<<

. 7
( 52 .)



>>

Genesis account of the peopling of the world played some part during the
seventeenth and into the eighteenth century in the formation of ethnic
identities should not cloud the primacy of religious truth over matters of
national honour. Pride in a distinguished national lineage which might be
traced back to Japhet was of secondary importance to the maintenance of
Christianity as an intellectual system of unimpeachable integrity.
“’ A vivid example is provided by seventeenth-century Scotland where there was little
evidence of any vernacular patriotism; on the other hand two Scots produced remarkable
attempts to undo the linguistic Fall at Babel: the polymathic cavalier Sir Thomas
Urquhart of Cromarty (1611“60) in his Logopandecteision and the Oxford-based George
Dalgarno (1626?“87) in his Ars signorum (Salmon, ˜The evolution of Dalgarno™s Ars
signorum™, in Salmon, Study of language, pp. 157“75).
3 Ethnic theology and British identities




The clerisies of the British Isles were keenly aware that questions of ethnic
origin bore heavily not only upon national status and identity, but also
upon the standing of Christian truth. As we saw in the last chapter British
writers, such as James Ussher, the formidable Anglo-Irish chronologist,
were actively involved in the great ethnological debates which enthralled
the clerisies of early modern Europe. The same themes which pre-
occupied theologians on the Continent “ the peopling of America, men
before Adam and gentile chronology “ were standard features of British
theology throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Ethnic matters pertained by deWnition to the province of religion. The
entry for ˜Ethnick™ in the Glossographia (1656) compiled by Thomas
Blount (1618“79) ran as follows: ˜heathenish, ungodly, irreligious: And
may be used substantively for a heathen or gentile™. A century later,
Johnson™s Dictionary (1755) deWned ˜Ethnick™ in broadly similar fashion:
˜heathen; pagan; not Jewish; not Christian™.¦ As we saw in chapter 2, the
term ˜ethnic theology™ was in fact used in this era to refer to pagan
religion;  however, the scope of the discussion here will be somewhat
broader. As well as engaging with the unfamiliar early modern construc-

¦ Thomas Blount, Glossographia (1656: reprint, Menston, 1969), and Samuel Johnson, A
dictionary of the English language (1755: facsimile edn, London, 1979), under ˜Ethnick™
and ˜Ethnicks™. See also the sixth edition of Nathaniel Bailey™s Universal etymological
dictionary (London, 1733), which deWned ˜Ethnick™ as ˜heathenish, of or belonging to
heathens™; T. Hylland Eriksen, Ethnicity and nationalism: anthropological perspectives (Lon-
don, 1993), pp. 3“4; R. Williams, Keywords (1976: London, 1988 edn), p. 119;
A. Hastings, The construction of nationhood (Cambridge, 1997), p. 213.
  E.g. Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, The antient religion of the gentiles with the causes of
their errors (1663: trans. from Latin, London, 1705), p. 3, ˜ethnical superstitions™, and p.
185, ˜ethnick theology™. See also F. Manuel, The eighteenth century confronts the gods
(Cambridge, MA, 1959), p. 118, for Newton™s notes on ˜Religio ethnica™. Charles
O™Conor, Dissertations on the antient history of Ireland (Dublin, 1753), p. x, described the
pre-Christian Irish as ˜a kind of ethnic Hebrews . . . who kept the laws of nature in some
force, where those of revelation found no entrance™; similarly, Sylvester O™Halloran, A
general history of Ireland (2 vols., London, 1778), II, p. 113, referred to their rites as ˜our
national ethnic worship™.


34
Ethnic theology and British identities 35

tion of ethnic otherness, this chapter will also embrace our own rather
diVerent twentieth-century awareness of the ˜ethnic™.


