Category: sermons

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Fordyce’s Sermons and a Real-Life Mr. Collins

Remember Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice?  He's the creepy, pompous cousin of Mr. Bennett – the one who was intended to marry Lizzie, but ended up with Charlotte Lucas, Lizzie's best friend.  During his first visit to the Bennett family, Mr. Collins proves to be such a bore in conversation that he's asked to read out loud instead:

Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:

"Do you know, mamma, that my uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town."

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:

"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin."

Books on proper conduct were popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and James Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women was one of the most widely read and circulated.  It became a staple in household and school libraries and went through multiple editions in a short period.  One has to wonder, however, whether the young women who were subjected to its wisdom liked it as much as their parents, teachers, and clergymen did.  Scholars have pointed out that Jane Austen uses the events above to comment on the place of the novel in society, but also to frame her female characters in relation to the submissive, modest, and pious behavior Fordyce prescribes.  

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We have one copy of Fordyce's Sermons in Special Collections.  It's a second edition in two volumes, printed in 1766 in London.  It's interesting to read, especially as an insight into the world of Jane Austen.  But what's most interesting about it, to me at least, is that at some point in its early history, it was owned by a man named L. Buck, LL.D., who seemed to have appreciated Fordyce just as much as Mr. Collins did.  Here's what he wrote on the front free endpaper:

This Book ought to be read again and again by every young Lady in the Kingdom. I do not know any Praise too great, that can be given to the Author of it. L. B.

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Mr. Buck went on to take notes throughout the first and second volumes, underlining sentences and making short, summarizing comments in the margins. I've collected a gallery of some representative examples below.

From Alumni Oxoniensis I was able to find out that our Mr. Buck was probably Reverend Lewis Buck of Bideford, Devon.  He enrolled in Exeter College at Oxford in May 1753 at the age of 19, received a bachelor's degree in law in 1765 and a D.C.L. in 1771, and died in April 1783.  

To Mr. Buck's credit, it's pretty unfair of me to call him a real-life Mr. Collins.  After all, we know very little about him, except for his regard for Fordyce and the fact that he was a clergyman.  His interest in these sermons mirrored the attitudes and values of the society around him.  Still, it's tempting to look for the reasons he read this book so closely.  Was he a father of daughters looking for parenting advice?  Was he involved in the education of women?  Or perhaps he was looking for ways to counsel young women in his parish?  Whatever his purposes, Fordyce's Sermons was a text he studied fully and, evidently, enjoyed.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection

Were there steam engines in the Bible?

Yes, you read that title right – this week we're sharing a selection from the collection of British pamphlets, and it's a sermon claiming that the steam engine was revealed in biblical prophecy.  It appears to survive in only a few copies (perhaps unsurprisingly), and this is one of the few in the United States.  The author is Tresham Dames Gregg (1800-1881), a militant protestant clergyman who spent much of his career in the Church of Ireland campaigning against Catholicism.  Gregg was popular with the working class in Dublin and was consistently at odds with higher-ranking Church officials throughout his career.  Although known for his preaching style and his prolific writings, "in his later years he had strange ideas about the rule of the Antichrist, and his own personal immortality" (source).

Gregg's primary idea in this sermon is that various prophetic visions in the Bible are actually descriptions of steam engines.  He goes to great lengths to prove this, even paraphrasing the first chapter of Ezekiel, with the famous vision of God's heavenly chariot, to claim that it is in actuality a vision of a passenger train in the far future.  But Gregg doesn't end there.  He suggests that locomotives on earth are already  "partly realized by human skill…  why should we not, thus led, be by the divine goodness, at last enabled to construct locomotives that would connect the earth with the other planets?"

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Posted in Rare Book Collection

Presses and Preachers, or, What an Incunable Can Tell Us about Technology and Faith

The Special Collections and Rare Book department recently acquired four incunables,[1] and we’ll be featuring them individually on the blog.  This post highlights Sermones de adventu by Roberto Caracciolo (Venice, 1474), a book interesting for what it can tell us about religion and technology.

Renaissance Preachers

Author's nameThe author of this book, Fra Roberto Caracciolo de Lecce, was one of the most successful preachers of the fifteenth century, hailed as a “second St. Paul” for his oratorical talents.

As a preacher, Caracciolo’s crowd-pleasing specialties were melodrama and spectacle; he even boasted that he could reduce any audience to tears.  His career started early.  By 1450, when he was only in his mid-twenties, he was well-known enough to be chosen by Pope Nicholas V to deliver the official canonization eulogies for Bernardino of Siena.  Later in his career, when asked to preach a crusade sermon against the Ottoman Turks, he did so in full knight’s armor, complete with a sword.  It’s no wonder that large, enthusiastic crowds flocked to hear him wherever he went.

Eager to capitalize on the popularity of Caracciolo and his colleagues, printers issued volumes of their sermons in Latin and vernacular Italian.  Caracciolo alone had at least eight different editions of his sermons printed throughout Italy from the 1470s until his death in 1495.  By the time the sixteenth century drew to a close, over one hundred editions of his works had been printed throughout Europe.

MarginaliaThis volume contains Caracciolo’s sermons on Advent, St. Joseph, the Beatitudes, divine charity, and the immortal soul, as well as a sermon by the canon lawyer Dominicus Bollanus on the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.  It preserves the words Caracciolo’s audiences heard and read so that we can access them today.  Thanks to this copy’s scattered marginal notes in sixteenth-century handwriting, we can even know how they responded.

The Fifteenth-Century Tech Boom

Title pageAs Caracciolo’s career as a preacher reached its height, Italy stood on the brink of a technological revolution.  Gutenberg had developed movable type in Mainz around 1455, but it took about a decade for the technology to reach Italy.  Venice had to wait even longer – until 1469.  That’s the year that Johannes of Speyer emigrated from Mainz, got a five-year monopoly from the Doge, and set up shop as the city’s first printer.

Unfortunately for the Speyers, Johannes died around eighteen months later, invalidating the monopoly.  His brother Vindelinus attempted to carry on the business, but Johannes’ death touched off an equivalent of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s.   Within three years, there were at least a dozen printing shops in Venice, all producing the same Greek and Roman texts – over 80 different editions of them by the end of 1472.  By 1473, the book market was so glutted with classics that the bottom dropped out.

Colonia and Manthen's colophonThis was merely the first in a series of market collapses, but most of Venice’s new high-tech start-ups went out of business as a result.  The Speyer press survived – barely.  Vindelinus sold a large stake in the company to two new investors: Johannes de Colonia (also called Johannes of Köln or Cologne), and Johannes Manthen de Gerresheim.   Colonia and Manthen became the senior partners in the business; Vindelinus’ name disappeared from the company until 1476.

Colonia and Manthen were prolific printers, producing 86 editions from 1474 to 1480.  They gave up on the Greek and Roman classics after 1475 and shifted their focus to the more profitable market in law, theology, and philosophy.   This book is an example of the output from their reinvented company, produced during their first year of business.

Backwards NAlthough the Speyer brothers are sometimes credited as the originators of Roman type, this book was printed using their space-saving but elegant Gothic.  Like many other early printed books, the printers left space for initials and ornament to be added by hand.  In this copy, several of the initial Ns are written backwards, for what reason we do not know.

There’s much more this book could tell us; a book is never just a book when it’s in Special Collections.  As its own history shows, this particular book has been an active participant in a tradition of study that has continued for hundreds of years.

Want to Read More?

The following resources are available at MU Libraries.

Binding

Aguzzi-Barbagli, Danilo.  “Roberto Caracciolo of Lecce,c. 1425-6 May 1495.” In Contemporaries of Erasmus: a biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Peter G. Bietenholz, Thomas B. Deutscher, associate editor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, c1985.

Gerulaitis, Leonardas Vytautas.  Printing and Publishing in Fifteenth-Century Venice.  Chicago: American Library Association, 1976.

Telle, Emile V.  “En marge de l’éloquence sacreé aux XVe-XVIe siècles: Erasme et Fra Roberto Caracciolo.”  Bibliothèque d’humanisme et Renaissance.  Travaux et Documents 43 (1981): 449-470.


[1] The word incunabulum (plural incunabula, or incunable(s), if you prefer English) means in the cradle in Latin.  It is generally applied to printed books produced prior to 1501, in the earliest years of printing.

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