Friday, 10 February 2017

New Addition: Radical Theology Anthology

The Bible of Nature, and Substance of Virtue: Condensed From the Scriptures of Eminent Cosmians, Pantheists, and Physiphilanthropists, of Various Ages and Climes. 1849. 2nd Revised Ed. G. Vale: New York. Inscribed "Lydia Moon to Henry [M??????]", and Maurice McClue / Angola, Indiana".

This interesting volume, published 15 years before Darwin's research, is assembled around the rejection of creationism and/or a personified deity; the frontispiece, in the style of an alchemical emblem, portrays a King and a Pope threatening the seven-breasted female figure of Nature, while man in a turban (likely representing Philosophy) lays at her feet a scroll with the words, "Revelation of Nature / Reason Humanity Justice." The caption reads:
NATURE nursing in vain her warring children, benighted by the artifices of Priestcraft and Politics; Philosophy consumes their screen in order to display the universality of transmutations:
For the Self and Nature link'd in one great frame,
Shows true Self-love and Nature's as the same.
Eternal matter to one centre brings
Men changed to beasts, and insects changed to kings.
Who dares with force on nature's chain to strike,
On man or insects, jars the chain alike
On Self, which changing never quits the chain
In life or death, transmits or joy or pain.
The book does not propose any particular doctrine, but rather compiles texts from a wide range of theologians, philosophers, pantheists, heretics,  agnostics, theosophists, mystics, prophets, satirists, and proponents of both established and obscure sects. Those quoted include Pythagoras, Cicero, Montaigne, Epictetus, Thomas More, Erasmus, Milton, Locke, Hobbes, Jonathan Swift, Spinoza, Rousseau, Erasmus Darwin (Charles' grandfather, himself the author of a late eighteenth-century version of evolution), Pope, the feminist-anarchist couple Mary Wollstonecraft & William Godwin, their son-in-law Percy Shelley, Thomas Paine, Jefferson, the utopian socialist Robert Owen, Byron, and many others–including even passages from Ecclesiastes and Christ himself. The collection does put particular emphasis on the syncretic ideas of the Hindu-inspired illuminist John Stewart, of whom the editor appears to have been a disciple or admirer.

This particular copy provides evidence of the ways in which the confluence of an array of systems and theories, including those that were quite obscure (for instance, the Physiphilanthropists, mentioned in the book's title, have not left enough evidence to come up once in a google search), affected and intersected with more sweeping cultural movements. Its first owners were probably most interested in the book's theological aspect, while a later owner responded to its theme of nature and mankind in reciprocal relationship.

It was first owned by Lydia Moon, whose family became one of the very first British converts to Mormonism. Born in Lancashire, England in 1811, she emigrated with her family to America in 1840 to join Joseph Smith and married in Indiana. (Since her father, husband, and the presiding priest all share the surname Moon, her groom was presumably a cousin at some remove.) The year after this book was published, she moved to Salt Lake City with her husband Henry Moon, who also inscribed this copy and later became a member of Brigham Young's inner circle, was named a Bishop in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and married two additional wives.
It appears that the Moons passed the book along to a friend (whose name is illegible in the faded pencil) when they moved to Utah, and it eventually ended up in the hands of the early environmentalist Maurice McClue (1878-1957). A lawyer by trade, McClue devoted much of his life to exploring, recording and studying the local ecosystem around Steuben County, Indiana, and was an early proponent of conservation in the region. Both his newspaper articles and large amounts of his unpublished research, memoirs, and other writings have recently begun being edited and published to shed light on local history and culture, as well as ecology. His own local pride is evident in his inscription, "Maurice McClue / Angola, Indiana."

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