pletely that the moderators wrote the word Incomparabilis after his name. Like many men who have taken high degrees, he was so dissatisfied with his own performance that he thought he had completely failed (ib. p. 707). He also obtained the first Smith's prize. He was ordained deacon in 1775; became fellow of his college in 1776; and tutor and priest in 1777. In 1778 he was presented by his college to the rectory of St. Botolph, Cambridge, which he held till 1792. In 1780 and 1783 he was moderator. His reputation as an examiner stood very high in the university, and for many years he was constantly appealed to to settle disputed questions about brackets. His method of examination was peculiar. His keen sense of humour led him to joke over failures, especially those of stupid men, whom he called ‘sooty fellows,’ and when he had such to examine he would shout to the moderator in a voice which could be heard from one end of the senate house to the other, ‘In rebus fuliginosis versatus sum’ (Gunning, Reminiscences, i. 83). When he examined viva voce he interspersed his questions with anecdotes and irrelevant remarks. In spite of this habit, however, he had a wonderful instinct for discovering the best men.
In 1776, while still B.A., Milner was elected fellow of the Royal Society, and subsequently contributed four papers to the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’ But before long he gave up mathematics, and turned his attention to other subjects. He had a strong natural taste for practical mechanics, and is said to have constructed a sundial when only eight years old. After taking his degree he studied chemistry in Professor Watson's lecture room, and in 1782 lectured on it as deputy for Professor Pennington. In the following year, upon the university's acceptance of the professorship of natural philosophy founded by Richard Jackson [q. v.], he became the first professor. He took great pains with his lectures, working indeed so hard at the preparation of them as to injure his health, and those on chemistry are said to have been excellent. He corresponded with several scientific men, but his name is not associated with any important discovery. His lectures on natural philosophy, which he delivered alternately with those on chemistry, are described as amusing rather than instructive (ib. i. 236). It would seem that he could not divest himself of his love of burlesque, even in the lecture-room. Notwithstanding these defects Professor William Smyth [q. v.] thought him ‘a very capital lecturer,’ adding that ‘what with him and his German assistant, Hoffmann, the audience was always in a high state of interest and entertainment’ (Life, p. 32).
The close friendship with William Wilberforce [q. v.], which lasted during Milner's whole life, began at Scarborough in 1784, when Wilberforce asked him to be his companion in an expedition to the south of France. They left England in October 1784, and were absent for about a year, with the exception of a few months in the spring of 1785. Wilberforce says of Milner, at the beginning of their residence at Nice, that his ‘religious principles were in theory much the same as in later life, yet they had at this time little practical effect on his conduct. He was free from any taint of vice, but not more attentive than others to religion; he appeared in all respects like an ordinary man of the world, mixing like myself in all companies, and joining as readily as others in the prevalent Sunday parties’ (Life of Wilberforce, i. 75). In the latter part of their tour, however, Wilberforce and Milner read the New Testament together in the original Greek, and debated on the doctrines which it teaches. In those conversations the foundation was undoubtedly laid of the great change which about this time took place in Wilberforce's convictions.
In 1786 Milner proceeded to the degree of bachelor in divinity. His ‘act’ excited the greatest interest, on account not of his talents only, but of those of his opponent, William Coulthurst, of Sidney Sussex College, who had been specially selected to ensure an effective contest. Professor Watson, who presided as regius professor of divinity, paid them the compliment of saying, ‘non necesse est descendere in arenam, arcades enim ambo estis.’ The subject, St. Paul's teaching on faith and works, is said to have been handled by the disputants with a wonderful combination of knowledge, eloquence, and ingenuity, long remembered in the university, and referred to as a type of what a divinity ‘act’ ought to be.
In 1788, on the death of Dr. Plumptre, Milner was elected president of Queens' College. He set to work at once, with characteristic energy, to change the tone of the college, to increase its importance as a place of education, and at the same time to make it a centre for the spread of those evangelical opinions of which he was recognised as one of the principal promoters in the university. The tutorship was, by custom, in the gift of the president, and Milner, in order to effect the latter object, deliberately rejected, as he himself admits (Life, p. 243), several fellows who were intellectually well fitted for the office, because he thought them ‘Jacobites and infidels,’ and sought elsewhere for men. whose opinions were identical with his own.