quarta-feira, dezembro 13, 2006

Histórias (reais?) de fantasmas

Published by H-Albion@h-net.msu.edu (November, 2006)

Edmund Jones. The Appearance of Evil: Apparitions of Spirits in Wales.
Edited with an introduction by John Harvey. Cardiff: University of Wales
Press, 2004. xii + 164 pp. Color plates, illustrations, notes,
bibliography, index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-7083-1855-X; $24.95 (paper),
ISBN 0-7083-1854-1.

Reviewed for H-Albion by Kathryn Brammall, Department of
History, Truman State University.

A Preacher's Demons

This short work is editor John Harvey's tribute to a local hero, Edmund
Jones, a "shadowy prophetlike chronicler" of Welsh preternatural
history. The Welsh countryside is rich with legend and mystery, thick
with stories of fairies, ghosts, apparitions, and bodiless voices and
Harvey claims that the nonconformist preacher, who tirelessly
crisscrossed Wales from the 1730s until shortly before his death in
1793, is responsible for the survival of much of this tradition.
Harvey's intention is somewhat to rehabilitate Jones's reputation by
explaining why an intelligent, self-taught, eighteenth-century "great
Lover of Books" would unhesitatingly accept the existence of spirits and

Over the course of his career, Jones published a number of works, under
both his own name and a pseudonym, Solomon Owen Caradoc, including
several sermons, an autobiography, a geography and history of
Aberystruth, and two on the occult (the first in 1767--now lost--and the
second in 1780). Harvey suggests that though it might seem incongruous
for a religious, enlightened scholar to believe in ghosts, in fact it
was precisely Jones's religious convictions that convinced the preacher
that the spirit world was real and ubiquitous. For Jones, the appearance
of spirits was akin to the occurrence of miracles and demonstrated the
reality of the afterlife, an issue that was central to his religion. At
a time when the popularity of Deism, "Sadducism," and atheism was on the
rise, when more and more people demanded proof of God's existence as the
price of their "faith," when materialism was fast becoming the new
prophet, many Christians felt pressured to help reinvigorate a
"spiritually dark age" (p. 6). This mission was not a simple one and it
was fraught on all sides by dangers. So, as a devout, albeit
independent, nonconforming British Protestant, one wanted to avoid the
specter of Roman Catholic superstition. In addition, an educated mind
could not escape the requirements for proof demanded in an increasingly
scientifically enlightened age.

Harvey claims that in response to these imperatives, Anglicans and
Dissenters who argued for the existence of apparitions "developed
criteria to distinguish between authentic sightings and those that were
inventions of deceit or mania" (p. 6). They wanted to identify what
precisely such creatures were, what they could and would do, and how
these elements reflected the will and glory of God. The accounts Jones
reproduces fall squarely in this tradition and he is careful never to
include what might be considered naïve, unsupported rantings of a
disturbed mind. He is also careful to provide evidence in the form of
eyewitness testimony whenever possible. This testimony, according to
Harvey, is one of the most valuable features of Jones's work because his
sources span the social scale in a way unusual for premodern texts. In
part this is true, though Harvey both overstates and contradicts himself
when he claims that the majority of Jones's witnesses come from the
"servile and labouring classes" (p. 2). Jones's inclusion of testimony
from women, tailors, a turner, and other such artisans is virtually
unique, and therefore valuable, but the majority of his eyewitnesses (58
references over 134 stories) come from worthy, frequently gentry, or
clerical sources and Jones frequently states that he personally can
verify the morality and honesty of his sources. Furthermore, there are
no stories from the criminal or permanently itinerant ranks that
dominate the absolute lowest levels of society.

This and other elements of Harvey's analysis as laid out in the
introduction need to be read cautiously, but they bear consideration,
even though the reader might ultimately reach different conclusions.
Harvey makes claims regarding the book's value for the study of popular
culture, intellectual and religious antagonisms resulting from the
spread of Enlightenment ideals, as well as Jones's antiquarian agenda
and didactic, prophetic approach, and even highlights how Jones reveals
the connectivity between the visual and literary in the common mind.
More problematic, at least for this reader, are some of the editorial
choices Harvey makes. He himself admits that the extent to which he
modernized the wording, spelling, and sentence structure results in an
"edition that constitutes something approaching a translation rather
more than a direct transcription of the source texts." This can be
justified, however, since his aim was to "allow the general reader
immediate and uninterrupted access to the accounts" (p. 40).

What is less understandable and, ultimately more troublesome for the
historian, is Harvey's decisions on what to include in this edition and
his overall organization. Harvey chose to include not only the text of
the surviving "sequel" published in 1780; he inserts what he claims
(without sufficient supporting evidence) are the now lost tales from
1767. He further adds several accounts from Jones's 1779 _A
Geographical, Historical, and Religious Account of the Parish of
Aberystruth_. But the editor's manipulation of the text does not stop
there. Once he has increased the total number of stories by about a
third, he then groups the tales alphabetically by county and parish and
according to type. Though one might be sympathetic to a desire to
include as many "illuminating testimonies" as possible, from whatever
source, in an organization that flows in a pattern easily grasped by the
modern reader, doing so can undermine precisely the value of the
historical voice that Harvey claims is so unique and valuable. By making
such choices it is difficult to imagine how Jones's "charmingly
idiosyncratic" approach survives; surely part of his agenda, and what he
considered most convincing within his arguments is communicated in his
own organization structure and what he chose to publish when and where.
Moreover, we lose the sense of geographic meandering and the resultant
cultural interaction that was so much a part of Jones's exploration of
his Wales.

The above is not meant to suggest that Harvey's editorial choices have
created a book lacking historical rigor and merit; rather it is a
reminder, once again, to read this text carefully, keeping in mind what
it can communicate and what it cannot. It is a lovely book to read
because the editor's writing is clear and its production values are high
(thick glossy paper, vibrant color plates), it provides a picture of
Welsh culture that reinforces the notion that popular beliefs might not
always be at odds with those of social and intellectual elites (even at
the end of the eighteenth century), and it reminds us that religious
devotion was as widespread during the Enlightenment as skepticism and
rational inquiry.

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