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George Huppert, Editor
Scott Hovey, Managing Editor

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Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction, "Modern Revolutions: The Significance of Beliefs and Ideas"

William Kolbrener, "The Charge of Socinianism: Charles Leslie's High Church Defense of 'True Religion'"

Robert Holden, "The Perversion and Redemption of Latin American Political History"

Barry Hatfield Rodrigue, "An Album in the Attic: The Forgotten Frontier of the Quebec-Maine Borderlands during the Revolutionary War"

Dennis Martin, "Speaking of Books: Christian Marriage"

Mark M. Smith, "Speaking of Books: Homesteads Ungovernable"

Barry Strauss, "Speaking of Books: A War to Be Won"

E. Brooks Holifield, "America's God"

David Allan, "Some Methods and Problems in the History of Reading: Georgian England and the Scottish Enlightenment"

From William Kolbrener's, "The Charge of Socinianism: Charles Leslie's High Church Defense of 'True Religion'"

The intellectual sea change of what has become known as the Age of Reason challenged inherited Christianity. John Locke in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) and John Toland in Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) took up the challenge by attempting to adapt Christianity to the claims of reason. Yet as one observer noted, “Arianism [and] Socinianism...do 
greatly abound” in these works, both of which would play a decisive role in the development of a Christianity devoid of “mystery”—the Christianity deemed appropriate for an Enlightenment theology tending toward deism.

Although Socinianism had more recent origins in the thought of the sixteenth-century Italian theologian Faustus Socinus, both Arianism and Socinianism—perhaps best categorized under the broader heading of subordinationism—derived from the thought of the fourth-century theologian Arius, who had denied the co-substantiality of the Son, arguing that the status of the Son is not one of essential Godhead, but is distinct from the Father.  While Arius had argued for the created nature of Jesus and thus the subordination of the Son to the Father, Socinians denied Jesus’ divinity altogether….By emphasizing the absolute unity and transcendence of God the Father, Arians and Socinians diminished the status and role of Jesus within Christian providential history, thereby calling into question Trinitarian doctrine and the foundations for the greatest of Christian mysteries, the Incarnation….In the 1690s, however, the Socinian heresy emerged as a primary lens through which to focus questions about faith and enlightenment, orthodoxy and dissent.  The High Church clergy of the 1690s, who had been banished to the theological wilderness after the ascension of William III, saw Socinianism as the primary symptom of a drift away from orthodoxy towards a heretical rationalism that verged, by the lights of the High Church, upon atheism. 
In a tract of 1695, The Charge of Socinianism, Charles Leslie counterattacked by leveling the charge of Socinian—and heretical—theology against none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, John Tillotson.  Leslie’s printed attack on Tillotson may figure as a little-known episode in the history of the Church of England, but it exemplifies the High Church reaction to the threats of Enlightenment thought, even within the framework of the Church itself.  Leslie’s response to Tillotson embodies a High Church attempt to defend the authority and mystery of the Church against the claims of a theology that compromised with that threat rather than repelling it….Leslie’s assault upon the moderate theology of Tillotson constituted not only an attack against the Archbishop’s supposed Socinian tendencies, but a High Church condemnation of the culture of latitudinarianism, which the Anglican Church had come to represent.  Leslie, however, did not merely advocate a nostalgic return to a pre-enlightened age.  Read closely and in context, Leslie’s attacks upon the moderate theology of the latitudinarian Church show themselves to be framed in—indeed, made possible by—the very language of Enlightenment used by his polemical adversaries.

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From Robert Holden's, “The Perversion and Redemption of Latin American Political History”
In Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History:  Essays from the North, four prominent Latin Americanists associated—as faculty or alumni or both—with Yale University's history department have produced the most recent grand pronouncement on that most abused of all historians’ specialties, political history.  Gilbert M. Joseph (Ph.D., Yale), the Farnam Professor of History at Yale who has recently completed a term as co-editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review, serves as the editor of the collection, in association with Emilia Viotti da Costa, emeritus professor of history at Yale, Steve J. Stern (Ph.D., Yale), and Stern’s wife Florencia Mallon (Ph.D., Yale), both professors of history at the University of Wisconsin.  Their separate essays on what they ironically call "the political" in the history of Latin America aim at reminding the rest of us that "political history" is really just the politics of history-writing and not a plausible category of historical investigation.  Averting one’s gaze might be the most charitable response to such sorry products of intellectual inbreeding as these essays represent.  But the prestigious institutional—and therefore influential—status of their authors compels a reply.  The essays themselves, notwithstanding their crudity and demagoguery, offer one consolation:  their very delusiveness invites us to reconsider “the political” in the writing of history and how it might be truly reclaimed.  Some of the authors’ earlier publications notably enriched the historiography of Latin America.  Nothing that follows, therefore, should be read as a judgment on anyone’s life work but rather as a commentary on the ideas in Reclaiming the Political.

