Todays book is as much fun to read as Brown’s Pseudoxia Epidemica , Like Brown Spencer is battling against superstition, with reason and natural history as his weapon and defense.
940G John Spencer, Dean of Ely 1630-1693
A Discourse concerning Prodigies: Wherein The Vanity of Presages by them is reprehended, and their true and proper Ends asserted and vindicated.
A Discourse Concerning Vulgar Prophecies. Wherein The Vanity of receiving them as the certain Indications of any future Event is discovered; And some Characters of Distinction between true and pretending Prophets are laid down.
London: Printed by J. Field for Will. Graves over against Great S. Maries Church in Cambridge, 1665; London: Printed by J. Field for Timothy Garthwait at the Kings head in S. Pauls Church-yard, 1665
Octavo 6 ½ X 4 ½ . A8, a8, B-Z8, Aa-Cc8, Dd4; A-I8, K4. Second edition of the first book, first edition of the second book. Bound in contemporary calf.
The remarkable nature of Spencer’s achievement is enhanced when it is remembered that oriental studies were then in their infancy and that he was compelled to derive nearly all his data from classical writers of Greece and Rome, from the Christian fathers, the works of Josephus, or from the Bible itself. Spencer professed that his object was ‘to clear Deity from arbitrary and fantastic humor, “A greatly extended editon of Spencer’s refutation of omens and apparitions and the first to include his new publication, a “Discourse Concerning Vulgar Prophecies.” The book examines a copious assemblage of superstitions and auguries, such as comets, eclipses, the turning of ponds to blood and the moving of mountains, tracing the history of the Old Testament and classical mythology and commending the study of Natural Philosophy. Spencer examines superstitious beliefs surrounding comets and eclipses, as well as the beliefs held by some on the turning of ponds to blood and the moving of mountains and many more interpretations of bizarre natural phenomena.
“I Shall descend now to a close and distinct discourse concerning the (forementioned) Prodigies Signal; and amongst them, first con∣cerning those which more immediately resolve into causes Natural.”
Spencer disapproved of the interpreting natural phenomena as superstitious prognostication and rather tricot to come up with, what we would call, a scientific explanation.
” in which the vanity of receiving them as the certain indications of any future event is discovered, and some characters of distinction between true and pretended prophets are laid down.”
This attempt to bring the public to reason and sobriety was not less timely than the the first book, published in response to the “Annus Mirabilis,” Some enthusiasts brought to notice a number of pretended prodigies, as portending future changes in the state, Spencer conceiving it to be of dangerous consequence thus to unsettle the minds of the people,,
And it might Be usefully renewed in current instances and at THIS much later period .
Spencer writes :”That Nature in its production of the several kinds of crea∣tures, should (as if they were all stampt with one common seal) give them forth in such equal and similar figures and proportions, is a more just object of wonder, then to see the natural Archeus sometimes to play the bungler, and to leave its work (in some parts thereof) rude and mishapen. That the Earth should generally be delivered of the many vapours and winds within its bowels, without the pangs and throws of an earthquake; and that all the host of Heaven should marchJoel 2. 7, 8.every one on his way, and not break their ranks, neither thrust one another, but walk every one on his path (to borrow the language of the Prophet)Excedit profectò omnia miracula, ul∣lum diem fu isse in quo non cuncta confla∣grarent. Plin. Hist. Nat. l. 2. c. 107. are prodigies beyond an Earthquake, New star, or monster sometime discovered to the world, and therefore more justly chosen to be the constant instances of the divine Wisdom and Power; and to see some strange fires breaking forth (sometimes) from the caverns of the earth, is so much beneath wonder, that Pliny tells us, it exceeds all wonder, that there should be any day wherein all the things in the world (so pregnant with fiery principles) do not break forth into one mighty flame, and lay the world in ashes.Now then what sober Reason can warrant us to conclude any necessary and natural occurrences the prophetick signs of Events”
“John Spencer, master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and author of ‘De Legibus Hebraeorum,’ was a native of Bocton, near Bleane, Kent, where he was baptized on 31 October 1630. He was educated at the King’s School, Canterbury, became king’s scholar there, and was admitted to a scholarship of Archbishop Parker’s foundation in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, on 25 March 1645. He graduated B.A. in 1648, M.A. in 1652, B.D. in 1659, and D.D. in 1665. After taking holy orders he became a university preacher, served the cures first of Saint Giles and then of Saint Benedict, Cambridge, and on 23 July 1667 was instituted to the rectory of Landbeach, Cambridgeshire, which he resigned in 1683 in favor of his nephew and curate, William Spencer. On 3 August 1667 he was unanimously elected master of Corpus Christi College, and he governed that society for twenty-six years. He contributed verses to the Cambridge university Collection on the death of Henrietta Maria, queen dowager, in 1669. He was appointed a prebendary to the first stall at Ely in February 1671/2, and served the office of vice-chancellor of the university in the academic year 1673, during which he delivered a speech addressed to the Duke of Monmouth on his installation as chancellor of the university. He was admitted on the presentation of the king, to the archdeaconry of Sudbury in the church of Norwich on 5 September 1677; and was instituted to the deanery of Ely on 9 September 1677. He died on 27 May 1693, and was buried in the college chapel, where a monument with a Latin inscription was erected to his memory. He married Hannah, daughter of Isaac Puller, and sister of Timothy Puller. She died leaving one daughter (Elizabeth) and one son (John).
