A Harmony of the Spirits

A Harmony of the Spirits: Translation and the Language of Community in Early Pennsylvania

Patrick M. Erben
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807838198_erben
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  • Book Info
    A Harmony of the Spirits
    Book Description:

    In early Pennsylvania, translation served as a utopian tool creating harmony across linguistic, religious, and ethnic differences. Patrick Erben challenges the long-standing historical myth--first promulgated by Benjamin Franklin--that language diversity posed a threat to communal coherence. He deftly traces the pansophist and Neoplatonist philosophies of European reformers that informed the radical English and German Protestants who founded the "holy experiment." Their belief in hidden yet persistent links between human language and the word of God impelled their vision of a common spiritual idiom. Translation became the search for underlying correspondences between diverse human expressions of the divine and served as a model for reconciliation and inclusiveness.Drawing on German and English archival sources, Erben examines iconic translations that engendered community in colonial Pennsylvania, including William Penn's translingual promotional literature, Francis Daniel Pastorius's multilingual poetics, Ephrata's "angelic" singing and transcendent calligraphy, the Moravians' polyglot missions, and the common language of suffering for peace among Quakers, Pietists, and Mennonites. By revealing a mystical quest for unity, Erben presents a compelling counternarrative to monolingualism and Enlightenment empiricism in eighteenth-century America.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0134-2
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Editorial Note
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. introduction “Unter der Leitung seines Geistes” SPIRITUAL TRANSLATION IN EARLY AMERICA
    (pp. 1-16)

    In a manuscript report written in 1819, Moravian missionary John Heckewelder (1743–1823) outlined a controversy among Moravian missionaries about which translation of the passion story from the Gospel of John should be used in the field: the translation by the late David Zeisberger (1721–1808) or a more recent one by Christian Frederick Dencke (1775–1838), who had criticized Zeisberger’s translations for inaccuracies in the Delaware language. Heckewelder had sent a circular letter to all missionaries and then summarized the responses. Heckewelder and his respondents credited Zeisberger with nothing less than the discovery of spiritual correspondences between the German...

  7. chapter one Reversing the Heritage of Babel: VISIONS OF RELIGIOUS AND LINGUISTIC RENEWAL IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY EUROPE
    (pp. 17-62)

    The early modern age was marked by an intense occupation with a variety of linguistic reform movements, such as the search for a perfect, universal, or original tongue. Most endeavors to change the religious and spiritual disposition of European society during this period were tied to designs to reform human communication, especially the problems of linguistic multiplicity and the declivity between human languages and divine truth. Ranging from the universal language championed by Jan Amos Comenius to the Quaker insistence on plain speech, religious reformers perceived human language as a corruption from a divinely inspired tongue. The division of human...

  8. chapter two Translating Pennsylvania VISIONS OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY IN PROMOTIONAL LITERATURE
    (pp. 63-126)

    After William Penn had received the charter to a huge tract of land in the spring of 1681, he and other English Quakers embarked on an unprecedented project of promoting and building a new settlement. For the first time in the history of British colonization in America, Pennsylvania was envisioned as a refuge for linguistically, culturally, and religiously diverse immigrants. Penn’s colony attracted a “mix’d multitude,” resulting in a remarkably pluralistic society. Yet scholars know little about promotional literature on Pennsylvania itself, especially how it anticipated, theorized, and prepared structures of translingual and intercultural communication and communal construction. Penn, his...

  9. chapter three Debating Pennsylvania RELIGIOUS AND LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY AND DIFFERENCE
    (pp. 127-158)

    Two cities occupied prominent places in the imagination of colonial Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Babel/Babylon. The first was the City of Brotherly Love, founded by Quakers and other European dissenters as a holy experiment to be governed by Christian affection, religious tolerance, and moral integrity. The second city was not only the place where—according to the book of Genesis—human pride had built a tower reaching to heaven and had thus induced God to separate human language from its divine roots; it was also—reincarnated as the Babylon of the book of Revelation—the allegorical “mother of harlots” (Rev. 17:5)....

  10. chapter four “Honey-Combs” and “Paper-Hives” FRANCIS DANIEL PASTORIUS AND THE GATHERING OF A TRANSLINGUAL COMMUNITY OF LETTERS
    (pp. 159-194)

    During the Keithian controversy, Francis Daniel Pastorius began to deploy his multilingual manuscript writings to construct a common spiritual vision in various languages and thus to counteract the communal divisions precipitated by the schism. The following chapter argues that Pennsylvania Quakers fashioned manuscript writing and exchange as an alternative form of literacy that was inextricably tied to nontextual bonds such as personal friendship as well as intellectual and spiritual affinity. The exchange of manuscripts—letters, commonplace books, poetic miscellanies, and inscriptions in printed volumes—wed textuality to nontextual relationships. These forms of literary transmission not only functioned as reflections of...

  11. chapter five A Hidden Voice Amplified MUSIC, MYSTICISM, AND TRANSLATION
    (pp. 195-242)

    Sometime in late 1771 or early 1772, Benjamin Franklin—during one of his extended visits to England—received an unusual gift. Probably “absent in Ireland,” Franklin said he did not actually encounter the person who had delivered the “Box and Letter.” “If,” as he reported in a note to his wife Deborah, “Enoch Davenport brought it, I did not see him.” Franklin never learned the identity of the messenger, but the sender of the package was Franklin’s longtime correspondent Peter Miller (“Brother Jaebez”) of Ephrata, prior of the Pennsylvanian celibate community known as the Ephrata “cloister” and successor of the...

  12. chapter six “What Will Become of Pennsylvania?” WAR, COMMUNITY, AND THE LANGUAGE OF SUFFERING FOR PEACE
    (pp. 243-300)

    The vision of spiritual coherence celebrated in multilingual communal singing among the Kelpius Hermits, the Ephrata cloister, and the Moravians was, of course, not indicative of an allencompassing reconciliation of linguistic, religious, ethnic, and political differences in colonial Pennsylvania. Scholarship has cemented the image of a turbulent society rife with divisive political controversies (especially between the Quaker Assembly and the Proprietors and the Proprietary party) as well as a chaotic religious landscape that presaged the end of organized, institutional religion. Debates over war and the defense of the province, in particular, seemed to lay bare insurmountable fault lines in this...

  13. coda Confusio Linguarum Redux MORAVIAN MISSIONS, MULTILINGUALISM, AND THE SEARCH FOR A SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE
    (pp. 301-324)

    Writing at the end of the eighteenth century, Bernhard Adam Grube (1715–1808), a Moravian missionary among the Delaware or Lenni Lenape people, displayed a mystical desire for linguistic and spiritual union with his prospective Indian proselytes. Written in parallel columns in the Delaware language on the left and English or German on the right, one of his manuscript volumes listed easy phrases designed to initiate conversations with the Indians about the Christian faith (Figure 17): “Friends / I will tell you something / I wish, you could understand me / I come for Love’s sake to you. (or) because...

  14. Index
    (pp. 325-335)