Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bless You, Thomas Lechford

That's probably not something that has been said very often. Thomas Lechford was a lawyer in 17th-century England (so maligned right off the bat). He was exiled to America around 1637 for some vaguely Nonconformist views on church government. He spent 3 or 4 years in New England, but was driven out of Massachusetts Bay for . . . nonconformist views on church government. As far as I can tell, he did not have many friends.

But bless him anyway. When he returned to England in 1641, Lechford wrote a book called Plaine Dealing or Newes from New-England, which detailed all of the new and dangerous ideas being practiced in the colonies. There are hundred of inscrutable treatises on church government from the early 17th century, but Plaine Dealing lives up to its name as the most straightforward of any of them. Not only is language colloquial (hallelujah!) and uncluttered (miraculous!), Lechford writes with the exasperation of a reasonable person whose life has been upended by the ceaseless demands of religious fanatics who are fundamentally beyond appeasement. Here is how he describes the feeling of being caught in the ever-shifting tide of Puritan grievances as expressed in congregational church government:
Some have well compared the humour of the people in this kind, to a merry relation of an old man and his sonne, passing through the streets of a City, with one horse between them: First, the old man rode, then the people found fault with his unkindnesse, in that he did not cause his son to ride with him: then the young man gets up too, now the people say they are both unmercifull to the beast: downe comes the old man, then the young man is unmannerly to ride, and his father walk on foote: at last downe goes the young man also, and leads the horse, and neither of them to ride. Well, but alter the inconstant vulgar will; if so, God grant it be for the better. But then consider stories, one alteration follows another; some have altered sixe times, before they were setled againe, and ever the people have paid for it both money and bloude.
This is, by the way, the grand finale of Plaine Dealing. And it was written in 1641, when the "money and bloude" of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms were just beginning to flow.

So bless you, Thomas Lechford. I don't think you'd like modern democracy very much, but I admire your commitment to calling out everyone around you for making unreasonable demands. And for writing clearly. Mostly the writing clearly.

No comments: