April 04, 2010

John Rogers and quotations

I've been reading John Rogers' Ohel and Bethshemesh recently for a piece I'm trying to put together. Rogers was a pastor in Ireland during the 1650s and had a convoluted career in seventeenth century radical politics before and after that. Ohel and Bethshemesh is one of the vast puritan tracts- it runs to over five hundred pages- that historians have to deal with: it is often repetitive (I've just read two successive chapters on why the church is a garden) and frequently reads better as a speech than as a text. For example Rogers writes one sentence that has no fullstop for three and a half pages: as a reader you are gasping for breath, as a preacher you would fit your own pauses in to his semi-colons and commas. However there is more of interest to say about his style than this.

Rogers is addicted to short quotations from the scriptures. He never quotes in context, never uses a quotation longer than a sentence. He assumes that every line in scripture relates directly to his own time and not the time of the scripture: when God speaks to the Isrealites in Exodus he is directly speaking, for Rogers, to Rogers and his congregation. This habit of seeing every line in scripture as a reference to the present is aided by his habit of quotation: he strips out any aspect of any quotation that refers to a particular moment, leaving the universal. Rogers uses all other texts in a similar way- Plutarch refers directly to seventeenth century England. All his reading takes place in a universal present- the only sense of time that he has is not historical but eschatological (leading to a second coming)- he does not see that others in other times had different priorities even within the eschatalogical framework he develops.

This substantiates a very old point, made by John Pocock in the 1950s, that historical understanding- the understanding that people differ across time in their priorities- arose late in European culture. Rogers is a figure who definitely had a sense of the past, but definitely did not read historically: to some extent he read the bible like the writers of the ars historica read their classical texts, phrase by phrase seeking maxims rather than book by book seeking truths about the past. In that sense, the move that history underwent: from corroding understandings of Caesar as a knight to in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries corroding understandings of the resurrection, was a natural one. Rogers and his congregation as his text makes clear lived in a prehistorical world.


James said...

I like the redesign! and very tactful in Boat Race weekend to have both kinds of blue. Only one of them counts, mind.

Interesting to read about an Irish pastor living in a primitive world view, as there hasn't been much of this in the news lately;-) but his 3-page sentences remind one as much of Henry James as (reels off list of Puritan sermon books/writers).