Paradise Lost

John Milton

Introduced by Michael Prodger
Illustrated by John Martin

This fine edition unites John Milton’s greatest poem with 24 mezzotints by John Martin, together with a separate commentary volume by Alastair Fowler.


Click on each image to see it in full.


Paradise Lost

In 1658 John Milton, grieving the loss of his wife, his sight, and his political hopes, set out ‘to justify the ways of God to man’. To tell the story of the angels’ Fall and Adam and Eve’s exile from Paradise was ambitious enough, but Milton went further. He forged a new style of epic blank verse in the vernacular, openly invoking the same muse who had inspired Homer and Virgil. The result was a work of poetic and psychological genius. The stern beauty of Milton’s poetry, with its stately unfolding clauses and inexorable forward movement, is without parallel.

In 1825 John Martin, best known for his dramatic paintings of biblical scenes, exhibited 20 mezzotints depicting Paradise Lost. One critic wrote, ‘We know of no artist whose genius so perfectly fitted him to be the illustrator of the mighty Milton … There is a wildness, a grandeur, and a mystery about his designs which are indescribably fine.’ Martin used mezzotint to dramatic effect, creating monumental vistas lit with a play of dark and light that echo the war at the heart of the poem.

‘One of those rare instances where a writer and artist are felicitously matched, as Ovid’s Metamorphoses were with Titian’

Production Details

  • 2 volumes
  • Quarter-bound in buckram with cloth sides
  • 704 pages in total
  • 24 mezzotints
  • Gilded page tops
  • Presented in a slipcase printed with The Great Day of His Wrath by John Martin, 1851–3. (©Tate, London 2014)
  • 12¾˝ × 9¾˝

JOHN MILTON: 1608–74

Paradise Lost

John Milton was born in London in 1608 and educated at St Paul’s School and Christ’s College, Cambridge. He left Cambridge in 1632, but continued to study privately before embarking on a tour of France and Italy in 1638–9. After returning to England prematurely, amidst rumours of civil war, Milton began to write pamphlets in support of the Parliamentary cause. He also published Poems of Mr John Milton, both English and Latin in 1645, but his wider known doctrinal tracts earned him a reputation for political acumen, and he was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues in 1649. He continued to write in defence of the Commonwealth, and it was during this time that Milton’s eyesight began to deteriorate; he was completely blind by 1651. After the failure of the Commonwealth he was briefly imprisoned, and following his release he returned to poetry. His masterpiece, Paradise Lost, was published in ten books in 1667. Its sequel, Paradise Regained, and the tragedy Samson Agonistes were published in 1671. An expanded version of his shorter poems was published in 1673, and the 12-book edition of Paradise Lost in 1674, shortly before Milton’s death in the same year.

A new fine edition of Milton’s epic poem

Paradise Lost

This edition includes notes by the great Milton scholar Alastair Fowler. A work of art in themselves, they help us appreciate Milton’s poem in all its richness. As with our Letterpress Shakespeare, the notes are confined to a separate volume, allowing the verse to be presented free of all textual apparatus. The poem is that edited by Fowler, first published with his notes in 1968. Critic Michael Prodger has written a new introduction celebrating the artistic pairing of John Milton and John Martin.

This fine edition has been printed on Abbey Wove paper at Kösel, Krugzell, Germany, and quarter-bound by them in buckram. The illustrations were printed at Taylor Bloxham in Leicester using Sirio Calce Stucco, a beautifully heavy paper. The slipcase shows The Great Day of His Wrath – one of the apocalyptic paintings for which Martin remains best known.

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Darkness visible: the art of John Martin

John Martin was born in 1789, the son of a fencing master, and found success late in life with his large-scale dramatic and apocalyptic pictures, including Belshazzar’s Feast. In 1823 he was commissioned to illustrate Paradise Lost with a series of mezzotints, a form of engraving that allows for a great variety of tones. Unlike most artists, who produced pictures that were then turned into printing plates by others, Martin engraved the mezzotints himself. The resulting vistas, with their cavernous architecture and tiny figures, appear to be lit by the fires of heaven and hell themselves. Like the poem, each of his illustrations offers rich and multi-layered detail that repays long and careful viewing. Martin produced some of his finest artwork towards the end of his life, including his Last Judgment triptych (1851–3). He died in 1854.

Illustrations clockwise from above right: Him thus intent Ithuriel with his spear / Touched lightly (IV, 810–11); Eve, now expect great tidings . . . (XI, 226); She gave him of that fair enticing fruit With liberal hand . . . (IX, 996–7)

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Author and academic John Mullan on Alastair Fowler’s edition

Milton was deeply learned: widely read in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Italian, steeped in theology and acrimoniously versed in political theory, intrigued by the latest scientific and astronomical knowledge, as well as a lover of English poetry. All this flooded into his verse and we need help to see it.

Alastair Fowler’s edition of Paradise Lost gives all of us a new sensitivity to the poem. It is the fruit of a lifetime’s scholarship, the earliest version appearing almost fifty years ago. Even this was not the final word. A third and final edition was completed in 2006, after his retirement, adding new allusions and subtleties of interpretation.

Fowler loves Milton – but he also thinks of the reader. Where he needs to, he will tell you in a direct way what words and phrases mean. He certainly does not believe that the poetry is too grand for paraphrase. Indeed, his explanations are designed to show that Milton was ‘concise, spare and pungent’, rather than orotund and Latinate, as some of his detractors have suggested. But he is also delighted by Milton’s desire to load his lines with allusions and to trust us to want to track them down. Many of Fowler’s footnotes are places for the curious reader to roam, where we might hear echoes from other poets, gather old stories, or discover fragments of arcane knowledge. They are not dry accretions of scholarship but, as in Milton’s Eden, ‘Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm.’

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About Alastair Fowler

Alastair Fowler is a literary critic and editor. He earned an MA from the University of Edinburgh, and an MA, DPhil and DLitt from the University of Oxford, where he was a Junior Research Fellow at Queen’s College between 1955 and 1959. He subsequently taught at various universities in both Britain and the United States, including Princeton University, the University of Virginia and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he was a Fellow and Tutor from 1962 to 1971. He was Regius Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh from 1972 to 1984, and made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1974. He has served as editor of several books, including The New Oxford Book of Seventeenth-Century Verse (1991), and has written volumes of poetry and works of criticism, including Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (1970), Kinds of Literature (1982) and How to Write (2006). He was the Milton Society of America’s Honoured Scholar of the Year in 2012 and was awarded a CBE in 2014 for services to literature and education. His most recent work is Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature (2012).

About the Michael Prodger

Michael Prodger is a senior research fellow in the History of Art at the University of Buckingham. He writes widely on art and books for a number of newspapers and magazines. He is also assistant editor at the New Statesman and a former literary editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and has judged for several literary prizes, including the Costa Prize and the Man Booker Prize. He introduced The Folio Society editions of Dante’s Purgatorio (2007) and Paradiso (2008), Ovid’s Metamorphoses (2009), and Walter Pater’s The Renaissance (2013).


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Review by cahoffman on 22nd May 2018

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"I'll be honest. This could have been a copy of some tawdry romance, and I would still love it. The typography and paper alone are worth every penny, it is so beautifully printed. The visual and tac..." [read more]

Review by on 1st Mar 2017

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"This is an absolutely stunning set and one which I am thrilled to have in my collection. This is the best version of 'Paradise Lost' that I have read, and so beautifully presented. The intricate and b..." [read more]

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