Thursday, March 23, 2017

Anglo-Latinity: John Milton's Role

We begin our study of the Anglo-Latin tradition with one of its chief destroyers, John Milton (1608/9-1674). Milton was born just after the accession of James I, the second King of America** (not to mention the first of a Britain uniting England to Scotland). Milton was educated at St. Paul's school, the heart of the Northern Re-nascance in England, i.e. the center point of the recovery of Anglo-Latinity that followed the disastrous Dissolution. Whether Elizabethan England ever achieve Latinate literacy levels of the early Tudors is still debated. The achievements, none the less, are impressive.

** the name for what we now call "America" was at first Virginia. The other colonies were carved out the whole. The name America is anachronistic here, of course.

At St. Paul's, Milton would have been immersed in the Humanist tradition of John Colet, Desiderius Erasmus, William Lily, Sir Thomas More, and others. The standard grammar book for the post-Dissolution phase of Anglo-Latinity (just as Donatus was before**) was a composite work prepared for St. Paul's under the direction of John Colet by William Lily, and containing contributions, corrections, and edits from Erasmus, and Lily's students. William Lily should not be confused with his grandson, the famous stylist and founder of Euphuism in Rhetoric, John Lily. Erasmus wrote his essay De Ratione Studii specifically as a blueprint for St. Paul's, and supplied De Duplici Copia Verborum** et Rerum, a Latin phrase-book for the better making of Latins. For spoken Latin, his dialogues, or Colloquia were already in circulation, as were his witty proverbs, Adagia, or adages. These texts remained at the core of Anglo-Latinity from the 16th century to the early 19th century. Numerous copies can be found in American libraries of the founding fathers. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, along with many others, are well within the tradition, if somewhat hostile to its implicit Toryism.

** the old-fashioned (obsolete, early Modern English) name for a grammar book is a "donate", in recognition of this fact. Copia verborum has been frequently mis-translated by those who have not understood that copia is the standard grammatical term in late Medieval Latin for a phrase. It is not "an abundance of words" but simply "a phrase". It is a term of art.

Lily's grammar was taken over bodily into later works, for use in the first two stages of Anglo-Latin education, the teaching of Accidence and Syntax, supplemented by instructions in sententiae and colloquies, as described by Prof. William Ziobo. See his Syllabus for Classical America at Holy Cross:

which is part of a larger site:

In addition to becoming the core teaching text of American Anglo-Latinity, along with "Cordery", or the Sententiae Pueriles of Corderius, Lily's grammar also became, from 1752 to 1868, the Eton Latin Grammar, thus projecting it beyond the period of Anglo-Latinity proper. In a future post, I will trace extracts from and references to this grammar in Franklin's New England Courant, American novels of the Federalist period, and finally its death as a punchline for a drinking toast, in a collection of witty after-dinner aphorisms for the new elite of the ante bellum American north.

Lily's grammar, or rather Thomas Linacre's first draft of it, as translated into Latin by Scotsman George Buchanan (digital page images), was revised by Milton in his old age as his work Accidence Commenc'd. This fact makes the bulk of Lily accessible to us today, since any university library of any worth will have, tucked away somewhere, the complete prose works of Milton in the Columbia edition. These fill a bookshelf, and cover almost all of English education in one way or another. Milton wrote, besides his famous poetry in English, poetry in Latin, Greek, and Italian, a History of Britain, a textbook on the Logic of Petrus Ramus, a revision of Lily's Grammar, various works on Politics (his most famous prose), in both English and Latin, and a work on Christian doctrine discovered in 1825. This corpus tells us what history by the victors and the reformed educational system would have looked like, had Cromwell's legacy not been to hang, posthumously, on the gibbet. It is, in short, a complete blueprint for a Puritan theocratic tyranny, run by Conservative-leaning Liberals rather than Tories of course.

But Milton's revision of Lily, being conservative, leaves most of it intact and puts it in all our libraries. To get an idea of how much he retained, 350 of 550 quotations are taken bodily from Lily. In other words, about 70% is retained. (to be continued)


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