Chronological foundations
The link between ethnicity “ in its modern sense “ and religion was deeper
than an accidental semantic connection. Historiography was shaped by
theology. Not only was the civil history of mankind an oVshoot of the
story begun in Genesis, but, with varying degrees of sophistication, early
modern historians were able to trace the hand of providence at work,
either directly or through chains of secondary causes, in the course of
events. British Protestants did more than genuXect to the idol of sacred
history. The Bible set chronological limits to human history, and the
quest for the origins of the British peoples was naturally framed by the
universal history of mankind from the Noachic dispersal. Universal his-
tory told in traditional Mosaic fashion was a ˜lively™ staple of British
historical culture well into the eighteenth century, most notably in Sir
Walter Raleigh™s History of the world (1614) which went through numer-
ous editions and abridgements. The science of chronology existed as a
branch of theology. Ussher and various successors such as John Lightfoot
(1602“75), master of St Catharine™s Hall, Cambridge, obsessed over the
precise chronology of the Creation. Although not everybody was conW-
dent that the Creation could be pinpointed to Sunday, 23 October, 4004
BC (the machinery having been set in motion at about 6 p.m. the previous
evening) or even to some other date in the autumn of 4004 BC, the
parameters of chronological speculation were broadly Mosaic, ranging
between 6984 BC and 3616 BC. As a result, the peopling of the world by
the ˜Arkite ogdoad™ “ Noah, his three sons and their wives “ remained
˜inescapable facts™ of ancient history well into the Wrst half of the eight-
eenth century. A vogue for chronological tabulations reinforced this
outlook. Francis Tallents (1619“1708), for example, produced A view of
universal history (1685). In Scotland the Reverend Alexander Cooper of
Traquair argued for the superiority of Scripture evidence over unreliable
˜profane™ sources in An essay upon the chronology of the world (1722).
Although by the start of the eighteenth century the sheer weight of
antiquarian knowledge and the critical acumen of ˜modern™ classical
scholarship had made it almost impossible to plot a convincing and
certain scheme of universal history, scriptural chronology remained an
integral and unembarrassing feature of the British Enlightenment. The
Wndings of the new astronomy were fused with sacred history in such
works as Isaac Newton™s The chronology of ancient kingdoms amended
36 Theological contexts

(1728) and in John Kennedy™s New method of stating and explaining the
scripture chronology, upon Mosaic astronomical principles (1751). Chrono-
logy was socially as well as intellectually respectable. The Anglo-Scottish
cleric John Blair (d. 1782), who was appointed chaplain to the Dowager
Princess of Wales in 1757 and who also served as mathematics tutor to
the Duke of York, constructed a popular Chronology and history of the
world, from the Creation, to the year of Christ 1753 (1754: reprinted 1756,
1768, 1814).À
The discourse of chronologists was far from insular. Indeed, from the
late seventeenth century, the upholders of both Protestant and Catholic
confessions became aware of a general threat to the standards of Christian
orthodoxy. French chronology, though deployed to meet diVerent con-
fessional objectives, exerted considerable inXuence on British historical
thought throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A history of
the world; or, an account of time by Denis Petau (Dionysius Petavius)
appeared in English in 1659, and Ductor historicus: or, a short system of
universal history, which was published anonymously in London in 1698
(and later in Thomas Hearne™s enlarged edition of 1704“5), was com-
piled in good part from Les elemens de l™histoire (1696) by Pierre Le
´´
Lorrain, Abbe de Vallemont. Bossuet™s providentialist scheme of univer-
´
sal history, Discours sur l™histoire universelle (1681), also found its way into
English. Moreover, the works of the French Jansenist and classical
scholar Charles Rollin (1661“1741) were immensely popular throughout
the English-speaking world, including his similarly providentialist survey
of Antient history, in which the ˜origin of profane history™ was deWned as
À S. Piggott, William Stukeley (1950: London, 1985), p. 100; J. W. Johnson, ˜Chronological
writing: its concepts and development™, H+T 2 (1962), 124“5, 137; H. Trevor-Roper,
˜James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh™, in Trevor-Roper, Catholics, Anglicans and Puri-
tans (London, 1987), pp. 159, 291 n.; G. Parry, The trophies of time (Oxford, 1995), pp.
147“8; G. Daniel, Man discovers his past (London, 1966), p. 20, for October 4004 BC;
John Lightfoot, Works (2 vols., London, 1684), I, pp. 707, 1020“1, for September 4004
BC; J. Levine, The battle of the books (Ithaca, 1991), pp. 92“3; R. Porter, Gibbon (London,
1988), ch. 1, ˜The uses of history in Georgian England™, esp. pp. 22“5; N. Rupke, The
great chain of history: William Buckland and the English school of geology (1814“1849)
(Oxford, 1983), pp. 52“6; F. Manuel, Isaac Newton, historian (Cambridge, MA, 1963).
For the parameters of medieval and early modern speculation on the Creation, see
William Hales, A new analysis of chronology and geography (1809“12: 2nd edn, 4 vols.,
London, 1830), I, pp. 211“14. Although criticised by contemporaries such as the Rever-
end Arthur Bedford (1668“1745), in Animadversions upon Sir Isaac Newton™s book, intitled
˜The chronology of ancient kingdoms amended™ (London, 1728), for undermining the estab-
lished contours of Protestant chronology, Newton™s chronology was hardly paradigm-
breaking, deviating from traditional datings by only a few hundred years in an attempt,
indeed, to bolster the authority of the Old Testament by showing its superior accuracy
over the pagan histories of Greece and Egypt; M. T. Hodgen, Early anthropology in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Philadelphia, 1964), p. 319.
Ethnic theology and British identities 37

