The Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR) is starting a new series of digital material. The first video in the series, Vegetable Harmonies, a short video with the Illuminations by Gherardo Cybo (1512-1600) on Mattioli’s Discorsi sopra la Materia Medica di Dioscoride Pedacio (BL Ms Additional 22333) accompanied by Monteverdi’s madrigal La Giovinetta Pianta (1592), was published just a few days ago:
This is my first post for a while, partly because I’ve been focusing on other things, and partly because, when I did turn my attention in this direction and tried to post, the blog had disappeared!
It took a while, but eventually I managed to sort out the problems and get it back, so here I am – three quarters of a year late, posting details of a paper I presented at the European Association for Japanese Studies Annual Conference at Tsukuba University on September 15, 2019.
The purpose of the presentation was to view the persecution of Catholics in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Japan in the context of the religious controversies between Catholics and Protestants in early modern England.
Here are the notes I used for the presentation:
I’d like to start by discussing the role and nature of characterizations of Japan in polemical literature prior to the martyrdoms of 1597 … and to do that I need to focus on a Jesuit mission very different from that in Japan – the mission to England of 1580-81, which basically hinges on two individuals, the controversialist Robert Parsons and his fellow missionary Edmund Campion, who came to England secretly in 1580 – a pretty risky venture, the penalty for which was death, a price which Campion paid, while Parsons escaped.
The following year, 1581, while the two priests were still in hiding in England. Parsons wrote a work – ostensibly printed in Douai but, like many Catholic texts of this period, actually printed secretly in England – entitled A brief censure vppon two books written in answere to M. Edmonde Campions offer of disputation.
Campion’s offer – dubbed by his enemies “Campion’s brag” – was to discuss the Jesuit – or, more broadly, the Catholic – position with the English authorities. The offer was roundly rejected in two publications by Meredith Hanmer and William Charke.
So … Campion requests an audience with the English authorities, Hanmer and Charke publish their rejections of the offer and Parsons publishes his response to their rejections.
And what does any of this have to do with Japan? Well, Parsons is at pains to reassure the English authorities that the Jesuit presence in England is not political but religious in intent, and he says, “… to retourne to M. Campion againe, whose coming into Englande you wil needs enforce … that it is for practise against the state …” – that is, in response to the charge that the Jesuits are plotting to overthrow the government and return the country to Catholicism by force – he argues that “the Indies Japon can geue example, where they haue dealt so many yeares for the bringing of men to the Christian religion, disallowed by the states of those countries, and yet are no medlers against those estates, nor euer caused subiectes to leaue their obedience to those infidel Princes.”
He says much the same thing in another work published the following year: “The king of Bungo in Japan, being a heathen, hath permitted & protected the Catholic religion in his countries these 28 years only for the commodity he feeleth his commonwealth to receive thereof…”, he says, concluding that the Catholic faith is essential to the “maintenance, continuance, well doing, and secure establishment of a commonwealth”.
The Protestants, as we might expect, put a very different complexion on things. In May 1581, just a couple of months before Campion was seized by the English authorities, one John Keltridge preached a couple of sermons to a captive audience of Jesuits and other “aduersaries to the Gospell of Christ” in the Tower of London: “What presumption was it for you to come to vs” he says; “Wee sought you not. what arrogancie to teach vs? We are not destitute of such as can instruct. What? was it because you would sowe your damnable errors here, as you did of late amongst the Iaponians? a people that might haue beene conuerted, nowe they are infected by you : that might haue seene the light, nowe they are blinded thorowe you …”
He continues his tirade, saying “there be Idols Amida and Zaca, which the men of that countrie worshippe, as they were taught by you. Think you that it is vnknowne to vs? are we ignorant of your dealings? No, I tell you no”. Which I think is a rather nice illustration of a recurring theme in early modern discourse; when in doubt – blame it on the Jesuits!
Keltridge winds up this part of his diatribe with the words, “And come you hither, and haue you hope to preuaile here with vs … come you hither into Englande?” underlining the point that the real focus is on matters close to home, and Japan comes in merely by way of illustration.
So, let’s turn now to the events of 1597. As Dr. Rappo has explained, the Franciscans claimed the crucifixions as martyrdoms, with attendant miracles, as evidence of the importance of the work they were doing in Japan, while the Jesuits denied that there had been either martyrdoms or miracles, and argued that the crucifixions were essentially political, resulting from the Franciscans’ failure to observe the legal restraints the Japanese had placed them under.
News of the crucifixions spread quickly in Europe. The Franciscan version was told in the Relación of Francisco de Tello de Guzmán, published in Granada and Seville in 1598, and translated in short order into Italian, French and German. Juan de Santa María’s account was published in Madrid in 1599 and, with revisions and additions, in 1601, and Marcelo de Ribadeneira – perhaps the most influential of the Franciscan writers – published his Historia in 1601.
The Jesuits were equally prolific; Luis Froís, José de Ribera and Luis de Guzmán were among those who published accounts, and there were others, on both sides of the debate, which continued to rage until the pope sanctioned the Franciscan mission in 1608, with the two sides largely burying their differences when the persecution of Christians in Japan intensified in 1614.
But what I want to focus on here is the fact that the debate is being played out in what is very much a European theatre. What impact, if any, did all of this have on little England?
The signs are not encouraging. Robert Parsons speaks of the Jesuits’ “voluntarie sufferinges tortures & martirdomes in the Indies, in Ethiopia, in Iapone, in Englād, Frace & other places” (A temperate vvard-vvord, 1599). That’s right! Blink and you’d miss it; it’s just a passing mention and he doesn’t give any details. Fróis’s letters were translated into English circa 1605, but they were never published. And, so far, I’ve not been able to locate any copies of texts related to the events of 1597 in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England database.
A 1598 translation of Jan Huygen [“haifun”] van Linschoten states that the Jesuits “likewise obtained of the Pope and the king of Spaine, that no mã might dwell in Iapan; either Portingale or Christian, without their licence and consent, so that in all Iapan there are no other orders of Munkes, Fryers, Priests, nor any other religious persons remaining or resident there, but Jesuites alone.”
The text is based on the author’s experience some years previously, so it’s only to be expected that it doesn’t refer to the Franciscan presence or to the crucifixions of 1597. However, it is curious that it appears to be the main source of information about Japan in England for a number of years afterwards. William Clark, writing in 1603, says, “it is reported of Iapona … where they [i.e., the Jesuits] keepe to themselues the sole dominion, and will admit no other Clergie, but play Bishop, priest, and Munck themselues”, citing Jan Huygen as his source.
