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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research update: 18th-c bibles

Edit: Added more info later in the day. I saw Wilco perform last night, and they were great! A small club, and I was right next to the stage. An English band called Clearlake opened, and while they were a little rough around the edges in their performance, I think I’ll probably check out some of their recordings. Nels Cline, the avant garde jazz guitarist touring with Wilco, used everything from a metal spring to (I think) a film canister to get sounds out of his guitar, plus he had about 20 effects pedals around him. Great stuff.

I spent today at the oldest public library in the English speaking world: Chetham’s Library. I examined about a half dozen Bibles from the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They contain a variety of marginalia, but nothing that compares to what I found in Bradburn’s diary. What I’m after is the ways in which people used their Bibles, and in addition to sermons and essays on how best to read the scriptures, we have marks written on pages by readers. The sample size, so far, is way too small to come to any definite conclusions, however. I’m still trying to decide how best to construct the comparisons; I’d like to determine how unusual or common Bradburn’s practice was. Suggestions are welcome.

Here are some research issues I’m dealing with:

  • I could be wrong, but I think libraries with special collections are not so likely to have Bibles with a great deal of marginalia. Rare books may have been purchased because they do not have all the marks of reading that scholars like me are interested in. Books with a great deal of writing in them could have been considered less valuable when the purchases were made, unless the book belonged to someone famous. Then the marginalia would make the book more valuable. I’m looking for Bibles belonging to ordinary folks, although I certainly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to examine, say, Jonathan Swift’s Bible.
  • Even if I do find marginalia in an eighteenth-century Bible, I can’t be sure who put them there. Libraries often, but not always, know who owned a particular book before they bought it (i.e. the book’s provenance), but we can’t be sure if that person is the one who wrote in it.
  • Even if I do find marginalia in an eighteenth-century Bible, I can’t be sure that they were put there in the eighteenth century. They may have been added in the nineteenth century, which will provide information about reading practices in that century, but not in the one I’m interested in.
  • I am sure that eighteenth-century marginalia is sitting on the pages of Bibles published in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, but how to find those Bibles? I know of one example that I intend to examine, but library catalogues usually record the date of publication, not the dates of marginalia. I have to say, though, that Chetham’s Library’s online catalogue has excellent, detailed bibliographical notes on their rare books, and I was able to determine when, according to the archivists, the marginalia in particular books were created.
  • Finally, marginalia require interpretation before they will yield information about reading practices. For example, what do all those crosses in Bradburn’s Bible mean? Were they texts of sermons he heard? Or were they, as I am hypothesizing, texts of sermons he preached? These questions are only the tip of the iceberg.

Chetham’s has on display one of only 5 seventeenth-century handpresses in England. There are only 70 in the world. I didn’t realize they were so rare. Perhaps once new presses were developed, there was no reason to preserve the old ones. Of course, the fact that they were made out of wood, rather than the iron of later presses, probably didn’t help their longevity, much.

In keeping with the day’s early modern theme, I took a break for lunch and had oysters on the half shell at Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, which dates from the 16th or 17th century (or 18th) depending on whom you ask.

Tomorrow I finish at the Methodist Archives (for this year), and then I’m off to the British Library in London. I’m meeting a colleague whose speciality is the Renaissance, and we’re gonna party like it’s 1688! (1688…anyone?…anyone?…Bueller?)

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zero time

There’s a moment when you’re crossing all the time zones at 625 miles per hour, when the light in the sky no longer looks normal, when flight attendants have brought you a meal and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be hungry or not but you eat it anyway. There’s a moment when the hands just fall off the face of the clock, the gears slip loose from the spring, and you have no idea what time it is. I started thinking of this as “zero time.” The passage of time eludes your senses. I kept doing the math, and it didn’t seem to help. The inside of the Boeing 777 offered no usual indicators of time, and the trip here to England seemed to be over before I knew it. I managed only about 2 hours of fitful sleep.

I’m researching Methodist communications networks in eighteenth-century Britain: preaching, letter writing, diaries, publishing, reading, writing, listening, sharing. The first day in the library was pretty spacey due to lack of sleep, but I managed to get some good work done, returning to the inventory of books that was completed upon John Wesley’s death in 1791. It’s a very detailed snapshot of Methodist publishing activity in the late eighteenth-century.

Next, I returned to the Bible of Methodist lay preacher Samuel Bradburn, obsessively recording as many details from it as possible. This book is filled with marginalia, most of it in the form of fat “iron crosses” next to particular verses, which I take to be his system for reminding himself which texts to use when he preaches. Over a thousand of them are spread throughout just about every book in both the Old and New Testament. As far as I know, no one has ever written about the ways in which preachers customize their Bibles to improve their use as tools like this. I don’t know how many Bibles that look like this survive from the eighteenth century, and I did not expect to find it: I just opened what I thought would be a box of Bradburn’s personal papers and there it was.

