The NYPL is displaying both Milton's personal 10 pence copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses and an ultimate rarity: one of only 4 known copies of William Blake's Milton. This is the same book where Milton descends from Heaven and turns into a comet before entering Blake's foot.
Milton was born on Bread Street in London, the same street as the legendary Mermaid Tavern. The tavern was a gathering place of artists and writers where it's rumored that Ben Jonson and Shakespeare would sit for hours and debate. He grew up, started studying the classical languages, and went to Christ's College at Cambridge.
Milton's elaborate and enormous myths, coupled with his descriptions of the infinitesimal, solidify his place as one of fiction's greatest authors. Milton was also known for his prose polemical writing, including the essay Areopagitica, an essay against censorship which is featured in the exhibit.
And he was also known for being METAL AS FUCK.
The crinkled liner notes to the Cradle of Filth album Damnation and a Day are also included in the exhibit, and they feature prominently in between works by Handel and Blake. They look like someone has recently done a line of Nymphetamine off of them, and maybe they have.
Milton has inspired countless metal songs, you see, and many metal musicians treat him as one of their own. His ideas about Satan are "catechism" for metal fans: that Satan was a rebellious musician, that Satan had a lot of groupies and yet remained distant and aloof, that Satan never showed up on television sober or without sunglasses.
Due to his effeminate characteristics, boys called Milton "The Lady of Christ's," an aspersion which has also been leveled at some of rock's greatest heroes, from Ignatius Pop to Ozymandias Osborne.
Perhaps you are resistant to Milton's evident sympathies. I admit, as a fellow Puritan, I would love to think that Milton was more of a stout and self-abnegating soul. But facts do not lie!
I have constructed a crude HTML table comparing and contrasting the artistic works of John Milton with those of Iron Maiden, a popular "metal" act.
|John Milton||Iron Maiden|
|Hidden Satanic yearnings discovered through the power of art|
|Bombastic writings about the spiritual world|
|Really long guitar solos|
|Features Steve Harris on bass|
|Expressed support for polygamy in the De Doctrina Christiana|
|Does Dio approve?|
As you can see, Milton is clearly as metal as Iron Maiden, if not moreso. If Milton and Iron Maiden were both playing shows on the same night, Satan would build a metaphysical bridge made of the tears of young girls between the two concerts in order to attend both at the same time, but he would go to Milton's backstage orgy first.
Milton can be forgiven, even by his Puritan ancestors: perfection is so far removed from human experience that it is difficult to properly communicate the nature of a sinless and flawless world and keep it interesting. That's why you have to THRASH HEADS FOR SATAN TIL YOU BLEEEEED!
Just listen to what some of history's greatest rock critics are saying about Milton's Satan!
Percy Bysshe Shelley: "Milton gives the Devil all imaginable advantage... As to the Devil he owes everything to Milton. Dante and Tasso present us with a very gross idea of him. Milton divested him of a sting, hoofs, and horns, clothed him with the sublime grandeur of a graceful but tremendous spirit -- and restored him to the society."
William Blake: "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "But in its utmost abstraction and consequent state of reprobation, the will becomes Satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself, and remorseless despotism relatively to others; the more hopeless as the more obdurate by its subjugation of sensual impulses, by its superiority to toil and pain and pleasure; in short, by the fearful resolve to find in itself alone the one absolute motive of action, under which all other motives from within and from without must be either subordinated or crushed. This is the character which Milton has so philosophically as well as sublimely embodied in the Satan of his Paradise Lost."
The exhibit is running until June 14th. Go check it out, because no one else will, and because you'll get to see some phenomenal rare books with unbelievable historical value for free.