Shedding light on … Christianity
Trinity College Library holds a huge number of pamphlets on various subjects. Many of the early ones are religious as it was common for preachers to publish their sermons. These are often bound together, but some were bound by their owners with completely unrelated subjects. These volumes sometimes have a handwritten index which can be as interesting to researchers as the content of the tracts. This volume, from the Crofton Collection of about 2,000 items, contains a mixture of mainly political and religious material bound in an apparently random order.
In the Gospels, Jesus refers to himself and his disciples as ‘The Light of the World’. Clergymen and missionaries took on the task of enlightening those who did not have faith in Christ and were therefore considered to be in darkness, which is often reflected in the titles and text of their pamphlets. Audiences in the seventeenth century were quite diverse – from the Members of the House of Commons to ‘Indians’ in the Americas and beyond.
Other forms of Christianity were also targeted. Quakers broke away from the Church of England in the middle of the seventeenth century and tried to convert people to their beliefs. Giles Firmin, a popular physician turned pastor, wrote that he had let them alone when they came to nearby towns but changed his mind when they distributed books in his parish and preached to his parishioners; this pamphlet is an annotated version of a sermon he preached in response. Firmin also complained about disruption by Separatists, but in 1662 was himself ejected from the Church of England with over 2000 other Puritan ministers for non-conformity.
George Charles Smith, known as ‘Botswain Smith’ or ‘Bosun Smith’, was apprenticed to a bookseller in his teens but then spent seven years in the English navy. After studying under a Baptist minister in Devenport, he dedicated his life to providing religious teaching for soldiers and sailors, by both the spoken and the written word, and setting up benevolent institutions on their behalf. This pamphlet draws on writings by others, notably George Young, a Presbyterian minister with only one hand who wrote extensively on such diverse subjects as geology, garden plants and Captain James Cook as well as religion.
In seventeenth-century London, St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of the focal points of the city, with shops set up in the churchyard and surrounding streets. A shop might have consisted of as little as a board protruding from a wall, with some form of roof. The stall-board often folded away at night or might have had a lockable storage space below. Street numbers were not introduced until the eighteenth century, so at this time shops, houses and even individual rooms in buildings were identified by pictorial signs. Examples can be seen in the imprint of these pamphlets: ‘R. Harford at the gilt Bible in Queenes-head Alley in Pater-Noster Row’; ‘the Gilt Cup neer St. Austins gate in Pauls Church-yard’; ‘at the black Beare in St. Paul’s Church-yard neer the little North-dore’; ‘at the Black Spread-Eagle at the West end of Pauls’.