And in 1604 George Abbot notes that “In Iaponia, of the Portingale, no man hath any authority or power besids the Iesuits … These Iesuits do also diligently take heed, that no mõk of any other order be receiued into those lads”, also based on Jan Huygen’s account.
So, yes, I think it’s fairly clear by now that we’re not really talking about the response in Protestant England, but the lack of it!
Essentially, it’s business as usual; it’s almost as if the crucifixions had never happened. Japan continues to figure as a rhetorical device in anti-Jesuit discourse and accusations of a Jesuit plot to take over England. For example, Andreas Philalethes (i.e., Robert Charnock) writes of “the great hopes [the Jesuits] haue of making England a Iaponian Island” (An ansvvere made by one of our brethren, 1602). Such accusations persist even after the Jesuits have been driven out of Japan. William Prynne, for example, writing in 1655, complains that the Jesuits seek to “make these Northern Islands a Iaponian Island of Iesuites, and one Iesuitical Monarchy” (, A seasonable, legal, and historicall vindication).
John Donne refers disparagingly to “the Iesuites Letters of Iapan” (Ignatius his conclaue, 1611), and Samuel Purchas makes leave to “borrow of them” in his account of Japan (Purchas his pilgrimage, 1613). Purchas even gives muted praise to the Jesuits’ work in Japan, saying “a mixed Truth” is better than “a totall errour” and “the Labours of the Iesuites … breed shame to our negligence”. Overall, though, there appears to be very little significant discussion in Protestant England of martyrdoms and miracles among the Christians in Japan.
The apparent lack of information about Japan in England at this time is all the more curious given that, from 1600, the English had, of course, boots on the ground – Will Adams, an Englishman in Japan (with apologies to Sting) or (if you prefer the Graham Greene version) our man in Nagasaki.
According to John Nelson, Adams’s “Protestant descriptions of a new world view portrayed the Spaniards and Portuguese as ‘papist pirates,’ the Pope as ‘a thief,’ and warned in no uncertain terms that the Spaniards were set on nothing less than world conquest based first on the conversion of subjects of foreign princes … It all sounded very familiar to threats heard during the San Felipe incident in 1597”. And, no doubt, it had some effect on Japanese perceptions of the Catholic presence.
And, from 1613 to 1623 the East India Company was active in Japan, headed by Richard Cocks, a former anti-Catholic spy.
Timon Screech, basing his analysis largely on letters written by Cocks to the Company during this period, makes a compelling case for the role of Cocks and the English in turning the Japanese authorities against the Catholics (The English and the control of Christianity in the early Edo period, 2012).
Some of Cocks’s letters found their way into later editions of Purchas his pilgrimage and, together with more of the Jesuits’ letters coming from Japan, they helped to flesh out the picture.
Slowly but surely, the news that Japan had “persecuted the Christians, and banished the Iesuites” started to filter into Protestant England.
Meanwhile, Catholic accounts of the crucifixions of 1597 and related events were beginning to appear in English. As Alexandra Walsham observes, “These books were expected to fall into the hands, not just of committed adherents of the Church of Rome, but also of lukewarm waverers and convinced Calvinists”. The Anglican clergy, of course, were exempt from the prohibition on reading Catholic literature and were, indeed, expected to do so, in order to be in a position to confound the adversary. It took a surprising amount of time, but by about 1630 Protestant England was reasonably up to date regarding the persecution of Christians in Japan.
However, it is not until the later part of the seventeenth century that the threads of historical detail and religious polemic start to weave themselves into a coherent Protestant narrative. John Evelyn’s 1670 translation of de Pontchâteau and Arnauld is a good example: “… for a mark of the Jesuites blinded self-love, he says, that no Fryar of any other order must be permitted to pass into England” – “he” here being our old friend Robert Parsons – concluding “thus they make nothing of ruining the Church, providing it may conduce to make them Masters of all”.
And in that context of hostile relations between Jesuits and other orders he introduces Japan, where “the Jesuites were Cheats and Impostures who made pretence of preaching, came to raise the people, and plot some treason against him [i.e., the emperor], and the kings of Japan”, where they were seen as seditious, as “dispos[ing] the people to war”, and where they were “persecuted and chased away as Cheats and Impostors”. He then goes on to argue that “It cannot be said that the Emperour did this out of hatred to the Christian Faith, who gave permission in writing in 1593 to the Order of St. Francis to enter his Empire, to found there Churches, Hospitals and Convents, and appear publickly in their poor habit : All which notwithstanding the persecution continued against the Society, who had but one Church left at Nangazaqui…”
In the following year, 1671, the Dutch account of Arnoldus Montanus appeared in English, noting that in 1596 (by the Julian calendar) the Emperor “proceeded cruelly against the Christians” ordering the “Governor of Nangesaque, to take five Franciscans, and three Jesuits, and having Crucified, run them through with Spears”. Montanus goes on to pour scorn on the accounts of miracles surrounding this event – “concerning the Miracles wrought by these Priests, let him believe, who according to St. Augustine, desired and depends upon now Miracles for establishment of Religion, already confirm’d by Wonders”, but goes on to list them nevertheless.
Montanus also comments, interestingly, that “These Examples manifest sufficiently, that the Japanners are not only of Noble Hearts, but constant Resolutions, enduring the greatest Tortures in their Infancy with inexpressible Valour, for a Religion, the first beginning whereof they scarce understood: For besides reading the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and some Prayers to the Saints, they have little or no knowledge of either the Old or New Testament: Therefore we may judge the Japan Martyrs to be very Zealous and Constant.”
This line of thought is also found in the works of the puritan Richard Baxter, who in 1692 argues that Christianity may exist independently of the scriptures, saying, “a man may be a true Christian who knoweth not that there is any Scripture which is Gods Infallible word”, and in that context goes on to say that “in Japan, Congo, China, and other countries of the East, they [i.e., the Jesuits] did teach them onely by Creeds, Catechismes, and preachings: And I remember no knowledge that they gave to most of them of the Scriptures : And yet the most cruel torments and martyrdoms never before heard of, which the Christians in Japan endured … doth put all sober readers past doubt, that there were many excellent Christians”.
So, let’s try to get some kind of gestalt on all of this. What does it all add up to? Essentially, we’re dealing, especially in the early stages, with an anti-Jesuit narrative, in which Japan is cast as “Jesuitized” and perceived negatively, while England is “Jesuit-free” and perceived positively. Japan is held up as the epitome of all the harm the Jesuits do.
The martyrdoms of 1597 and the ensuing persecution of Christians in Japan are recounted from the varying perspectives of the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Dutch and the English themselves, and as these accounts slowly filter into English discourse the focus begins to shift gradually away from Jesuit conspiracy and towards greater historical accuracy, the question of the veracity of miracles, and a recognition of the commonality of suffering. Obviously, the diagram is a simplification. Anti-Jesuit polemic doesn’t just die out at this time, and Protestant attacks on the Catholic belief in miracles go right back to the early days of the Reformation. But there does seem to be a general shift of perspective, away from the early modern worldview and anticipating the more rational discourses of the Enlightenment.
[Reposted from Quora Spaces.]
One of the ironies of English history is that the landmark 1689 Bill of Rights, with its prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment, was prompted, in part, by the ill-treatment of one of the great villains of the seventeenth century.
In 1678, for want of anything better to do, Titus Oates, a failed student of Cambridge University who conned his way into the priesthood, conspired together with a fanatical – and quite possibly clinically insane – clergyman called Israel Tonge to accuse English Jesuits of a plot to kill the king, Charles II.
They did this totally off the top of their heads, with no basis in fact whatsoever but, given the climate of the times, they were widely believed. The instruction to kill Charles, it was asserted, had come from the pope himself, and so the so-called plot came to be known as the Popish Plot.
As it happened, a strongly Protestant Member of Parliament, by the name of Edmund Berry Godfrey, was murdered shortly afterwards, and Oates seized on this as evidence that his pipe-dream of a plot was true. The press jumped on board and pretty soon a witch hunt of Catholics was under way.
This May 1679 issue of The London Gazette denounces the “Bloody and Jesuitical Principles” underlying another murder, that of James Sharp, the Archbishop of St. Andrews in Scotland. The true culprits turned out to be Presbyterians.
The country was in the grip of anti-Catholic hysteria. Following Godfrey’s murder, Catholics were banished from London and were not permitted within a 20-mile radius (later reduced to 10 miles) of the city. Several others (prominent among whom were Stephen Dugdale, Robert Jenison and Edward Turberville) jumped onto the bandwagon, and started accusing Catholics willy-nilly.
At least twenty-two Catholics were put to death, others died in grossly inhumane conditions in prison, and still others were killed by mobs.
Finally, Oates was exposed and it was acknowledged that there was not, and had never been, any such plot. A fat lot of good that did to the Catholics who had died, though, and the ban on Catholics (other than tradesmen and householders) entering London was maintained. Although Charles II himself was bitter about the number of people whose execution he had authorized as a result of the deception, anti-Catholic prejudice continued unabated, and scant remorse for the injustices done was expressed by the press or the populace at large.
Which is why I call it an irony that the Bill of Rights of 1689 was partly inspired by the punishment that Oates received. Make no mistake, he paid a high price. When James II, who had converted to Catholicism, came to the throne in 1785 he had Oates thrown in prison and sentenced to be whipped through the streets five days a year for the rest of his life. The presiding judge was Judge Jeffreys, “the Hanging Judge”, and it’s speculated that the aim was for the whippings to kill Oates, since Jeffreys could not impose the death penalty for perjury.
The irony is that, while remaining apparently unmoved by the executions, banishment from the capital and general mistreatment of Catholics, the public reacted strongly to the punishment meted out to Oates, the cause of all this suffering. John Phillips, for example, was outraged at “Protestant Judges condemning a Protestant, and the Detector of a most Horrid Popish Plot” (The Secret History of the Reigns of K. Charles II and K. James II [London, 1690], p. 187), impervious to the fact that the “horrid” plot he refers to was a complete fake.
The Bill of rights of 1689 was designed to prevent judges from overstepping the limits of their powers and inflicting punishments that went beyond their mandate.
A Remonstrance of Innocence, published in 1683, is a Catholic account of the deaths of those executed for their supposed involvement in the fake plot.
When James II was ousted, in 1689, Oates was pardoned, released from prison and given a pension. He died in relative obscurity in 1705.
- The two illustrations to this post are from my collection of early modern publications. I’ve written a bit more about them and the context in which they were written here: Religious Controversy: POPISH PLOT.
- For further details on Oates and the Poposh Plot, see Susan Abernethy’s informative blog post: Titus Oates.
This is a post on a website entitled “Bad News about Christianity“. The name gives a fairly good indication of what it’s all about, and there’s certainly a lot of detailed information on the website, but unfortunately there is no indication of the identity of the author[s]. This seems to be intentional.
Anyway, the post I wanted to draw people’s attention to is on Sadomasochism and Christianity. It’s a bit predictable in a way, I suppose, but it does draw together a lot of examples, saying:
…in any other context these images would be considered disturbing, sadomasochistic, deviant and unsuitable for children. They concentrate heavily on brutality, beating, flogging, piercing, torture, bleeding, nailing and death. Collecting and drinking blood is an especially popular theme in Christian art. Some Christians submit themselves to some of these sufferings – wearing crowns of thorns, flogging themselves, and even having themselves nailed to crosses.
Examples of suffering are drawn from the Bible, from accounts of saints, and so on, and the page is lavishly illustrated with bleeding hearts, flagellating penitents and so on.
What’s lacking is any real attempt to get to grips with the Christian perspective on suffering. The author mainly wants to show the spectrum of suffering embraced by Christianity, without going very much into why anyone might want to focus on suffering in this kind of way.
Still, despite the “look at these kooky Christians” approach, if you want a range of sources for Christian suffering this is probably as good a starting place as any.
“The ISIH was created in 1994 to promote the study and teaching of intellectual history in all its forms and to foster communication and interaction among the global community of scholars in the field.”
Among other projects, it is developing a database of twentieth-century authors whose work has shaped the development of intellectual history.
It also has a page on Facebook.
James A.T. Lancaster published a plug for my book back in 2014, and I had thought I’d posted an acknowledgement and thanks here, but either I’m wrong about that or it’s disappeared (I had some technical trouble a while back and a few posts may have been deleted).
So here it is again – a thank you from me, and a reciprocal plug for IHIS!
Travel, Transculturality and Identity in England is a project funded by the ERC (European Research Council), exploring issues relating to strangers, travellers, migrants and so on. The website is an open-access resource consisting (at present) of some 40 essays contributed by Nandini Das, João Vicente Melo, Haig Smith, and Lauren Working based on keywords, such as “alien”, “citizen”, “foreigner” and “spy”.
I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Das at a couple of conferences in England a few years back, and it is a pleasure to see the fruits of her labours in this new project. Her introduction, explaining the project, can be found here.
