The Forest for the Trees

There were a lot of events in the 17th Century. Of course, every century has a lot of events, but perhaps some things made the 17th worse. It was, for one, the age of the book getting into full swing. The printing press had been around, but how many of them, and how habitually? In the 17th Century it was cranking. All those records now, all those events we can now remember.

I wonder as well whether the chronometer clock and the perception of time as regular and regularly escaping had to do with the 11th Puritan commandment – Thou shalt not waste time. Thomas Sowell points out that valuing time is the key to efficiency. When people start being more efficient, they start doing more things, and you get more things to record and remember in that time. I wonder if that’s not part of it too.

There are some historians that go through all the details of a story, with a kind of maniacal thoroughness that is reminiscent of John Owen’s relentlessly thorough consideration of every possible point. I have the idea it is an English failing. It struck me as I was reading the excellent Cragg (Canadian chap) who took a longer and more interesting view, while not neglecting the important details. The historian that bangs in all the details possible certainly accomplishes what needs to, but at a certain cost. On the other hand, it won’t do to glide too smoothly along without trees for the forest.

One thing to put away for consideration is how many of the chaps in the 17th Century were convinced they were living at the end of the world. There were all kinds of evil things going on, after all; social chaos, regicides, storms, Jesuits proliferating, Bernie Sanders running for president. We know they weren’t at the end of the world, they were just living at the end of an age and the beginning of another, the way perhaps we are. Unless we really are living at the end of the world. (I’m saying Go Hillary, Go because Sanders fills me with dread. He is the demonically possessed decapitated Head of N.I.C.E. haunting my nightmares.)

I’ve got three days to go on this Owen marathon, and that is what my mind turns too, as it shies away from actual work. I am thankful for the Perry Millers and the Gerald Craggs of historiography.


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