- God, Duty, and Community in English Economic Life, 1660–1720 by Brodie Waddell
In God, Duty, and the Community in English Economic Life, Brodie Waddell advances our understanding of how the forces of poverty and piety and wealth and worship intersected in early modern England. Weddell roots his analysis around the worldview of English preachers and churchgoers who saw heaven, hell, and divine providence as sanctions on everyday economic interactions; he takes [End Page 484] exception to works that pass over “discussions of the beliefs and behaviors of the humble majority” (5) or that, by offering “a larger synchronic analysis of the early modern period, miss the unique attributes of the later Stuart economic culture” (7). He further reacts against work that, in his estimation, too heavily weighs statistical data over the “immaterial” and “cultural” aspects of Stuart economic life and sets up dualistic frameworks which place “the market economy” in opposition to “the moral economy.” Waddell engages with E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Max Weber, and Richard Trawney to reject their teleology and its continued influence on scholarship. Going beyond scholarship that depicts economic issues as outside the purview of moralists, Waddell demonstrates how moral language and ethical ideals dominated the way market relations were conceived throughout the early modern period. He organizes God, Duty, and Community around three central motifs: thematically examining the economic implications of conceptions of “stewardship” and divine omnipotence; interdependence, duty, and discipline, as seen through the metaphor of “the household”; and, lastly, “the bonds of common identity and exclusivity” that centered on imagined communities, most notably the nation and the parish (23).
Waddell draws on a range of sources in this successful effort to affirm the prominence of cultural factors into the economics of daily life. A broad audience accessed relatively cheap printed texts, chapbooks, tracts, pamphlets, almanacs, broadsides, ballads, and works of religious instruction. Many orally transmitted the contents to both the larger and ordinary public (21). The author contrasts these prescriptive sources with ones “produced or collected by state officials, county magistrates, urban corporations, craft guilds, and village officers” (22). Most creatively, Waddell uses petitions to magistrates, amounting to several hundred items in total from quarter sessions at Hertfordshire, the North Riding of Yorkshire, and the West Riding of Yorkshire, and the London Court of Aldermen, to demonstrate “some of the ways in which ordinary people reacted to moments of material need and the rhetoric used to describe their plight” (22–23).
Waddell’s three thematic chapters follow a similar format. After outlining a historiographical problem, he uses a common phrase or concept to discuss a moralist approach, ultimately concluding with methods of redress used by the poor. In “Judgment, Providence, and Affairs of the Poor,” for example, Waddell reacts against the scholarship that sees religious beliefs as “thoroughly excluded from the realm of economic conduct over the course of the seventeenth century” (79). To illustrate his argument, Waddell focuses on “stewardship” and Mammonism, divine justice and providence, and the redress of wrongs through prayers and curses. Miserly creditors and those who enjoyed some measure of economic power over others as well as the poor could all learn from the parable of Dives and Lazarus, which found its way into sermons, plays, and other moral instruction. The wood-cut frontispiece to Robert Johnson’s Dives and Lazarus, or Rather Devilish (1677), conveyed the importance of charity. The affluent and richly adorned Dives feasted unaware of God’s impending judgment. “In contrast, the beggar Lazarus, despite being starved and ‘full of sores,’ was shown to be crowned by God’s blessing” (44). Though the poor were instructed to stoically accept their lot, contemporary moral teachings offered more than mere consolation for the poor; they “vernacularised the social ethics found in scripture by the clothing biblical sinners in contemporary garb” and indicted uncharitableness and hypocrisy by the more well-to-do (49). Men and women saw God as a “vigilant and interventionist deity” (53). Prayerful petitions were a staple of the early modern [End...