The University of Sussex is calling for participants to a Master Class on the History of Emotions, January 16-18, 2017. Click here for details.
The hurt(ful) body
Performing and beholding pain, 1600–1800
Edited by Dr Tomas Macsotay, Cornelis van der Haven and Karel Vanhaesebrouck
Manchester University Press, July 2017
I know! It has been too long – far too long – since I updated this blog! Nothing could illustrate that more clearly than the fact that this book came out a year ago and I am only now commenting on it, despite the fact that chapter 5, “Masochism and the female gaze”, was written by me!
This last year a lot of things have happened. Most notably, I retired from full-time teaching at Sophia University, Tokyo, in March. The whole build-up to, and immediate aftermath of, retirement was, for various reasons, quite a hectic time for me, and I just had to put some parts of my life on hold, including this blog.
But I’m back now, committed to posting regularly (once a week on average) and determined to catch up on lost ground.
So. The book. According to the blurb:
This book offers a cross-disciplinary approach to pain and suffering in the early modern period, based on research in the fields of literary studies, art history, theatre studies, cultural history and the study of emotions. The volume’s two-fold approach to the hurt body, defining ‘hurt’ from the perspectives of both victim and beholder – as well as their combined creation of a gaze – is unique. It establishes a double perspective about the riddle of ‘cruel’ viewing by tracking the shifting cultural meanings of victims’ bodies, and confronting them to the values of audiences, religious and popular institutional settings and practices of punishment. It encompasses both the victim’s presence as an image or performed event of pain and the conundrum of the look – the transmitted ‘pain’ experienced by the watching audience.
Or, if you prefer:
This book offers a cross-disciplinary approach to pain and suffering in the early modern period, based on research in the fields of literary studies, art history, theatre studies, cultural history and the study of emotions. It has a sustained focus on visual sources, textual material and documents about actual events rather than well-known thinkers or ‘masterpieces’ of art history, and a preference for cases and historical contexts over systematic theory-building. The hurt(ful) body brings under discussion visual and performative representations of embodied pain, using an insistently dialectical approach that takes into account the perspective of the hurt body itself, the power and afflictions of its beholder and, finally, the routinising and redeeming of hurt within institutional contexts. The volume’s two-fold approach of the hurt body, defining ‘hurt’ both from the perspective of the victim and the beholder (as well as their combined creation of a gaze), is unique. It establishes a double perspective about the riddle of ‘cruel’ viewing by tracking the shifting cultural meanings of victims’ bodies, and confronting them to the values of audiences, religious and popular institutional settings, and practices of punishment. It encompasses both the victim’s presence as an image or performed event of pain and the conundrum of the look – the transmitted ‘pain’ experienced by the watching audience. This will be done through three rubrics: the early modern performing body, beholder or audience responses, and the operations of institutional power. Because of its interdisciplinary approach of the history of pain and the hurt(ful) body, the book will be of interest for Lecturers and students from different fields, like the history of ideas, the history of the body, urban history, theatre studies, literary studies, art history, emotion studies and performance studies.
You can preview it on Google Books, and if you are interested in my chapter on masochism and the female gaze, here is a link to the final proof before publication. If you just want the gist, here’s the chapter abstract:
Masochism depends on fantasy, whether acted out or merely imagined, and the fantasy depends on an Other, who witnesses – either as an observer or as a participant – the suffering, real or imagined, of the fantasist, who in turn feels gratified. This particular concatenation of circumstances, though not recognized as a psychological predisposition until the nineteenth century, is generally considered to have emerged, in discourse and (probably) in practice, in the early modern period. While there are potential dangers in reading the analyses of modern psychology back into earlier periods, there are also occasions when the insights of modern psychology can help to cast light on certain motifs and vignettes in early modern literature.
In this chapter, Yamamoto-Wilson examines the role of the Other’s gaze in early modern proto-masochistic fantasy, drawing on the poetry of (among others) William Browne, Aston Cokain, Michael Drayton, William Habington and Philip Sidney, the prose romance of John Crowne, the satire of Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe, a novella by Matteo Bandello, and the writings of Aphra Behn and Mary Wroth. By focusing on the function of the captivating female gaze, this chapter approaches the subversion of the chivalric tradition through the transgressive woman and the foolish man, and highlights the male anxiety generated by the female Other.
 Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. 3: Analysis of the Sexual Impulse; Love and Pain; The Sexual Impulse in Women (2nd edn, Philadelphia, 1920), p. 132, identifies Pico della Mirandola, Disputationes … Aduersus Astrologi. Diuinatricem [Arguments against astrological divination] (Bologna, 1496; repr. [Lyons, 1498?]), sig. h5r, as ‘the earliest distinct reference to a masochistic flagellant’ and Johann Heinrich Meibom, De flagrorum usu in re veneria [On the use of whips in sexual circumstances] (Leyden, 1639), as the first treatise on the subject. Roy F. Baumeister, Social Psychology and Human Sexuality: Essential Readings (Philadelphia, 2001), p. 308, says ‘The abundant evidence of masochistic activity beginning in the eighteenth century contrasts sharply with the lack of any record of such activities prior to the Renaissance’, and Gordon Williams, A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, vol. 1 (London, 1994), pp. 513–6, notes the emergence from late Elizabethan times on of an early modern sexual identity which came, in the later part of the seventeenth century, to be known as a ‘flogging cully’ (a man who could only be sexually aroused by being whipped).
The book mainly focuses on the gaze in visual art. I think mine is the only chapter that doesn’t have any pictures! But the poems and other texts I examine conjure up plenty of images. For example:
Oh, cruel Nymph! why do’st thou thus delight
To torture me? why thus my suff’rings slight?
My mournfull Songs neglected are by thee,
Thou art regardless of my Verse, and me.
Thou canst behold, with an unpittying Eye,
My sorrows, and art pleas’d to see me dye.
(Jane Barker, ‘A Pastoral, in Imitation of Virgil’s Second Euclogue’. In Poetical Recreations , 1688, p. 211.
Kudos to Andrew Kahn, Jamelle Bouie and Tim Jones for this graphic depiction of 20,528 voyages over 315 years, transporting some 12,500,000 Africans out of Africa and into slavery in the Americas.
Read the accompanying article here: The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes
It’s not a new thing – it dates from 2015 – but I hadn’t seen it before and it really does bring home the point very well.
'All this buttoning and unbuttoning' (anonymous suicide note, 18th century)
(Oh, and Merry Christmas)
— Early Modern Death (@EarlyModDeath) December 23, 2016
I haven’t been keeping up with posts over the last few months – too many other things going on! I’ll try to remedy that and catch up on interesting developments in the field (suppose I should make that my New Year’s resolution!).
