Introduction

Seven university exercises in oratory, or prolusions, composed by John Milton while a student at Christ's College, Cambridge, were originally published in 1674 by the bookseller Brabazon Aylmer in a volume entitled Epistolarum Familiarium Liber Unus: Quibus Accesserunt, Eiusdem, jam olim in Collegio Adolescentis, Prolusiones Quaedam Oratoriae. Originally Aylmer wanted to collect in one volume Milton's personal letters and the letters of state he wrote as Secretary for Foreign Tongues (1650-58), but he could not get permission to publish the latter, so he included the seven prolusions instead. The substitution was probably Milton's own idea.

Prolusion exercises were held by universities in advance of holiday vacations or commencement exercises, so they have both an academic and a ludic flavor. As academic orations, they were composed and delivered in Latin. The topics, which may appear to us to be challengingly trivial, were assigned by professors and tutors. The point was not so much to argue the correct side, but to argue either side better than your opponents, as with debating societies today. In this first prolusion Milton has been assigned the "Day" side in the question "Whether Day or Night is the More Excellent." Milton makes serious arguments with a very light though learned touch.

The translation here closely follows that of Phyllis B. Tillyard in the Yale edition of Milton's prose.