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Translating Feeling: The Bible, Affections and Protestantism in England c.1660–c.1750

  • Michael A. L. Smith (a1)

This article examines the way in which English Protestants of the post-Restoration period translated the affective precepts of the Bible into their own devotional practice. In so doing, it challenges persistent narratives that have understood late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century religion as languishing under an apparent ‘reaction against enthusiasm’. By examining the language used in the life-writings of English Protestants in the north-west of England c.1660–c.1750, it demonstrates how biblical discourses on feeling were translated into lay and clerical accounts of their devotional practice. Drawing upon the work of Thomas Dixon and Barbara Rosenwein, the article shows the centrality of biblical injunctions to feeling within sermons and personal devotional practice. Moreover, it exhibits the manner in which affective discourses in the Book of Psalms in particular were used and translated into everyday religious experience. The Bible is shown as a text of affective instruction for the individuals discussed here.

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1 Henry, Matthew, An Exposition of All the Books of the Old and New Testament, 6 vols, 3rd edn (London, 1725), 1: [iii].

2 Naomi Tadmor has explored how it was the ‘Englishing’ of the Bible (through various translations including Wyclif, Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva and King James) which constructed, for example, the Christian, and consequently social, duty of neighbourliness: The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society and Culture in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), 1626 ; Nuttall, G. F., Richard Baxter and Philip Doddridge: A Study in a Tradition, Friends of Dr Williams's Library Fifth Lecture (London, 1951), 67 ; Thomas, Roger,‘Parties in Nonconformity’, in Bolam, C. G. et al., The English Presbyterians: From Elizabethan Puritanism to Modern Unitarianism (London, 1968), 93112 , at 102–4; Schildt, Jeremy, ‘Reading the Bible in Seventeenth-Century England: A Nonconformist Case-Study’, Bunyan Studies 15 (2011), 5363 .

3 Williamson, G., Seventeenth-Century Contexts (London, 1960), ch. 9; Walsh, J. D., ‘Origins of the Evangelical Revival’, in Essays in Modern English Church History, in Memory of Norman Sykes, ed. Bennett, G. V. and Walsh, J. D. (London, 1966), 132–62, at 142; Bolam et al., English Presbyterians, 25–6; Watts, Michael R., The Dissenters, 1: From the Reformation to the French Revolution (Oxford, 1978), particularly 287–300; Heyd, M., ‘The Reaction to Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth Century’, JMH 53 (1981), 258–80; Spurr, John, ‘“Rational Religion” in Restoration England’, JHI 49 (1988), 563–85, at 564; Mack, Phyllis, Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment: Gender and Emotion in Early Methodism (Cambridge, 2011), 45–6; Tapsell, Grant, ‘Introduction: The Later Stuart Church in Context’, in idem, ed., The Later Stuart Church, 1660–1714 (Manchester, 2012), 2.

4 Keeble, N. H., The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (Leicester, 1987), 1824 , 207–9; Rivers, Isabel, Reason, Grace and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660–1780, 2 vols (Cambridge, 2000), 1: 125–46; Wallace, Dewey D. Jr, Shapers of English Calvinism, 1660–1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation (New York, 2011), particularly in regard to his discussion of the works of Richard Alleine: ibid. 132–53.

5 Rivers, Reason, 125–6; Ryrie, Alec, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (Oxford, 2013), 40–1.

6 Dixon, Thomas, From Passion to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge, 2006), 54, 6381 .

7 Rivers, Reason, 125.

8 Dixon, From Passion, 28–56.

9 Ibid. 35–52, quotation at 43.

10 James, Susan, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Oxford, 1997), 228–9.

11 Ryrie, Being Protestant, 40–7.

12 Cambers, Andrew, ‘Reading, the Godly, and Self-Writing in England, circa 1580–1720’, JBS 46 (2007), 796825 , at 798–802.

13 Chartier, Roger, Cultural History Between Practices and Representation (Cambridge, 1988), 11; Steedman, Carolyn, ‘A Woman Writing a Letter’, in Earle, Rebecca, ed., Epistolary Selves: Letters and Letter-Writers, 1660–1945 (Aldershot, 1999), 111–33, at 118; Coleman, Patrick, Lewis, Jayne and Kowalik, Jill, eds, Representations of the Self from the Renaissance to Romanticism (Cambridge, 2000); Dragstra, Henk, Ottway, Sheila and Wilcox, Helen, eds, Betraying Our Selves: Forms of Self-Representation in Early Modern English Texts (London, 2000); Bedford, Ronald, Davis, Lloyd and Kelly, Philippa, Early Modern English Lives: Autobiography and Self-Representation, 1500–1660 (Aldershot, 2007), 25 , 30–5; Smyth, Adam, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), 212 .