Anyway, here’s a new publication that may be of interest. I haven’t read it myself yet, but if you click on the link there’s a free preview of the book.
“Jesus wept” – the shortest verse in the Bible (John 11:35) and the subject of a short piece on by Thomas Dixon on Umberto Eco and John Donne in the History of Emotions blog.
The post makes the point that “Donne is one of a very few sermon writers to discuss Christ’s tears”, though I suppose it depends what one means by “very few”. It is mentioned in the sermons of William Burton, Daniel Price, Thomas Jackson, William Ford, Samuel Smith, Gilbert Primrose and James Mabbe’s translation of Fonseca’s sermons – all published in Donne’s lifetime – and by Samuel Otes, Thomas Adams, Daniel Featley, Peter Hausted, Anthony Faringdon and William Haughton and maybe a few others, all published prior to 1650. And there are other works – treatises, etc. – that discourse on the theme.
Still, it is, as Dixon says, a text one might have expected to have invited more exegesis, given the propensity of the age for emphasizing the less cheerful aspects of life, as evinced, for example, by the following:
As for laughter , it may be vsed: otherwise God would neuer haue giuen that power and faculty vnto man: but the vse of it must be both moderate and seldome, as sorrowe for our sinnes is to be plentifull and often. This we may learne in Christs example, of whome wee reade that hee wept three times, at the destruction of Ierusalem, at the raising of Lazarus, and in his agonie: but we neuer read that he laughed . And specially remember the saying of Chry∣sostome. Si risus in Ecclesia diaboli opus est, that is, to mooue laughter in the Church, is the worke of the deuill. (William Perkins, A golden chaine, 728-9)
Mercifully for their sanity, though, it seems the early moderns not only didn’t get overly bothered about Jesus weeping. but even, on occasion, rejected Chrysostom’s take on the whole thing:
Chrysostome indeede (for I will conceale nothing that may seeme ought to this purpose) speaking in generall tearmes saith, that Play or game is not of God but of the Deuill: and that we reade that Christwept oft, but neuer that he laughed, or so much as once smiled: yea that none of the Saints in Scripture are reported euer to haue laughed,saueSara onely,who is presently thereupon also checked for it. Which yet, saith that reuerend Father, I speake not to abandon laughter, but to bannish loosenesse.
Thus Chrysostome: which yet is not all out sound or true neither: For did not Abraham laugh too as well as Sara? and yet is he not taxed nor rebuked for so doing; nor indeed was Sara simply rebuked for laughing, but for doubting, yea if I may say so, for mocking: Abrahams laughter, as the Auncients haue well obserued, proceeded from ioy, Saraes sa∣uoured of distrust. (Thomas Gataker, Of the nature and vse of lots a treatise historicall and theologicall, 1619, pp. 215-6).
Of course, this is Umberto Eco territory, and he builds his tale on the spiritual legitimacy of laughter and question of whether, in fact, Christ did ever laugh. Dixon’s got a few other points to make; Jesus may have wept, but God is not on record as having done so, and in general tears were (and to some extent still are) perceived as “womanish”. All in all, a very good post on the early modern history of the emotions!
First off, I should say I was in the middle of writing a blog post on a lecture on ecstasy (the emotion, rather than the drug, though the latter did get a couple of mentions!) that I’d been to in London when there was a bereavement in the family and everything got put on hold for a couple of months.
Then my server went and did some weird things and I lost the blog entirely for several weeks. I finally got it back, minus the draft of that post on ecstasy, which appears to be irretrievably lost in cyberspace. I’ll try to recreate it sometime, but before I get back to writing my own blog posts, I’ll start off by giving some links to one or two blogs (well, three actually!) I’ve come across that might be of interest.
First off, there’s some gruesome stuff by Caitlin Green on humiliation and death by camel. You need to scroll down to about the middle of the article to get all the sordid details:
we will take Andronicus, and we will strip him stark naked, and we will bind him to the camel’s back in such fashion that his face shall be against its rump, and we will lead him from one end of the city even unto the other. Thus will all they, both men and women, whom he hath wronged, be able to avenge themselves right well.
As Dr. Green Tells us, this is “the last recorded instance” of this punishment, which was inflicted on “the deposed emperor Andronicus I Comnenus in AD 1185″. The above is the contemporary account of Robert of Clari.
For the sake of early modernists, who will be heartened by the news, I’ll just add that the story was kept alive for Elizabethan readers by Richard Knolles, who describes it with no less detail than disapprobation in his Turkish History (1687-1700):
…having one of his Eyes put out, he was set upon a foul lean Camel, with his Face towards the tail thereof, and so (as it were in Triumph) led through the Market place, his bald Head all bare, as if it had been a dead mans Skull taken out of a Charnel House, in a short old Coat; so miserable a Spectacle, as might have expressed a fountain of tears out of the Eyes of a right hard hearted man. But the Bedlam and most insolent Citizens, especially they of the baser sort, as Cooks, Coblers, Curriers, and such like, flocking about him like Bees (without regard that he had but the other day worn upon his Head the Imperial Crown, then honoured by them as a God, and extolled unto the Heavens; that they had not long before solemnly sworn him Obedience and Loyalty) ran now as men out of their Wits, omitting no kind of Villany they could devise to do unto him; some thrust nails into his Head, some cast dirt in his Face, some the dung both of Men and Beasts, some prickt him in the Sides with spits, some cast Stones at him as at a mad Dog, and other some opprobrious and despiteful words, no less grievous unto him than the rest; amongst others, an impudent Drab coming out of the Kitchen, cast a pot of scalding water in his Face; and in brief, their outrage so exceeded, as if they had striven among themselves, who should do him the greatest Villany. Having thus shamefully, as in a ridiculous triumph brought him into the Theater, they there betwixt two Pillars hanged him up by the Heels… (p. 38 →Read on EEBO TCP)
The second link is to Susan Abernethy’s post on Titus Oates, fabricator of the so-called “Popish Plot”. She gives an account of his checkered career, which culminated in him being “stripped, tied to a cart and whipped from Aldgate to Newgate. The whippings continued the next day.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the plot, and have a page on it here. What strikes me most is the fact that that the 1689 Bill of Rights, which includes the prohibition of “cruel and unusual” punishment, was in part a protest against Oates’s beating (which left him with the skin hanging off his back), with scant regard for the Catholics who died or lost their homes as a result of his lies.
