Rare book with notes by John Milton discovered in Phoenix Library

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Two Arizona State University Department of English professors, Jonathan Hope and Brandi Adams, were part of a group that made an extraordinary find inside the Rare Book Room at the Burton Barr Library in Downtown Phoenix.

The professors discovered only the third known English-language book to include the handwritten reading notes of John Milton, British author of the 1667 poem “Paradise Lost.” Hope and Adams joined “Arizona Horizon” to discuss this historic discovery.

Initially, the ASU professors invited four scholars from colleges around the country to join them at the Rare Book Room. Then one of those scholars stumbled upon the book and recognized the handwriting. Hope and Adams originally created the Arizona Book History Group, then they invited other professors to come to Arizona, even raising money so they could make the trip. That way, they could all spend two days looking at the estimated 2,500 rare books. 

Milton leaves a noticeable mark when it comes to writing stories by leaving the letter e. This made his books more distinct compared to other books that other authors have written. 

“Milton’s handwriting is actually very distinctive and he changes it halfway through his life he goes to Italy which was a big trip for him and he was clearly very influenced by Italian fashions, so he starts altering his e’s to make them in a more Italian fashion…,” said Hope. 

The Arizona Book History Group aims to find unique pieces that people aren’t familiar with and come together to interact and talk about the collection. 

“The whole purpose of gathering the group of people together was to just take a look at the collection and see what was there because it’s about 2500 books from all different time periods and there’s a substantial collection of books that are from before 1680 and so they were just looking through it,” said Adams. 

Jonathan Hope, Professor, Department of English, ASU
Brandi Adams, Assistant Professor, Department of English, ASU

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