Tag Archives: Harvard Divinity School

Samuel Clarke’s Didactic Compilations

I am working on a paper for Harvard Divinity School’s 2013 graduate conference on religion. My paper is called “Examples in Mirrors: Samuel Clarke’s Mirror or Looking-Glasse both for Saints and Sinners and Early Modern Cosmography.” Clarke’s vast book exists in four volumes and includes citations from innumerable sources (or what Clarke deems “the most approved authors”), including his own Lives and martyrologies. The book is similar in format to John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, a book to which Clarke refers in his own A General Martyrologie. The last two volumes of Clarke’s Mirror¬†include a geography “of all the knowne world.” The colocation of geography with biographies of the virtuous makes this text an example of many such early modern collections, collections that, as Constance Caroline Relihan has noted, provide “mutually didactic” material.

The cover pages to Clarke’s book illustrates this dual purpose, as he states that in half of the book he puts forth “remarkable examples” to both avoid and follow, while in the second half of the book, he has added the most remarkable features of all the world’s countries. The title pages for each part of the book are similar in structure, so that the first one has noteworthy people (including Wyclif and Luther) in the same place that the second title page places a small emblem for each geographical region discussed. (See partial transcription here:¬†Title Pages for Mirror and Geography.)

1671 title page Mirror

Clarke Title Page Geo British Library

Both images from British Museum Online Collection 

The promises of Clarke’s editions resemble those of William Cuningham’s Cosmographical Glasse, printed in 1559 by John Day. In his preface, Cuningham says he will “resight” the benefits received “of Cosmographie,” “… in that she deliueraeth us from greate and continuall travails. For in a pleasaunte house, or warme study, she sheweth us the hole face of all the Earthe, withal the corners of the same… In trauailing, thou shalt not be molested with the inclemencye of th’ Aere, boysterous windes, stormy shourse, haile, Ise, & Snow.”

Furthermore, he adds, one who travels in books need not worry of “lowsy beddes, or filthy sheets.”

Clarke suggests that he will offer the same safe “travels” to his own readers. Clarke offers to guide the reader not only in his exploration of the world, but also in the navigation of his particular life. Through the examples of “sundry” individuals, the reader learns what to do and what will lead to God’s punishment. Is this moral guidance more connected to the geographical and scientific than we might otherwise assume, or does Clarke’s text feature an odd pairing? What does this text tell us about authority and the organization of knowledge in the 16th and 17th centuries? Does the proliferation of scientific texts at this time (sometimes published specifically for men who couldn’t go to university*) suggest a democratization of specialized knowledge, or a clever attempt to spread Christian doctrine under the guise of learning, self-sufficiency, and wondrous travel?

*See, for instance, Thomas Blundeville’s Art of Logike.

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