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Milton at the Morgan Library

morgan milton strausBy Dr. David Lavinsky
Associate Professor of English

On Friday, April 29, students from the Milton and Religion course visited the rare books room at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan. The visit was coordinated by Straus Center Clinical Assistant Professor Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner and Associate Professor of English Dr. David Lavinsky, who co-taught the course as part of a Yeshiva College and Straus Center collaboration.



Led by Dr. John McQuillen, associate curator of printed books and bindings, the class examined some highlights from the museum’s noted collection of materials from English poet John Milton. Included in the presentation were the earliest first printed edition of Paradise Lost from 1667/1668, an extremely rare first American edition of the poem printed in Philadelphia in 1777, and some examples of Milton’s pamphlets on matters such as education and censorship.



The session concluded with the presentation of a first edition King James Bible (also known as the Authorized Version), printed by Robert Barker in 1611, and owned at one point by Jane Fisher, who played a role in Charles II’s escape from England during the English Civil War.

Of particular interest were notes and annotations still visible in this copy attesting to the translators’ knowledge of Hebrew. Students also learned about the production and circulation of early printed books and how the history of Paradise Lost as a material document continues to shape interpretations of the poem.

“Something that struck me was how different manuscripts are influenced by the overall culture from which they come,” said Matthew Shields (YC ’23). “In that way, manuscripts serve a double function: that of literary work and historical memento.”

“Seeing these items up close, actually handling them, and looking closely at material details such as print or page layout, gives us a richer understanding of Milton's original contexts, and helps us recover aspects of his work that might not be visible in modern critical editions," Dr. Lavinsky noted.

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