˜the dispersion of the posterity of Noah into the several countries of the
earth where they settled™.Ã
Although British Protestantism did not generate a classic to rival Boss-
uet™s, Georgian England produced its own monumental Universal history
published in twenty-three volumes between 1736 and 1765. The Univer-
sal history was a collaborative venture pooling the talents of various Grub
Street hacks, including the proliWc Scot John Campbell (1708“75), his
countryman Archibald Bower (1686“1766) and the notorious quondam-
˜Formosan™-turned-Anglican George Psalmanazar (1679?“1763). Des-
pite some heterodox articles on oriental topics contributed to the Wrst
edition by George Sale (1697?“1736), the Universal history was a massive
pillar of orthodoxy, beginning with the Creation, rebutting the errors of
the Pre-adamite heresy and tracing the origins of civil government and
nations from the Noachic dispersal.•
Eighteenth-century Irish Catholics, of course, imbibed a traditional
universal history through Bossuet, and also from the work of Cornelius
Nary (1660“1738), author of A new history of the world, containing an
historical and chronological account of the times and transactions from the
Creation to the birth of Christ, according to the computation of the Septuagint
(Dublin, 1720). The paradigm established by Ussher continued to be a
feature of Irish Protestantism, upheld in the early nineteenth century by
the Reverend William Hales (1747“1831), professor of oriental lan-
guages at Dublin, in his New analysis of chronology (1809“12) whose
novelty was limited to a Creation of 5411 BC.
It was only in the 1780s that the old chronological certainties began to
dissolve. George Toulmin, an eternalist, challenged the Mosaic time-
frame of both natural and human history in The antiquity and duration of
the world (1780). In a similar mechanistic vein, but with more precision,
the Scottish scientist James Hutton (1726“97) unveiled in lectures to the
Royal Society of Edinburgh delivered in 1785 a theory of the earth and its
profound antiquity which he had begun to formulate twenty years before.
Hutton™s earth was a beneWcently designed perpetual motion machine
which created through erosion the soil required for the sustenance of life,
remaking continents through the consolidation of sediments. Hutton
detected a continuous tripartite cycle of erosion, consolidation and

à Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, A discourse on the history of the whole world (1686: 2nd edn,
´
London, 1703), p. 4, for the Japhetan peopling of Europe; Charles Rollin, Antient history
(1730“8: 1st transln, 11 vols., London, 1735?“7), ˜Preface™, I, p. v; Levine, Battle of the
books, p. 271; Porter, Gibbon, p. 25.
• An universal history, from the earliest account of time to the present (7 vols., London,
1736“44), I, pp. 47“8, 97, 171. For the background and religious slant of this project, see
G. Abbattista, ˜The business of Paternoster Row: towards a publishing history of the
Universal history (1736“1765)™, Publishing History 17 (1985), 5“50, esp. 8, 13“14, 27.
38 Theological contexts

