University of Virginia Library


Page 191


By Hao Tianhu *

John Milton’s Poetical Works published by Jacob Tonson II in 1720 is an important edition, not the least because Richard Bentley, "the greatest ever English classical scholar,"1 adopted it as the working copy for his "notorious"2 1732 edition of Paradise Lost. This lavish pair of large quarto volumes (with main sections of 590 and 527 pages respectively) included many engraved tailpieces, which placed special demands on the compositors. By analyzing material traces seldom examined—such as lines of text per page—we can infer with reasonable certainty how they operated. Along the way we may provide a rationale for some of the catchword errors3 by connecting these inconsistencies with the printing and publishing of the book, especially illustration.

The Tonsons were well known for publishing deluxe books. William Thomas Lowndes, an eminent bibliographer of the early nineteenth century, defined Caesar’s Commentaries brought out by Jacob Tonson I in 1712 as "the most sumptuous classical work which England has produced."4 The 1720 Milton is typically adorned with rich illustrations. Engraved vignettes open and conclude each of the books of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained and the tragedy Samson Agonistes, finely framing the grand poems in pictorial art. Additionally, the first item in Poems, Lycidas, has a special headpiece. These thirty-five vignettes, plus eighteen historiated initials, help produce what Marcia R. Pointon calls "a splendid and expensive edition rather in the manner of the Venetian illustrated book of the


Page 192
period."5 R. G. Moyles, another modern scholar, confirms it as "impressively beautiful ... a much-coveted book."6 Pointon compares Louis Chéron, the illustrator responsible for most of the decorations in the edition, unfavorably with John Baptist Medina, another early illustrator of Milton, but still admits that "Chéron’s illustrations are nearly always more skillfully composed than Medina’s and [that] the tailpieces and historiated initials make for a much richer general effect."7 The list of 334 subscribers in volume 1 indicates that the costly book was eagerly sought after by aristocratic and elite readers (dukes, duchesses, earls, lords, sirs, esquires, doctors, ladies, and the like).8

Clearly Tonson strived to meet the aesthetic demands of his prominent customers. The paper used (printing medium, 585 x 455 mm) makes a large and handsome object, and the 22-line page adds much elegance. Our count of lines of poetic text on a typical full page excludes the headline and the direction-line. The standard number of lines is 22, with occasional variations of 21 or 23. When a 23rd line occurs it crowds the page and sometimes includes both part of the text and a catchword. But this additional line occurs only in less important works—in Addison’s Notes in volume 1, and in Poems in volume 2, beginning toward the end of A Mask.9 All the major poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, and Lycidas, which are pictorially ornamented, contain no crowded pages. The different typographical treatment of the minor works and the major poems is dictated by, and also registers, the hierarchical status of the two categories of text. The publisher’s typographical intervention participates imperceptibly yet actively in the reception of the author and the construction of textual meaning.

The 21-line pages occur in the major works, as table 1 shows.

These typographical irregularities can be explained by aesthetic necessities. The plate mark of the vignette at the end of a book usually occupies a space of ten lines or more. Thus we find some pages toward the end of a book or poem composed in 21 lines, to avoid the awkward situation either of a section closing on a page with insufficient space left for the tailpiece or of the tailpiece being printed alone (with no text) on a separate page. In all the above sections, the normal 22-line pages would lead to such an awkward situation, and the spatial demand of the tailpiece required the reduction of some pages to 21 lines (Lycidas is an exception; see below). At the same time, the compositors also had to take care not to add too many lines of text to the pages containing tailpieces, lest an image not fit between the text and the catchword. The hazard is evident at the end of Book VII of Paradise Lost, 2R1r (1.305) and at the end of Samson Agonistes, 2C3r (2.197), where the image of the engraving barely fits between the printed


Page 193

Table I. Pages with 21 lines in Milton’s Poetical Works (1720)

Section  First page with 21 lines  Last page of the section  Number of pages with 21 lines  Number of lines on the last page 
PL, Bk. I  1.31 (E4r 1.40 (F4v 10 
Bk. II  1.79 (L4r 1.92 (N2v 13 
Bk. IV  1.169 (Z1r 1.180 (2A2v 11 
Bk. V  1.217 (2F1r 1.225 (2G1r
Bk. VII  1.293 (2P3r 1.305 (2R1r 12 
Bk. IX  1.385 (3D1r 1.398 (3E3v 13 
Bk. X  1.441 (3L1r 1.452 (3M2v 10 (3M2r, 22 ll.) 
Bk. XI  1.483 (3Q2r 1.497 (3S1r 14 
PR, Bk. II  2.39 (F4r 2.48 (G4v
Bk. III  2.62 (I3v 2.70 (K3v
Bk. IV  2.91 (N2r 2.101 (O3r 10 
SA  2.190 (2B3v 2.197 (2C3r
L  2.209 (2E1r 2.210 (2E1v n.a. 
words. The resumption of the 22-line page at 3M2r (1.451), though unnecessary (because the next page, which contains the tailpiece, has enough space for another line), shows this same concern about squeezing the engraved image. But except in Book III of Paradise Regained and in Samson Agonistes the compositors did not take particular care to start 21-line page groups on versos so that facing pages would have the same number of lines and produce a better visual effect. Still, aesthetic considerations significantly affect the physical production of this book; through the material traces extant we may discover the modus operandi of an important early-eighteenth-century printing house.