14 Rosenwein, Barbara H., ‘Problems and Methods in the History of Emotions’, Passions in Context: Journal of the History and Philosophy of the Emotions 1 (2010), 1224 ; eadem, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Bristol, 2007); eadem, ‘History of Emotions: Religious Emotions across the Medieval/Early Modern Divide – Barbara Rosenwein’, video lecture, University of Warsaw, 20 October 2014, online at: <>, accessed 28 November 2014.

15 Chester, Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Papers relating mainly to the Henry family, DBASTEN/8, Diary of Sarah Savage, fols [22rv].

16 Ps. 63: 4–5, in Barton, William, The book of Psalms in metre Close and proper to the Hebrew: smooth and pleasant for the metre. To be sung in usual and known tunes. Newly translated with amendments, and addition of many fresh metres. Fitted for the ready use, and understanding of all good Christians (London, 1682), 165 .

17 Savage, Diary, fol. [20v].

18 Collinson, Patrick, ‘Elizabethan and Jacobean Puritanism as Forms of Popular Religious Culture’, in Durston, Christopher and Eales, Jacqueline, eds, The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560–1700 (Basingstoke, 1996), 3257 , at 489; Christopher Durston and Jacqueline Eales, ‘The Puritan Ethos, 15601700’, ibid. 131, at, 19; Rivers, Reason, 52.

19 The Diary of Edmund Harrold, Wigmaker of Manchester 1712–15, ed. Craig Horner (Aldershot, 2008), 90.

20 Ibid. 77.

21 Ibid. 23.

22 Fishwick, Henry, ed., The Note Book of the Rev. Thomas Jolly A.D. 1671–1693, Extracts from the Church Book of Altham and Wymondhouses A.D. and an Account of the Jolly Family of Standish, Gorton, and Altham, Chetham Society n.s. 33 (Manchester, 1894), 33 .

23 Ryrie, Being Protestant, 212.

24 Craig, John, ‘Bodies at Prayer in Early Modern England’, in Ryrie, Alec and Mears, Natalie, eds, Worship and the Parish Church in Early Modern England (Aldershot, 2013), 173–95, at 181–2.

25 Savage, Diary, fol. [26v].

26 Preston, Lancashire Record Office, MS Hawkshead-Talbot of Chorley, DDHK 9/1/ 77, Memorandum Book of James Parker, unpaginated.

27 Cottle, B. and Evans, M. J. Crossley, ‘A Nonconformist Missionary Journey to Lancashire and Cheshire in July 1672’, Transactions of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 137 (1988), 7791 , at 86.

28 Rivers, Reason, 125.

29 Diary of Edmund Harrold, ed. Horner, 2.

30 Mack, Heart Religion, 15.

31 Diary of Edmund Harrold, ed. Horner, 24.

32 Ibid. 96.

33 John Spurr, ‘The Lay Church of England’, in Tapsell, ed., Later Stuart Church, 101–24, at 102.

34 Diary of Edmund Harrold, ed. Horner. 38.

35 Mack, Heart Religion, 35.

36 Ibid. 13.

37 Savage, Diary, fol. [23r].

38 Ps. 37: 4, Geneva Bible (1587) and Coverdale Bible (1535); Mandelbrote, Scott, ‘The English Bible and its Readers in the Eighteenth Century’, in Rivers, Isabel, ed., Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England: New Essays (London, 2001), 3578 , at 37; Femke Molekamp has argued that there was a market for the Bible, Geneva and hybrid Bibles, Geneva-King James well into the eighteenth century. She has however, also stressed the continuities between these editions in both material and expositional terms: ‘The Geneva and the King James Bibles: Legacies of Reading Practices’, Bunyan Studies 15 (2011), 1117 .

39 Diary of Sarah Savage, [fol. 24r].

40 The Diary of Richard Kay, 1716–51, of Baldingstone, near Bury, a Lancashire Doctor, ed. W. Brockbank and F. Kenworthy, Chetham Society 3rd ser. 16 (Manchester, 1968), 7.

41 Henry, Matthew, An account of the life and death of lieutenant Illidge, 2nd edn (London, 1720), 39 .

42 Ibid. 67.

43 Diary of Edmund Harrold, ed. Horner, 28.

44 Tong, William, An account of the life and death of Mr. Matthew Henry, minister of the gospel at Hackney, who dy'd June 22, 1714 in the 52d year of his age (London, 1716), 12 .

45 Hindmarsh, D. Bruce, The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2005), 1821, 31–2, 324.

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