Paradise in Print: Editorial Practices and the (Early) Modern Reader

In his “Note on the Text,” John Leonard states that he has “most often followed the punctuation of the first edition [of Paradise Lost] (1667),” but has “freely substituted punctuation from the second edition (1674)” when he feels it is superior (1iii). In light of this, I have taken the liberty of downloading both the 1667 and 1674 editions of Paradise Lost, probing further into the meanings of my own modern text by examining its precursors.

Books are typically divided according to three sections: front matter, body matter, and end matter. The first and second editions of PL can be organized in this fashion; below, I outline their similarities and differences according to these three categories:

The editions differ most in terms of front matter:

1667 Ed. 1674 Ed.
Title Page Printed (and to be sold by) Peter Parker, Robert Boulter, and Matthias Walker. Printed by S. (Samuel) Simmons.
Dedication None  None
Table of Contents None  None
Foreword None Commendatory poem by a certain S.B, likely Dr. Samuel Barrow (a friend of Milton’s and a physician to Charles II) and “On Paradise Lost,” by a certain A.M. (Andrew Marvell: acquainted with Milton and Dryden through his work in the Office of the Secretary for Foreign Tongues in Cromwell’s government).
Preface None  Milton’s “The Verse”.
Printer’s Device Immediately following the title page, as well as the end of each Book.  None visible in my PDF file.


❧ Subject to print conventions of the Early Modern period, both editions are closer in terms of body matter. They share several conventions:

Catchwords: both the 1667 and 1674 editions contain catchwords. The catchword “Detain” would have enabled the printer to assemble the book according to the corresponding (matching) word on the following page:

We can also see the signatures, located at the bottom (S2):

Initials, too, are a feature of EM editions. Some initials are historiated, some are not. Here is an historiated initial from the 1667 edition:                                                            And another, from 1674’s:                               Initials of the 1667 edition are more ornate than those of 1674’s; the latter only has a single historiated initial for Book I, while the former offers more elaborate designs throughout the text. A typical initial from the 1674 edition is given here:                                       But those of the 1667 publication are more embellished:

❧ Still, in terms of body matter, there are several notable differences between the two publications. The 1667 edition was printed in quarto, whereas the 1674 edition is in octavo format. As well, with the later edition we see the addition of “arguments” to each of the Books; the early edition contains no such arguments. Both editions, of course, make use of the longs‘.

❧ Unsurprisingly, there are little to no differences in terms of end matter, for the simple reason that there is no end matter (i.e. no glossary, no bibliography, no index). Leonard’s edition provides some extremely useful “end matter”‘”the contents of which I will discuss in the following section.


We often take for granted the extent to which the materiality of the text impacts our experience of a work. Modernization of spellings, for instance, could be said to alienate readers from an “Early Modern” experience; likewise, changes in capitalization (from Mostly Capitals to lowercase) and the removal of italics can deflate or deemphasize a word’s meaning. While one might dismiss John Leonard’s anxieties over the “difficult decisions” of punctuation as irrational or pedantic, one should not underestimate the ways in which these details can alter a literary work. For example, matters of capitalization become particularly significant when looking at Satan’s speech in Book IX, lines 679-99:

Probably the most striking difference between these two editions is the absence of capitalization in the (gold) modern edition. In the EM publication (screenshot above taken from the 1674 version), the titles bestowed upon Eve are capitalized: Satan dubs her as “Sacred,” “Wise,” “Wisdom-giving Plant,” “Mother of Science,” and “Queen of this Universe”. In the Leonard edition, however, the titles are printed in lowercase. The impact of this change is a subtle lowering of the register: the difference is, essentially, between “Queen of this Universe” and “Queen of this universe”; the former is more ceremonial, the latter is more diffused and general; it is not a particular universe with a capital “U,” but any universe in the lowercase. Common nouns like “Knowledge,” “Death,” “Good,” and “Evil” are capitalized in the 1674 version; in Leonard’s they are duly reduced. As readers, we approach a text with unconscious associations and assumptions about style: personifications proclaim themselves through capitals; Important People Bear Important Titles with Large Letters and Long Names. Ergo, the capitalization of “knowledge,” “death,” “good,” or “evil” would render such concepts more animate than they might otherwise appear as uncapitalized, common nouns. Further, the shift in the 1674 edition from capitalized “Good and Evil” to lower case “good, how just? of evil, if what is evil / Be real” concretely diminishes the power of the good/evil (morality) binary. Here, EM form reflects content: Satan not only diminishes the power of these moral concepts in Eve’s eyes, but in the eyes of the reader, as well.

Leonard notes three instances where his editorial decisions have placed him in the minority. One such instance is at ix 922, where he has chosen to employ “hath” (Ed II) as opposed to “hast” (Ed I). He writes that “Hast goes better with line 921, but Adam might shift to more general thought so as not to confront Eve’s particular case” (415). Leonard’s decision to print the archaic third person singular “hath” over the second person “hast” goes so far as to alter our perception of Adam: the generic “hath” makes the statement more inclusive, compared with the more pointed and accusatory tone of “you” (hast).

Archaic verb tenses and capitals aside, what becomes most problematic for the modern reader is navigating the book-space. Without a table of contents, glossary, bibliography, or index, we are like fallen angels “in wand’ring mazes lost” (II.561). Rather than orienting ourselves by means of dogeared pages, coffee stains, or pencil marks, we find ourselves squinting for hours at an “s” that looks like an “f,” scrolling through endless PDFs by clicking, then dragging: thumbnail after thumbnail. We experience this “Paradise” in fragments, rather than sequentially’”some might even argue that we develop less of an intimate relationship with its pages. What is the relationship between form and content, between the materiality of the text and the fictional space it creates? Is paradise lost, along the way? How much is reading about the gesture of holding a book, and how much is it about visually scanning, or “beholding,” a text? Are digital facsimiles just another lens, or perspective, that we must take into account?

Besides, many of these editorial decisions will only ever impact us on a subconscious level; some readers, for instance, might harbour a preference for archaic spellings with extra e’s. Perhaps such things seem more exotic to the modern eye: they add texture, colour, flair, flavour. Some might argue that “Starrs,” with the addition of that extra “r,” do make the heavens “thick as a field” of consonants; that the word “Sphear” conjures up mental associations with the word “pear”; that the spelling of “Aire” is indeed more cumulous and airy. But such statements would be dismissed as vague, overly personal, and qualitative. Suffice to say that the poetic undertones of a text are shifted with the addition of extra vowels, just as capitalization can elevate the register of Satan’s speech. Such effects, I would argue, should not be taken lightly: they add an important and non-quantifiable fourth dimension to the text.

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