Paradise Lost. Manuscript of Book I, in the hand of an amanuensis
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1904
This 33-page manuscript is all that remains of the many drafts and fair copies of the evolving text of Milton's biblical epic Paradise Lost. After he lost his sight, Milton relied on several copyists, to transcribe the verses he composed in solitude and to assist him as he revised. This manuscript, which has been marked up lightly by at least five different hands, consists of the text of Book I as it was delivered to Samuel Simmons, the printer of the 1667 first edition. Simmons probably retained these sheets and passed them on to later copyright holders because they bear the imprimatur, or publishing license, issued by the English government.
To celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the birth of John Milton (1608–1674), The Morgan Library & Museum is pleased to present the only surviving manuscript of Paradise Lost, Book 1. This epic poem is considered Milton's greatest artistic achievement and one of the finest works of the human imagination. Acquired by Pierpont Morgan in 1904, it is the most important British literary manuscript in the collection. The 33-page manuscript has been temporarily disbound, providing an opportunity to see more of its pages than ever before. Also in this presentation are first editions of Paradise Lost printed in England and the United States during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and a rarely seen miniature portrait of the poet.
To reign is worth ambition though in hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.
But wherefore let wee then our faithfull friends,
Th' Associates and copartners of our losse
Ly thus astonisht on th' oblivious poole,
And call them not to share with us thir part
In this unhappie Mansion, or once more
With rallied arms to try what may be yet
Regaind in Heav'n, or what more lost in Hell?
So Satan spake, and him Beelzebub
Thus answer'd. Leader of those Armies bright,
Which but th' Omnipotent none could have foyl'd,
If once they heare that voice, thir liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft
In worst extreams, and on the perilous edge
Of battell when it rag'd, in all assaults
Thir surest signall, they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they ly
Groveling and prostrate on yon lake of fire,
As we ere while, astounded and amaz'd,
No wonder, fall'n such a pernicious highth.
Hee scarce had ceas't when the superiour fiend
Was moving toward the shore; his ponderous shield
Ethereal temper, massy, large and round
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Rudy L. Ruggles, Jr.
Photography by Graham Haber.