Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A vicious feast

‘A vicious feast, wherein I exceeded in meat and drink, for want of circumspection and prudence, a sin against God. . .’ This is from the spiritual diary of the Dublin-based physician John Rutty, born 320 years ago today. He wrote several medical and nature books, but is best remembered for his spiritual diary. James Boswell and Samuel Johnson found the latter somewhat ‘laughable’ but also ‘a minute and honest register’ of the state of Rutty’s mind.

Rutty was born in Melsham, Wiltshire, into a Quaker family on Christmas Day 1698. He attended various schools, and went abroad, to Leyden in Holland, to conclude his medical studies. He settled in Dublin, Ireland, working as a physician - and remained there all his life. He was actively involved in the city’s intellectual life, and published numerous books, often with a medical or environment focus, such as A Methodical Synopsis of Mineral Waters, and Chronological History of the Weather and Seasons and of Prevailing Diseases in Dublin. He also wrote A Natural History of the County of Dublin, and finished The History of the Quakers in Ireland, which had been started by Thomas Wight. He died in 1775. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Library Ireland, and Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900.

In 1753, Rutty began to keep a spiritual diary and continued making entries till a few months before his death. In his will, he left instructions for it to be published unedited. A first edition - A Spiritual Diary and Soliloquies by J. Rutty, etc - appeared in 1776. This is freely available online at Googlebooks. Also available at Googlebooks (and Internet Archive) is Extracts from the Spiritual Diary of John Rutty, M.D. published in 1840. The biographer and diarist, James Boswell, showed a review of Rutty’s diary to his friend Samuel Johnson, and briefly mentions their conversation about it in his Life of Johnson. ‘[The diary] exhibited, in the simplicity of his heart, a minute and honest register of the state of his mind; which, though frequently laughable enough, was not more so than the history of many men would be, if recorded with equal fairness.’

Here are several extracts from Rutty’s diary.

7 October 1753
‘Two precious illuminations. First, of the necessity of preparation for death brought closer to my view. Second, of the necessity of maintaining an equal degree of spiritual indignation against other superfluities, as well as those that strike common sense and observation.’

28 October 1753
‘Poverty of spirit in a sense of my own vileness in God’s presence; yet humbly hoped for the blessing annexed to them that hunger and thirst after righteousness.’

20 November 1753
‘A sweet time, and humiliation; but accompanied by a false vision, prompting to an imaginary duty, from pride.’

30 December 1753
‘ “Is not my word a fire?” O that I might find it so in consuming sensuality, and particularly in eating, drinking, sleeping, smoking, to be used not as ends, but as means of health; not to live to eat, drink, &c. but the inverse. Here is purgatory.’

12 October 1754
‘One sacred, solemn lesson has been learnt from my late severe three afflictions, and which, I humbly hope, will more than compensate for all, viz. To drink little as sufficient - a lesson, wherein are deeply interested soul, body, and temporal estate.’

18 October 1754
‘Tyranny over inferiors is injustice, and the genuine offspring of inordinate self-love. A pretty free access by prayer, for a considerable time past.

22 October 1754
‘Visited my grave-digger, on a just commemoration of my wonderful deliverance from the grave.’

3 October 1759
‘At the school meeting, spoke to the children in a spiritual capacity; but Satan buffeted afterwards, prompting to pride: but light and truth triumphed. Thou art to rejoice in no gift, but this only, that thy name is, or may be, written in the Lamb’s book of life.’

28 December 1762
‘Attended a burial, on principle, where I trod on the graves of several of my associates. Surely, the sight of one corpse is a stronger argument than any words can possibly be! even of thy own mortality, and of the necessity of a preparation for it.’

23 August 1765
‘A vicious feast, wherein I exceeded in meat and drink, for want of circumspection and prudence, a sin against God, the framer of the constitution, and not less than defiling his temple: O God, in the name of thy beloved, pardon this sin, and prevent for the future, I beseech thee: give more of thy fear!’

26 June 1773
‘Now finished the fair transcript of my Materia Medica, the principal work of my life; a work of no present advantage to me, but I hope will prove so to others: but still, this far inferior to the spiritual medicines, and the labours in the gospel, as body is to soul, and earth to heaven. Lord, grant to pursue these matters in the holy subordination.’

The Diary Junction

No comments: