in 1695 initiated commentary on Milton's epic and in fact was the first to appear on any English writer. Hume was followed by Joseph Addison, who wrote a series of connected Saturday essays for the Spectator in 1712. There were two further com-mentaries: that of Jonathan Richardson, Father and Son, Explanatory Notes and Remarks on “Paradise Lost” in 1734, and James Paterson's Complete Commentary in 1744. Since then commentary has been included in editions. Two editions stand out for their comprehensiveness, the impressive variorum editions edited by Thomas Newton (1749) and by Henry John Todd in four editions: 1801, 1809, 1826, and 1842. No further book-length commentaries or variorum editions have appeared. There is a widely shared sense of need for a new variorum and a widely shared belief that so much has been and continues to be written that what is most desired seems to be least possible.
To achieve coverage from Hume to the present, some sacrifices and careful, principled planning are required. The length of this book suggests the greater scope for commentary available when it is the feature sought. We wish to explain here the uses that we have made of that scope and the advantages it confers on the reader. It will be apparent that the sacrifice of the text of the poem prevents use of this book as the means of reading Paradise Lost. But in the rest of these prefatory remarks and in the introduction we hope to justify the claim that this commentary is a second text necessary for serious study of the poem.
Our aim is, then, with no middle flight to present a commentary that is genuinely comprehensive and that is unlike previous ones in some crucial respects. It is comprehensive first of all in coverage of the poem. It deals at times with single words and at times with the whole of Paradise Lost. Usually it attends to passages and relations between them. It is comprehensive in the nature of that coverage, which extends in time from little-known letters written within weeks of the poem's publication in unbroken strains even unto the present time, to borrow words from Ovid. It is also responsibly comprehensive in crediting comments to their original author or ultimate source rather than to a later, proximate source. Not since the variorum editions of Newton and Todd has there been such an effort to be so scrupulous. (We shall deal with the benefits subsequently.)
That responsibility goes further. Unless excessive length makes it impossible, every citation is followed by quotation of the material cited. Every quotation is given in English. Every citation originating with others, as the overwhelming majority of those here do, has been checked. When we have not been able to prove the citation because of someone's unavailable editions, or whatever reason, we indicate that it has not been verified.
In other words, our sense of the comprehensive involves providing accurate English quotation of all cited passages. This applies not only to the Iliad but to The Library of History; not only to Genesis and the four Gospels but The Song of the Three Children in the Apocrypha; not only to Dante but Trissino. That is, to all things referred to by title, to book, canto, act or scene, and to stanza or line numbers. Because readers do not possess the time to “look up” citations or the stores of books to consult, we put before their eyes what is referred to. This is part of what we meant by our claim to provide the other book necessary to serious study of Paradise Lost, and our reference includes the needs of inquisitive undergraduates, graduate students, and professors, as indeed all inclined to fuller understanding of this poem.
Another important feature of our commentary is its range, which is to say its references or knowledge, and again we must add, overwhelmingly the knowledge of others. None of us can use what is not at our disposal or prejudge what, from things thought necessary by some-body, is disposable. Whether we think more conservatively of recourse to authorities, or whether we hold more radically that there is no true authority, we must derive knowledge from reasonable sources. The considerable size of our commentary suggests considerable scope. Although there is no need to say here what belongs more properly in our introduction, we can say that we have chosen a combination of resources that is comprehensive in range and kind. The main body of our commentary can be described as selections from commentaries beginning with Hume's unprecedented Annotations in 1695 to Alastair Fowler's commentary