Paradise Lost: A poem, in Twelve Books. The Author / John Milton. With the life of Milton. By Thomas Newton, D.D. [Eight lines from Thomson]
Philadelphia: Printed by Robert Bell, in Third-Street. Vol. II.
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911
In Bell's edition, Milton's two sonnets on the subject of his blindness are printed together on one page. Sonnet 22 (here numbered VII) is a Petrarchan sonnet addressed to his pupil and friend, Cyriack Skinner (1627–1700). Written in late 1654 or early 1655, three years after Milton had become totally blind, it remained unpublished during Milton's lifetime. The manuscript is written in Skinner's hand, indicating that Milton dictated it to him. Both sonnets innovatively blur the distinction between the octave and sestet, continuing the syntax and sense between the eighth and ninth lines by enjambment to more closely approximate the natural rhythms of the speaking voice. This fluidity and continuity, in which, according to Milton's note, "the sense [is] variously drawn out from one verse into another," is also a notable element in the poetic accomplishment of Paradise Lost.
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.
Cyriack, this three years day these eys, though clear
To outward view, of blemish or of spot;
Bereft of light, thir seeing have forgot,
Nor to thir idle orbs doth sight appear
Of Sun or Moon or Starre throughout the year,
Or man or woman. Yet I argue not
Against heavns hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?
The conscience, Friend, to have lost them overply'd
In libertyes defence, my noble task,
Of which all Europe talks from side to side.
This thought might lead me through the worlds vain mask
Content though blind, had I no better guide.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Rudy L. Ruggles, Jr.
Sonnet XXII is recited by Mark Rylance.
Photography by Graham Haber.