….These essays, monuments to the “self-regarding sentimentalism” McClay cites in the epigraph, reveal, perhaps more poignantly than any source could, at least one of the origins of the pitiful combination of vapidity, self-absorption, and absolute certainty that characterizes much of today’s academic landscape, from classrooms to university presses: Joseph and his colleagues, in service to a political cause, have abandoned the search for truth.  Historians cannot write what Daniel James calls, without any apparent trace of embarrassment, “politically committed history” and still hope to uncover the truth about the past.  Perhaps James’ intuition of that contradiction inspired his indirect reference to the Spanish mystic.  A political program is an instrument for achieving political power, and it need not depend upon the truth.  Yet historians must “bear witness” to the truth if their work is to have any meaning.  To choose political commitment over truth perverts the historian’s vocation. 

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From Barry Hadfield Rodrigue's, “An Album in the Attic: The Forgotten Frontier of the Quebec-Maine Borderlands During the Revolutionary War”
When considering the era of the Revolutionary War, historians and historically minded people tend to focus on the drama that engulfed the Thirteen Colonies: the battle at Lexington or the winter at Valley Forge.  This perspective often overlooks four of the seventeen colonies of British North America that participated in the war and the important events that unfolded on the northeast boundary of today’s Canada and the United States. The northeastern frontier campaigns of the Revolutionary War may inspire little interest today, but these strategically important borderlands remained a theater of operations for both sides…. 

As the revolution intensified, it largely avoided the Quebec-Maine frontier as the fighting moved south to places like Savannah and Yorktown.  After the war ended in 1781, the memory of the Arnold Expedition quickly faded, except in the areas through which it had passed where locals cherished the memory.  Antiquarian interest in the expedition increased somewhat soon after Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820 and sought to stake out a Revolutionary War history of its own, but for more than a century national historians and their audiences in the United States and British North America continued to ignore the Arnold Expedition. …Although laudable, [recent] efforts by regional and national groups to celebrate the Arnold Expedition have spawned an enthusiasm for United States’ patriotism that remains out of proportion to the expedition’s actual historical significance and may even distort historical facts. …While local historians generally have done an excellent job of placing the expedition in its proper perspective, the Revolutionary War history of Quebec remains a blind spot.  Most of the commemorations of the Arnold Expedition have occurred on the Maine side of the border and have emphasized the United States’ role in the invasion of Canada, and researchers in the United States have not considered much of the Quebec material.  Many of the Quebec publications have appeared in French, which has rendered them largely inaccessible to English speakers.  In addition, anti-French attitudes prevail among many of Maine’s antiquarians, who often view the French as little more than followers of Yankee ingenuity. 

There is an irony in Maine antiquarians’ struggle to gain recognition for the Arnold Expedition, for once they achieved their goal, they all but ignored the expedition’s allies in Quebec, who had saved the Continental Army.  The resulting view of the Revolutionary War on the border between Maine and Quebec resembles a photograph that has been removed from an album and treasured, while the album with all its other mementos has been cast into the attic and forgotten.  The treasured photo shows brave Yankees advancing into enemy territory to liberate a continent, while the discarded album contains the rest of the story—the French-Canadian and Abenaki struggle in south-central Quebec for their own liberty.  Here, I try to focus a wider net to explore events in the Chaudière Valley during the Revolutionary War, in hopes of bringing new perspectives to the study of the Northeastern Borderlands—of focusing on the larger context of the Quebec-Maine frontier during the Revolutionary War period and thus reclaiming the album in the attic.

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From Dennis Martin's, “Speaking of Books: Christian Marriage” 

Glenn W. Olsen, ed., Christian Marriage: A Historical Study, sponsored by the Wethersfield Institute (New York: Crossroad Publishing / Herder and Herder, 2001).  x + 374 pages. $24.95 (paperback).

Marriage ranks high on our time’s list of hotly contested issues, and the contestation is all the more heated because marriage had for so long been so unquestioningly taken for granted.  In a well-documented collection of papers, Francis Martin, Glenn Olsen, Teresa Olsen Pierre, R. V. Young, James Hitchcock, and John M. Haas offer a remarkable survey of the history of the thought about and practice of marriage among Christians.  The essays move from ancient Near Eastern and Hebrew societies through their Graeco-Roman, medieval, modern, and contemporary successors.  In the process, the various authors quietly place in perspective or refute a number of urban legends about the (mis)treatment of wives as property and Christian double-standards toward male and female sexuality.  The force of their arguments derives from their intellectual strategy, which relies less on direct attack than on careful, thorough, critical examination of the evidence.  The main strength of the collection lies in the ancient and medieval periods, which receive the most thorough treatment.

