The Folger Shakespeare Library Presents A Manuscript Miscellany

A Summer 2005 Institute
Directed by Steven W. May

Poetic Authority in Manuscript and Print: The Case of Milton's Paradise Lost and Dryden's The State of Innocence and Fall of Man

Lara Dodds
Mississippi State University

In his notes for his life of John Milton (1608–74), John Aubrey (1626–97) described an encounter between two literary giants of the late seventeenth century: "Jo: Dreyden Esq. Poet Laureate, who very much admires him & went to him to have leave to putt his Paradise-lost into a Drama in Rhyme: Mr. Milton received him civilly, & told him he would give him leave to tagge his Verse" (Darbishire 7). The result of this meeting was John Dryden's (1631–1700) rhymed play, The State of Innocence and Fall of Man, an "opera" that was never performed, but was entered in the Stationers' Register in April 1674 and first published in quarto in 1677. Dryden's decision to "tag" Milton's verses, whether an act of translation, homage, or overgoing, poses an interesting case study in the meanings of authorship, influence, and imitation for seventeenth-century literature. Two manuscripts at the Folger shed light on these issues.

Shortly after the first publication of Paradise Lost, Milton composed an explanation for "why the poem rhymes not" (Milton 51). This polemic provides an important context for Dryden's appropriation of Milton's epic. In his fierce defense of blank verse Milton contrasted the "true musical delight" of his own verse with the preference by "some famous modern poets," (including Dryden, perhaps) for rhymed couplets. These rhymes, Milton suggested, proved the poet's slavish devotion to "custom," and offered nothing to the poet but "vexation, hindrance, and constraint." Milton's own poetics represented, by contrast, "an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming" (Milton 54–5). As Milton's comments make clear, the decision not to rhyme was more than an aesthetic one. For Milton, verse form was intimately connected to the poem's central concern with liberty. Therefore Dryden's rhymed couplets in The State of Innocence stood for literary values opposed to Milton's, as well as contrary cultural and political values.

For readers of Paradise Lost, Dryden's State of Innocence is at best a trivialization—reducing the scope of epic to the scenes of a play—and at worst a betrayal of Milton's achievement in Paradise Lost. Praise of Milton's authorship at the expense of Dryden's began with Andrew Marvell's contemptuous reference to Dryden in the commendatory verses to the second edition of Paradise Lost (1674):


Well mightst thou scorn thy readers to allure
With tinkling rhyme, of thy own sense secure;
While the town-Bayes writes all the while and spells,
And like a pack-horse tires without his bells:
Their fancies like our bushy-points appear,
The poets tag them, we for fashion wear.
I too transported by the mode offend,
And while I meant to praise thee must commend.
Thy verse created like thy theme sublime,
In number, weight, and measure, needs not rhyme. (Milton 54)

Critical judgment has typically sided with Marvell: Paradise Lost achieved a sublimity incompatible with Dryden's "jingling sounds of like endings" (Milton 54).

As Stephen Zwicker has warned, however, the obvious superiority of Milton's epic is not so obvious if we view these texts through the eyes of the poet's contemporaries rather than our own retrospective sense of their relative significance. Material evidence suggests that the reception and circulation of Dryden's play was not at all hindered by its derivative relationship to Milton's epic. There seems to have been a wide readership for this opera in both manuscript and print. Between 1677 and 1700 there were nine print quarto editions of the play. In the preface to the first edition, Dryden explained that he was forced to publish this unperformed opera in his own defense because of the "many hundred Copies of it being dispers'd abroad without my knowledge or consent: so that every one gathering new faults, it became at length a Libel against me" (Dryden 86). Dryden's claim about the extent of manuscript circulation cannot be proven or disproven. However, there are seven extant manuscript transcriptions of the play, more than of any other dramatic text by this author.

The first printed edition has been identified by Dryden's editors as authoritative because it incorporates the author's latest revisions. There, Dryden framed the text of the play with elaborate paratextual materials. These materials were arranged so as to assert Dryden's poetic and cultural authority over and against Milton's. The volume begins with a dedication to the Duchess of York. This dedication affiliated Dryden with a network of patronage and announced certain (high status) political and cultural allegiances. Following the dedication is a long preface, headed "The Authors Apology for Heroique Poetry and Heroique License," and a commendatory poem penned by Nathaniel Lee. In this preface, Dryden deferred to Milton's priority by acknowledging his own dependence on Paradise Lost. "This POEM has receiv'd its entire Foundation, part of its Design and many of the Ornaments" from Milton, he writes and requests that the reader will not compare the two: "The Original being undoubtedly, one of the greatest, most noble, and most sublime POEMS, which either this Age or Nation has Produc'd" (Dryden 86). But if Dryden here acknowledged Milton's authorship, the remainder of the preface asserts independence by translating the meaning of heroism—a central concern of Milton's epic—into the specific idiom of Dryden's verse. Milton's authorship is finally transcended and exceeded by Dryden's own. In the words of Lee's commendatory poem, Dryden has refined the obsolete poetics (and politics) of Milton's epic:


He [Milton] first beheld the beauteous rustic Maid,
And to a place of strength the prize convey'd
You took her thence: to Court this Virgin brought
Drest her with gemms, new weav'd her hard spun thought
And softest language, sweetest manners taught. (Dryden 537)

Two manuscripts from the Folger's collection raise additional questions about the complicated relationship between Milton's epic and Dryden's operatic translation. Each in its own way, these manuscripts unsettle the careful negotiations of genre, authorship, and cultural priority that dominate the paratexts of the early printed editions of the play.

