Milton and the Jacobean Church of England
Doerksen, Daniel W.
Early Modern Literary Studies 1.1 (April 1995)
If you put a straight stick into water at an angle, it appears to be bent where it meets the surface. Perhaps there is a similar explanation for some apparent inconsistencies between the early and the later Milton. For example, why is it that the author of elegiac verses praising the Bishops of Winchester and Ely in 1626 could fifteen years later write three tracts roundly denouncing episcopacy? Something had changed, and I would suggest it was not just that the eighteen-year-old had matured; the church of his youth had been remarkably altered by 1641. (I am here partially differing with Nathaniel Henry, who minimizes these elegies as having little “ecclesiastical [or] religious significance.”) But while all readers of Lycidas may know that Milton considered “our corrupted clergy” to be “in their height” in 1637, during the peak of Archbishop William Laud’s ascendancy, they cannot be counted upon to be well informed about the Jacobean church in which Milton grew up to the age of seventeen.