I also got a tour of the boxes and boxes of manuscript material downstairs. Librarians and archivists are wonderful people, listening to what you’re interested in and then pointing you towards what you need. And each box seemed to contain something unexpected. There are dozens of boxes containing thousands of pages, and as with most special collections, the level of cataloguing with most of the material is relatively general: you know the box contains the papers of so-and-so, but you don’t necessarily know what those papers are. Diary? Receipt book? Letters? It’s a treasure hunt. Fun and scary at the same time. What if I miss the best stuff? What if what I hope to find isn’t here? What if it doesn’t exist?

If you want to see something silly and fun, Manchester is currently doing the CowParade.

And just for yucks, here’s a brief playlist of Manchester music in roughly chronological order:

  • Buzzcocks, “Just Lust”
  • Joy Division, “Digital”
  • New Order, “Blue Monday”
  • The Smiths, “Boy With the Thorn in His Side”
  • Badly Drawn Boy, “Pissing in the Wind”

Note: last year’s Manchester Adventure starts here.

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pbs: america’s evangelicals

PBS has an interesting program called Religion and Ethics (If you live in the U.S., use this tool to see when it airs in your region. Here in KC it comes on at 12:30 on Sundays on KCPT.) This weekend “American Evangelicals,” part 1 of 4, will be shown.

Relevant resources at the PBS site:

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who do you love?

If we need a Constutional amendment banning gay marriage, does that mean that the Constitution as it is currently written permits gay marriage?

Let’s face it. Conservatives are obsessed with sexual intercourse, and by that I don’t mean that they are particularly in favor of it or that they are glad when people enjoy it.

No, what I mean is that conservatives have decided that out of every single “sin” or “virtue” that humans have ever put forward as something to be avoided or embraced, humping is the one that we need to pay most attention to.

“It must be regulated,” says the American political party that makes the most noise about getting the government out of our lives. “What you do in your bedroom is our business. We’ll decide what does and does not go on there. Marriage? Why, that’s just an excuse to have sex. And it’s really about reproduction. Always has been. So if you’re not going to reproduce then no marriage for you. Well, we’ll make exceptions for straight people who can’t have kids, but that’s it!”

In college I had a conservative Christian fundamentalist roommate who said he couldn’t wait to get married so he could have sex. Oh, so that’s what marriage is for. Check. Thanks for the clarification. God can’t get you if have sex when you’re married. You’re safe! It’s a free pass!

Now wait a minute. You’re telling me the gays want to get married, too? But that’s our holy humping ground! They’re gonna ruin everything! Marriage is no longer a safe place if the gays are there, too! How is God going to tell the good humping from the bad humping?

Avarice? Anger? Envy? Greed? Pride? Sloth? None of them hold a candle to Lust in the eyes of the right wing. Well, maybe Sloth. Cadillac driving welfare queens and all that. No need for a Constitutional amendment inspired by staggering acts of avarice and greed, apparently. War profiteering? How dare you even think those words! No, what the country needs to be most concerned with now is the gays.

Does marriage continue into the afterlife? If so, how does divorce work? Do human laws alter what happens in eternity? And if this world is merely a holding station for the hereafter, as GOP “Christians” surely believe, then isn’t my body just an arbitrary shell for my soul? Does my penis go with me when I die? If so, do I at least get a nice clutch purse to carry it in?

Do conservatives honestly believe God is as obsessed with sex as they are?

Put yourself in God’s shoes for a minute. Admittedly, maybe God doesn’t wear shoes. God might not even have feet. But imagine for a minute what it’s like to be responsible for the entire universe. You’ve probably got a pretty busy schedule what with stars devouring each other and black holes causing havoc. You know how it is. Just when you get things the way you like them something falls over or gets spilled.

Next thing you know, someone who keeps calling himself one of your chosen people is praying to you, and because you feel kind of bad about never straightening them out on the whole nomenclature thing, this is a call you feel you have to take. “God, the gays are doing it! I mean they’re not even ashamed about it or anything. They’re … you know … doing it! I think you know what I mean, God. Don’t make me spell it out.”

I have to imagine at this point God heaves a big sigh. All this work at creating an unimaginably vast universe. Beauty as far as the eye can see. Untold numbers of creatures just on this one planet. It would take millions of years just to catalogue all the species and all the variations to be found, much less figure out how to best take care of them.

And what does God get? The greatest number of messages are from the kids who take the short bus to church, the ones who keep asking, “Is this going to be on the test?” The ones who miss the big picture. The ones who never stop feeling bad about feeling good.

It has to be a little frustrating, don’t you think?

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