research update: bradburn’s bible

I was lucky enough to see the legendary Patti Smith and her band perform on Friday night, and they were absolutely amazing. If that’s not enough, Television was the opening act. In other news, yesterday I sustained a small wound to my forehead, and pride, when I walked smack into a pole on the sidewalk. I was walking along when I noticed a poster for an upcoming performance by a band I saw a long time ago, and as I was looking over my shoulder and thinking when that was … WHAM! stars…pain…blood. Today I’m nursing a swollen eye, but it’s not black, thankfully.

My research is going well at the Methodist Archives here in Manchester, if a bit slowly. It always takes longer than I predict it will to work through the material. I could do with a good six months here, frankly. I’d like to share with you, dear reader, some of my research and thinking process:

Last year, towards the end of my trip, I was very excited to happen upon Samuel Bradburn’s Bible, a discovery that resulted from blind luck. Bradburn (1751-1816) was an itinerant lay preacher who became so well known for his pulpit performances that he was referred to as the Methodist Demosthenes. He began his itinerancy in 1774 in the Liverpool circuit, travelling and preaching incessantly for the next forty years. I found his Bible while going through a box of his papers. Expecting only handwritten material such as diaries and letters, very valuable resources themselves, I was surprised to discover a fat, leatherbound, printed book. None of the library’s finding aids that I had consulted made reference to this Bible. I’m not even sure that any scholars have spent any time looking at it before me.

The first thing I noticed was the handwriting on the pages throughout the entire book. Marginalia is not uncommon, of course, but this is really something else. These marks are often very useful for reconstructing the practice of reading, a central concern of my larger research project and of many scholars in the fields of book history and critical literacy studies. Like many readers, Bradburn did write a few comments related to the content of what he was reading; for example, next to Exodus 8.14, he wrote, “The frogs were only dead, not removed! This was to convince Pharaoh of their being real ones, that he might truly repent. Such are thy dealings, Lord, in many afflictions towards thy people!” But compared to the other kinds of marginalia to be found in the book, such comments are fairly rare. More noticeably, Bradburn also drew distinctive symbols next to individual verses, more than a thousand of them, in fact. I am cautiously interpreting these symbols as markers for verses that he used for his sermons. In order to confirm this hypothesis, I need to consult his sermon memoranda. Incredibly, Bradburn recorded a few brief details about every single sermon he preached for 40 years: over 13,000 sermons. Each one lists which Bible verse he used, so if I cross reference the Bible and the memoranda, I’ll have a good idea of what the iron crosses were for. This will provide us with some valuable clues about the practice of preaching and the ways in which it was interwoven with reading. This cross reference will have to wait until I return to American, however, where the memoranda are available on microfilm. I’m using my time to focus on material only available here.

Most impressively, to me, Bradburn sketched out on the endpapers what I originally took to be an elaborate reading schedule for the entire year, a schedule of study broken down day by day such that in twelve months he would have read most of the Old Testament once and five books of the New Testament three times. Until relatively recently, I thought this was an example of the Methodists’ obsessive concern with regular and disciplined reading habits. John Wesley, for example, advised followers and preachers, in particular, to set aside time in the morning and evening for study. Jeff, however, suggested I consult the Church of England lectionary to see how Bradburn’s study might compare. Now, I will humbly admit that I had never even heard the term “lectionary” before. In the words of the Oxford Companion to the Bible, “A lectionary is a set selection of passages from the Bible to be read aloud in public worship over a fixed period of time.” The Church of England lectionary is to be found in their Book of Common Prayer, and a quick comparison of the BCP and Bradburn’s Bible reveals that there is not a significant difference between the two. A more detailed examination might uncover something, but for now, I’m just recording his reading schedule. When I get back to American, I’ll undertake a detailed comparison.

So what do I do with the fact that this reading schedule is not, in fact, evidence of the characteristically obsessive reading habits of Methodists? Well, for one thing, it’s a bit of evidence that they were not as different from establishment churchgoers as outsiders feared they were. Although the Methodists did not split from the Church of England until 1796, they were long the target of suspicion as radical religious nuts. Bradburn’s Bible, admittedly one piece of evidence among thousands, is evidence of an adherence to the state church schedule of worship.

But really, I need to gather more information in order to make any informed conclusions. I need to avoid making too many generalizations based on limited data. Here are some as yet unanswered questions:

  • How does Bradburn’s Bible, with its detailed marginalia, compare to other Bibles from the same period?
  • Did other preachers use a similar system of marking their sermon verses?
  • Did lay people make the same kinds of notes in their Bibles?
  • Do Bibles owned by members of different sects have significantly different marginalia?
  • Was there any taboo associated with writing on the pages of a sacred text?
  • How unusual was it for someone outside of the Church of England to follow the official lectionary?

The challenge, of course, is relatively limited time. I could research until the end of time, always finding a need for new information. But the fact is that I am here in England for only so long, and I only have so many years to work before I have to have produced enough published material to make tenure.

Like many assistant professors, I need to cut out reasonably-sized slices to publish as articles while I work on the book. I try to have patience, but it’s not easy.

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6 thoughts on “research update: bradburn’s bible

  1. This is great stuff, George. As a sort of parallel pursuit, have you looked into the practice of Grangerizing or extra-illustrating Bibles, interleaving prints from a variety of external sources for the purpose of illustrating (in this case) scriptures? The eponymous Granger was himself a man of the cloth, which is suggestive, though I don’t know if he extended the practice of Grangerizing to his Bible. But the mere fact that there doesn’t appear to have been any taboos against it (Holbrook Jackson mentions extra-illustration of Bibles in _Bibliomania_) might lend credence to the idea that other kinds of intervention (“writing on the pages of the sacred text”) were equally permissible (?)
    Do you have your Powerbook with you? I’m writing this on mine! Just purchased Penelope, as I’ve christened her, a week or so ago.

  2. Ah, that’s a great connection: Grangerizing! I know that H. J. Jackson (a different Jackson than the one who wrote Bibliomania, I’m pretty sure) has a chapter on the practice in Marginalia. Hmmm, I should work on that.
    Yes, I have my Powerbook (Prometheus) with me! Congrats on getting yours; did you get a 12″? I’ve found some free wifi locally, so before and after the library opens I’m still able to do a bit of research online and check email.

  3. Yup, got the 12″–at 4.6 pounds, it’s just my size (my 95 pound frame balks when I try to lug around too much weight).
    Prometheus? What a great name!

  4. Carnivalesque #1, July/August 2004

    Here it is, just in time for the weekend: some of the best blog writing out there on early modern related topics, from late June (so I cheated slightly…) to the end of August. What a talented bunch.
    Early in July, George H Williams was to be found…

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