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Chapter 3 tabulates the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) entries for extant Bibles held in libraries around the world today and discuss what the ESTC data can and cannot tell us about the eighteenth-century Bible trade. An overview of the history of the trade, particularly of the career of John Baskett, royal printer in London from 1710 to 1742, described by an early historian of the Bible trade as “one of the greatest monopolists of Bibles who ever lived” (Lee 179) shows that the number of ESTC catalogue entries do not correlate to changes in the popularity of the Bible. However, the ESTC data does tell us about shifts in the competitiveness or relative openness of the English Bible trade and the book trade more generally. The Bible becomes a nongovernmental book after the 1730s, and the geographical centers of English Bible production shift from Amsterdam and Oxford in the 1680s to London in the early 1700s to Cambridge and Edinburgh in the 1760s. This chapter also describes a variety of cultural associations that the English Bible accrues through its commodification in the period: a charity gift, an overseas book, and a luxury item.
Chapter 4 looks at ways the Bible functioned as an instrument of legal power around the turn of the eighteenth century in county assizes, in reports by the ordinary of Newgate, and in the majority of printed sermons from the period. I then discuss the different responses to that legal power in writing about the Bible by John Locke, Anthony Collins, and Matthew Henry. This chapter argues that it is not the aesthetic, narrative dimensions of the Bible that have been eclipsed in the modern age, as Hans Frei contends, so much as the scope of its legal and political address.
Chapter 8 focuses on a uniquely descriptive scene in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1749) where the heroine is depicted under arrest, kneeling in silent prayer, with her finger enclosed in a Bible to mark where she had been reading. This chapter also briefly discusses book scenes in Richardson’s Pamela (1740), where the heroine is compared to the Book of Common Prayer. This chapter shows how Richardson uses the authority associated with devotional reading to hallow our imaginative, psychological descent into his fictional characters.
I set out in this book to step away from two paths of thinking about the relationship between the religious and the secular. The first envisions the religious and the secular as perpetual rivals: always in competition, each claiming against the other a total comprehension of reality. Contenders for theology or science often argue with one another this way. C. S. Lewis did, for example, in an Oxford Socratic Club address entitled “Is Theology Poetry?” when he said, “Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (Weight 141).
Chapter 5 begins with a description of a median Bible from the period, a quarto printed in 1728, its suprising contents, and the layout of a typical page of text. The ideal reader called for by this Bible is compared to reading practices prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, which was often bound in as a kind of preface to eighteenth-century Bibles; certain physical features of the Bible, such as cross-referenced verses and chronological years typically printed in the margins; and the reading practices prescribed by devotional works such as The Whole Duty of Man. The ideal Bible reader turns out to be intensely self-critical, purposefully withdrawn from the narrative movement of both scripture and ordinary time. In other words, the typical eighteenth-century Bible and its accompanying devotional practices teach readers to resist narrative, to keep the world at arm’s length, enabling them to step back from the flow of biblical narrative and, for the moment of reading, the flow of their own lives.
Chapter 1 lays out two common ways of thinking about the relationship between the religious and the secular. The first assumes that secular and religious approaches to the world are mutually exclusive; where one is ascendant the other must be in decline. The second considers the secular and religious to be paradoxically dependent on each other; one is always a curious inversion of the other. I suggest a better, third way inspired by Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, and William Connolly’s A World of Becoming. A scene from Defoe’s The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), the sequel to Robinson Crusoe (1719), shows how letting go of certain assumptions about the secular and religious can help us notice more of what is happening in the novel. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of what is at stake for literary studies in rethinking the secular, what we stand to lose if we do not and what we stand to gain if we do.
Chapter 9 focuses on the two chapters that go missing near the end of the novel, where Uncle Toby is finally able to acknowledge his love for Widow Wadman but only, it seems, with a Bible open to the book of Joshua, the passage about the siege of Jericho. Why this passage? And why does Sterne purposefully misnumber and rearrange these chapters of his novel? The mock fortifications that Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim build together, those replicas of military sieges happening in Europe, work in the novel as metaphors for the ways that all books – whether philosophy, scripture, or fiction – can both distance us from difficult intimate relationships and make room to repair them.