Southcombe on Goldie, 'Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs'

Author: 
Mark Goldie
Reviewer: 
George Southcombe

Mark Goldie. Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2016. 462 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-78327-110-8.

Reviewed by George Southcombe (Sarah Lawrence College, NY)
Published on H-Albion (February, 2018)
Commissioned by Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=47013

The publication in 1990 of The Politics of Religion in Restoration England marked an important historiographical moment. It was edited by two scholars then at the beginning of their careers, Tim Harris and Paul Seaward, and Mark Goldie, who had supervised Harris’s doctoral thesis. If not quite the ur-text of the modern study of the Restoration, not least because of important other work that had already been published by its editors, it has proved profoundly influential. The three propositions that underpinned the analyses offered—that the late seventeenth century was best understood in relation to the early seventeenth century; that religion continued to play a vital role in political life; and that politics “out-of-doors” represented an important area of study—have shaped the terms of the debate for now nearly thirty years. It was also in 1990 that Robin Gwynn brought Mark Goldie aboard a long-standing project. Gwynn’s was the third attempt of the twentieth century to produce an edition of Roger Morrice’s Entring Book (1677-91), and in 1996, the year in which Gwynn chose to leave academia for politics in New Zealand, a board was formed to bring this project to fruition. This was triumphantly achieved in 2007 when, under Goldie’s general editorship, a six-volume edition was published by Boydell and Brewer (a seventh volume, the index, appeared in 2009). Four volumes contained the 925,000 words of the Entring Book,meticulously edited by leading historians of the Restoration. The picture it painted of a society riven by religious division, shaped by the experience of civil war, and hungry for news provided powerful support for the general lines of argument proposed in The Politics of Religion. Indeed, in many ways the Entring Book can be seen as the culmination of the process of research and interpretation heralded by that collection of essays. The full extent of its own impact remains to be seen. Its sheer weight, and cost, have perhaps meant that it has not been as fully assimilated into more recent works as might have been expected.[1] It is to be hoped that the book under review will encourage its greater use.

The first volume of the published Entring Book contained Goldie’s monograph, Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs. It is this which has now been reprinted, with a new introduction but without the appendices, as a stand-alone paperback. Boydell and Brewer are to be praised for taking this step, which has made a remarkable book accessible to a much wider audience. As has been the case with some past introductions—we might in particular think of Austin Woolrych’s contextualization of some of Milton’s later prose—Goldie’s work transcends its genre and takes on an importance of its own.[2] The new introduction provides a survey of recent work, and Goldie casts a wry eye on some historiographical tendencies. He warns that “historians are best advised not over-zealously to chase intimations of modernity in either Anglicans or Puritans,” and he notes the “immense prevailing preoccupation with textuality, with writing and reading as if they were the primordial forms of human agency” (pp. xxii, xxx). He concludes by suggesting that the weight of recent study has been to overturn the old conceptualization of the Restoration as a period of defeat for Puritanism: “the Puritans of Restoration England cannot (and despite their own threnodies) be construed merely as slaves under Egyptian taskmasters or wanderers in Sinai” (p. xxxvii). The chapters that follow are unaltered from the 2007 publication (to the extent that they still include references to the appendices). It is likely, though, that they will now be read in different ways.

Undergraduate readers are likely to fall upon the three chapters in which Goldie outlines an interpretation of English political and religious history from the 1640s into the 1690s and beyond. And so they should. Each is a masterpiece of compression, developing an argument about the continued political significance of Puritanism in the period 1660-89, and also a subtle case about its decline thereafter. The general argument that Puritan political positions, developed and solidified in the 1640s, and personified by Denzil Holles, were fundamental in shaping Whiggism is particularly important. But throughout it is specific detail about Morrice that illuminates political Puritanism most brightly. In his notebooks, Morrice recorded that the civil war itself had been justified, and expressed his exasperation with the use of the memory of its outbreak to deride what became Whig positions: “What anguish” it was “to hear religion, liberty, property, sense and reason for twenty-eight years together borne down with the artificial noise of 41 and 42” (p. 162). For Morrice, Restoration politics were shaped by the struggle between the upholders of the Puritan position and the nefarious designs of prelatical churchmen, the “hierarchists,” who held the Tory lay magistracy in thrall. In terms that resonate with much recent scholarship, Morrice wrote of the hierarchists’ deployment of “the two bombs of the representation and the image,” by which he meant “the (mis)representation of Dissenters as fanatics and rebels; and … the disguising of popery under the image or mask of the Church of England” (pp. 175-76). Morrice’s concentration on the “hierarchists” may have been peculiarly emphatic, but the broad outlines of his understanding of the period as one of continued religious struggle would have been shared by many of the early Whigs.

As these examples suggest, Morrice’s example is of such interest that it would be shame if it were only these ostensibly more wide-ranging chapters that were read. Students would undoubtedly gain a great deal from reading the chapters of close analysis concerning Morrice’s life, and the nature of the Entring Book itself. Both demonstrate exemplary unravelling of historical puzzles. The first pieces together the biography of a man who in the Restoration was chaplain successively to the “veteran Presbyterian parliamentarians” Denzil Lord Holles and Sir John Maynard (p. 47). He was, it seems, deliberately self-effacing and “almost never appears in the diaries, correspondence, or publications of his contemporaries” (p. 33). The second contemplates the elephant in the room: what was this text, of nearly a million words, actually for? Perhaps it was the “office master copy of outgoing [news]letters” (p. 112). If it was, it seems it was intended for a select audience, and therefore it reminds us both that this was a culture saturated by news and one in which individual, personal relationships retained a key significance.

The final substantive chapter, on “The History of the Puritans,” is in certain respects the best of all. Until the publication of the Entring Book, it was as a historian that Morrice had proved most useful to later writers. There is an irony in this, in that Morrice was a failed historian. The history of the Puritans he wished to write remained unfinished. The massive manuscript collections he made, however, became important resources for authors from Daniel Neal to Patrick Collinson and beyond. Goldie provides a sensitive account of how Morrice’s attempts were impeded from the start by a simple difficulty of definition: “The problem of moderate Puritans in the Restoration was that they were separatists who did not believe in separation” (p. 276). Was their history that “of insiders or outsiders” (p. 276)? This historiographical conundrum remained a constraint on Morrice’s ambitions, but it is clear that his historical thinking shaped his life in all respects. This is perhaps one of the areas that could still be explored further—the ways in which understandings of the past, and specifically perhaps understandings of the late sixteenth-century religio-political situation, shaped the late seventeenth century.

The reader of this book, which covers so elegantly and clearly material on biography, theology, politics (both in and out of doors), and political thought, is left with deep admiration for its author, and the slightly depressing question: could anybody else possibly have written it?

Notes

[1]. Goldie does provide a “supplementary bibliography” of relevant works, mainly produced since the publication of The Entring Book in 2007.

[2]. Austin Woolrych, “Historical Introduction,” in Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. D. M. Wolfe et al., vol. 7 of 8, 1669-1660, rev. ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980), 1-228.

[Erratum: The original version of this review mistakenly cited volume 8 of Complete Prose Works of John Milton instead of volume 7.—Ed.]

Citation: George Southcombe. Review of Goldie, Mark, Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs. H-Albion, H-Net Reviews. February, 2018.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=47013

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