It is the 7th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1796.
In the past, we have looked at events and people around this year. We focused on the context of the various revolutions rocking the Western world at the end of the 18th century. However, it wasn't just the quest for democracy, equality, and liberty that mark this era. Instead, we might do better to see it as a transition period from the Enlightenment to that of Romanticism. The movement was from boundless confidence in human nature and genius to an appreciation of the arts, nature, and more complex anthropology.
The "scientific" and "observable" were not abandoned, but rather, they had to learn to live also with the mysterious, macabre, and sometimes mystical. While societies for the advancement of the sciences had been prevalent, literary salons and cabals would mark the transition from the 18th century to the 19th. In 1796, one brother and sister duo would emerge as not only literary celebrities but as a bit of cultural curiosity. Mary and Charles Lamb were a brother and sister literary team involved in a writer's circle that included the Wordsworths and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, both Charles and Mary suffered from extreme mental illness that required lengthy hospitalizations for both. In 1796, Mary, suffering from a psychotic breakdown, attempted to stab her apprentice with a knife. Mary's mother tried to stop her and was stabbed and killed by her daughter. Mary was hospitalized and afterward lived with or near her brother for the rest of her life. The two of them became most famous for their popular "Tales From Shakespeare," a collection of twenty of Shakespeare's plays written for children. The work was extremely popular and cemented these gifted, if not troubled, authors as epitomes of both pedagogical style and literary ability.
Although the Bard was long gone by 1796, one of the more curious stories about the man and his legacy occurred this year in England. Shakespeare's "Vortigern and Rowena" was performed for the first time, and both the actors and audience thought something was off. Realizing the show was bombing, one of the actors played a dramatic line for laughs, and the audience responded. The actor pleading for peace and amidst the hollering told the crowd that the play would also be performed the following Monday. This was met with boos until the actor announced the performance of a different play. As some had suspected, it was soon revealed that the play was not written by Shakespeare but instead by the son of an antiquarian, William Henry Ireland. Committed to impressing his father, the young man forged not only the play, but also letters, a love letter from Anne Hathaway to Shakespeare, a letter of appreciation from Queen Elizabeth, and even a lock of hair. When finally provided with the evidence that it was his son's work, the antiquarian refused to believe that his son could write anything even half as good as the works he had forged.
And in this context, in the British Isles and on the edge of the Romantic age, we remember another man who bridged the eras, a pastor and philosopher Thomas Reid, who died on this, the 7th of October 1796. Reid was born in 1710 in Kincardineshire, attended the University of Aberdeen, and in 1737 was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in a village in Aberdeenshire. Always keen on the life of the mind and the implications of Christianity for understanding the natural world, Reid founded the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, which gave him an outlet to write. He wrote especially against the skeptical philosophy of David Hume. For Reid, the skepticism and materialism of Hume were best combatted by what he called "Common Sense Philosophy." He didn't mean 'common sense" in the work-a-day sense you might think. But instead, he believed that the extremes of any philosophy could be massaged with the acceptance that there are some things so familiar to our understanding that we need not necessarily investigate them into oblivion. As both a philosopher and pastor, this philosophy would bridge the gaps between those with traditional Christian beliefs and the anti-supernatural philosophers in the tradition of David Hume. While often only remembered as a philosopher, recent scholarship has connected his faith and philosophy as two sides of the same coin. Ever the gadfly to Hume, the Scottish “Common Sense” school would have a prominent place in Scottish and American universities for over a century. Born in 1710 and died on this, the 7th of October, in 1796, Thomas Reid was 86 years old.
The reading for today comes from the pastor and poet Eugene Peterson. This a quote on why we are secure from his "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."
"All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man with very complex anthropology, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.