Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An appetite for wonders: Robert Gell considers Marcle Hill

Robert Gell made much of the subject of my last post, the Marcle Hill landslip, in his sermon to the Society of Astrologers, published as Stella nova, a new starre, leading wisemen unto Christ. Or, A sermon preached before the learned Society of Astrologers, August 1. 1649.

As Gell explains it, the earth shook at the giving of the law (he cites Psalm 114), then the earth was shaken again when the gospel came to be revealed (his far-fetched connection here is when King Herod was troubled by Christ’s birth: Herod’s name, he tells us, connotes ‘mountain’). Finally, as he sums up this three-part view of history: ‘what the Lord did at the giving of the Law, prefigured what should be done at the publishing of the everlasting universall Gospell’ (p. 28)

That’s right, Gell seems to have been a reader of the works of Joachim de Fiore, and to have been expecting the angel of Revelations 14, who would deliver the third Testament, that of the ‘everlasting gospel’. He cites Joachim directly, quoting the over-stimulating verses in Revelations, and saying ‘But who this Angel was, every one judgeth as he is affected. Abbat Joachim tells us, it was Gregory the Great’ (in his Aggelokratia theon, 1650).

Though he is a relatively temperate reader of Joachim (Gell insists that nobody has produced writings ‘holy and pure’ enough for them to be seen as the Third, Everlasting Gospel, and that the prophet expected to preach the third Gospel is a ‘Non est inventus’), Gell’s argument about Marcle Hill exhibits that total lack of a sense of proportion that marks so much mid-seventeenth century religious writing. He goes on to spell out the strange symbolisms of the divinely-altered landform in detail, as it now prefigures the geography of his ideal city of Christian brotherhood, Philadelphia:

‘This hill (i.e., Philadelphia) like that I told you of out of Master Camden and Master Speed, keeps the sheep safe in their cotes, and all the trees of righteousness growing upon it; only it turns those West which were East, and the East West. They that were first become last, and the last first. It over turnes all meer ceremoniall outside worship; and changes the great beaten roads, even that broad way of open known sinners, and that kind of narrow way, which is indeed cut out of the same broad way, consisting of an affected kinde of strictnesse, in regard of some bodily exercises; which neglect of the true narrow way of mortification which leads unto the everlasting life. And as that Hill mounted it selfe on the top of another, and there rested; so this Hill of the Lord must raise it selfe above all the little Hils, even all particular Churches divided in judgements and opinions.’

So Marcle Hill, after the landslide, symbolises all the inversions of earthly rank of the heavenly city itself …

Reading Stella nova, one can hardly help not imagining the astrologers, who perhaps expected their own proclivity for nutty deductions from perfectly natural events to be flatteringly treated by their preacher, sitting there wondering what on earth he was on about, as he digressed so unpredictably from the phenomena they were interested in to these wild geological-eschatological conclusions. Instead of anything astral or planetary, here he was, seeing the apocalypse in a landslide a trifling matter of 75 years before.

Gell, in his Stella nova sermon, introduces a long quotation from Speed’s account of Marcle Hill like this: “Master Camden in his Britannia tells us, in the Description of Herefordshire, that Prope confluentes [Lugi & Vagae] Collis quem Marcley-hill vocant, annus saluties 1575. quasi somen solutus consurrexit & triduum se in immanissimam molem propellans horrendo reboans mugitu, & obvia quaeque prosternans in superiorum locum, magna cum admiaritone se promovit, eo terrae motus genere, ut judico, quod Physici Brasmatiam vocant. Master Speed, in his Description of the same County, gives us the History more fully; onely there is in him a mistake of the yeere, unlesse it were onely the Printers fault, as I believe.

Gell then quotes Speed’s version at length, as given in my previous blog entry, and comments: “This (landslide), although we may refer unto its second causes, as master Camden doth; yet if we consider the great manifestation of that Divine light, by the publishing of the everlasting Gospell that very yeere unto this nation, we cannot but apply that of the Psalmist; What ailed yee, yee Mountaines that yee skipped like Rams, and yee little Hils like yong Sheepe? Tremble thou Earth at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Israel (Psalm 114.)”

“The Lord then made manifest His presence by the moving of the Earth”, Gell proclaims. What connects the landslide (with its strangely misunderstood reports of the slip piling up on itself into a new eminence) to a Stella nova (the nova in Cassiopeia) is, to re-iterate a point, the miraculous nature of any change to the divinely ordered creation.

No comments: