Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nourishment Spiritual and Temporal

While we're on the subject of Mary Rowlandson:

I recently asked my U.S. History survey classes to read most of Rowlandson's captivity narrative, and to check whether any of them had actually done the reading, I asked which book of the Bible Rowlandson most frequently cited in her memoir. (Mrs. Rowlandson wrote that one of her captors gave her a Bible he'd plundered from an English settlement, and that it provided her with much spiritual solace during her ordeal.) The correct answer was Psalms - 15 citations in all. In the process of determining the answer, I calculated that there were 42 direct quotes or paraphrases of Judeo-Christian scripture in "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God," as follows:

Psalms: 15
Isaiah: 5
Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Luke, Micah, I Samuel: 2 each
Corinthians, Exodus, Genesis, Hebrews, Hezekiah, Judges, II Kings, Proverbs, II Samuel, II Thessalonians: 1 each

That most of Rowlandson's citations (all but five, by my count) were from the Old Testament need not surprise us. Quite apart from its length relative to the New Testament, the first part of the Bible impressed the Puritans because they saw themselves as the new Children of Israel, to the extent that they described their relationship with God as a covenant, viewed their American settlements as a new Zion, and modeled their first law code after passages from Exodus.

While noting Mary Rowlandson's dependence on the Bible for spiritual sustenance, I suspect my students were more impressed with, or at least moved by, her description of the earthly foodstuffs she and her half-starved Indian captors ate (or choked down). These included tree bark broth, horse liver, peas, cornmeal mush, acorns, horse's guts, chestnuts, bear meat, biscuits, and horse's leg broth. "Many times," Rowlandson wrote in her memoir, "they would eat that that a hog or a dog would hardly touch," and she herself recalled that "now that was savory to me that one would think...[would] turn the stomach of a brute creature." Hunger is the best sauce.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cloudy, with a Chance of Essays

The Worldle site has been up for over a year, but not being one of the Internet cognoscenti I only found out about it this weekend. (Hat-tip: a la Rob.) I've been experimenting with custom word-clouds ever since; the one below is of the first substantive entry in this blog, "Undaunted Puppy-Flinging," which I posted nearly five years ago. One could easily tell that the post was about Lewis and Clark, but more about Meriwether than William, viz:

Wordle: Undaunted Puppy Flinging

The other word-cloud posted here is of Mary Rowlandson's Sovereignty and Goodness of God, which recounts her captivity by Narragansett and Wampanoag Indians during King Phillip's War (1675-76). That Rowlandson and her captors were often on the move one can readily infer from three of the most common words in the narrative: "went," "go," and "came."

Wordle: Mary Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative

I expect I'll be posting more of these in future blog entries. For now, though, here's my Worldle gallery, including a word cloud of the tenth Federalist essay.