May 8, 1643
May 8, 1643
The story as it unfolds:

Welcome! Today I posted the first chapter of the rethought novel. If you want an idea of what’s gone before, or if you’re new, go here or here.

So this new first chapter: How better to start a novel about the English Puritan resistance to the tyranny of King Charles than rubbing the reader’s nose in the atrocities perpetuated by the Irish in the rebellion that broke out in 1641? That, after all, was what was first and foremost in the mind of every Englishman as 1641 rolled into the apocalyptic year of 1642. The forces of Antichrist were again gathering to launch an assault on England, the last best hope of reformed Christianity. Yes, there was ship-money and the personal rule and "thorough" and Laud's sacramentalism, and in no way should we discount their importance. But even less should we ignore what those things, in toto, meant: the enslavement of England under foreign, despotic rule. A transformation, if you will, of England into something Continental.

I consider myself fairly well read in the literature of the English Civil War. I’ve slogged through Clarendon and greatly enjoyed Gardiner and smiled at Carlyle’s histrionics. I own the first two volumes of Abbot's Writing and Speeches of Cromwell (which I bought, as it happens, in a used-book store on Huntingdon’s High Street. Abott inscribed them to one Henry Washburn in 1937). And you know what? Those worthies aside, most general surveys of the period are downright dishwater dull. "Dry as dust," as Carlyle put it.

It doesn't have to be so. The years 1640 to 1659 are to me those most exciting, the most compelling, the most important ever. It’s the crucible in which the British Empire and her child the United States of America were formed -- specifically, the ideas that made England the greatest nation the world has ever or will ever seen (America, and I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool patriot, is an English nation; once facet, and probably the best, of the English genius. I tend to not distinguish between England and America; we're the two most potent branches of the English-speaking peoples.). That period have birth to the ideas of freedom of conscience, individual liberty, the believer left along to read the Bible as the spirit moved him or her (and the spirit blows where it will) and people being left along to do what they do best; to the faith of Milton (and Cromwell and Fox and Crisp and Bunyan and Hutchinson and those brave, anonymous buffcoats that challenged Cromwell at Putney, and thousands more besides).

So why are so many histories of the period downright boring?

There’s more reasons really than I care to kvetch about. Overspecialization in the academy; pressure to publish; political correctness; a tendency to put the great men of the past on Dr Freud’s (or Oprah’s) couc, and the filtering of everything through the stupid po-mo categories of race/class/gender, Foucault and Fanon and whatever fartknocker happens to be the intellecskshual of the month.

But that many or most of these share is a failure, or unwillingness, to listen to the Puritans, and try to see what they saw as the root of the matter.

And the root of the matter is this: the Puritans saw themselves as engaged in an apocalyptic battle for the “freedom of the Gospel and the law of the land."

A battle against whom?

The Great Beast of Absolutism as represented by Rome and Hapsburg Spain. In other words, the Antichrist. If you don't understand the great years of the 1640s through these lenses, all you're left with is the squalid scaffolding of politics and faction and intrigue, completely missing the great  spiritual and moral issues that drove our mighty ancestors.

I’ll have more to say on Antichrist in the next few days. And of course more excerpts from the work in progress.

From the section: Histories

From the journal of Edmund Holyfen, Fort Saybrook, Saybrook Plantation January 28, 1642

Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matt 7, 16). Yeah, the dark spirit who tempted our Lord in the desert with bread, with principalities, with powers: our Lord refused, and so evil took them, and arrayed his creatures beneath the black standard, on which is written In Hoc Signo Vinces: thus the sign, by which Antichrist is known; and their deeds, the fruits.

The Leopard, departed Southhampton three months ago, birthed Boston two days ago. A cargo of paper, cloth, lampblack, nutmeg and cinnamon. And a cargo of murder, of hell, that is news of Ireland.

Dublin, October 23. A day the fiends chose as it is the feast of their spiritual father Loyola. On that day they rose from their dark places, their shadowy conventicles, and across the land like locusts, like fire, so many savage Angels of Death – the mad Papist Irish, whipped to frenzy, to murder, by their priests.

To turn the page , and read more, press here.


Printed by RAYOGRAM, near the Tombs,
for Commissary-General JAMES HOLLOWAY,
and available through the AETHER; 2009.