By Anna Beer
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Additional info for Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot
Translation brought the ancient world – brought Athens, Troy and Rome – to London. This was only fitting within an incipient national culture that saw its origins in the Classical world. Britain took its name, so the legend went, from Aeneas’ great-grandson, Brutus, who landed at Totnes in Devon in 1100 BC. London’s old name was, allegedly, Troynovant (‘New Troy’). 24 What did John make of this remarkable education? When he looked back on his childhood, he conjured an image of an almost physical desire for literature of all kinds.
The first huge effort to be made was to picture this street over and over again, making sure that the order was absolutely right. Then, to remember a list of points, the pupil would map them on to the street of houses and shops, thus not merely memorising the things themselves but their order. Once the system was up and running, the information could be retrieved in either order, up or down the street as it were. Astonishingly, some scholars claimed to be able to retain a hundred thousand pieces of information using this method.
This interpretation is heavily reliant on Milton’s own, much later, assessment. In one of his earliest prose pamphlets, he would offer an angry critique of the English system. 11 This says more about John Milton than it does about Cambridge University. It conveniently obscures both the huge benefits he accrued from his time there and the personal crises (which had little to do with the intellectual debates around him) that beset him at the time. 12 Returning to the City of London and to his family, John re-entered a challenging, yet familiar, world.
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