Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blind devotion

"Milton collected expensive books, too; he quoted extensively, for example, from the slick folio editions of Byzantine history in parallel Greek and Latin published by the Imprimerie Royale in Paris, a deluxe publishing venture intended by its Catholic masterminds to promote an entente between the Churches of Rome and of the East.  Milton would have snorted at that, but in a letter of 1657 to a scholarly friend in Paris, he asked his contact to buy up the volumes he did not yet have, and send them over.  Now a complete set of this imposing series was fabulously expensive  the run of volumes sitting on the shelves in my own college cost its first owner £30 in 1666, a staggering sum.  And yet, as knowledgeable readers readers will no doubt be remarking to themselves, by 1657 Milton had been totally blind for five years."

     William Poole, "A burning issue:  Boccaccio's 'Life of Dante' in the Bodleian, and its original owner" (Milton), Times literary supplement no. 5799 (May 23, 2014):  15 (14-15).  And yet "Milton's own books have proved frustratingly elusive over the centuries.  We know he was a serious book collector, and immediately after his death his library, even though already diminished, was still tantalizing prey for prospecting book dealers. . . . [Yet] Of this impressive personal library, augmented by Milton even after the collapse of his eyes, only [ten] titles in [eight] volumes have so far found their way into the arms of modern scholars" (15).

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