Saturday, May 12, 2018

My filthy polluted heart

‘Behold the exceding grate mercy of God to me, I having labored excedingly under some corruptions of my filthy polluted heart which was ready to break forth, that it made me very heavi and pray, cry and sigh to my God.’ This is Nehemiah Wallington, ‘the quintessential puritan’, born 420 years ago today. Although a craftsman by trade, he was also an inveterate keeper of diary-type notebooks in which he wrote extensively about his own inner religious life, as well as public affairs, not least witchcraft trials in the mid-1640s.

Nehemiah Wallington was born on 12 May 1598 into a large family headed by John Wallington, a turner in Eastcheap, London. Nehemiah spent two years in his father’s workshop, but appears to have become very depressed for a while, to the point of trying to kill himself several times. As a freeman, he set up his own business in Eastcheap and, in 1621, married Grace Rampaigne. They had several children, only one of whom survived beyond childhood. He was an active member of the Presbyterian church. Although, generally, he lived an uneventful life around the year 1639 he was summoned before the court of the Star Chamber for possessing prohibited books. He is remembered today only because he published two volumes of Historical Notes and Meditations, and for a set of extensive and detailed diaries - the main source of information about his life.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) has the following assessment. ‘Wallington was in many respects the quintessential puritan, introspective, bookish, sermon-going, scrupulous in his business relations, and constantly struggling for even-tempered acceptance of life and of himself, which he believed should accompany assurance of election. He followed the fortunes of protestantism during the Thirty Years’ War and those of parliament during the civil war. Although he served conscientiously as a lay elder in the fourth London classis from 1646 until his last years his Presbyterianism was based on his desire for parish discipline, and his only quarrel with the protectorate was that it did not bring the godly reformation that he had long prayed for.’ Wallington died in 1658. Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

Wallington kept notebooks throughout his life. It is known that there were at least 50 such notebooks, although only seven - containing over 3,000 pages - have survived. The British Library has four, while the Guildhall Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Tatton Park all have one each. They were used by Paul S. Seaver for his 1985 work Wallington’s World: A puritan artisan in seventeenth-century London (Stanford University Press, 1985) - see Googlebooks for a preview. More recently the notebooks were carefully edited, reduced and annotated by David Booy for his book, The Notebooks of Nehemiah Wallington, 1618–1654 (Ashgate 2007, Routledge 2016). This too can be sampled at Googlebooks.
More recently still (in 2011), the Tatton Park notebook (A Record of marcys continued or yet God is good to Israel) was digitised by the John Rylands Library (University of Manchester) and some 583 images from it are now freely available online. The project received considerable press largely because there is much about witchcraft in this particular notebook - see the university’s press release, The Telegraph, or the BBC

According to Booy: ‘Wallington’s persistence and the consequent magnitude of his output make him extraordinary, especially when he had to spend long hours at his trade and many in religious duties. [. . ..] Several seventeenth-century ministers left huge amounts of writing, but for a London craftsman to do so is remarkable. Moreover, writings of any kind by artisans in early modern England are scarce in comparison to the countless texts produced by highly educated minsters, scholars and professional writers, or even by members of the gentry, merchant class and higher reaches of society. [. . .] [His] writings are valuable and fascinating because they record what it was like to live in those turbulent times. The seven surviving notebooks contain a wide range of material: chronicles of the era (including numerous excerpts from pamphlets, newsbooks, letters and official documents), autobiographical writing about his secular and religious life (including spiritual journals), personal letters, biography, prayers, religious meditations and reflections, passages transcribed from godly treatises, sermons and the Bible.’

Although Booy has trimmed Wallington’s text considerably, the notebooks remain a difficult read. Sometimes there are dated entries, but they often run on beyond the date mentioned; and often the writing reads more like a memoir than a diary. Entries are not necessarily in chronological order. Although the text is already dense, Booy retains all the original spellings (he does provide a glossary and plenty of footnotes). He also adds a degree of busyness to the text through the prolific use of pointed brackets (to indicate Wallington’s insertions/corrections), square brackets (for missing punctuation), and pedantic references (often mid-text) to the original folio numbers.

Here are three extracts (though I have omitted Booy’s pointed brackets).

1 October 1628
‘One the first day of October 1628 at night as I lay in my bead with my wife and my daughter Sarah a candel hanging over my head in a wier candelsteke about one a cloke at night the candel burnt downe and fell through the wiers and fell uppon my head and burnt the haire of my head: wee then being all fast asleepe[.] I feeling my heade burne that it smart I started up and put it out, and did consider of the great goodnes of my God which never slumbers nor sleepes in the presarving mee and mine so wonderfully from fier: For it might a fell uppon my poore child or one my wifes head or beetwene the sheetes or boulster and have burnt mee and mine and all that I have: and many others. But God of wanted goodnes and great mercye delivered us his Name be for ever praised for this and all other his manifould deliverances now and evermore Amen Amen[.]’

16 April 1632
‘On the XVI day of Apriel (1632) being Monday at night betwext VIII and IX a cloke as I was in my shope came tow sargents one cilisetor and a broker and the sargent said to me that I was baile for one Jackson a yeere agoe, and now where he was they knew not: and therefore he said he was come for forescore pounds worth of my goods, and he said he must goe up into my cheching[.] at these words I was amased and put in grate feare[.] then I sent for my brother John and he came unto me, and they shewed him theyr warrant what he had to doe and so went up into the ceching where my wife was a providing supper (for her Brother and sister which ware come out of the contrie thinking to be merie together)[.] my wife seing a stranger coming in such a manner and saying he was come for forescore pounds worth of goods and hanging his cloke on the doore saying he would begin with the peuter first it did frite her very much: looking very pale on the matter and went downe into the shope and wronge her hands bursting out a weeping and then being with childe did miscarrye, and I rune to Tempel bare to find my brother Crosse to aske his counsell but I could not find him but before I came againe my Brother John and my Brother Kiffet told them if they wolde be contented till mornning they would be bound that nothing should be sterred but everything should stand in his place, but they would not: at the last they would have my Brothers bonds to pay them XV pound the next Satterday: So they made them a bonde.’

June 1634
‘June 1634[.] Behold the exceding grate mercy of God to me, I having labored excedingly under some corruptions of my filthy polluted heart which was ready to break forth, that it made me very heavi and pray, cry and sigh to my God continually for some munths together yet could I get but littel strength against it (but still had such paine of minde) that at last (which was toward the begining of Agust) as I was a going alonge the street, I resolved with myselfe this wicked purpose[:] as Solomon saith Rejoyce o yong man, in thy youth and let thine heart chere thee in the days of thy youth, and walke in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes (Ecclesiastes 11:9), So did I resolve (not being able to forbare any longer) that now I would follow all those wicked corsses that my filthy and odious heart was given unto (a littel chered I was of these thoughts and fully [resolved] I was)[.] Whereupon I was striken in a grate masse and astonied, and as it ware tied hand and foote (in my mind) that I could not stirre in that kind my hart being very heavie yet none knowing the cause: But yet for all this I could never set to commit any sinne willingly but oh the goodnesse of my God in making mee to hate sinne so much the more[.]’

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