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From Mark M. Smith's, “Speaking of Books: Homesteads Ungovernable

Mark M. Carroll, Homesteads Ungovernable: Families, Sex, Race, and the Law in Frontier Texas, 1823-1860 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001).  165 pages plus notes.  $40.00 (hardcover).

Families, sex, race, and the law are ubiquitous throughout history.  Here, Carroll unravels the specific case of the complicated relations among race, sex, familial structure, and law in antebellum Texas, with special attention to their political consequences.  Arguing that we can understand the impact of the frontier in Texas by investigating the Mexican legacy, the conditions of frontier life, and the interplay of race and ethnicity in shaping familial relations, he avoids any simplistic conclusions about "priorities" of race, ethnicity, class, or gender.  In many ways, the Texas frontier resembled the "settled" South—it was patriarchal with slavery as its defining characteristic.  But the differences between the two regions were important, especially in the case of white women.  While subject to male authority, white Texas women enjoyed more independence than their "settled" southern counterparts, thanks to their race and Texan legal structures.  While Carroll concludes that African-Texans, Native Americans, and Tejanos were ultimately subordinated by Anglo-Texans, his story shows that the final product of frontier settlement was far from inevitable.  A well-researched book, Homesteads Ungovernable reminds historians of the importance of the frontier and the law to antebellum southern history—and challenges them to consider comparisons with rural societies in other times and places.

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From Barry Strauss's, “Speaking of Books: A War to be Won

Williamson Murray and Allan Millett, A War to be Won:  Fighting the Second World War (Harvard University Press, 2000). 656 pages.  $37.50  (hardcover).

Murray and Millett have written a distinguished book.  A War to Be Won offers a readable and highly analytical overview of the strategy and policy, operations, and tactics of the Second World War. They emphasize Europe but include much on the Pacific War as well. The authors, both leading historians, know their subject in intimate detail. Their scholarship is up-to-date and their judgments are prudent and balanced. 

Pulling no punches about the war’s brutality, the authors never lose sight of the justice of the Allies’ cause.  Thus their superb and sobering chapter on “The Combined Bomber Offensive, 1941-1945” demonstrates their full conversance not just with the destructiveness of the air war but with its effectiveness, as revealed by the recent re-examination of earlier analyses.  Although the authors write at a high level of sophistication, they take pains to define technical terms, and their prose style, which is always good, at times seems inspired, inviting the accolade of magisterial.

A War to Be Won stands alongside Gerhard Weinberg’s A World at Arms and Ronald Spector’s Eagle Against the Sun as an excellent introduction to the military history of World War II.  Even more, it offers a timely reminder about the human and moral complexity of even a just war.

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From E. Brooks Holifield's, “America’s God”
America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln promises to become and long remain a classic in American religious history. In this remarkable book, Mark Noll provides an acute and extensive survey of theological trends between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, together with a bold and thoughtful—not to mention provocative—effort to link theology to the history of political thought, the social history of religion, and the crises leading up to the Civil War.   An ambitious history of theology, America’s God reaches beyond theological history to offer a cultural history of evangelical Christian thought within the context of political theory and religious practice.  Noll’s strengths emerge especially in his rich and detailed analysis of Reformed theology and Methodist thought, enhanced by significant side tours into other Christian theological traditions.  His main thesis, which links theology to broader historical developments, should engage not only historians of religion but also social and political historians who specialize in the antebellum period.  Determined to link theology to the most contested issues of the day, Noll engages difficult and weighty moral questions about the complicity of religious thinkers in the sanctification of American nationalism and the influence of national ambitions on religious thought.

For the past twenty years I have been working on a history of theology in America under the title Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War.  I explore the same historical periods as Noll, and he and I both knew of the other’s work on the same material, but we did not compare notes, and consequently, we reached independent conclusions.  My reflections derive both from reading most of the same sources as Noll and from a broader range of texts in traditions he discusses only briefly.  The similarities and contrasts in our readings of the period potentially open interesting and significant questions.  Noll and I differ markedly in our reading of early American theology, but the differences have far more to do with judgments about significance than with matters of evidence amenable to empirical adjudication.  I think—or perhaps it is a hope—that we have produced two strikingly different, even conflicting, but equally plausible accounts of theology in America.

