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England’s First Anomalist and A Missing Manuscript? March 4, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Matthew Poole

Matthew Poole (obit 1679) was an English Biblical scholar from an age and a place when that meant simultaneously the most mind numbing parsing and sensationalizing of God’s word. He wrote tracts, he preached sermons and he would generally have made rather dull if hell-fire warm dinner company: perhaps the only really interesting thing that he did in his fifty-six years  was to die in Amsterdam. We say the only thing… In fact, there was something else though it never actually happened. Beach refers to MP’s planned work on a Design for registering of Illustrious Providence in the last century in the west where collecting anomalies reinforced rather than subverted the natural order.  Here we quote Keith Thomas, who gives a brief summary of MP’s intentions in this direction ‘with other divines at home and in New England’.

The idea was that a complete list of fully-documented providences should be compiled as a cooperative venture which would cross denominational barriers. Every country should have a secretary who would gather together the [marvellous] material sent in to him and forward it on to Syon College to be analysed by Poole…

So, just to be clear, a five-legged calf comes of age in Buckinghamshire and the local Presbyterian clergy take a snap on his I-phone and sends it to Poole. Likewise a fairy is brought in by hunters from the Virginia badlands and the local vicar takes out his quill and writes a missive back to Poole in the motherland. At the end of ten years, Poole has ten thousand of these marvels ready to launch on an unsuspecting world, when off he ups to Amsterdam and dies… Well, actually, we don’t know – and Beach doubts – that Poole ever got to ten thousand. And it does not appear to have been death so much as disinterest or other interests that led to the end of the project. Thomas continues:

Poole’s scheme, however, seems to have foundered, although it was later to be the inspiration for Increase Mather’s Essay for the Recordings of Illustrious Providences (Boston 1684), a similar project which arose out of a meeting of Massachusetts ministers in 1681, but drew upon a manuscript left by Poole.

Thomas perhaps got this last fact – Poole’s authorship – wrong: even Homer nods. Consider the relevant quotation from Increase Mather.

About six-and-twenty years ago, a Design for the Recording of Illustrious Providences was under serious consideration among some eminent ministers in England and in Ireland [no mention of New England, did Thomas get this wrong too?]. That motion was principally set on foot by the learned Mr Matthew Poole, whose Synopsis Criticorum and other books by him emitted, have made him famous in the world. But before anything was brought to effect, the persons to have been employed had their thoughts diverted another way; nevertheless there was a MS. (the composer whereof is to me unknown) then written, wherein the subjects proper for this record, and some rules for the better managing a design of this nature, are described.

It sounds as if this was one manuscript from the project, rather than Poole’s own? It goes without saying that it would have been interesting to know what rules were used. Increase continues:

I shall say no more concerning the MS. only that it was sent over to Reverend Mr. Davenport by (as I suppose) Mr. Hartlib. How it came to lie dormient in his hands I know not; though I had the happiness of special intimacy with that worthy man, I do not remember that ever I heard him speak anything of it. But since his death, looking over his MSS. I met with this, and communicated it to other ministers, who highly approved of the noble design aimed at therein. Soon after which, some proposals, in order to the reviving of this work, were drawn up, and presented at a general meeting of the ministers in this colony. May 12, 1681, which it may not be unsuitable here to recite.

Increase then goes on to set out a series of rules for collecting marvels (another post another day). Can anyone give us any more information about Poole’s project or, indeed, about the fate of this manuscript and others like it: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com?

We are going to finish with four stories taken and quoted from the manuscript. Who knows how many others there were? How sweet it would be to have some of them…

1) In that MS. I find notable stories related and attested, which elsewhere I never met with, particularly the story of Mr Earl of Colchester, and another mentioned in our subsequent essay. And besides those, there are some very memorable passages written, which have not as yet been published, so far as I understand. There are in that MS. several remarkables about apparitions: e.g, it is there said that Dr. Frith (who was one of the prebends belonging to Windsor), lying on his bed, the chamber doors were thrown open, and a corps, with attending torches, brought to his bed-side upon a bier — the corps representing one of his own family. After some pause there was such another shew, till he, the said doctor, his wife and all his family, were brought in on the bier in such order as they all soon after died. The doctor was not then sick, but quickly grew melancholly, and would, rising at midnight, repair to the graves and monuments at Eton Colledge, saying that he and his must shortly take up their habitation among the dead. The relater of this story (a person of great integrity) had it from Dr. Frith’s son, who also added, ‘My fathers vision is already executed upon all the family but myself ; my time is next, and near at hand’.


2) In the mentioned MS. there is also a marvelous relation concerning a young scholar in France; for it is there affirmed, that this prophane student, having by extravagant courses outrun his means, in his discontent walking solitarily, a man came to him, and enquired the cause of his sadness which he owning to be want of money, had presently a supply given him by the other. That being quickly consumed upon his lusts, as soon as his money was gone, his discontent returned; and in his former walk he met with his former reliever, who again offered to supply him, but askt him to contract with him to be his, and to sign the contract with his blood. The woful wretch consented; but not long after, considering that this contract was made with the devil, the terrors of his conscience became insupportable, so as that he endeavoured to kill himself to get out of them. Some ministers, and other Christians, being informed how matters were circumstanced, kept dayes of prayer for him and with him; and he was carefully watched that so he might be kept from self-murder. Still he continued under terror, and said he should do so, as long as the covenant which he had signed remained in the hands of the devil. Hereupon the ministers resolve to keep a day of fasting and prayer in that very place of the field were the distressed creature had made the woeful bargain, setting him in the midst of them. Thus they did; and being with special actings of faith much enlarged to pray earnestly to the Lord to make known his power over Satan, in constraining him to give up that contract; after some hours continuance in prayer, a cloud was seen to spread itself over them; and out of it the very contract signed with the poor creatures blood was dropped down amongst them; which being taken up and viewed, the party concerned took it and tore it in pieces. The relator had this from the mouth of Mr. Beaumond, a minister of note at Caen in Normandy, who assured him that he had it from one of the ministers that did assist in carrying on the day of prayer when this memorable providence hapned. Nor is the relation impossible to be true; for Luther speaks of a providence, not unlike unto this, which happened in his congregation.

A weird twist on the early medieval letter from heaven…

3) This MS. doth also mention some most remarkable judgments of God upon sinners, as worthy to be recorded for posterity to take notice of. It is there said, that when Mr. Richard Juxon was a fellow of Kings College in Cambridge, he led a most vicious life; and whereas such of the students as were serious in matters of religion did endeavour, by solemn fasting and prayer, to prepare themselves for the communion which was then (this was about the year 1636) on Easter-Day. This Juxon spent all the time of preparation in drunken wild meetings, and was up late and drunk on the Saturday night. Nevertheless, on the Lords Day, he came with others to the communion, and sat next to the relater, who, knowing his disorder the night before, was much troubled, but had no remedy, Church-discipline not being then so practised as ought to have been. The Comununion being ended, such of the scholars as had the fear of God in their hearts, repaired to their closets. But this Juxon went immediately to a drunken meeting, and there to a cockfight, where he fell to his accustomed madness, and pouring out a volley of oaths and curses; while these were between his lips, God smote him dead in the twinkle of an eye. And though Juxon were but young, and of a comely person, his carcase was immediately so corrupted as that the stench of it was insufferable, insomuch that no house would receive it, and his friends were forced to hire some base fellows to watch the carcase till night; and then with pitch, and such-like gums, covered him in a coffin, and so made a shift to endure his interment. There stood by a scholar, whose name was George Hall, and who acted his part with Juxon in his prophaneness, but he was so astonished with this amazing providence of God, as that he fell down upon his knees, begging pardoning mercy from Heaven, and vowing a reformation; which vow the Lord enabled him to keep, so as that afterwards he became an able and famous minister of the Gospel.

4) One strange passage more I shall here relate out of the MS. which we have thus far made mention of. Therein I find part of a letter transcribed, which is as followeth: ‘Lismore [Ireland], Octob. 2, 1658. In another part of this countrey, a poor man being suspected to have stolen a sheep was questioned for it; he forswore the tiling, and wished, that if he had stollen it, God would cause the horns of the sheep to grow upon him. This man was seen within these few dayes by a minister of great repute for piety, who saith, that the man has an horn growing out of one corner of his mouth, just like that of a sheep; from which he hath cut seventeen inches, and is forced to keep it tyed by a string to his ear, to prevent its growing up to his eye. This minister not only saw but felt this horn, and reported it in this family this week, as also a gentleman formerly did, who was himself an eye-witness thereof. Surely such passages are a demonstrative evidence that there is a God who judgeth in the earth, and who, though he stay long, will not be mocked alwayes.’