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John Selden

John Selden: Measures of the Holy Commonwealth in Seventeenth-Century England

Reid Barbour
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 384
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    John Selden
    Book Description:

    John Selden: Measures of the Holy Commonwealth in Seventeenth-Century Englandis the first text in over a century to examine the whole of Selden's works and thought. Reid Barbour brings a new perspective to Selden studies by stressing Selden's strong commitment to a 'religious society,' by taking a closer and more sustained look at his poetic interests, and by systematically examining his Latin publications (particularly those using Jewish sources).

    Offering critical close readings of Selden'soeuvre, Barbour posits that the overriding aim of Selden's career was to bolster religious society in the face of its imminent demise. He argues that Selden's scholarly career was committed to resolving an essentially religious question about how best to establish the holy commonwealth in both lawfulness and spiritual abundance.

    Perhaps the greatest strength of Barbour's analysis emerges from his overall interpretation of Selden's corpus within the context of what the author calls a "religious society"; this approach emphasizes the religious commitments of Selden and subverts earlier readings of him as a cynical, skeptical, secular thinker who attacked, rather than upheld, a Judeo-Christian model of society. Engaging in style and substantive in analysis, Barbour'sJohn Seldenwill add considerably to the limited body of work on this important seventeenth-century savant.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7643-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: John Selden and the Measures of a Holy Commonwealth
    (pp. 3-22)

    The twentieth century passed without publication of a single book on the complete corpus of the seventeenth-century polymath, intellectual, and lawyer John Selden (1584–1654). Good work was written on the remarkable Selden, especially by David Berkowitz and Paul Christiansen on the ‘formative years’ and, more piecemeal, by Richard Tuck and Jason Rosenblatt on the later, Judaic phase.¹ Yet no book offered a reading of the lifelong cruxes of Selden’s thought, in part because the wide scope and intricate detail of his scholarship have rendered the patterns of his convictions elusive even to those seventeenth-century contemporaries who considered him a...

  5. chapter one A Scholar’s Life: Duty, Scepticism, and Invention
    (pp. 23-58)

    During the 1580s, the decade into which John Selden was born, advocates for the Elizabethan establishment of a holy commonwealth found the clearest signs that providence was on their side, yet also ample opportunities for fretting that their settlement might come apart. In the 1530s Henry VIII had entitled himself the head of the English church, while on the Continent Calvin was instituting his theocracy in Geneva. The boy king, and Protestant, Edward VI had taken over the English throne in 1547, only to be succeeded after his premature death in 1553 by the staunchly Catholic Mary, who died in...

  6. chapter two Ancient Bards and Inmost Historians
    (pp. 59-118)

    In the first two decades of John Selden’s life (1584–1603), the last two of Elizabeth I’s reign, the normative and didactic value of poetry – its power to shape the morals, actions, and beliefs of Protestant England – was both vigorously defended and scathingly attacked. Having been composed a year or so before Selden’s birth, then published twice in 1595 and once again in 1598, Sir Philip Sidney’sApology for Poetrywas the most brilliant exemplar in a bumper crop of defences of poetic art. For a historian in the making like Selden, it was significant that even though...

  7. chapter three Legal Sages and Parliamentary Religion
    (pp. 119-182)

    In the 1620s Selden devoted a majority of his attention to the practice of that legal profession for which he was trained at the Inns of Court. At no time before had he, and at no time in the future would he, practise law to the extent that he did during that contentious decade in which James I grew impatient with his more zealous or ‘puritan’ critics, the Spanish Match blew up in the faces of King James and Prince Charles, polemical warfare exploded over the perceived rise of Arminian and crypto-papist sentiments in the Church of England, military failures...

  8. chapter four Natural Law and Common Notions
    (pp. 183-242)

    Whenever Selden surveyed the records of British antiquity, he liked to linger on the Druids. In his notes on Fortescue, he discusses the Roman persecution of the Druids whose responsibilities included settling legal disputes and officiating over religious rites. Appealing to Suetonius, Seneca, and Caesar for the Roman perception of the Druids, Selden accentuates Ammianus Marcellinus’s recollection that these judgescum-priests were also heralded for their ‘study of the mysteries of nature and a Pythagorical learning’ (De Laudibus Legem Angliae, nn.11—13). The Druids brought a hieroglyphic natural theology to their arbitration of law and religion. Believed to have witnessed ancient...

  9. chapter five The Canons of the Church
    (pp. 243-294)

    ThroughoutDejure Naturali et Gentium, Selden distinguishes the natural, Noachian precepts from the laws divinely dispensed to the Jews alone. When in the 1640s he returned inUxor Hebraica(see J. Ziskind) to one of the Noachian precepts – that involving sexual transgression – it was the latter, special, set of laws that came to occupy centre stage. It is clear that in the 1640s Selden prized the law of his own people as much as he ever had – his pride in the common law’s autonomy from Roman civil law in his commentary,Ad Fletam Dissertatio, leaves no doubt...

  10. chapter six The Hope of Israel
    (pp. 295-342)

    The final decade of Selden’s life, 1645–54, was arguably England’s most tumultuous and experimental period vis-à-vis the constituents of a social and political order understood by its inhabitants and brokers as comprehensively religious. At the outset of that decade, the New Model Army was created, organized, and unleashed upon the military forces backing the king. In the years that followed, that new army not only won the civil war and quashed counter-revolutionary resurgence; it also grew to sponsor a forum in which the political and spiritual goals of the war were examined, radicalized, and debated. As the Presbyterians and...

  11. Conclusion: ‘Ghostly Authority against the Civill’
    (pp. 343-382)

    For half a century, John Selden ‘took part in the great movements that reformed the European spirit, reordered its polity, and restructured its culture in the early modern period.’¹ But like that of so many other great participants in these ‘movements,’ his part was inventive, complex, andsui generis. Selden experimented with what Rosenblatt has called ‘a plurality of discursive communities’ both in posing the possible ways in which a religious society might best be regulated or normalized, and eventually in rethinking the warrant according to which the biblical dispensations of law and of spirit might be reintegrated or better...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 383-396)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 397-408)
  14. Index
    (pp. 409-417)