« PreviousContinue »
the hands of a professed bookseller. The bargain with Simmons was, that the author should receive, at once, five pounds; five pounds more, upon the sale of each 1300 copies of the first, second, and third edition ; and no edition was to comprise more than 1500 copies. The prudence of the bargain was soon manifest; for, by the arts and exertions of the bookseller, the sale of the poem, dilatory as it was, so much exceeded what its original success had led him to anticipate, that he paid the author his second five pounds on the 26th of April, 1669. We do not think, with the other biographers, that this second payment is a proof, that 1300 copies had been already disposed of. As the whole number of copies of the first edition amounted to only 1500, and as the second edition was not published till 1674, the supposition, that 1300 were sold from 1667 to 1669, will leave only 200 between 1669 and 1674. We shall be obliged to believe, that more than sixteen copies were sold, in the first two years, where one could be got rid of, in the five last. We had much rather suppose, that Simmons, finding, that he should make more of his bargain than he, at first, expected, was willing to pay Milton his second five pounds by anticipation.
The devices, to which he had recourse, in order to force the circulation of the poem, would do cre. dit to the art of bookselling, even in its present state of perfection. If, as we suppose, the first edition was printed in 1666, the title page was varied six times, in three years; and, if, according to the common belief, it did not appear till 1667, there were no less than five different title pages in two years. In the first, it was ‘ Paradise Lost, a Poem written in Ten Books, by John Milton;' in the second, Paradise Lost, a Poem in Ten Books, the author J. M.;' and, in the third, Paradise Lost, a Poem in Ten Books, the author John Milton:' but, as this part of the title could not well be varied any more, the two subsequent editions had the same caption, with sufficient alterations in the type, and a difference in the names of the persons, at whose stores the poem was for sale.* After the third title page, there was an address to the reader, the arguments of each book, and a table of errata. The arguments and table only were retained, in the fourth; and the arguments alone, in the fifth. That nothing might be wanting to convince the public, that the poem was reprinted at each of the times, when the title was altered, the publisher made a parade of errata in one of his new editions, and had them corrected in the next. We were at a loss, at first, to conceive how this could be done; but Mr. Todd, who had examined the books themselves, afforded us help, by suggesting, that'some of the leaves were probably cancelled't Simmons well knew, that readers, in - general, are not apt to obey the mandates of a list
of errata; and, trusting to the improbability of examination, he even ventured to swell his table with directions to do what was already done. This is the manner, in which, to use the language of Johnson, Paradise Lost ‘forced its way without assistance.'. With the help of all these shifts, only 1500 copies were sold in seven years; and, it is almost an insult to tell us, that a poem, which required such artifices, and yet went off so slowly, was an uncommon example of the prevalence of genius.'
There are other indications of tardiness, perhaps, equally unequivocal. The first edition was published in 1666; the second, in 1674; the third, in 1678; and the fourth, in 1688.1 Between the first and last dates, therefore, the public must have been satisfied with only three editions of 1500 copies each; or, in other words, only 4500 copies were sold in twenty-two years. It may be conceded to
Dr. Johnson, that the call for books was not, in Milton's age, what it is in the present :'* yet it was greater, we apprehend, than he seems inclined to represent it; and, at all events, the difference between the two periods, in this respect, is by no means sufficient to account for so rare an unfrequency of editions, and such an unexampled paucity of sales. Many cotemporary works, both in poetry and in prose, were much more frequently reprinted. Sir Richard Barker's Chronicle, continued by Mil. ton's nephew, Edward Phillips, was published twice in four years.f The Comical History of the Late Times, written in 1661, by the younger nephew, John Phillips, went through three editions in four years;t and an immense quarto’ book of 830 pages, called Christian Astrology, by William Lilly, was twice reprinted in a dozen years. It may be thought hardly fair to try poetry with prose; but our readers will acquit us of any wilful unfairness, when we mention, that Blackmore's Prince Arthur, another epic in ten books, was published thrice in two years,ll or more than ten times as often as Paradise Lost. Such a poem as the latter would now go through as many editions, in one year, as were
**To prove the paucity of readers,' says Dr. Johnson, it may le sufficient to remark, that the nation had been satisfied from 1623 to 1664, this is forty-one years, with only two editions of the works of Shakspeare, which probably did not altogether make one thousand copies.' This only proves that Shakspeare was as unpopular as Milton. It is always mentioned, as a singular cireum. stance, in the life of the former, that his dramatic merits were never justly estimated, until his works were published by Rowe; and that his cotemporary fame depended almost entirely upon those minor poems, which are now comparatively unknown. Dr. John. son was no bibliographer; and we must not rely too implicitly upon his enumeration of editions and copies. It may be true, that Shakspeare's entire works were not reprinted but i wice in forty years; yet the reader must reineinber, that, in single playa, they were much more frequently republished. Romeo and Juliet was reprinted twice in thirteen years; but, during the same period, Venus and Adonis and the Rope of Lucrear, each went through six editions.-Molone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 575.
