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date: 25 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article aims to disentangle John Leland's projects and personality from his would-be collaborators and inheritors. As a means to this end, it situates his career alongside that of a seventeenth-century writer whose name has rarely been mentioned with his. There is a curious and potentially instructive resemblance in the lives and deeds of Leland and John Milton, both of whom were born in London in the first decade of their respective centuries. Coincidentally, they attended the same London school and the same Cambridge college, More revealingly, both promising young scholars seem to have been torn between an eagerness to win praise for their considerable talents and contempt for the conservative academic and clerical establishment from which that praise might be expected to flow. Both would find a temporary solution to this dilemma by travelling abroad, where they composed Latin poetry and cultivated the acquaintance of poets and humanists; thus, Leland, denouncing English academics as ‘noisy sophists’, decamped to Paris and Guillaume Budé's circle in the late 1520s. Their Continental travels brought home to both of them the piteous state of English letters, and both conceived the career-defining ambition of rescuing their native land from literary obscurity. For Leland, as for Milton, this meant laying claim to the mantle of the English Virgil.

Keywords: John Milton, travel, Latin poetry, English academics, English letters, Virgil

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