In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Milton

  • Introduction
  • Notable Early Editions
  • Scholarly and Classroom Editions
  • Bibliographies and Reception Histories
  • Reference Works
  • Biographies
  • Introductions to Milton Studies
  • Historical Studies
  • Intellectual Contexts
  • Traditions and Influences
  • Modern Relevance
  • Studies of Style and Versification
  • Critical Approaches
  • Shorter Poems
  • Prose

Renaissance and Reformation John Milton
by
Susanne Woods
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0534

Introduction

John Milton (b. 1608–d. 1674) was a poet active in the republican and Reformation pamphleteering that led into the English Civil Wars and the mid-17th-century Commonwealth government. Completely blind by 1652, he continued to serve the Cromwell government as Latin Secretary, an office that made him his government’s chief propagandist to the European intellectual community. His political and religious views were highly controversial in his own time, even more after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy (1660), but for nearly three hundred years after his death they were mostly deemphasized as his countrymen sought to celebrate the brilliance of his poetry, especially his epic Paradise Lost (1667, revised 1674). He is usually situated among the three greatest writers of middle and early modern English (along with Chaucer and Shakespeare), and despite some periods in which some or all of his work faced critical hostility, he has sustained the admiration of readers and writers into the present time. While it is impossible to be inclusive, this bibliography seeks to represent some of the best and most useful work on Milton, focusing primarily on the criticism of the current and last few generations. Included are all of the books from 2000 until the time of this publication that have won the Milton Society of America’s highest prize, the James Holly Hanford Award, and this is noted in the annotations; a number of earlier works that have sustained importance are also noted by their Hanford Awards. Also included are a few classic works, from the seventeenth through the mid-twentieth century, that provided the foundation for later work.

Notable Early Editions

All works published during Milton’s own lifetime show considerable care and strongly suggest his personal attention to the details of the published works. In the bibliography to Lewalski 2007, the author lists forty-six “first editions” of Milton’s poetry and prose in English and Latin (pp. 705–708). I have included below some of the first editions of his major poetry, and refer the reader to Wolfe, et al. 1953–1982 (the “Yale Prose,” cited under Scholarly and Classroom Editions) for bibliographical information on the prose. The popularity of Paradise Lost sent it through several editions beginning shortly after Milton’s death, and editors began making collections of his work, both poetry and prose, beginning in the 1690s. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Milton’s works provided a focus for the professionalization of textual studies, and they continue to appear in multiple editions into the twenty-first. Toland 1698 is notable for providing the first collection of Milton’s prose, and Newton for the first carefully edited version of Paradise Lost and Milton’s other poetic works (see Newton 1749–1752 and Newton 1752).

  • Milton, John. Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin, Compos’d at Several Times. London: Humphrey Moseley, 1645.

    First collection of shorter poems, including some previously published in other contexts: “On Shakespear,” from the 1632 Shakespeare folio; A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle. 1634, published individually in 1637; and “Lycidas,” which had concluded a collection of memorial poems for a Cambridge friend, Obsequies to the Memorie of Mr. Edward King, 1638.

  • Milton, John. Paradise Lost: A Poem Written in Ten Books. London: Printer, Samuel Simmons, to be sold by Peter Parker, Robert Boulter, and Matthias Walker, 1667.

    First edition, in ten books.

  • Milton, John. Paradise Regain’d: A Poem in IV Books; To Which Is Added Samson Agonistes. London: J. M. for John Starker, 1671.

    First edition of both poems.

  • Milton, John. Poems, &c. Upon Several Occasions. By Mr. John Milton: Both English and Latin. &c. London: Thomas Dring, 1673.

    Includes and adds to the 1645 Poems. Also includes his “small Tractate of Education,” a prose work originally published in 1644.

  • Milton, John. Paradise Lost: A Poem in Twelve Books. 2d ed., revised and augmented. London: S. Simmons, 1674.

    Restructured with some minor additions; this is the authoritative version.

  • Newton, Thomas, ed. Paradise Lost: A Poem in Twelve Books. 2 vols. London: J. and R. Tonson, 1749–1752.

    Although there were earlier editions of Milton’s verse, Newton’s handsome illustrated folios offered the first systematic and influential scholarly effort to edit and annotate Milton’s poetical works. Newton’s Paradise Lost begins with a biography of Milton and a “Critique upon the Paradise Lost by Mr. [Joseph] Addison”; the pages of text include substantial commentary.

  • Newton, Thomas, ed. Paradise Regained, A Poem in Four Books, To which is added Samson Agonistes; and Poems upon Several Occasions. London: J. and R. Tonson, 1752.

    Although there were earlier editions of Milton’s verse, Newton’s handsome illustrated folios offered the first systematic and influential scholarly effort to edit and annotate Milton’s poetical works. Includes substantial commentary.

  • Toland, John, ed. A Collection of the Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous Works of John Milton. 3 vols. Amsterdam [London], 1698.

    The “Amsterdam” on the title page is a reminder of how controversial these prose works remained in England at the end of the seventeenth century. Toland’s prefatory “Life” is the earliest effort to gather a complete picture from multiple resources; the works, in both English and Latin, are otherwise not annotated. The first effort to collect Milton’s prose writings.

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