The Tonson editions of Paradise Lost and the pioneers of vernacular scholarship: from Patrick Hume to Richard Bentley

Raspin, John (2023) The Tonson editions of Paradise Lost and the pioneers of vernacular scholarship: from Patrick Hume to Richard Bentley. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis offers a new and comprehensive study of the critical methodologies that underpin the most popular Tonson editions of John Milton’s (1608-1674) Paradise Lost (1667), a work that went from relative obscurity to becoming one of the nation’s most prized pieces of literature at the close of the seventeenth-century. It asks three key questions to explore the reception history of Milton and his epic. 1) What was the role of the Tonsons – and the book trade more widely – in shaping the reception of Milton and Paradise Lost at the turn of the eighteenth-century, and the development of vernacular literary criticism more broadly? 2) How were the Tonson editions of Paradise Lost defined by the political and religious contexts of the time, and what interventions were they designed to make in order to shape those contexts themselves? and 3) What were the continuities and discontinuities between Richard Bentley's (1662-1742) controversial edition and those that came before? This thesis contributes fresh insight into the relationships between publishers and their authors, demonstrates how new forms of vernacular scholarship were implemented to tackle Milton’s radicalism, and explores how Paradise Lost became a catalyst for debates around vernacular literary criticism and textual editing.

The dissertation analyses the contributions of four key critics who sought to sanitise Milton for a Post-Restoration readership. It begins with an exploration of Patrick Hume’s (fl. 1695) ground-breaking vernacular commentary, before assessing how Joseph Addison (1672-1719) links Milton to Whig discussions around national morality and politeness. It then demonstrates how Elijah Fenton (1683-1730) used the genre of biography to redeem Milton’s character, before finally offering a re-evaluation of Richard Bentley’s extreme interventionist edition. Throughout the thesis, I draw attention to the hitherto understudied role of the Tonson publishing dynasty.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing
Depositing User: Nicola Veasy
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2024 11:14
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2024 11:14


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