November has seen a venture down to London to register with the British Library and a Saturday trip up to Scotland to attend a seminar for EMSIS, the Early Modern Studies in Scotland.
A spectrum of early modernists from Scottish universities convene up to twice a year at different host institutions. It proved to be a big learning curve.
The three speakers included both my primary and secondary supervisors, James Loxley and Dermot Cavanagh, alongside Professor Willy Maley.
Professor Maley’s talk on Milton’s 1670 History of Britain and how Milton saw the nation prompted me to abandon reticience for curiosity (which began with a pre-emptive apology for nerves) and ask about Republicanism.
What fascinates me about Republicanism is how the ideology over the course of the mid-seventeenth century meanders with cause and effect.
On the one hand, there’s Milton’s 1648 sonnet to Fairfax, which argues that unless decisive action is taken, war continues indefinitely. On the other, there’s Marvell’s Horatian Ode of 1650, which warns the perpetrators of revolution that thanks to their decision action, war will continue.
I asked if there was scope for a deeper Machiavellian reading of the History of Britain and Milton’s later texts. Maley suggested that there may well be, and explained that while England imported European wines and consumer goods, one noticeable absentee was European books.
There were many lessons to be learnt from the experiences and the thinkers of continental Europe, he said, to whom only a few had the sources and the learning to make it viable.
November makes it ever clearer that this year is not just about the writing of a dissertation, but becoming part of an ever broader picture. It’s also great to be networking, given the already identifiable pangs of isolation this year’s programme is set to bring.