Inside the Milberg Gallery: In the Company of Good Books - Milton and his Readers

The following is part of a series of inside looks at the current exhibition in Princeton University Library’s Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library - “In the Company of Good Books: Shakespeare to Morrison.” 

Curated by Jennifer Garcon, Librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections, Gabriel Swift, Librarian for American Collections, and Eric White, Scheide Librarian & Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, the exhibition celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s “First Folio” and showcases Princeton’s diverse collection of English literature and many of the writers and readers who brought life to English literature around the world. 

Title page of John Milton's "Paradise Lost" with early ownership inscription "Eliza Ellery's book 1743."

John Milton (1608-1674). 'Paradise Lost. A Poem Written in Ten Books.' London: (Samuel Simmons), sold by Peter Parker (et al.), 1668. Princeton University Library.

The poet John Milton (1608-1674) wrote his first published work, “An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare,” while studying at Cambridge University. It first appeared in Shakespeare’s Second Folio in 1632 and again in a collection of Milton’s own “Poems” issued in 1645.

During the English Civil War (1642-1651) and Commonwealth (1649-1660), Milton also published several influential Republican tracts, including “Areopagitica” (1644) on the liberty of the press. With the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the blind and financially insecure poet retreated from public life to complete his greatest achievement, “Paradise Lost.”

One of the most influential of all English poems, Milton’s epic “Paradise Lost” retold the biblical story of Adam and Eve, whose temptation, fall into sin, and expulsion from Eden served Satan’s desire to corrupt God’s earthly creation. This copy of the second issue of the first edition, which introduced Milton’s ten book summaries and defense of “Heroic verse without Rime,” bears early ownership inscriptions, including “Eliza Ellery’s book 1743.”

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The exhibition is open through December 10, 2023 at the Milberg Gallery in Firestone Library. Please visit the website to view the gallery’s opening hours and for information about public tours, related programming, and how to visit.

Discover more through the companion digital exhibition.

Published October 10, 2023.

Media Contact: Stephanie Oster, Library Publicity Manager