Saturday, March 17, 2007

The speedy fall of man: Hugh Broughton

I was reading Paradise Lost, when it struck me that Milton is far friendlier to the Book of Tobit than he ought to be as a Protestant (see IV, 167ff and V 221-3), and I supposed that he might have favoured the apocryphal book for the curing of Tobit’s blindness by Tobias (as depicted here by Jan Massys), and the fervent wedding night prayers of Tobias and Sara (understandable in the circumstances they face – will some burnt fish guts manage to keep at bay the spirit that has jealously killed her previous seven husbands prior to consummation?). Milton will also be receptive as an author with a Christian epic to fill out to anything near-biblical in which an angel gets an active role, and develops his Raphael out of the Raphael of the apocryphal book.

I digressed around a couple of fierce Protestant denunciations of a text the Catholics held to be canonical, finding first John Vicars’ wonderfully titled Unholsome henbane between two fragrant roses, or, Reasons and grounds proving the unlawfull and sinfull inserting of the corrupt and most erronious Apocrypha between the two most pure and sacred testaments (1645). Vicars argues that the Book of Tobit contains a blasphemy, in Raphael representing himself as a mediator between man and God (i.e., taking the role reserved for Christ), and ‘Magick, or Inchantment’ in that act of curing Tobit’s blindness: “Now, if these were not plain Spels and unwarrantable wayes of Magick and Inchantment, thus to drive away devils and evil spirits, and to cure diseases, by the help of such a spirit, as Azarias and Raphael, let all truly godly say and determine.” I suppose that if The Book of Tobit had been firmly part of the Protestant Bible, the non-Catholic demonologists and exorcists would have been more inclined to get busy treating devils with cod’s liver smoke.

From Vicars, I went to Hugh Broughton’s Principal positions for groundes of the Holy Bible a short oration of the Bibles translation : positions historique and of the Apocrypha : Tobit particularly handled : Iudith severally handled (1609), which offers more of the same, from a fiercely learned source. This is the Broughton who is mentioned satirically in Jonson’s The Alchemist, where Doll Common poses as a gentlewoman driven mad by studying his writings:

Y'are very right, sir, shee is a most rare schollar;
And is gone mad, with studying Broughtons workes.
If you but name a word, touching the Hebrew,
Shee falls into her fit...

In S. Clark’s The lives of sundry eminent persons in this later age (1683), the existence of a woman who mastered Hebrew from study of Broughton actually gets mentioned: “Yea, some such there were, that being excited and stirred up by his books, applied themselves to the study of the Hebrew tongue and attained to a great measure of skill and knowledge therein. Nay, a woman might be named who did it.”

But Broughton himself, a man whose learning enabled him to humiliate learned opponents in theological controversies, brought me back to Paradise Lost with this assertion (p. 13 of his Principal positions):

Principal Positions in the holy story: and of the Apocrypha

Great matters should be knowen commonly: some chief I wil briefly touch.

1. When God had made the world, and gave Adam authoritie, he left Adam to be deceived, the day that he was created.”

So, in the view of this scholar, the blessed state didn’t last out the first day. He doesn’t offer any argument for this opinion (which surely has some devastating implications), just regards it as a salient and hard fact. What a strange creation, then! Anyway, I too must have 'gone mad, with studying Broughton's works', for what a strange way to spend a Saturday evening.

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