Friday, September 23, 2011

Initial Launch

I'm not sure what exactly I'm supposed to be posting here. Whee! It's an adventure!

I suspect that this blog will chronicle my research into European Christianity in the 1600s, and specifically how that impacted the background culture and mindset of the early American colonists. I know for a fact that it will begin with the text entitled "A Question Deeply Concerning Married Persons, and Such as Intend to Marry: Propounded and Resolved According to the Scriptures."

I'll look particularly at how women are treated in that text, and how they are denied rights and agency in the name of religion and with the supposed backing of God.

Here's my initial response to the document:

Question 1: When, where, and by whom was your artifact first printed? 
Answer 1: Printed in 1653, in London. "Printed for Tho. Underhill, at the Anchor and Bible in Paul's Church-yard."
Speculation 1: Thomas Underhill ("Tho." was an abbreviation for "Thomas" used in the Seventeenth Century) was presumably rich, and probably very close to the church. He had several religious texts printed in his name, including "A Century of Selected Hymns," "The True Doctrine of Justification, Parts I and II," and this work. The fact that it mentions a specific church, and even a specific area of that church's property, suggests to me that it was intended for a small circulation. A footnote on the last page states that the author is eighty-three years old at the time of writing, meaning that he may have dictated it to a scribe. This author signs his name only "A.L.," and other works printed for Underhill bear similar initials.
     One exception is "True Doctrine," which was written by Anthony Burgess. He was a pastor, so possibly his name was included because he was relatively well-known and influential.
Though the work is British, I feel that it represents the attitudes of white male Christian Europeans in the early-mid 1600s, and therefore it provides insight into the way the early British settlers in North America thought.

Question 2: Did your artifact appear in print at any time in the 18th or 19th centuries?
Answer 2: No, this was apparently the only printing. And it seems that there is only one copy still in existence, because every scholarly work I found that cited this book as a source was drawing on the same original, or else an online copy of that work.
Speculation 2: This lends credibility to my thoughts about a limited, small-scale distribution. If not for the letter from the author on the inside cover, I might assume that this work was only ever meant for Thomas Underhill's eyes. That letter is general rather than personal in tone, though that might owe more to the style of the era rather than to a plan of distribution.

Question 3: What was the actual size of your artifact in inches or centimeters?  What information can you find about its physical presence, binding, etc.?  Do you think it was expensive or inexpensive?  Is it a folio, quarto, or octavo? Can you see a price?
Answer 3: I could not find out the exact size of the book, unfortunately. I have sent an e-mail to the British Library, asking for a physical description to help me in my scholarly pursuits, but I'm not too hopeful regarding a response. I also have very few details regarding its binding, though I expect that if it was indeed a private printing it was very expensive.
Speculation 3: I hope to find or receive further physical descriptions of the book, though based on the relative size of the signature inside the book it seems to be an ordinary size. It was clearly printed on a movable type printing press, as expected from the technology of the time, since some of the letters are not quite parallel to the rest of the line, indicating they may have slightly slipped during the printing process.

Question 4: View the original title page using the digital database or microfilm.  What is included there?
Answer 4: 

Speculation 4: The fact that the title includes both "Propounded" and "Resolved" indicates a great degree of surety on the part of the author. Not only is he proposing a position, but he is proving that it is right based on God's Word; this suggests that he believed himself to be unimpeachably in the right. Also, Jeremiah 20:9 takes the place on the title page where the author's name would usually appear. It is notable that this verse in Jeremiah refers to those who, like the author of this work, speak the word of God: "Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name; but his Word was as a burning fire..." There is also a stylized anchor seal on the title page, presumably indicating the printer.

Question 5: If there is more than one edition, compare the title pages.
Answer 5: There is only one edition.

Question 6: What miscellaneous front matter exists? Describe it.
Answer 6: There is a delicate border drawn around the title page, and a different border along the top of the author's foreword. The title page's design is reminiscent of a crown; the design repeating over the author's letter evokes an evergreen tree on top of an eye or mound. The first letter of each section is framed and illustrated. One letter is surrounded by the tangling roots and branches of trees; another is framed by two dragons or winged horses.  The book opens with a letter from the author, signed only "A.L." and addressed "The Author to the Christian Reader."
Speculation 6: The inclusion of a Bible verse on the title page, the fact that the author is writing his foreword to "the Christian reader," and the title of the work all indicate the extreme religious nature of this text. The decoration around the title page and introductory letter is exquisitely detailed and delicately crafted, suggesting again that it must have been expensive. And trees, crowns, and dragons always have religious significance.

Question 7: How long is your text?  How is it subdivided (chapters? Volumes?)  Is the print large and easy to read or dense, with many words on each page and lines close together?
Answer 7: Seven pages, which seem to be all that survived of a longer text. The print is small and dense, though not so small as to impede reading. It is subdivided into sections, which are headed by the question that section proposes to answer. For instance, the first section of the major text has a heading, in italics, which reads, "Whether any Woman (Widow or Maid) intending to Marry, may before her Marriage reserve any of her Goods in her own power, to be disposed by her after she shall be Married without her Husband's direction or consent?" This heading is followed up with a subheading, no longer in italics, answering the question in brief "The resolution is Negative for the Reasons following."
Speculation 7: This text does not seem to be concerned with challenging any official doctrine; on the contrary, the subject matter seems intended to preserve the traditional gender hierarchy. The text is divided for clarity and efficiency, with a sort of abstract presentation at the beginning, followed by support for the author's inevitably orthodox conclusion. Based on the wording of such headings, it seems that the author is addressing questions that existed in his own time. He is attempting to put out fires, so to speak, by answering "dangerous" questions in as quick and clear a manner as possible, and then by supporting his answer with Scripture.

Question 8: What back matter exists (following the end of a text, usually signified by the word “finis”)?
Answer 8: The seventh and final page concludes the author's answer to his first hypothetical question, but it apparently does not conclude the book. There is no back matter visible, though the text does end on several explanatory footnotes. As an aside, one of these footnotes contains an extremely racist reference to Indian women, and to how they do the Devil's work by seducing innocent white men into adultery. There are also lists of Bible verses lining each page, each corresponding to a use in the text.
Speculation 8: The footnotes provide interesting extraneous information that the author apparently felt did not belong with his major arguments. I wish I did have the closing information of the book, but the footnotes provide much greater context into the author's situation and point-of-view than I would have otherwise had. For instance, one footnote tells me that the author was eighty-three years old, and another tells me that he was a racist.

Question 9: Are there other texts like yours, and how can you tell?
Answer 9: Yes there are, and I can tell because I did further research on EEBO looking for more books dedicated to "Tho. Underhill." I have listed two other such works in the pages above.
Speculation 9: The fact that Thomas Underhill had multiple religious texts printed suggests that he had both a lot of money and a great desire to appear pious. The books were written by different authors, and appear to concern very different subjects, but they are all orthodox Christian texts that support the common religious and social viewpoints of the Seventeenth Century.

Question 10: What is the relationship between your artifact and structures of power in early American culture (and how can you tell)?
Answer 10: There is no direct relationship, as this book apparently had a limited printing and it was printed in England. However, it provides a very clear look into the mindset and background of those European settlers who colonized North America, and therefore a look into the minds of the earliest Americans.
Speculation 10: Though American settlers and writers probably did not have access to a copy of this particular book, they had certainly been exposed all their lives to works of similar composition and nature. This work helps modern readers to understand the religious culture out of which the early American society sprang.