Tag Archives: English Revolution

Bullet-ridden Bibles

I have been treating the digital remnants of the first and apparently-last PEM exhibition focused on the holdings of the Phillips Library as a requiem; when I first saw Unbound: Treasures from the Phillips Library of PEM back in 2011, the same year that the library closed in Salem with promises to return two years later, I enjoyed it immensely, but did not return multiple times because I believed I would see these items again. Now I fear I never will, so I go back, again and again, and again, in search of memento mori. One exhibition item that attracted a lot of attention then was a bible with a bullet embedded in its cover belonging to Private Charles W. Merrill of the 19th Massachusetts Regiment who nearly lost his life at the Battle of Fredericksburg after coming in the line of fire of two bullets: one entered near his right eye and was extracted from his left ear. Another ball would have entered a vital part of his body had it not been arrested by a Testament, in which it lodged. When this safeguard was shown the President, he sent to the hospital a handsome pocket Bible, in which, as an evidence of his warm regard, he caused to be inscribed: “Charles W. Merrill, Co. A., 19th Massachusetts, from A. Lincoln.”  [Devens, Pictorial Book of Anecdotes of the Rebellion, 1887] Unfortunately Private Merrill succumbed to his wounds in the next year, and his family placed the “safeguard” bible into the care of the Essex Institute, one of the progenitors of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Bullet-ridden bible Merrill PhillipsCharles William Merrill Papers, Fam. Mss. 611, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.

There’s a bit of (urban) mythology surround bullet-stopping bibles, tales of which predate and postdate the American Civil War. After the English Civil War some 200 years earlier, the Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, who briefly served as chaplain to the Parliamentary army, recounted an anecdote in which one of the Souldiers Pocket Bibles issued to Cromwell’s soldiers saved a man’s life, but these were 9-page pamphlets, so I’m wondering about the veracity of the claim. This little bible seems to have established the precedent for military pocket bibles, however, and there are many references to them on both sides of the Atlantic in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are much bigger in the nineteenth century–and presumably more bullet-proof: in addition to Merrill, I easily found references to seven Civil War soldiers whose lives were shielded by bulwark bibles—three union and four confederate—and I am sure there are more stories.

Bible collage

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Bullet Bible Kelley

Bible Hall VT

The Souldiers Pocket Bible, 1643, British Museum; Francis Merrifield’s “Bunker Hill Bible”, Bonhams Auctions; the bibles of Corporal John Hicks Kelley of South Carolina (Darlington County Historical Commission) and Edwin Hall of Vermont, Heritage Auctions.

But it is in the twentieth century (ironically, as so many new weapons surpassed the rifle) that the bullet-proof bible became the bullet-proof bible. The onset of World War I centennial commemoration in 1914 has brought lots of interesting war stories and souvenirs to light, including several bullet-ridden bibles. The story of handsome British soldier Leonard Knight, who enlisted at 17 armed with a bible gifted to him by his Aunt Minnie, has been particularly resonant. There are more tales, including several harrowing ones involving ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli. And all of these bespoke bibles culminate with the steel-plated “heart-shield bibles” that were the preferred gift for every soldier shipping off to the fronts of World War II: May this keep you safe from harm.

Bible Knight

Heart-shield BibleBritish soldier Leonard Knight and the bullet-ridden bible that has been passed down to five generations of his family; a heart-shield bible from World War II.


Anxious Apparitions

As part of a larger project I’m working on, I have spent the past few weeks reading stories about seventeenth-century apparitions. In general, they are not a very scary bunch, but they are anxious, because they’ve definitely got a role to play, in quite a theatrical sense. Ghosts either have a message for those they appear before–generally a warning–or they themselves have suffered a violent death and thus their appearance is a “wonderful token of their disquiet”. The English Civil War is a golden age for ghosts: fourteenth-century rebels Wat Tyler and Jack Straw appear to warn the rebellious Parlementarians along with the more recently-deceased King James. Only the slain (by either the Royalists OR his former commander Oliver Cromwell’s agents) Colonel Rainsborough has personal reasons for being so anxious. At the end of the interregnum, Cromwell himself appears, just after his own fateful death. All of these revolutionary ghosts are easily-recognizable in their top-knotted shrouds or “winding sheets” (so this is great material evidence for burial customs, yes?), and they have a lot to say.

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There are some non-political, non-celebratory ghost appearances too, wonders, signs and portents to those that who see them as well as the larger community. Sometimes their appearance is very personal, but it always seems to be a public concern. In Strange and True News from Long-Alley in More-Fields, Southwark (1661) we read about the wonderful and miraculous appearance of the Ghost of Griffin Davis at the house of Mr. Watkins in Long-Alley; to see his Daughter Susan Davis, taking her by the hand at Noon-day and in the Night uttering such terrigle groans and hideous cries, that many neighbors have been too frightened, they are daily forced to remove their lodgings, with the several speeches between them, and how she and the maid were both flung down stairs by him….lots of details but we never really get WHY the ghost of Mr. Davis is so very agitated. His story is combined with that of the very popular Powel ghost as well as that of Jane Morris, a Wakefield widow who was alive but ghostlike in her behavior. The ghosts of the later seventeenth century don’t seem to have the same missions as their counterparts from earlier eras (and they have lost their shrouds) but they are still anxious. By the end of the century, if not before, ghosts turn up in ballads, rendering them slightly less serious but still not the satirical characters they will become a century later.

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Seventeenth-century ghosts:

 The just reward of Rebels, or the life and death of Jack Straw, and Wat Tyler … whereunto is added the Ghost of Jack Straw. London: printed for F. Couls, I. Wright, T. Banks, and T. Bates, 1642.

Strange Apparitions, or The Ghost of King James, : with a Late Conference between the Ghost of That Good King, the Marquesse Hameltons, and George Eglishams, Doctor of Physick, unto Which Appeared the Ghost of the Late Duke of Buckingham Concerning the Death and Poisoning of King James and the Rest. London: Printed for J. Aston, 1642.
 Colonell Rainsborowes ghost or, a true relation of the manner of his death, who was murthered in his bed-chamber at Doncaster, by three of Pontefract souldiers who pretended that they had letters from Leiutenant Generall Cromwell, to deliver unto him. To the tune of, My bleeding heart with griefe and care. London, 1648.
The World in a Maize, or, Olivers Ghost. London, Printed in the year, 1659.
Strange and True Newes from Long-Alley in More-Fields, Southwark, and Wakefield in York-Shires.  London: Printed for John Johnson, 1661
Sad and Wonderful Newes from the Faucon at the Bank-Side. London: printed for George Horton, 1661.
An answer to the unfortunate lady who hanged herself in dispair. London: Printed for P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare and J. Black, 1684.
All accessed via Early English Books Online

Anonymous Authors

The revelation that J.K. Rowling is actually “Robert Galbraith”, the author of the now-bestselling crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, got me thinking about anonymous authorship in general and in history. I’ve never really understood the motivation:  all that work and no credit? But of course there were lots of individual motivations depending on the context:  political, religious, and social factors which favored, or mandated, discreet publication. Pseudonyms or pen names became a way for female authors to publish when that just wasn’t done, and for intellectuals to public works that seemed a little beneath their areas of expertise:  children’s works, satires, common novels.  For a variety of reasons, it seems to be common practice for contemporary mystery and romance authors to publish under pseudonyms, so perhaps that was Rowling’s motivation.

Pseudonym Cuckoo

alice_in_wonderland_H  middlemarch_H

J.K. Rowling’s / Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and two other books issued under pen names: Lewis Carroll/ Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass and George Eliot/ Mary Ann Evans’s Middlemarch. These editions are from Penguin‘s series of clothbound classics, with covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I want every single title in the series, whether I like the book or not.

Pseud Penguin

In the period that I study and teach, anonymous authorship by pseudonym or initials was very common: this was the first age of print, a conspicuous craft, and also an era of intense religious division in much of Europe. Authors who penned strident religious (or political, because the two go hand in hand in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) had to be careful, but I think that anonymity was used by authors of less controversial, more entertaining works to conjur up an air of mystery or provoke a guessing game, almost as a marketing tool. The best examples of satirical, oppositional anonymous authorship in early modern England are the tracts penned by “Martin Marprelate” in 1588-89, protesting Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Whitgift’s increasing control over the press and espousing early Puritan sentiments. Martin’s identify was never revealed, and he was resuscitated on the eve of the English Revolution several generations later.

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The Protestation of Martin Marprelate, 1589: who “makes it known unto the world that he fears neither proud priest, anti-Christian pope, tyrannous prelate, nor godless cater-cap”. STC 17459, 1589.

Jumping forward to the end of the eighteenth century, when two of that era’s most influential works were both published anonymously:  Common Sense (1776), “written by an Englishman” soon revealed to be Thomas Paine, and An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) by Joseph Johnson, later identified as Thomas Malthus. I can understand why both men would wish to retain their anonymity, at least at first: Paine was inciting a revolution (once “outed” he would donate the proceeds from his immensely popular pamphlet to the Continental Army), and Malthus’s analysis of the relationship between population growth and natural resources was both frightfully modern and thoroughly dismal.

Pseudonyms

Pseud Malthus

Annotated copies:  the first edition of Common Sense, and Charles Darwin’s edition of Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population, from the Cambridge University Library’s digital exhibition,”Books & Babies:  Communicating Reproduction”.

Another big jump, to the near present. Even though it seems like ages ago, I remember the sensational revelation that the author of the bestselling roman à clef  of the first Clinton campaign, Primary Colors, was in fact Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, who published the book as “Anonymous” in an effort to protect his sources and preserve his journalistic integrity. That seems like a rather quaint motivation now, twenty years later.

Pseudonyms Primary Colors


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