elevation in geological processes whose necessary longevity not only
undermined Mosaic chronology, but obliterated the primeval contours of
the world. ˜The result, therefore, of our present enquiry™, he concluded,
˜is, that we Wnd no vestige of a beginning, “ no prospect of an end.™ Yet,
despite Hutton™s obvious heterodoxy (which attracted an orthodox rebut-
tal from the Anglo-Irish scholar Richard Kirwan (1733“1812)), a benign
Newtonian deity stood beyond the vastness of deep time as the prime
mover of the terraqueous globe. Nor did the appearance of uniformitar-
ian ideas in late Enlightenment Scotland immediately displace the Del-
uge. In early nineteenth-century England there was a distinctive non-
uniformitarian school of geology championed at Oxford by William
Buckland (1784“1856) which, while non-literalist and admitting a much
vaster ante-Diluvian timeframe than Genesis allowed, remained commit-
ted until the 1830s to a Diluvialist interpretation of earth history which
saw the Flood as the culmination of a series of catastrophes which had
shaped the planet. Only in 1836 did Buckland break with the notion of
the Mosaic Deluge, though not with the notion of ancient cataclysms
which he now argued had preceded the appearance of man.’ Given the
persistence of sacred geochronology into the late eighteenth century, and
the longer survival of elements of the Mosaic history of the world into the
early nineteenth century, it is hardly surprising that Genesis should have
remained throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a valid
point of departure “ albeit by no means the exclusive starting point “ for
British accounts of the history of mankind.


The resilience of orthodoxy
English exploration of the New World provoked the Wrst stirrings of the
new ethnic theology, and, appropriately, an early classic of the genre, Sir
Walter Raleigh™s History of the world. The scholar-explorer included with-
in his History what passed for a major defence of Christian revelation (or
at least its ˜bibliolatry™ cleared Raleigh from ill-founded charges of athe-

’ George Toulmin, The antiquity and duration of the world (1780: London, 1824), see esp.
pp. 5, 9, 11, 32, 47, 54; James Hutton, ˜Theory of the Earth; or an investigation of the laws
observable in the composition, dissolution and restoration of land upon the globe™,
Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1 (1788), 304; Rupke, Great chain of history,
pp. 5, 9, 16“18, 39“41, 57“60, 89“92. Consider too the complementary inXuences of Jean
Andre Deluc (1727“1817) and George Cuvier on British geology: see F. C. Haber, The
´
age of the world: Moses to Darwin (Baltimore, 1959), pp. 194“7, 210“21. The preface by the
Scot Robert Jameson to his translation of Cuvier brought out the Mosaic orthodoxy which
was only implicitly suggested in the more hesitant formulation of the original: Jameson,
˜Preface™ (1817), in George Cuvier, Essay on the theory of the earth (1817: 4th edn,
Edinburgh, 1822), pp. ix, xi. See also N. Cohn, Noah™s Xood (New Haven, 1996), p. 113;
J. BurchWeld, Lord Kelvin and the age of the earth (1975: Chicago, 1990), pp. 6“8.
Ethnic theology and British identities 39

ism).“ English accounts of how North America had been peopled were
largely inXuenced by Acosta™s Historia natural y moral de las Indias (1590)
which was published in an English translation by Edward Grimston in
1604: for instance, Edward Brerewood, professor of astronomy at
Gresham College, argued that America had been peopled by the progeny
of the Tartars, a line also taken by Samuel Purchas (1575?“1626) and,
later, by John Ogilby (1600“76) in his America (1671).“ In the 1650s
there was a debate over the supposed Jewish origins of the native Ameri-
cans. In Iewes in America, or probabilities that the Americans are of that race
(1650), Thomas Thorowgood drew parallels between the customs, relig-
ion and languages of these peoples, a position rejected by Hamon
L™Estrange (1605“60) in Americans no Jewes (1652).” Scholars such as
Alexander Ross, author of Pansebeia (1653), also began to compile ency-
clopaedic compendia of ethnographic information on the various relig-
ions of the newly discovered world which lay beyond the traditional
boundaries of Christendom.¦» A characteristic account of seventeenth-
century English ethnology and racial prejudice can be found in Sir
Thomas Browne™s intellectual miscellany Pseudodoxia epidemica (1646)
where chapters on the blackness of Negroes and the characteristics of
Jews, Gypsies and pygmies nestle alongside treatments of the relationship
of Ham, Shem and Japhet and the reasons for building the tower of
Babel.¦¦
The expansion of Europe also encouraged philosophical voyages into
the uncharted waters of religious heterodoxy, though it was by no means
the sole factor. In response to the provocations of Descartes, Hobbes,
Spinoza and La Peyrere, the Restoration era proved to be one of the

<<

. 7
( 52 .)



>>