[Milton-L] Milton and St. Peter's Basilica

Alice Berghof aberghof at uci.edu
Mon Jul 4 19:24:37 EDT 2005

Is professor Whitaker's question (or any subsequent deduction stemming 
from it) art historically or theologically motivated, or both?  If the 
former, it may be important to note that Milton almost certainly saw a 
comic opera at the Barberini Palace on February 27, 1639 with set 
designs by Bernini - this is according to Margaret Byard in the essay I 
cited above.  Diane Kelsey McColley's thorough comment quite 
convincingly warns us to avoid making easy connections between what 
Milton saw and what he described later in images.  I, for one, would 
want to know whether the current scholarly fascination with Milton's 
images tends toward direct sources, toward a general sense of 
inspiration he may have had, or toward a zeitgeist or series of 
artistic parallels.  If the question is theologically or politically 
motivated, it seems to me that the evidence from John Evelyn's diary 
would be important, or the impressions of other non-Catholic visitors.  
To what extent should we place importance on what Milton saw?  Are we 
saying he may have had a series of visual memories parading before his 
mind's eye while dreaming Paradise Lost, or are we suggesting that we 
can learn more about his political or religious beliefs by retracing 
his steps on a journey he made when he was still quite young?
- Alice Crawford Berghof

On Jul 4, 2005, at 3:31 PM, Carol Barton wrote:

> Carl Bellinger "presume[s] 'the usual supposition' Diane McColley 
> refers to
> is that JM stepped in to St. Peter's for a look and a listen," saying 
> that,
> "We have no evidence, but the usual supposition is a rational one, and
> shouldn't require much justification; right? The telling thing would 
> be if
> he did not go in; since that would say
> something quite startling about this author?"
> Then he adds:
> "p.s. Does anyone feel they know Milton well enough, and his habits as 
> "a
> man about town" so to speak, to say with some assurance that he would 
> have
> gone in there, or that he would not have?"
> Carl, as Diane has cautiously responded, the key words in your 
> question are
> "we have no evidence": and it would say something more startling about 
> this
> lifelong-antipapist (about the only thing one can say with assurance 
> that he
> was consistently against) if he went *into* the Basilica, than if he
> deliberately avoided it. On the other hand, you "expect" him as a man 
> of
> letters to have been able to overcome his prejudices long enough to 
> want to
> see one of the best recognized landmarks in the world---
> so which did he do?
> Let me ask the question another way: does the fact that I am a Milton
> scholar, and have been to England, presuppose that I have seen the 
> Milton
> Cottage, or the Milton window at St. Margaret's, or visited Bartholomew
> Close? And if I have never seen Milton's gravestone at Cripplegate, 
> does
> that imply that my devotion to Milton is less sincere than someone's 
> who
> has?
> Of course not. We don't know, and in the absence of evidence to the
> contrary, we can't know. Anyone who "knows Milton well enough" to make 
> any
> speculation about Milton knows better than to make speculations about
> Milton. All we can do is present the evidence (or lack of it) as we 
> know it,
> and characterize it as such.
> I am not saying this to be mean or cranky; rather, to make the point 
> that we
> can't know what Milton did in Rome beyond what he tells us, and we 
> shouldn't
> even then take what he says as gospel without corroboration. That is 
> the
> difference between scholarship and idle fantasy.
> Did Milton actually meet and converse at any length with Galileo?
> I don't know. Do you?
> Best to all (and Happy Fourth to those who celebrate it),
> Carol Barton
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