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From David Allan's, “Some Methods and Problems in the History of Reading: Georgian England and the Scottish Enlightenment”
For too long those who studied the Scottish Enlightenment remained curiously inattentive to the history of the printed book. Traditionally, 
scholars focused on extraordinary minds such as David Hume, Adam 
Smith, and Adam Ferguson, and the wider ideological and cultural environments that influenced their compelling works, but they paid scant attention to the actual books that transmitted the brilliant ideas.  Interest in the history of the book has recently begun to increase, as has interest in the Scots' extensive activities in printing, publishing, and bookselling in Edinburgh as well as in England, above all in London.  As a result, we now know far more than we did even a decade ago about the cultural importance—as creative participants and not merely as merchandisers—of Scottish publishers and booksellers such as William Smellie, Colin Macfarquhar, William Strahan, Charles Elliot, and John Murray.  Many of the 
most thought-provoking new developments in our understanding of the Enlightenment in Scotland focus on the history of the book, including such celebratory events as the University of Toronto Library exhibition held in the summer of 2000 and the interdisciplinary History of the Scottish Book project, which continues to evolve under the auspices of the University of Edinburgh.

The achievements remain strictly limited, however.  Scholars who study the Scottish book in the Enlightment have remained substantially concerned with the book trade’s tangible operations of production and distribution, and they have neglected the more nebulous influences on the various contemporary audiences who consumed these texts.  As one scholar has recently confessed, historians continue to write of the major publications of the Scottish Enlightenment “with little or no reference to... the reading public that consumed them.”  This essay maps some of the routes that might enable historians to break out of their interpretative impasse and begin to explore the reception Scottish Enlightenment texts enjoyed within their most important original market—eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, where between three and four out of every five literate anglophones then lived.  While evaluating the prospects for reconstructing English readers’ engagement with the principal Scottish texts of the period, I also reflect upon some of the wider methodological questions in the interdisciplinary history of reading.

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INTRODUCTION- "Modern Revolutions: The Significance of Beliefs and Ideas"
by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
The word revolution was not unknown prior to the dawn of the modern world, but the Ancients, like Medieval and Early Modern Europeans, attributed different meanings to it than we commonly do today. Our ancestors’ understanding of revolution might best be captured in concepts such as the revolution of the planets or the spheres, which emphasized the tendency of things to revolve around their centers, axes, or orbits, sooner or later returning to the point whence they had started.  This understanding of revolution conformed to a worldview such as that described in E. M. W. Tillyard’s suggestive, The Elizabethan World Picture.[1]  This perspective on human affairs emphasized the value of order, or, to quote from Ulysses’ speech in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, “The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre/Observe degree, priority, and place.”  Without degree, however, all falls into chaos. 

Oh, when degree is shak’d,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick.  How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns scepters laurels,
But by degree stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark, what discord follows?  Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy.

Shakespeare died on the eve of a wave of “revolutions” that has transformed the modern world, but even before his death and the onset of modern political revolutions, degree was, as he well knew, beginning to be challenged, notably in the realm of science with the Copernican assertion that the earth revolves around the sun.  That knowledge did not seriously shake his and most of his contemporaries’ vision of correspondence between the social and the natural order—their willingness to view a monarch, including many well before Louis XIV, as a sun presiding over the political firmament.  But what we now call the scientific revolution opened the way to a new understanding of secular change, including the possibility of linear or progressive rather than cyclical change in human affairs. In turn, that new understanding of change opened the way to a view of revolution as its midwife, especially, if not exclusively, in the political realm. 

The modern understanding of revolution grew in tandem with and depended upon the notion of linear and progressive change.  The novelty, however, lay less in the view that change could have a direction and salutary purpose than in its secularization.  As early as the fifth century, St. Augustine had ensconced the Christian understanding of change as leading to a better world at the heart of The City of God, thereby underscoring a break between Ancient and Christian thought.  The Ancients had favored a cyclical conception of history according to which patterns in human affairs recur in conformity with the patterns in human character.  Tragedy, in their view, preeminently illustrates the ways in which the overreaching ambitions, uncontrolled desires, or fatal weaknesses of individuals recur in each generation with predictable consequences.  Augustine, building upon the Christian vision of heaven and life everlasting, presented earthly concerns, the city of man, as mere stepping-stones to life’s ultimate goal, admission to the City of God.  Thus the fall of Rome represented not just one more case of pride’s inevitable humbling, to be followed by a repetition of the pattern, but a clear confirmation that even the most unthinkable of human disasters represented only another stage in humanity’s progress towards the true and enduring kingdom.

