13 November 2009

My Triumphant Return, & the Utility of Blogging

I am pleased to announce that thanks to the diligent assistance of my tech-savvy friend, Kevin Edgecomb, I am able once again to access the Internet from my laptop. Thus, my blogging efforts are hereby resumed! Furthermore, it is interesting to note that I have lately had two very gratifying examples of the possible utility of those efforts. First, I received an e-mail from a certain John Arnold, which read as follows:

Dear Aaron Taylor

I’ve just googled into your discussion of ‘stokkes and stones’ on your blog [see this post, and this follow-up]. It’s extremely helpful to me, because I'm currently looking at the language used by various people tried for Lollardy in fifteenth-century England, and the phrase ‘stokkes and stones’—very definitely in the sense of idolatry—pops up there quite frequently. (Lollard condemning what was then orthodox piety, regarding holy images, as a form of idolatry).

I hope that you won’t mind if I follow up your research for my own work—I had wondered if it might appear as a phrase in older English texts discussing idolatry; your blog provided a wonderful short cut...

With all best wishes
John Arnold

When I asked him for more information about the nature and purpose of his research, I received the following reply:

Dear Aaron (if I may)

The phrase pops up in various trial records, where people are questioned (following canon law procedures) as suspected heretics—‘Lollards’ appears to be the popular term for them. There is much debate about whether their ideas come from the late fourteenth-century radical theology of John Wyclif, or are more diffuse/popular.

So, you get various people saying things (or accused of saying things) such as ‘images of the crucifixe of our Lady and other seynts aught not to be worshipped bicause they were made with mannys hands, and that they were but stokkes and stonys’ (Joan Riche, of Wittersham, in a trial from 1511); that ‘Lucifer now has on Earth what he wanted in Heaven, namely the adoration of “stokkes and stones and ded mennes bones”’ (this alleged by another witness against one Margery Baxter, in a trial from 1428). There are various similar occurrences. Broadly speaking, the Lollards are against pilgrimage and images (thinking it more important to give money directly to the poor, and thinking of images as idolatry); do not believe in the sacrament of the Eucharist (Wyclif had a more complex theology; the trial records indicate a mixture of general scepticism and a sort of commemorative sense of that sacrament); and think that unworthy priests should be disendowed with worldly goods.

My interest is for an academic paper I'm currently working on (I’m a professor of medieval history, at the University of London), where my feeling was—rightly, as it turns out—that this turn of phrase was not specifically limited to Lollardy; the wider issue being how one thinks about ‘membership’ of a ‘sect’, in this time and place (and more broadly than that, how one thinks about the expression of belief via language).

Part of my research involves digging around in archives and manuscripts in the British Museum etc; but these days, googling anything you’re interested in is bound also to turn up some useful results—as your blog did! So, many thanks.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lollards, the trials from Norwich in 1428-31 are available in translation on-line, at [this page].

Best wishes

Subsequently, I googled Professor Arnold’s name in turn, and found his faculty page at the University of London’s Birkbeck College.

Shortly after this exchange with Professor Arnold, I received another e-mail from an acquaintance currently in the novitiate at St Herman of Alaska Monastery who has been assisting Hieromonk Damascene in some research for the revision of one of his articles. It turned out they had been similarly helped by this post on a small point of confusion I’d encountered in St Nicodemus’s use of St Maximus the Confessor. The serendipity initiated an exchange of e-mails, telephone calls, and even an attempted fax with Fr Damascene, who was kind enough to send me a pdf of a draft of the article in question and to promise the arrival of a few goodies in the mail!

I mention these events not simply to toot my own horn, but sincerely to share my joy at the discovery that some of these more pedantic posts have served not merely as a source of entertainment to myself or even to others, but have also proved useful to people who are working on serious things for publication! By all means, readers, keep me updated when you actually find something here useful for such endeavours. I find it highly encouraging!


Xeneteia said...

Welcome back! Very glad to see you posting again!


aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you, Rebecca. I'm very glad to be posting again too!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yay! I'm glad I didn't go eat my graham crackers rather than help you.

Isn't that just so mature of me?

Professor Arnold's work is absolutely fascinating! What a fun connection!

Happy posting, Mr Taylor!

solzemli said...

Good to have you back, Aaron. You were greatly missed by all!

Justin said...

Nice to see you online again. I'm pretty sure that's the first time you've used the word 'toot' on your blog.

aaronandbrighid said...

Kevin> Your decision to postpone the graham crackers was a remarkable display of self-control in the name of altruism. You are a true hero.

Andrew> Thank you, sir!

Justin> And it shan't be the last, mark my words!