As a footnote to Dr. Abernethy’s post, there’s an anonymous broadside of 1681 that gives an idea of what the scandalous conduct that got him kicked out of the Jesuit college at St. Omer might have consisted of. It accuses him of whipping ‘porkers’ to arouse his ‘Beastly Concupiscence’, whereupon he ‘Tilts at ’em with his Nasty Clyster-Pipe’ (The Character of an Ignoramus Doctor, London, 1681, p. 2). Gordon Williams (A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, vol. 1, London, 1994, p. 514), says ‘porkers probably means fat youths’ and the reference is presumably homosexual.
OK, that’s enough of the sleazy, sordid and downright nasty side of early modern life! My final link for today’s post is to Laura Sangha’s entry in the many-headed monster blog to her jointly-edited (with Jonathan Willis) publication on Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources, which I have not yet perused, but which looks set to be a must for students and scholars embarking into the field in this digital age.
And now, my wife tells me, it’s time to get offline and have some curry. I’ve acquiesced, on condition it comes with a beer!
What does it mean to talk of “masochism” prior to the publication, in 1870, of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus im Pelz [Venus in furs], or of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s adoption of Masoch’s name to describe the condition of deriving pleasure from pain in Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie [Sexual psychopathy: a clinical / forensic study]? Rob Boddice’s Pain: A very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2016) talks of “the distinctly modern pursuit of pain for pleasure, from the charitable beneficence of the Victorian lady bountiful, luxuriating in pity (according to Herbert Spencer), to the erotic cultures of Sadism and Masochism” and Alison M. Moore appears slightly uncomfortable with what she calls my “use of terms like ‘perversion’ in … discussion of practices that were not conceived as such in their own time” (Sexual Myths of Modernity: Sadism, Masochism, and Historical Teleology, Lexington, 2016, p. 80, footnote).
Is it simply an anachronism, then, to talk of masochism (or, indeed, other sexual identities) prior to the nineteenth-century taxonomy of sexuality? Krafft-Ebing cites (among others) Maria Magdalena de Pazzi (1566-1607) as an example of “the significance of flagellation as a sexual excitant” and clearly saw masochism as a convenient label to hang on something that went back considerably earlier than the publication of Sacher-Masoch’s novel. Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. 3: Analysis of the Sexual Impulse; Love and Pain; The Sexual Impulse in Women (2nd edn, Philadelphia, 1921), p. 132, notes that the first distinct reference to sexual flagellation occurs in the writings of Pico della Mirandola, who, in Disputationes … Aduersus Astrologiã Diuinatricem [Arguments against astrological divination] (Bologna, 1496), writes about “a man, known to me, with a prodigious and unheard-of sexual appetite, for he can never be sexually aroused unless he is beaten” (edition used, [Lyons, 1498?]), sig. h5r; my translation). As I write in a forthcoming publication:
If Krafft-Ebing had chosen to name the phenomenon of sexual arousal through pain after the first person to describe it, rather than after the first to write an extended narrative about it, we might be talking today of “mirandolism”, rather than masochism, and scholars might deem it quite normal to trace its development from the end of the fifteenth century, rather than the middle of the nineteenth or, at most, the early eighteenth.
As to whether or not early modernists regarded such practices as perversions, I argue quite forcefully that they did. Mirandola was quite possibly describing himself here, and the work in which the passage occurs was not published until after his death, a sensible precaution, given that he was fully aware that what he has written “is a harsh thing for liberal ears” (i.e., likely to give offence).
Other early modern accounts confirm that there was little tolerance for such proclivities. Johann Heinrich Meibom, author of the earliest known treatise on sexual flagellation, calls such practices “scelera ista perversæ Veneris, & puerorum contumeliæ” [crimes of perverse lust and assaults to our children] and rejoices that no such depravation is to be found in his native Germany or, if evidence of it should come to light, that the culprit would be burned (De Flagrorum Usu in Re Veneria [On the use of whips in sexual circumstances], Leyden, 1639; edition used, Leyden, 1643, p. 16; my translation; no online text available).
Early modern sexual identities tended to be couched in terms of actions and behaviour, rather than in terms of proclivities and tendencies, and during the seventeenth century in England there emerged the “flogging cully“, who could not be sexually aroused except through flogging. Several lampoons of such sexual flagellants were written, all expressing condemnation and disgust (the earliest of these, by John Davies, was published c. 1599). So my take on all this is that one can legitimately speak of a kind of masochism avant la lettre during the early modern period, and one can assume that such practices were viewed as perverse or aberrant by people at that time.
The idea that the early moderns would not have regarded such practices as perversions seems to stem largely from an uncritical acceptance of Michel Foucault’s dictum that “At the beginning of the seventeenth century there was still … a certain frankness. [Sexual] practices were hardly kept secret … people had a certain tolerant
familiarity with the illicit” (Histoire de la Sexualité 1: La Volonté de Savoir [History of sexuality 1: the wish to know], Paris, 1976, p. 9; my translation). One needs to bear in mind that Foucault is less concerned here with saying anything valid about the seventeenth century than with using Victorian values as a stick with which to beat the bourgeoisie of his own period. Certainly, there is little or nothing in the literature of the seventeenth century to substantiate his claim, at least as far as sexual flagellation is concerned.
The idea that suffering for pleasure – particularly sexual pleasure – is a comparatively recent phenomenon is harder to dismiss. Roy F. Baumeister is typical among historians of human psychology in his observation that “most sexual practices have been known and enjoyed throughout history, but masochism is a rare exception … which spread through Western society during the early modern period” (‘Masochism as Escape from Self ’). The Victorian and early twentieth-century taxonomists of sexuality (Charcot, Lombroso, Breuer, Freud, Krafft-Ebing, Lacan, etc.) tended to see masochism as being closely related to ascetic religious suffering, particularly self-flagellation, but Baumeister (rightly, I think), argues that “sex and religion provide radically different contexts, and it seems unwarranted to assume that activities have the same meaning in religious ritual as they have in sexual play” (ibid.), a position which echoes Georges Bataille, L’Érotisme (Paris, 1957), pp. 275–6, translated as Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo by Mary Dalwood (New York, 1962), pp. 252–3.
However, Baumeister leaves an important problem unresolved. “The prevailing theoretical position since Freud”, he writes, “has been that masochism is derived from sadism”. However, he cites “abundant evidence” indicating, not only that masochism is apparently “far more common than sadism”, but that “behavioral evidence suggests that masochism comes first, and sadistic or dominant role-taking comes only later if at all”, concluding that “it is implausible to argue that masochism is derived from sadism. Rather, sadism must be the secondary, derivative pattern”. At the same time, he supposes that “sadism is historically older than masochism” (ibid.).
