- Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580-1720 by Andrew Cambers
With Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580-1720, Andrew Cambers aims to examine 'the intersection of the culture of puritanism and the history of reading in the long seventeenth century' (p. 1). In pursuing this aim, he enters two very large fields of study - the history of reading and that of Puritanism in England. The organization of Cambers's densely researched study is primarily spatial: that is, he examines the places and spaces where reading occurred, and analyses the people in those spaces as well as what they did there. This shifts the focus of analysis away from individual interaction with books and words, and introduces the Puritan communities that surrounded those engaged in reading. One of his conclusions is a plea for the value of historicizing the continuities in reading of devotional material over a long time period, and the importance of this practice for sustaining cultural and religious identities.
After an introductory chapter defining the terms of his analysis and outlining the vast historiographies he is working within, Cambers then moves [End Page 216] spatially from the most private spaces for devotional reading outwards to the most public. His second chapter is on the domestic spaces for pious reading, starting with the closet or most private of spaces, then the bedchamber and the study. Much of his evidence is from diaries and life writings and he finds that the praxis of reading was dependent on different situations and times of the day, as well as the spaces in which people engaged in reading. Cambers concludes that contrary to common assumptions about the solitary and individual nature of Puritan devotional reading even in the seemingly private spaces of study and bedchamber, reading was often shared and communal.
Chapter 3 focuses on family devotional reading practices, again through the varied spaces within households where reading occurred - the hall, parlour, and kitchen - as well as out of doors. Cambers acknowledges that there was a significant strand of piety that relied on private individual reading, however, his analysis foregrounds the importance of oral and shared devotional reading in households. The next chapter focuses on the space where reading and books are most closely associated, namely, the library. Early modern libraries were, as Cambers reminds us, 'places of knowledge and cultural exchange. They were places to read and to talk and to discuss' (p. 119). In this context, Cambers examines the personal libraries of individuals, especially Puritan clergy, and considers how these collections of books were used to stimulate and educate as well as strengthen social ties within godly communities. He then moves on to discuss parish, town, school, and college libraries and their links with godly communities. He argues that libraries were not only spaces where information and devotions could be shared; they were also vehicles for confirming social and religious identity through the sharing and discussion of books and ideas.
His final two substantive chapters examine the public spaces of churches, coffee houses, bookshops, and finally prisons. Here the importance of collective reading was much easier to discern. Cambers emphasizes the interaction between speech, manuscript, and print in the culture of Puritanism within these public spaces. His chapter on reading in the prison environment allows Cambers to extend his discussion to the importance of reading in the construction of martyrdom and how devotional reading was vital to the way that Puritan identities were recorded. In this section, he discusses the complexity of the sources he uses, as they tend to be 'factional, political or polemical' (p. 217).
His conclusions demonstrate that collective, communal reading was important to these godly communities because it publicly displayed their piety and differentiated them from society at large. The material that these people read also demonstrated their commitment to their godly identity. [End Page 217]
There is much that is valuable about both Cambers's...