John Milton’s masterpiece in a monumental French edition
In 1881 Gustave Guérin, a bookseller-publisher in Paris at number 26 and 51 of rue de la Harpe, launches, with emphatic publicity, a work that he does not hesitate to define monumental. This is a French edition of Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost. For the book Guérin has hired big names: for the translation Chateaubriand; for the introduction Lamartine; for the illustrations, 27 out of the text, masters like Flatters, Melin, Richomme and for the engravings, on steel, a group of artists of proven excellence. The large in-folio volume, 35×45 cm, costs, according to the binding, from 20 to 60 Francs in the normal edition, and from 96 to 125 in the one for amateurs (Holland paper and engravings on Chine). Finally, the monumental edition, unique au monde, with the engravings on Chine avant la lettre, un-bound, is sold for 500 Francs, with the warning that the price will soon be doubled.
Paradise Lost is the epic poem in verse by John Milton dealing with the Jewish-Christian-Islamic story of Lucifer’s temptation of Adam and Eve, and of their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s ending, expressed in the first book, is “to unveil eternal Providence to mankind” (I, 26) and to explain the conflict between such eternal Providence and free will. It was published for the first time in 1667, in ten books. A second edition in 1674 followed, divided, this time, into 12 books (like Virgil’s Aeneid) with minor revisions to the text.
In the nineteenth century, before and after Flatters & Co., artists such as William Blake (1807) and Gustave Dorè (1885) produced wonderful illustrations for different editions of the poem. Those, above all by Jean Jacques Flatters (1776/1845), presented below to BARNUM’s readers, fully support the neoclassical taste of the period in which they were created.