Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life. . . they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them . . . a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit.John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)
John Milton (1608-1674) was not only among the most influential of British poets. He was the most directly involved of any British poet in the centres of political power and in the great historical events of the English Revolution. He was also arguably the most learned, indeed the most bookish, of the great British poets, even in a learned and bookish century.
This exhibit, drawn from the collections of Thomas Cooper Library, includes the first edition of Milton's first prose work Of Reformation (1641), the first edition of Milton's great defense of a free press Areopagitica(1644), and the first edition of his first volume of poetry Poems, English and Latin (1645, purchased by the Thomas Cooper Society in 1996). For Milton's most famous work, his epic Paradise Lost, first issued in 1667, the exhibit includes examples of the first edition in ten books (with 1669 prelims), the second edition in twelve books (1674), the third edition (1678), and the fourth edition (1688), the first with illustrations. Among Milton's later works, there are first and second editions of his volume Paradise Regain'd . . . To which is added Samson Agonistes (1671). In all, the exhibit includes twenty-three seventeenth-century Milton editions, along with important early editions of other writers, including Spenser, Shakespeare, Ariosto, Tasso, Hobbes, and Clarendon. The library has acquired these volumes over the years item by item, not from a single donor; several bear the stamp of the original South Carolina College library, while others come from the libraries of Charles Pinckney (author of the Pinckney draft of the Constitution), James Henley Hammond (through the gift of John Shaw Billings), Yates Snowden, the Presbyterian College for Women, Alfred Chapin Rogers, the Ewelme Collection of Robert Bridges, and others.
Complementing the books on display are contemporary engravings of English and Italian cities where Milton lived, studied and visited, from the John Osman Collection of Braun & Hogenberg City Views, presented to the library by Mrs. Mary Osman in 1989, and a 1647 engraving of the Parliamentary and Royalist armies at the Battle of Naseby, presented to the University by A.F. McKissick in 1937.
The exhibit was mounted to coincide with the fifty-seventh annual meeting of the Southeastern Renaissance Conference, held at the University on April 14th-15th, 2000. I am indebted to the pesident and secretary of the Conference, Professors Emmanuel Seko and Gerald Snare, and the organizers, Professors Philip Rollinson and Andrew Shifflett, for their interest and encourage-ment; to Professor Rollinbson, for reviewing a draft of this catalogue; and to my co-workers in the Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, Paul Schultz, Mary Anyomi, and Sallie Ruff, for their assistance while it was in preparation.