The first of these is a transcription of Dryden's play on 23 folio pages (folios 76–99) in Folger MS V.b.235. This transcription was inscribed "With W Luptons kindest wishes to T J Pettigrew Esquire" (fo. 77v) and bound together with the unpublished pastoral poems of William Basse to create a composite volume of seventeenth-century manuscript poetry in folio.

This document belongs to an independent manuscript tradition that precedes the first printing of the play as demonstrated by the collation provided by Vinton A. Dearing in his edition of The State of Innocence (see Dryden 460–534). This manuscript has primarily been of interest to scholars because it may preserve variant readings which reveal Dryden's process of revision. The most significant such variant occurs on the first page of the manuscript. This document, like the majority of the manuscript witnesses, gives the title of the play as "The fall of Angells or Man in innocency," the same under which the play was first registered in 1674. As Marion Hamilton pointed out in her study of the manuscripts, the different titles in the manuscript and print traditions may provide evidence of Dryden's authorial choices. The later title, The State of Innocence and Fall of Man, is a more appropriate title as Dryden's poem (unlike Milton's) gives little attention to the fall of the angels.

For a student of the early printed editions of the opera, however, perhaps the most striking thing about V.b.235 is its lack of any indication of authorship. In contrast to Dryden's complicated negotiation of his authorship in relation to his Miltonic original, this document includes no explicit reference to either Dryden or Milton. Instead, the most prominent cues to the identity and function of the document are the conventions that mark it as a dramatic text. This document is a careful transcription by a competent scribe or scribes. The pages are ruled throughout allowing for a neat and regular presentation of the text. The wide margins on the left hand side of the page allow for the clear presentation of speech prefixes, and the scribe has prepared the stage directions to provide the illusion of scenic effects. Yet while these conventions clearly mark the document as a dramatic text, there is no indication of the specific generic designation, opera, that is signaled on the printed title page and in Dryden's preface.

Folger MS V.a. 225 is another transcription of the play that exists in a different relationship with the printed editions of Dryden's play. This manuscript is illustrated here by the first page of text. As a comparison with the first printed edition reveals, this manuscript imitates the printed tradition of the text in both its size and its layout. Unlike V.a. 235, which uses clearly defined margins and white space to delineate the speech prefixes, this document follows the printed text in presenting the speech prefixes within the main text block. Without the distinctions of font size and type allowed by printed typography, this document is less legible than either the printed text or the independent manuscript tradition. For instance, the manuscript scribe has imitated the horizontal rules that separate the scenic description from the dialogue, but has not followed the contrast between italic and roman type that marks this distinction in print.

Dryden's editor, Dearing, has determined by collation that the exemplar for V.a.225 was the ninth printed quarto text, a pirated quarto that was falsely dated 1684, but actually printed in 1695. This late witness to the manuscript circulation of this play therefore raises difficult questions about the relationship between manuscript and print in the circulation and reception of dramatic manuscripts. Why might a scribe have chosen to copy a text widely available in nine printed editions? Though this scribe does not appear to be as experienced as the writer of V.b. 235, the use of two colors of ink on the first page does indicate that the document was prepared with some care. On the other hand, the curious title of this document, "The Sate of Innocence or the Fall of Man," is such an obvious error that we must presume a defect of some kind in the scribe's exemplar or perhaps a lack of interest or knowledge of the text. Furthermore, though this manuscript is largely a faithful transcription of the ninth printed edition of the text, it omits the extensive prefatory material shared by all printed editions and contains no explicit attribution of authorship. As in V.b. 235 neither Dryden nor Milton is named as an authority in the document. Looking at this manuscript today, we cannot be sure if any of Dryden's attempts to situate his play—within networks of patronage, within aesthetic controversies about rhyme and blank verse, within debates about the true nature of heroic poetry and the history of English literature—were successful. Certainly they don't appear to have been relevant to the writer of this manuscript. Though there was likely no need for manuscript circulation at this late date in the textual history of The State of Innocence, this document nevertheless represents an extensive investment of time and labor that suggests it was valued not only for the text it contained, but for the artifact it is and, perhaps, the scribal practices that produced it.

Suggested Reading:

Beal, Peter. Index of English Literary Manuscripts. Vol. 4. London: Mansell, 1980–1997.

Darbishire, Helen. The Early Lives of Milton. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965.

Dryden, John. The Works of John Dryden. Vinton A. Dearing ed. Vol. 12. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Hamilton, Marion H. "The Manuscripts of Dryden's the State of Innocence and the Relations of the Harvard Ms to the First Quarto." Studies in Bibliography 6 (1954): 237–46.

Hammond, Paul. "The Circulation of Dryden's Poetry." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 86 (1992): 379–409.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Alastair Fowler ed. 2nd ed. Harlow: Longman, 1998.

Zwicker, Steven N. "Milton, Dryden, and the Politics of Literary Controversy." Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History. Gerald MacLean, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 137–58.