The heated debates that continue among proponents of one or another starting point for “enlightenment” or intellectual modernity intertwine with others about the progress of “secularization.”  The significance of political revolutions complicates the dating and cause of the onset of the most salient changes.  The theories of Karl Marx dominated the debates throughout most of the twentieth century.  Marx was not the crude economic determinist that many, especially those who have read little or none of his work, have taken him to be, but he did ascribe a primary role to changes in the social relations of production.  He included a complex of social and well as economic factors, and he viewed the sequence of great political revolutions, beginning with the English Revolution of 1640, as the “bourgeois” revolutions that established the necessary framework for the development of capitalism and usually some form of modern representative government.

Political commitments undeniably influenced Marx’s reading of history, but they do not begin to exhaust the abiding challenge of his historical analysis, which included, inter alia, serious attention to the intellectual development of political economy.  Similarly, having begun with the determination to turn Hegel “right side up,” Marx always defended a doggedly materialist interpretation of historical development.  But neither his commitment to changing the world nor his materialism per se authorize a facile or contemptuous dismissal of his mature historical work, which was heavily indebted to the Scottish Historical School.  Marx’s materialism emerged from—and, up to a point, was of a piece with—important intellectual currents of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, notably the revolt against divine authority and the turn to science to unravel the mysteries of nature. From political economy to sociology, anthropology, and ultimately psychology, investigations of society and human nature drew ever more explicitly upon “scientific” methods, which were widely viewed as providing a new standard of truth.

Marx’s analysis of the great bourgeois revolutions—notably the English and the French but by extension the American and Haitian—that grannied the birth of the modern world implicitly when not explicitly dominated discussions of these events until the closing decades of the twentieth century.  Great scholars, seconded by countless lesser lights, forcefully argued both sides of the case, and their debates yielded some impressive works, many of which probed the nature and meaning of revolution.  In general, both parties to the debates agreed that some form of revolution had occurred and had entailed noticeable political consequences.  The most heated differences focused upon whether one could reasonably view the revolutions as manifestations of class struggles, as provoked by a rising bourgeoisie, or as resulting in the political triumph of the bourgeoisie. 

By the 1970s, the debates were reaching a stalemate. Arguments on both sides often betrayed a political rigidity that increasingly marked them as intellectually old-fashioned.  The growing popularity of the “new” social history and women’s history refocused attention from political confrontations and regimes to the lives and beliefs of ordinary folk.  The principal change, however, came with the eruption of the “linguistic turn,” which directed attention from purported events, now deemed difficult if not impossible to recapture, to the representation of events.  What we might call the “textualization” of the English, French, and American revolutions (the Haitian has, thus far, largely escaped) effectively erased their political content and significance.  The casualties of this move are legion, but high among them ranks an older debate about the role of ideas in social and political change.

One might fairly argue that the linguistic turn of the postmodernists embodies a rejection of materialism in favor of idealism, but to do so would be to credit their position with more intellectual sophistication about these issues than it probably deserves.  The linguistic turn has had less to do with redressing the balance between materialism and idealism than with bypassing it entirely.  Materialists and idealists differ sharply about the causes—and sometimes the significance—of historical events, but they agree about their occurrence.  Postmodernists prefer to call their very occurrence into question, thereby elevating the views of the historian over those of the participants in the events.  In this issue of The Journal, Robert Holden frontally confronts the problems in “The Perversion and Redemption of Latin American Political History,” a review essay of Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History

In Holden’s view prospects for a revitalized political history of Latin America are drowning in a torrent of “cultural narratives,” explicitly informed by the sentimentalized personal politics of the historians who write them. Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History, he contends, offers a premier example of the trend.  A vulgar and deterministic Marxism carries a share of responsibility for the sorry state of political history, but the triumph of a sentimental, descriptive social history does as well.  Yet as Deborah Symonds’ essay, “The Road to Ruindunan,” in our previous issue demonstrates, a good integration of social and political history significantly enriches both—and, when appropriate, leaves ample space for attention to women, to culture, to economics, or to any other topic the author finds relevant to the general narrative or argument. Symonds’ discussion of the ties among rape, cattle, and politics illuminates the focus of this issue of the Journal in other ways as well, for she calls attention to one discrete aspect of the broad transition from premodern to modern society that revolutions have often been taken to effect.[2]

This issue explores the early phases of what has often been called the age of revolution from various perspectives, although not, with the notable exception of Holden’s essay, primarily from the political perspective per se.  Here, attention especially falls upon the role of ideas, including religion, in opening the way to modernity.  In the first essay, “The Charge of Socinianism: Charles Leslie’s High Church Defense of ‘True Religion’,” William Kolbrener explores the orthodox Anglican response to the challenge posed to “true religion” by the dawning “Age of Reason.”  Born and educated in Dublin in 1650, Leslie studied law at the Temple in London before his ordination as a priest in the Church of England in 1681.  Like the MacGregors [Roys] of Symonds’ Scottish world, Leslie remained an ardent Jacobite.  After William and Mary’s ascension to the throne in 1688-89, he became a non-juror, refusing to take the oath of fealty to a regime he deemed illegitimate and insisting that the Church could never be subordinate to the state.  For his pains, he lost his offices in Ireland and spent the remainder of his life as a subversive and prolific pamphleteer. Leslie contributed to High Church and Tory causes on many fronts, including the assault against Archbishop Tillotson that Kolbrener discusses here.