This insight into the practices of compositors also explains how a strange catchword error occurred. Since there are relatively few catchword disruptions given the size of these large volumes, the anomalies stand out all the more. In addition to the coincidence of the direction-line and the last line of the text mentioned above, we also observe the following unexpected situations: (1) the differences that occur between books in Paradise Lost, in some cases the catchword on the last page of a book of Paradise Lost signals the head title, rather than the section title, of the next book;10 (2) spelling variations;11 (3) a large number of punctuation discrepancies;12 (4) omissions, which are mostly "The Argument"


Page 194
pages for the twelve books of Paradise Lost and for Samson Agonistes or intervals between sections or subsections (a notable omission is C1v of volume 1, the last line of which, being filled, has no space available for the catchword);13 and (5) shifted types.14

A majority of these, especially (2), (3), and (5), are simple errors. But two others, both in volume 2, are noteworthy: F4r (p. 39), Of [Twice,]; 2E1r (p. 209), And [Now]. In the latter case, "And" is not only the catchword but also the first word of the final line on that page: "And wipe the Tears for ever from his eyes." This page contains 21 lines and is the second to last for Lycidas (pp. 201-210); the preceding pages 202-208 are all normal 22-line ones. It may be inferred that this catchword error resulted from a problem in casting off the copy. The "And ..." line, originally intended for p. 210, had to be relocated to the preceding page to fill the space, but the catchword was not changed accordingly.

In the other instance, "Of" begins the second line on the next page (F4v). Presumably the first line on F4v, "Twice, by a voice inviting him to eat;", had been composed (or planned?) as the last line of F4r. Then the need for 21-line pages (see the table) was realized, so this line was removed from the page and reset as the first line on the next page, with the original catchword left untouched. The position of F4r as the very first 21-line page in the volume enhances the plausibility of this explanation; the compositor stumbled unexpectedly, then noted the problem and did not repeat the mistake. My record of catchword disruptions shows this to be a revised form of the original lineation. For my discussion I have examined only the Columbia University Library copy and the British Library copy (the latter is available in ECCO), which agree at this point. A census of all extant copies might discover instances of the originally planned arrangement (in which the 22-line F4r ends with the line "Twice ..." and the appropriate catchword "Of") or of a fully corrected combination (in which F4r consists of 21 lines, the catchword is "Twice," and the first line on the next page is "Twice ...").15


Page 195

Overall, then, careful attention to a frequently overlooked physical feature of a book, the number of lines per page, provides insight into the way that workers three centuries ago dealt with some everyday challenges of their craft. In Tonson’s 1720 edition of Milton’s poetry this scrutiny shows us how the compositors accommodated the presence of engraved ornaments, while it also helps us understand how small inconsistencies, here with catchwords, arose in the course of their labors.


Page 196

Now teaching at Peking University, I am deeply indebted to Professor David Scott Kastan and Professor G. Thomas Tanselle for their teaching during my Columbia years (1999-2006), out of which this essay grows. I am truly grateful to the anonymous readers and Dr. David Vander Meulen for their constructive and helpful comments and suggestions. Supported by the National Humanities and Social Sciences Foundation, China (authorization: 12BWW034.)


John K. Hale, "Paradise Purified: Dr Bentley’s Marginalia for his 1732 Edition of Paradise Lost," Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 10 (1991-95): 58-74 (p. 58).


John T. Shawcross, "Commercialism: Early Editors of Milton and Their Publishers," Milton Quarterly 33.3 (1999): 61-66 (p. 64). For an account of the contemporary notoriety of Bentley’s edition, see Stuart Bennett, "Jacob Tonson an Early Editor of Paradise Lost?" The Library, 6th ser., 10 (1988): 247-252.


Other printing errors are present in this edition as well. For instance, in vol. 1, the signatures on p. 33 and p. 35 should be "F" and "F2", but were missigned as "E" and "E2"; on 3M1r the pagination "449" was misprinted as "447"; the line number "620" on p. 483 was misplaced beside line 621. This note, however, focuses upon the ways that illustration affects typography.


Quoted in George Francis Papali, Jacob Tonson, Publisher: His Life and Work (1656-1736) (Auckland, New Zealand: Tonson Publishing House, 1968), facing 116.


Marcia R. Pointon, Milton & English Art (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1970), 18.


R. G. Moyles, The Text of Paradise Lost: A Study in Editorial Procedure (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1985), 53.


Pointon, Milton, 26.


Eight of them ordered "Two Books," so the print run was no less than 342 sets. Among the subscribers is "Thomas Tickell, Esq", possibly the editor of the edition (Thomas Tickell, 1686-1740).


Thus the catchword appears (or should appear, in cases of omission) in the last line of the text. See vol. 1: 4D2r, 4E4v, 4F1v (all in Addison’s Notes); vol. 2: 2O4v, 2P3v, 2P4v, 2Q1v, 2Q2v, 2Q3v, 2U1v, 2U2r, 2U2v, 3A4r, 3B1r, 3B4v, 3D3v, 3E4v, 3F1r, 3F1v, 3G1v.


Vol. 1: F4v, S1r, 2M4r, 2R1r, 2X2r PARA-[THE]. Vol. 2: 2G4r MASK [A] belongs to the same category, for the article is likewise rejected in preference for the head title. My description of catchword disruptions is made in general accordance with Fredson Bowers’s guidelines in his classic Principles of Bibliographic Description (1949; repr. with introduction by G. Thomas Tanselle, Winchester: St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1994), 299-300. The actual catchword appears first, followed in brackets by the first word of the next page.


Vol. 1: 2F1r Strecht [Stretcht] 2H4r Had [Hod] 2O4r Chrystallin [Crystallin]. Vol. 2:R2v Thought [Though] 2D1r Compels [Compells] 2X1r L’hebb [L’hebbi; the catchword in the British Library copy correctly matches this] 3G2v Ic [Io] 3H3r Quòdque [Quodque] 3M4r Cum [Cùm].


Vol. 1: 2R3r Historian [Historian,] 2R4r Adam, [Adam] 2Y4v Adam [Adam,] 3G2r All [All,] 4G2r Gospel [Gospel,]. Vol. 2: D4r Inspir’d; [Inspir’d:] P1r Tyranny [Tyranny.] P4v Annull’d [Annull’d,] 2C3r POEMS [POEMS,] 2E3r Mountains [Mountains,] 2I1v Therefore [Therefore,] 2L2v Where [Where,] 2O3r Drops [Drops,] 2Z4v PSAL [PSAL.] 3A1r Rise [Rise,] 3C2v 8 Rise [8 Rise,] 3H1r Collaque [Collaque,] 3H4r Nate [Nate,] 3L2v Interea [Interea,] 3N4v Et [Et,] 3X2v (satisfa-)ction [ction.]. In vol. 2, 3C2r Among [† Among] may also be grouped into this category.


Vol. 1: A4r, a4r (the a gathering, "The Names of the Subscribers," is inserted between the A gathering and the B), C1v, 3Y2r (end of PL, followed by Addison’s Notes), and B1v, G1v, N3v, S2v, 2A3v, 2G2v, 2N1v, 2R2v, 2X3v, 3E4v, 3M3v, 3S2v (each of "The Argument" pages for the twelve books of PL). Vol. 2: P2v ("The Argument" for SA), 2U1v, 2U2r, 2U2v (followed by SONNETS), 3M2v (followed by SYLVARUM LIBER), 3Q1r.


In vol. 1, the commas in 3F1r "Omniscient," and 3K2v "Insensible," appear half x-height higher than their normal position (the ones in the British Library copy are in normal position); in vol. 2, the "o" of catchword "so" on 2S3r is turned ninety degrees and appears half x-height lower than its normal position (the letter is in normal position in the British Library copy); the catchword on 3P2r "Aurea" has turned "a".


In addition to the Columbia copy and the British Library copy, the copies at the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Leeds, the National Library of Scotland, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University, and the University of Toronto share the same catchword error, i.e. "Of" on F4r of vol. 2 (among other copies, the ones at CUNY, USC, and Yale are reported to be missing). I am very grateful to Professor Chen Xiaoling, Ms. Ding Yanyuan, Professor David Kastan, Ms. Li Ling, Dr. Li Yaochung, Ms. Liu Nian, Professor Axel E. W. Müller, Dr. Na Hai, Ms. Peng Xiuling, Professor Shen Hong, Dr. Wang Yuanfei, Dr. Xu Hongxia, Ms. Yang Bin, and Mr. Yang Renren for their kind assistance in the check of respective copies. John Shawcross records "a reissue of the 1720 edition in private hands, the only copy reported" ("Commercialism," 64). I did write Professor Shawcross attempting to locate this unique copy, but after my email bounced I was sorry to find that the senior Miltonist had passed away in March 2011.