Citizen Milton
Loggan engraving of the Bodleian

Bodleian Library Bodleian Library, Oxford
Dec 2007 - Apr 2008

Text by Sharon Achinstein

Site designed by Richard Rowley

2. John Milton and the Bodleian: An Institution for Liberty

Milton was on good terms with the Head Librarian of the Bodleian, John Rouse. When Rouse requested Milton send him a copy to replace his poems that had been lost, Milton composed him an Ode in Latin to accompany the gift. He personally donated copies of many of his works to the Bodleian Library, many of which are on display in this exhibition.

John Rouse

Portrait of John Rouse (1629)
[Full size image]

The Bodleian Library, too, was a friend to Milton. On two occasions, Bodleian copies of Milton's books were saved from the bonfires of censorship to which they had been condemned. In 1660, part of a campaign to expunge the recent republican past, Milton's books were to be sent to the flames by order of the King. Again in 1683, in the climate of fear of a supposed plot against Charles II, the Convocation at Oxford voted to burn Milton's among a list of subversive books. At both times, Milton's books nonetheless survived in the Bodleian intact, in defiance of the law.

Milton had strong ideas about the place of a "Public library" (Bibliotheca Publica) in the cultivation of virtue, with the librarian as a "faithful guardian of works eternal." Even though Milton had good words for the Bodleian Library in his 'Ode to Rouse', he lamented that the students were making poor use of it. In a cautionary letter to his former pupil who had come up to Oxford to study, Milton wrote "The library there is rich in books, but unless the minds of the students be improved by a more rational mode of education, it may better deserve the name of a book-repository than of a library."

Milton, Ad Ioannem Rousium Oxoniensis Academiae Bibliothecarium (1647)

In his 'Ode to Rouse' Milton reveals the dangers facing books, hoping that his own works will, in future times, attain an appreciation they deserve: "But perhaps our remote descendants and an age of greater wisdom and purer heart will render fairer judgment on all things; then, thanks to Rouse, with envy in the tomb, a sane posterity will know if any merit is mine." The hand is possibly that of Milton's nephew and amanuensis, John Phillips, though the correction 'Graiae' in the centre of the second page, is his own.
Ms Lat. Misc.d.77 (=Arch.F.d.38)

Milton, Of Reformation Touching Church-Discipline in England (London, 1641)

In his belief in the dignity of his political writing, Milton donated this collection of eleven of his prose pamphlets to Bodleian with the inscription to Rouse indicating that Rouse himself had requested the pamphlets. The flyleaf list of pamphlets and the inscription are both in Milton's hand.
Arch.g.e.44 (1)

Milton, Poems of Mr John Milton, Both English and Latin (London, 1645)

Milton's first published collection of poetry announced his poetic career, aiming through poetry to "imbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of vertu, and publick civility." The awkward frontispiece image (which Milton mocks in the Greek lines below) was engraved by William Marshall of Milton aged 21, and offers up a pastoral landscape in the background—an image rather far removed from the public pamphleteering for which Milton was better known.
Portrait of Milton on from the 1645 Poems
Milton's engraved portrait from the front of the collection.
[Full size image]

Thomas Robinson's Bill, June 1645

This handwritten list of books purchased for the Bodleian includes Milton's radical pamphlets, the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (2 shillings, rather costly) and Areopagitica (10 pence, the usual price for such works). However, neither of these items appears in the Librarian's own copy of the 1620 catalogue. The books may have been deemed too dangerous to list openly, and this evidence shows the Bodleian did indeed own them.
Lib. Records B36

John Rouse's annotation on the 1620 Catalogue noting Milton's gift of poems

The annotation inserted into the libarary catalogue ('quae an delend') indicates where the titles of the books were to be omitted so as to maintain the secrecy about their existence when they were supposed to have been destroyed.
Lib. Records d.600: Fol. 30

By the King. A proclamation for calling in, and suppressing of two books written by John Milton (August 13, 1660)

The King's 1660 Proclamation condemned Milton's Eikonoklastes and his Pro Populo anglicano Defensio to the fires--works that defended the execution of Charles I. It commanded that the University "Seize and Take, all and every the Books aforesaid, in whose hands or possession soever they shall be found." Regarding the alleged removal of books from Bodleian, the chronicler Anthony à Wood noted for 16 June that "Milton and Goodwins books called in & burnt". Anthony Wood believed Milton's books were destroyed in the Oxford purge of subversive books. Nonetheless, copies of Milton's books in the Bodleian Library were not relinquished to the fire, and reappeared intact after being hidden away.
Broxb. 95.78, fol THETA 660(84)

Judgment and Decree of the University of Oxford (1683)

Issued by the Convocation of the University of Oxford on 21 July, 1683, this document includes Milton as among the authors of those books "destructive of the kingly government." The Decree interdicts "all members of the University from the reading of the said Books," and requires that the books to be burnt in the Schools Quadrangle of what is now the central Bodleian Library.
Ashm. 1680 (41)

Regarding the alleged removal of books from the Bodleian library, the chronicler Anthony à Wood noted for 16 June that "Milton and Goodwins book called in & burnt". Anthony Wood believed Milton's books were destroyed in the Oxford purge of subversive books
Anthony a Wood's note suggesting the destruction of Milton's books
MS. Tanner 102, fol. 71v

Top image: Engraving from David Loggan, Oxonia illustrata (1675): 'Old Schools Quadrangle'