The exile of the Stuarts, the final demise of even the pretense of patriarchal government, and the settlement of 1688-89, confronted Leslie with what he could only view as heretical attempts to reconcile Christianity with the new dictates of reason—or worse, to introduce the premises of reason into the heart of Christian faith.  As Kolbrener argues, John Locke, who defended the “reasonableness” of Christianity, and John Toland, who offered reassurance that it was not “mysterious,” presented special challenges, primarily because of their vulnerability to charges of Arianism and Socinianism—in effect charges of denying the divinity of Jesus Christ and reducing Him to the status of an especially good man.  Neither heresy was new in the 1690s: Arianism dated from the fourth century, and Socinianism from the sixteenth.  The gradual dissemination of the Enlightenment’s standards of reason nonetheless endowed them with a new plausibility.  From Leslie’s perspective, the greatest danger lay in their introduction of the canons of reason—by implication, secularism—into religion itself.  He saw the danger as all the greater because he associated their rational theology with the excesses of Civil War enthusiasm.  Leslie, in other words, had no difficulty in making the jump from religion to politics—and back.

On Kolbrener’s showing, Leslie spared nothing in attacking Tillotson for embracing these heresies and painting a Christianity that echoed pagan practice.  Leslie could not see that in mounting his arguments against Tillotson he was borrowing the very rational methods of the tendencies he was attacking.  The Church had its own longstanding rational tradition, but Leslie knew that the success of his case demanded a more contemporary rhetoric.  As Kolbrener argues, Leslie “knew that the grounds for polemic had shifted,” and much of his polemical success “derived from his ability to adapt the languages of Enlightenment to his counter-Enlightenment agenda.”  Just as Symonds’ MacGregor [Roy] brothers had to turn to the commerce in cattle to support their Jacobite loyalties, so did Charles Leslie have to turn the rhetoric of secular reason to defend his High Church and Jacobite loyalties. Thus Leslie, whom Dr. Johnson called the only “reasoner” among the High Church defenders, appropriated the Enlightenment’s methods and canons of rationality to condemn Tillotson in particular and latitudinarianism in general as “imaginative, fantastic, and even fraudulent.”

Kolbrener unravels the elements of secular rationality that pervaded Leslie’s thought.  We may speculate that the methods Leslie adopted as polemical weapons became an integral part of his thought.  This possibility—even likelihood—compels us to consider the ways in which the dominant or fashionable intellectual currents of an age permeate the thought and language even of those who oppose the content they were designed to convey. This possibility compels attention to another, namely that, in appropriating the language of modern rationality, Leslie and others might have absorbed more of its content than they intended.  In what measure, in other words, was Marshal McLuhan correct that “the medium is the message”?  Only meticulous and sensitive readings of Leslie’s voluminous writings can answer that question, and, even such readings may result in disagreement among specialists.  The disagreements do not vitiate the goal of understanding the ways in which Leslie read his latitudinarian opponents, whom he saw as dangerous revolutionaries and enemies of his most cherished political and religious institutions.

In the other essay that frames this issue, David Allan explores the complex problems of properly understanding of the ways in which texts are read.  Focusing upon the reception of the Scottish Enlightenment in Georgian England, Allan leads us through the tangled thicket of problems that attend even the most preliminary grasp of the ways in which readers related to books and the ideas they articulated.  Scholars may differ in their interpretations of specific texts like Leslie’s, but, even if they can know little of the ways in which Leslie’s contemporaries received those texts, they have some assurance that today they are reading and interpreting them within a common academic context.  When we turn to the reception and influence of the texts of the Scottish Enlightenment, all such assurances vanish. 

