John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” with John Martin’s Illustrations, One of 50 copies
MILTON, John. Paradise Lost of Milton. With Illustrations, Designed and Engraved by John Martin. London: Septimus Prowett , 1827.
First (Imperial Quarto) edition. One of only 50 copies with the smaller set of engravings. According to Campbell there were two issues of the Imperial Quarto Edition: "(2) Imperial Quarto Edition, measuring 10 7/8 x 15 1/4 in., with fully lettered prints from the larger set of plates, at £10 16s.(3) Imperial Quarto Edition, measuring 10 7/8 x 15 1/4 in., containing lettered proofs of the smaller set of the engravings: limited to 50 copies, at 12 guineas for the complete publication." Thus even though the images were smaller, this edition was more expensive upon publication. Campbell states "only three copies of the Imperial Quarto edition containing proofs from the smaller set of engravings are now known" (this was in 1992).

Two volumes bound in one. Large quarto (14 3/8 x 10 1/2 inches; 366 x 268 mm.). [4], 228; [2], 218 pp. Twenty-four mezzotint plates in the smaller format (image size: 8 x 5 1/2 inches), with tissue guards.

Contemporary burgundy pebble-grain morocco. Covers decoratively paneled in gilt, spines paneled and lettered in gilt in compartments, gilt spine bands, gilt board edges, wide gilt-tooled dentelles, marbled endpapers and doublures, all edges gilt. Some light foxing (mainly to the plate margins and prelims). An excellent copy of this scarce edition.

“This book was one of the great publishing enterprises of the age. It appeared in eight different formats, four with the large plates (8 by 11 inches) and four with the small (6 by 8 inches). Martin executed the forty-eight mezzotints himself. The apocalyptic romanticism of his conceptions had many sources: the monumental buildings of London, the engravings of Piranesi, published volumes of eastern views, even incandescent gas, coalpit accidents, and Brunel’s new Thames Tunnel. The resulting illustrations may be heterogeneous, but they are also unforgettable” (Ray).

“Martin’s illustrations to John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost represent a turning point in his career. The vast majority of Martin’s most famous works...were based upon either Miltonic or biblical subject matter—the Paradise Lost series are of particular importance both as one of his chief bodies of designs and as the focal point for the beginning of his career as a mezzotint engraver. Begun by early 1824, this series of engravings was the result of a commission from a little known American publisher, names Septimus Prowett. Prowett, who was based in London, approached Martin to produce 24 mezzotint accompany an issue of Milton’s text which was to be produced in twelve parts...To appreciate the impact which Martin’s designs had upon his public, one must realize the extent to which these extraordinary visions represented an entirely new conception of approach to the art of illustration. Not only were they ‘original’ in the truest sense of the word—designed directly on the plates without the aid of preparatory sketches, they were some of the earliest mezzotints to have been made using soft steel rather than copper, and they were the first illustrations of Milton’s epic work to have been made in the mezzotint medium...The greatest significance of Martin’s illustrations, however, was in their spectacular visionary content...Martin laid before his public the spectacular settings of the epic tale—the open voids of the Creation, the vast vaulted caverns of Hell vanishing into the utter blackness of Chaos, the daunting scale of the city of Pandemonium, and the sweeping beauty f Heaven itself. These images have no serious counterpart and are the very essence of the sublime in Romantic art. They are without doubt one of the most significant series of British book illustrations ever to have been produced” (Campbell, John Martin, Visionary Printmaker, pp. 38-41).

Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England, 69.

HBS # 65255 $9,500