Clearly, this just doesn’t add up, or at least to make it add up a bit of juggling is required. One approach (the one I mainly suggest in PPP), is that masochism was hiding in plain sight:
masochism is not discussed prior to the early modern period, not because it is nowhere, but because it is everywhere. One’s life is not one’s own, but held in trust; sexual congress is an act of naked, defenceless self-exposure; those who ‘take the sword’ are merely preparing to ‘perish with the sword’, and man’s only hope is to place himself abjectly under the heel of his God and cast himself at his mercy. (p. 12)
But there is another possible explanation. The sources Baumeister is citing are all analyses of sexual behaviour and the sex trade, and he equates “sadism” with the so-called “dominant” position in the sadomasochistic dynamic. However, true sadism – taking pleasure in strangling victims to death, crushing their bones and whatnot – doesn’t really form part of the sexual play that is the subject of the studies he cites. One is reminded of the old joke:
Masochist: Hit me.
Katherine Fowkes puts it a bit more eloquently:
The sadist would glean no pleasure from inflicting pain on someone who enjoys it… Likewise, the masochist does not take pleasure in being tortured by a sadist. On the contrary, although it is critical that the masochist’s suffering appear to stem from another, the pain is actually self-inflicted. To this end, the masochist needs to convince another to inflict the pain that he wishes heaped upon him. Thus in the sadistic scenario the tortured is by definition not a masochist and in the masochistic heterocosm, the torturer is likewise by definition not a sadist. (Katherine A. Fowkes, Giving up the Ghost: Spirits, Ghosts, and Angels in Mainstream Comedy Films, Detroit, MI, 1998, p. 35.)
In other words, the paradigm of sadism – sexual cruelty – being something with a long history, while masochism is a relative newcomer to the scene, can perhaps be maintained by arguing that those who inflict pain in sadomasochistic scenarios are not actually sadists.
Either way, the accepted wisdom is that overt accounts of sexual masochism do not date back any earlier than the early modern period. While there may be tales of cruelty, often with a sexual component, going back to classical antiquity, the victims generally do their best to avoid their fate and there is little suggestion of them colluding in their own suffering or inveigling others into inflicting suffering on them.
Phyllis and Aristotle For an account of Phyllis's apocryphal role as a dominatrix over Aristotle, click here.
At the same time, there are signs – faint as yet – that a paradigm shift may be on the way, and the roots of sexual masochism may be pushed back very much further. See, for example, Rachel A. Branch, Propertian Sado-Masochism in Augustan Rome and Today: Salvaging Power, a presentation given at a meeting of The Classical Association of the Middle West and South in 2010. Clearly, the relationship between Krafft-Ebing (or Sacher-Masoch) and masochism is not equivalent to that between, say, Edison and the light bulb (they are not bringing something into existence but rather creating the language with which to conceptualize something that already exists), but it is still very unclear just how far back into human history the concept of masochism can be traced.
1. Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen, Renaissance Quarterly, 67.1 (Spring 2014), pp. 306-307. Dr. van Dijkhuizen is a lecturer and post-doctoral researcher at Leiden University. He is the author of Pain and Compassion in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (D. S. Brewer, 2012).
Soundbite: a thoroughly researched and highly original addition to the growing scholarly conversation on conceptions of suffering, embodiment, and sensory experience in early modern culture
2. Catherine E. Thomas, Sixteenth Century Journal, 45.3 (Autumn 2014), p. 733. Dr. Thomas is associate professor of English at the College of Charleston. She and Jennifer Feather are the co-editors of Violent Masculinities: Male Aggression in Early Modern Texts and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), which I’ve written a short commentary on here. Soundbite:
a compelling piece of scholarship that ambitiously analyzes multiple discourses around pain, pleasure, and power. At times the argument feels more suggestive than conclusive
3. Sarah Toulalan, Theology and Sexuality, 20.3 (September, 2014), pp. 257-9. Dr. Toulalan is a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter. She is the author of Imagining Sex: Pornography and Bodies in Seventeenth-Century England (OUP, 2007), which I have written a short commentary on here. Soundbite:
a work of outstanding scholarship in which the author teases out differences between southern / Catholic / Latin and northern / Protestant / vernacular thinking about and attitudes towards both the infliction of physical pain and suffering on others and the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering on oneself.
4. Leah S. Marcus, ‘Recent Studies in the English Renaissance’, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 54.1, (Winter 2014), pp. 193-242; 193-4. Leah Marcus, Edward Mims Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, is the author of a number of works on the early modern period, including The Politics of Mirth (University of Chicago Press, 1986) and Unediting the Renaissance (Psychology Press, 1996). Soundbite:
I somewhat distrust the author’s generalizations because several of them appear to come from typing keywords into the Early English Books Online searchable database … But Yamamoto-Wilson does have some fascinating tidbits
I’ve written a few comments in response to Professor Marcus’s review here.
5. Thomas Palmer, Journal of Theological Studies, 66.1 (April 2015), pp. 494-6. Palmer is apparently associated with St. Cross College, Oxford, but other than that I can find no information about him. Soundbite:
The author … chooses rather to assume than to prove his major interpretative principle, that the ascetic value ascribed to suffering in Christian thought and practice may be understood as the expression of masochistic or sadistic tendencies
I’ve written a few comments in response to Palmer’s review here.
To say I wrote it in 9 months flat, not much. Two years after publication I’ve had enough feedback and enough time to think about it to be able to reflect on it and, while one or two flaws have been pointed out to me, nothing particularly damaging to my basic argument has come to light.
Apart from a few typos, the most egregious factual error that has been brought to my attention so far is the misidentification of the religious affiliation of two individuals. Andrew Sall is wrongly listed as a Catholic writer on page 51 (he converted to the Church of England in 1674), and – somewhat more seriously – on page 153 I write about Stillingfleet attacking a ‘fellow Protestant’ by the name of John Sergeant. Despite his anti-Jesuit stance and his dealings with the Privy Council, Sergeant was, of course, not only a Catholic but a priest. I am indebted to Thomas Palmer for pointing out these oversights.
But so far it seems no one but myself has noticed the biggest gaffe of all, right there, to my humiliation, on the very first page of the introduction, which begins:
During the earlier part of the seventeenth century, religious flagellation still survived, even in Protestant England. John Gee (a Church of England clergyman who went through a period of dalliance with Catholicism) recounts how, during the reign of James I, Catholic flagellants marched in procession to Tyburn, and – despite his renewed commitment to the Protestant cause – partly endorses the practice, declaring himself ‘no enemy vnto austerity of life, and taming or chastening our bodily sinfull members’ … (To read the complete introduction, click here.)