Drawing upon recent work, including his own, in the history of the book and of marginalia, as well as reader response theory in literary criticism, Allan sets forth all of the elements that must figure in any responsible discussion of intellectual impact or influence.  With respect to the writings of the leading thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, we must begin with the history of the books in which their thoughts were printed and attempt to trace the number in circulation and the pattern of their distribution.  Next, we need to unearth all possible information about who owned them.  At best, ownership figures are hard to come by, depending as they do upon documents such as estate and library inventories, which not all book owners kept and of which, even among those that were kept, many have not survived.  To complicate these problems, we know that legal ownership of books frequently disguised their “real” or effective ownership and thus markedly minimized the extent of women’s selection and purchase of books.

On the heels of the problems of tracing ownership come the greater problems of ascertaining which books were actually read and by whom.  Here, recent efforts to collect, catalogue, and study marginalia and commonplace books have provided valuable, if inevitably limited, assistance.  The value of marginalia as guides to the reception of ideas depends in part upon our ability to identify the author of the marginalia and in part upon his or her candor.  Allan clearly has reservations about the intellectual significance of some of Hester Piozzi’s more sentimental marginal notes.  Above all, the small number of extant marginalia hampers our ability to use them as an indication of the impact of specific ideas. Commonplace books, for which it is often possible to identify the author, offer a much fuller picture of readers’ responses to texts, although, according to Allen, of the fewer than 500 extant from the years 1720-1820, only a minority refers to the Scottish Enlightenment.

These limitations notwithstanding, Allan believes that commonplace books offer a unique window into specific readers’ responses to the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, and, to explore those responses, he turns to reader response theory, especially as expounded by Wolfgang Isser and Stanley Fish.  Reader response theory has earned an established place in contemporary literary theory, and Allan insists upon its potential value for historians.  Historians who have run across the more radical version of reader response theory may legitimately doubt its value.  The more radical version emphasizes the role of readers in “creating” the texts they read, thereby minimizing—if not eliminating—the role and intentions of the author, which presumably cannot be known.  The deeply presentist and relativist cast of this version renders the theory of little use to historians, many of whom have a serious interest in the ideas of the text’s author.  The more practical version of reader response theory, however, amounts to little more than the commonsensical recognition that different people read texts differently, and it, as Allan demonstrates, may have considerable interest for historians.

On the basis of Allen’s admittedly small sample, he does not pretend to offer a definitive assessment of the reception of the Scottish Enlightenment in Georgian England, but he does offer suggestive vignettes that ring true to anyone who has worked with similar questions and materials.  Thus the anonymous author of one commonplace book uses his reading of Adam Smith to clarify “his personal feelings towards the regulatory framework within which he was forced, probably as a hard-pressed estate steward or local landowner, to operate.”  Above all, Allan emphasizes the extent to which readers actively engaged texts, taking from them what suited their purposes and conformed to their most cherished views.  The active character of this reading helps to explain how “Whig-inclined people…were so readily able to transform the private act of reading and reflecting upon Hume’s History into a personal contribution to the continuing wider war against the sceptic’s provocative critique of Whiggish sacred cows.” 

In the case of Georgian readers’ engagement with Hume as in Leslie’s polemics against latitudinarianism, ideas and politics intertwined, leaving us to wrestle with questions of priority and causation.  Both cases relate directly to the wave of modern revolutions.  Leslie, who reacted fiercely against its first phase, figured as one of the last British intellectuals to defend Filmer’s patriarchalism in government.  The British readers of the Scottish Enlightenment seem to have been formulating their own version of an acceptable modernity.  Barry Rodrigue directly engages specific struggles during the American Revolution, itself influenced by a congeries of Lockean, Whiggish, and Scottish Enlightenment ideas.  Rodrigue focuses on the frequently neglected northeastern frontier—the border between Maine and Quebec—and the people of the Nouvelle Beauce and the Chaudière Valley. 

In the measure that historians have attended to the struggles that were waged over this area, they have tended to focus exclusively on the Benedict Arnold expedition of 1775.  Kenneth Roberts’ historical novel, Arundel, heightened popular knowledge of the expedition, which by the middle of the twentieth century was inspiring historical reenactments and commemorations.  According to Rodrigue, this widespread romanticization of a minor event drew attention away from the true interest of the conflicts in the Maine-Quebec borderlands and especially from the inhabitants on the Quebec side of the border, “who had saved the Continental Army.”  Thus the prevailing view of the Revolutionary War on this border “resembles a photograph that has been removed from an album and treasured, while the album with all its other mementos has been cast into the attic and forgotten.”   Rodrigue reestablishes the missing context and brings alive the lives of the farmers on both sides of the border.

