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University Libraries - Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection of John Milton

Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection of John Milton

Collection Description

The Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection of the seventeenth-century English poet John Milton (1608-1674) brings the library its first major seventeenth-century research collection, to join the earlier acquisition of major collections from subsequent periods. It was acquired by the Library in 2006 with leading support from William L. Richter and the William L. Richter Family Foundation.

The Wickenheiser Collection, built up over a thirty-five year period, has more than 6,000 volumes. It includes more than sixty first and other seventeenth-century editions of Milton’s own writings, and significant holdings also of 17th century Miltoniana. Its special focus on illustrated editions make it perhaps the most comprehensive collection ever of Milton illustration, from the first illustrated edition of Paradise Lost (1688) through all the major illustrators that follow, with original drawings by several of the artists, particularly John Martin (1789-1854) and Gustave Doré (1832-1883). The collection’s 18th, 19th, and 20th Milton editions preserve a comprehensive record of Milton's continuing impact, while holdings of Milton biography, scholarship, and criticism document knowledge of Milton’s writings and influence.

John Milton (1608-1674), author of the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), is the most important English-language poet of the seventeenth century. He was active in politics, as author of the first major text on the freedom of the press, Areopagitica (1644) and as Latin secretary to Britain's revolutionary government in the late 1640's and 1650's. He was also deeply involved in the same religious debates as the Pilgrim Fathers, and a pioneer in his writings on education and on marriage law. For centuries after it was written, his poetry drew responses from poets, learned scholars, ordinary readers, musicians, artists and illustrators. Milton was as influential in America as in Europe, and the Wickenheiser Collection includes not only the first American editions of Milton’s poetry, but also rare printings of political pamphlets influential in debates on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser started collecting Milton and other seventeenth-century poets as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the late 1960's. As a young professor at Princeton in the early seventies, he began focusing on the history of Milton illustration, and with his wife Pat and the late Robert H. Taylor, past president of the Grolier Club, he visited and established friendships with many of the best-known antiquarian bookdealers on both sides of the Atlantic. Since retiring, Dr. Wickenheiser has completed a full-scale illustrated catalogue of the collection, scheduled for publication for the 400th anniversary of Milton’s birth in 2008.

The Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection has been purchased for the University with the leading support of Mr. William L. Richter and The William L. Richter Family Foundation. In recognition and appreciation of this generous gift, the University’s Board of Trustees has approved naming a room in the library’s new Special Collections library.