John Stubbs

‘The World Was All before Him’

The Poetry of John Milton


Harvard University Press 640pp £29.95 order from our bookshop

One day in the early weeks of June 1723, a line of schoolboys trooped from Westminster to visit a celebrated prisoner in the Tower of London. Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster, had been sentenced to perpetual banishment for treasonous activities on behalf of James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender. His trial had been the most spectacular and one of the most blatantly corrupt of the century. Lacking the evidence to pursue a case in court, the government tried him before a special meeting of Parliament. In an extraordinary clash of wits, Atterbury was cross-examined by Sir Robert Walpole himself – and, while losing on points, proved perhaps the one worthy opponent the minister faced during his robustly amoral ascendancy. While in the Tower, the champion of the High Church and the Roman Catholic claimant to the throne received his final visits before embarking on a few years of near-hopeless intrigue in Paris (for, notwithstanding the lack of due process, he was guilty as charged). The representatives of Westminster School packed into his cell and recited verses in his honour. He responded by adapting lines from Book XII of Paradise Lost:

Some natural tears he dropt, but wiped them soon.
The world was all before him, where to choose
His place of rest; and Providence his guide.

Poignantly, Atterbury, a widower, changed Milton’s ‘they’ –

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,