Rodrigue’s insistence upon the importance of context includes a revealing discussion of the significance of geography—terrain and human attempts to organize and control it.  Geography ultimately dictated the Nouvelle Beauce’s continuing membership in the British Empire—or, to put it differently, its failure to become a part of Maine and thus to participate in the Revolution. The farmers of the Nouvelle Beauce and the Chaudière Valley did not lack for grievances, and during the years of the American colonists’ revolution, they rose in rebellion.  The British put down the rebellion and granted some concessions, but the farmers remained discontented with the provincial and imperial authorities, much as farmers throughout history have resented the intrusion of central governments.  In this respect, the events of the Revolution resembled a net dropped over an uneven terrain: here and there they interacted with local life, but they did not decisively shape it.  The farmers followed the same traditional patterns after the war as they had before it.  Analogously, the ideas that converged in the image of the Arnold expedition meshed very imperfectly with the life and concerns of the region throughout the Revolutionary period.  In this respect, Rodrigue confirms the time-honored view, recently revived by the postmodernists, that our language can only imperfectly capture the “reality” of the past, even as he explodes the notion that we cannot presume to understand the dynamics of political history.  He demonstrates that however tenuous the links between the rulers and the subaltern—the downtrodden or simply the lower orders—the links exist and can be explored.  In contrast, privileged myths, like that of the Arnold expedition and, presumably, various myths of imperial oppression, obscure more than they illuminate.

In “Speaking of Books,” Dennis Martin, Mark Smith, and Barry Strauss briefly engage the perennial historical phenomena of marriage, families, sex, race, households, law, and war, reminding us of the abiding tension between the things that change and those that remain the same.  In “America’s God,” Brooks Holifield takes up Mark Noll’s magisterial history of religion in the United States from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century.  Holifield’s review sets the stage for a symposium on Noll’s book, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln that will begin in our next issue, but Holifield’s discussion raises issues that are central to Noll’s undertaking and to the questions under discussion here.

Holifield, who has just completed his own study of nineteenth-century religion in the United States, which promises to be no less magisterial, calls attention to the differences between his and Noll’s perspectives.  Noll, as Holifield writes, is primarily engaged in an “effort to link theology to the history of political thought, the social history of religion, and the crises leading up to the Civil War.”  Holifield, for his part, is more interested in the theological developments per se.  Thus he focuses more upon the influence of ideas than the influence of society and politics upon the development of nineteenth century theology. Acknowledging the importance of context, Holifield insists that theologians’ primary interest lay in a proper understanding of sin, salvation, justification, and related matters.  Noll’s focus upon the social and political context adds an important dimension to any full picture of nineteenth-century theology but does reinforce the sense—already evident in Leslie’s time—that the affairs of the world were informing, and even beginning to drive, strictly theological reflections.

Thus, Holifield, through his discussion of Noll and references to his own work (which will also be discussed in our pages) invites us to reflect upon the growing intrusion of secular concerns into the interstices of theology’s otherworldly preoccupations.  His compelling discussion returns us, however indirectly, to the heart of the problem of revolution.  At the core of Noll’s argument lies the relation between religious imperatives and the abolition of slavery, which he views as a pressing theological and moral concern. By the mid-nineteenth century, the moral and political pressures to abolish slavery, increasingly seen as the absolute contradiction of freedom, had become compelling.  But the arguments from political prudence and justice—and even those from social morality—did not ipso facto justify a reconstruction of all previous theology, most of which had taken slavery as a predictable feature of human society.  The point emphatically is not to undermine the imperative of abolition in time and place.  It is, however, to permit us to question whether the imperatives of one generation should automatically be retroactively applied.  Are we, in other words, entitled to judge all previous history—and other societies—by our moral standards?

The abolition of slavery represented a major chapter in the history of modern revolution that opened in early seventeenth century Britain—if not earlier in the scientific circles of Renaissance Italy.  The debates over the respective claims of violent political change and “peaceful” intellectual change seem to have lapsed in recent years, but the articles in this issue suggest the interest of reviving them.  In the modern revolutions, including the Civil War in the United States, ideas and politics meet with no clear signs as to which is cart and which horse.  The essays on intellectual history, from Kolbrener on Leslie to Allan on the reception of the Scottish Enlightenment to Holifield on Noll, nonetheless leave no doubt that the world permeated the formulation of ideas just as ideas influenced the actions of the world.  And among the history-changing (to transpose from my students’ favorite, “life-changing”) events of these centuries, none ranks higher than the intrusion of secular concerns and imperatives into the very fabric of religious—and, more broadly, intellectual—discourse itself.  For the duration, matter seems to have trumped mind, even, and perhaps especially, when mind thought itself to be most firmly in control.

[1] E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Vintage Books, n.d.)
[2] Deborah Symonds, “The Road to Ruindunan,” The Journal of the Historical Society 2 (2002): 265-296.
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