The reference is to John Gee, The Foot out of the Snare (London, 1624), pp. 80-83 and, indeed, if you have an EEBO TCP log-in you can readily confirm that this is precisely what Gee says. To quote from his account:
Yesterday being Good-friday, this present yeere 1624. they made some of you [i.e., Catholics] in the Morning, before day, goe in Procession to Tiburne, in penitentiall manner; the forme of which is, for a man to walke naked from the girdle vp ward, and scourge himself with a whip. The same day twelue-month last past, at a place of your solemne meeting in London, you made one whip himself so long, till he swouned, and was thought to bee past hope of recouery, so that hot water was instantly fetched to reuiue him.(Page 81)
This, I felt, was a striking enough illustration of the persistence of Catholic practices of mortification in Protestant illustration to make a fitting opening to my magnum opus, and I would probably never have known that there was anything more to it than that had I not chanced to take a look at a later edition of Gee’s book (also published in 1624), in which Gee has significantly emended what he wrote:
Here Gee corrects what he wrote in the first edition. In these times of ‘persecution’ the practice of ‘Whipping-cheere‘ is, he says, ‘not yet growne into that publike ostentation among vs, as to bee acted in the streets and high-wayes’.
In other words, Gee got it wrong! On hearing that there had been a penitential procession, he either assumed it had been ‘duly observed’ by scourging as the penitents made their way to Tyburn or had been assured it was so at second hand. As if to make up for this slip he adds further detail to the description of the Catholics making a man ‘whip himself so long, till he swouned’, saying, ‘This my selfe did then see, together with two or three hundred more spectators present at that meeting’ (p. 87).
In the revised edition, Gee inserts a sentence between his description of the whipping in London and the woman whipping herself to death in Brussels (both of which are in the original text), demonstrating that, while he slipped up in his description of the procession to Tyburn, he is not merely peddling gossip and hearsay.
So Gee got it wrong – and I, following Gee, got it wrong too.
This was at, or near, the top of the list of things making me nervous when I went for the viva for my PhD. As it turned out, though, all my worries were groundless; either the examiners hadn’t registered the mistakes in my work or they didn’t consider them worth making a fuss over!
Ironically, rather than detracting from my overall thesis, Gee’s emendation of his original account emphasizes the extent to which Protestant norms had grown apart from Catholic practices; the only time one would see a Catholic whipped in the streets of Jacobean England would be at the behest of a magistrate, not of a priest.
(Gee’s mistaken account of Catholics whipping themselves in the streets of Jacobean London is also cited on pages 72 and 91. If anyone should chance to notice any further inaccuracies in the work, please be so good as to let me know!)
Last Christmas, a friend who happens to be an antiquarian bookseller posted on Facebook an image of what he took to be the first recorded instance of the expression “merry Christmas” in print. The book in question was An Itinerary VVritten by Fynes Moryson Gent (1617).
A basic search on the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership database shows that there were several occurrences of this expression prior to 1617, the first being Nicolas Breton, A Floorish vpon Fancie (1577).
My friend protested that he was going by the Oxford English Dictionary, which does indeed give the 1617 work as the first occurrence of the expression with modern spelling:
But, clearly, OED has got it wrong!
I recently used this example to kick start a workshop on EEBO, and followed it with another example, this time one provided by Kenji Go, one of the attendees of the workshop. He did some work on the origin of the cosmic sense of space, published in Notes and Queries, showing that the earliest use of the word “space” to denote the place where the heavenly bodies are located predates the first usage cited in the OED (which at that time was given as Milton, 1667) by some 85 years. In response, OED has updated its entry:
While reading through Professor Go’s work, and checking through the OED entry, I couldn’t help but notice the close link between “space” as “cosmos” (sense 8 in OED) and space as physical extent or area (sense 7), especially Shakespeare’s usage in Hamlet:
Once again, a check on EEBO TCP shows that OED has missed a number of earlier references to “infinite space”, the earliest being A Sermon of Saint Chrysostome (1542). The usage that particularly interested me was in Sermons of Master Iohn Caluin, vpon the Booke of Iob (1574), “behold the heauen is of infinite space in cōparison, & yet we see it is borne vp by the only power of God” (p. 494). It seemed to me that the concept of space as physical extent or area was morphing here into the concept of space as cosmos; “heaven”, as used here, is not an abstraction, an idealized world unknowable while we are in this world, but something we can “behold” and “see”, that is, the place where the sun and the moon and the stars are.
A search on the Swiss database of early modern texts shows that the translation follows Calvin’s French exactly: “Or voila le ciel qvi a vne espace infinie”.
The page on the Swiss database is located here. In the French, as in the English, heaven is described as being of an infinite space, rather than as being, in itself, an infinite space, but it does begin to look as if the English concept of space as cosmos either owes something to French usage or developed in tandem with it.
Either way, the basic point is that this whole subject of the earliest usage of particular words and phrases is not something I have made a particular study of. My research interests are quite different, and these examples – “merry Christmas”, the cosmic sense of space and the expression “infinite space” – are just random examples that happen to have crossed my radar by chance. Doubtless, there are many more examples out there, and substantial revision of the OED is going to be needed in the light of the EEBO TCP database.
OK, so the friend who put up the merry Christmas Facebook post now tells me he’s pushed “merry Christmas” back to 1534, in a letter from John Fisher to Thomas Cromwell.
I note though that here “merry” only has one “r”. Still, with the growth of online databases we are more and more being forced to acknowledge that whatever we think we know about the early modern period is provisional. I guess we’ll have to wait until early modern manuscript material goes text-searchable to get the real dope!
Call to action!
@Maggie_R_Scott Absolutely! And if every early modernist who uses EEBO TCP sent one entry a week it could be done in a matter of months!
— John Yamamoto-Wilson (@jyamamo) July 11, 2015
@Maggie_R_Scott Wow! I thought it was probably a lousy idea, but said it anyway! so maybe it’s an idea whose time has come!
— John Yamamoto-Wilson (@jyamamo) July 11, 2015
@sharon_howard OED made possible by the postage stamp and the collaboration of 1000s of individuals. Time to apply those principles again?
— John Yamamoto-Wilson (@jyamamo) July 12, 2015
— John Yamamoto-Wilson (@jyamamo) July 13, 2015
— John Yamamoto-Wilson (@jyamamo) July 13, 2015
A downloadable list of some of the most useful digital sources I’ve come across so far. Click here.