Godw, Pbh. pp. 115, 120. | Ibid. p. 105.
| Juh, Life of Blackm.'
actually printed, in twenty; and each edition would probably require twice as many copies as were contained in the first three put together. .
Nor do the proofs of its original unpopularity stop here. The first edition was printed in quarto, plainly bound, and cheap; yet, for some reason or other, ail the devices and exertions of Simmons did not prevent him from falling to a small octavo in the second.* Milton did not live to receive his third instalment of five pounds; and, in the latter end of 1680,--fourteen years after the first appearance of the poem-his widow, despairing, it should seem, of living to see 1300 copies sold, parted with her whole right to Simmons for only eight pounds. Simmons had already made arrangements to get rid of the work; and his negotiation with the widow was merely to obtain the right from her at a lower price than the one, which he had agreed to take. He sold it to Brabason Aylmer; and, as if it were bank-paper, under par, Aylmer afterwards passed it off to Jacob Tonson.t Simmons never meddled with another of Milton's poems.
We have already seen, that Paradise Lost is distinguished as the first work, on which the tactics of bookselling were thoroughly displayed. It has the additional distinction of being the first considerable work, which was ever got off by subscription ;t and, though, in this instance, the collector of signatures was no less a person than Atterbury, and though the poem had now been before the public more than twenty years, only 500 of Mr. Godwin's Englishmen were found to put down their names. We observe,
* Todd, vol. i. p. 109. f Id. ibid. And the other biographers.
| Todd, vol. i. p. 112, note. 'Dr. Johnson has said, that Dryden's Virgil was the first considerable work published by subscription. But this edition of Paradise Lost (the 4th) preceded the English Virgil some years. This is said by Mr. Todd, in the midst of an attempt to show, that Paradise Lost was altogether too popular to peed any such helps.
indeed, that Mr. Godwin really boasts, in loud strains, of this patriotic contribution. It was then,' twenty years after its publication,— It was then, that the recommendation of the rising Somers induced Tonson to enter on the undertaking; it was then that the tory, but tasteful Atterbury, exerted his diligence in collecting subscribers; and it was then, that five hundred Englishmen recorded their names as the zealous supporters of the fame of this great ornament of their native country.'* All which is very eloquent, no doubt; but surely Mr. Godwin might have got better proofs of his darling notion about the original celebrity of Paradise Lost. Did it require the recommendation' of Somers, and the diligence of Atterbury, to induce a bookseller, so many years after the poem had been published, to undertake a new edition? As to the zeal of the subscribers, we suppose that must be set down to the account of rhetoric. Their zealous support' consisted in putting their signatures upon a list, headed with names of subscribers-place of residence-number of copies.'.
A story was told, by the elder Richardson, respecting the original popularity of this poem, which Mr. Malone has laboured hard to disprove. It was said, on the authority of Sir George Hungerford, that Sir John Denham came into the house of commons, one morning, with a sheet, wet from the press, of Paradise Lost; and, when asked what he had there, replied with enthusiasm, - part of the noblest poem that ever was written in any language or in any age. Two years afterwards, Lord Burkhurst and Mr. Fleetwood Shepherd were looking at some books, in Little Britain, when they came across Paradise Lost; and, being struck with some passages, in turning over the leaves, concluded to purchase it. The bookseller requested his lordship to speak favourably of it, if he could; for,
* Godw. p. 264.