busy few days

Friday and Saturday were awesome research days at the British Library. I found some really juicy stuff that’s going to be very useful. I was there yesterday from 9:30 until closing at 5:00 yesterday, and I was so excited by what I was finding that I didn’t want to leave.

My time has not been filled only with work, however. Friday night I saw a very good production of Henry IV Part 1 with Laurie and her friend Jessica at the National Theatre. Tuesday night we’ll catch the second part. Jessica totally kicks ass for landing tickets to supposedly sold-out shows.

Last night my friend Nancy and I headed out to the hip joint of the moment, which goes by the name of the Boogaloo. It’s supposed to be the place to see and be seen, but it seemed just like any other pub I’ve been to in London. Well, there was one difference: the beer was about twice as expensive. Still, it was fun to hang out there, and the way the juke box works is pretty cool. The rumor is that Coldplay went there once to take in (or contribute to) the vibe and got angry when no one recognized them.

Today was an eighteenth-century geek’s idea of paradise. Nancy and I shared a delicious lunch at a Thai restaurant, then visited Dennis Severs’ House (see photo below), which is one part living history site and two parts happening.

Subsequently, we walked up City Road to John Wesley’s chapel, built in the 1760s, and to Bunhill Fields, the Nonconformists’ cemetery right across the street.

The Museum of London was our next stop, and coincidentally enough, there is a sculpture next to the entrance that marks the site of John Wesley’s conversion experience; Wesley described feeling a “strange warming of the heart” while walking along Aldersgate Street. Not exactly the most dramatic of descriptions given that some of Wesley’s evangelical peers were passing out and speaking in tongues.

The Museum of London is a well-done presentation of the history of the city, with artifacts from the last several hundred years. We each bought a reproduction of a 1745 London map, and then headed straight for the Restoration and eighteenth-century sections, which has an exhibit on the Great Fire of 1666, and then several other exhibits organized thematically around themes like “printing” or “prison.” Perhaps I’m making it sound too dry, but it really is well done. I especially like this “sermon glass”.

Next on the agenda: more walking! We ended up at a pub for a couple of pints of John Courage (produced by a brewery founded in 1787), and capped off the day with dinner at an Indian restaurant of my favorite kind.

Now I’m going to bed…

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gary hart on c18 methodism

Gary Hart, ěWhen the Personal Shouldnít Be PoliticalNew York Times (November 8, 2004).

A neglected thread of [Nazarene] church doctrine was the social gospel of John and Charles Wesley, the great reformers of late 18th-century Methodism. The Wesley brothers preached salvation through grace but also preached the duty of Christians, based solidly on Jesusí teachings, to minister to those less fortunateÖ. Having claimed moral authority to achieve political victory, religious conservatives should be very careful, in their administration of the public trust, to live up to the standards they have claimed for themselves. They should also be called upon to address the teachings of Jesus and the prophets concerning care for the poor, the barriers that wealth presents to entering heaven, the blessings on the peacemakers, and the belief that no person should be left behind.

[via Blue (formerly Pink) Bunny of Battle]

Bonus link! John Wesley’s sermon on “The Danger of Riches“:

I ask, then, in the name of God, Who of you “desire to be rich?” Which of you (ask your own hearts in the sight of God) seriously and deliberately desire (and perhaps applaud yourselves for so doing, as no small instance of your prudence) to have more than food to eat, and raiment to put on, and a house to cover you? Who of you desires to have more than the plain necessaries and conveniences of life? Stop! Consider! What are you doing? Evil is before you! Will you rush upon the point of a sword? By the grace of God, turn and live!

Both George Bush and Dick Cheney are Methodists, by the way.

Extra Bonus Link! The international headquarters of the Church of the Nazarene is right here in Kansas City.

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18th-C British Religious Periodicals

Making my work public, dear reader, I provide for your reading pleasure a couple of questions I’ve just posted to c18-L, the email discussion group for eighteenth-century studies:

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rewriting religious history: the case of methodism

Dang, these things take longer to write than you’d think they would!

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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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