“Spencer was an erudite theologian and Hebraist, and to him belongs the honor of being the first to trace the connection between the rites of the Hebrew religion and those practiced by kindred Semitic races. In 1669 he published a ‘Dissertatio de Urim & Thummin,’ in which he referred those mystic emblems to an Egyptian origin. […] In 1685 appeared Spencer’s chief publication, his ‘De Legibus Hebraeorum ritualibus et earum rationibus libri tres.’ In this work, which included the earlier treatise on Urim and Thummin, Spencer deserted the time honored paths traced by commentators, and ‘may justly be said to have laid the foundations of the science of comparative religion. In its special subject, in spite of certain aspects, it still remains by far the most important book on the religious antiquities of the Hebrews.’ (Robertson Smith, Religions of the Semites, 1894) .’” (DNB)
Wing S-4948; CH, CLC, CN, IU, PL, WF, Y; Wing S-4949; CH, CLC, IU, MIU, NU, TO, TU, WF, Y.
CHAP. II. Concerning Prodigies, Signal, Natural.I Shall descend now to a close and distinct discourse concerning the (forementioned) Prodigies Signal; and amongst them, first con∣cerning those which more immediately resolve into causes Natural. Concerning all which, I offer this general Thesis to proof. Prodigies Natural are not intended, nor to be expounded the Prognosticks of judge∣ments, suddenly to ensue upon whole Nations or particular persons. It is (especially) ignorance of their causes and ends which hath prefer∣redIsa. 44. 15. some of these Natural Prodigies to so great a veneration and re∣gard in many mens minds. As Ethnicism of old made the gods it worshipt, so ignorance oft makes the Furies it dreads.This Thesis I shall endeavour to perswade,1. By some general Reasons and Arguments.2. By a particular Induction and Survey of such as seem most plau∣sibly pretended the silent Monitours of some approaching venge∣ance.First, By some general Reasons.SECT. I. Reasons to prove Prodigies Natural no Signs of a future judgement.The first Argument taken from their doubtfull and uncertain indication; That proved from the confessions of their ablest Expositours; From their different Expositions in all times. The Interpreters of them banisht the Iewish Common-wealth of old, upon this account, Philo. Thuanus. The Argument further urged from Tully. God’s Signs express; The use∣lesness of those which are not.2. From a consideration of the times wherein most attended to. The rea∣son why a regard is to be had to the times and seasons; When Laws or U∣sages first obtained, noted from K. James. The times noted especially for gross ignorance in matters of Religion and Philosophy. Some Obser∣vations upon the remaining Registers of such accidents yet extant: The times remarked also for the publick fears and distractions happening in them. Livy. Seneca.3. From the natural and necessary Causes of these things. More of Na∣ture observable in a Prodigy, then common Occurrences.4. From the Nature and temper of the Oeconomy we are now under.THe Argument which I shall first offer to reprehend the commonArg. 1. vanity of receiving them as a kinde of indications in bodies Po∣litick, is this: Their (pretended) indications are so hugely perplext, doubt∣full and uncertain, that it cannot be concluded what judgement they portend, or when to ensue, or whether private persons or whole Nations be alam’d by them.If God do write Fata hominum in these mystick characters, there is none on earth found able to reade the writing, and (with any certainty) to make known the interpretation thereof. Most of their Expositours (like those upon Aristotle) are rather Vates quàm Interpretes. Concerning that prodigious Comet which shone in our Hemisphere, Ann. 1618▪ one that pretended himself as much Coelo à Conciliis as other men, yet thus freely delivers himself, Deum immortalem! quantò ille plurs de sese fermè Opiniones quàm crines sparsit. To a like purpose Tycho Brahe (discoursing de Nova stella Cygni, Ann. 1600.)
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