Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Foxe's Book of Martyrs


"When one recollects that until the appearance of the Pilgrim's Progress the common people had almost no other reading matter except the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs, we can understand the deep impression that this book produced; and how it served to mold the national character. Those who could read for themselves learned the full details of all the atrocities performed on the Protestant reformers; the illiterate could see the rude illustrations of the various instruments of torture, the rack, the gridiron, the boiling oil, and then the holy ones breathing out their souls amid the flames. Take a people just awakening to a new intellectual and religious life; let several generations of them, from childhood to old age, pore over such a book, and its stories become traditions as individual and almost as potent as songs and customs on a nation's life."
Douglas Campbell, The Puritan in Holland, England, and America



Oxford scholar John Foxe displayed his evangelical nature in the influential chronicle, Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes.. or The Book of Martryrs which he originally published in latin under a different title in 1559. It was extended to about 1500 pages and translated for its initial publication in english in 1563 and would have 4 editions issued during Foxe's life. He was a leading protagonist for the Protestant Reformation but this is another instance where the depth of context and history are beyond a simple regurgitation from an internet sweep - the background to the significance of Foxe's place in history is outlined in great depth in the links below.


There are myriad woodcut images, reminiscent of Luykin (I would be surprised actually if Foxe didn't have some direct or indirect influence on Luykin's own Martyr's Mirror publication) in that they display all manner of persecution (this time of Protestants) and atrocity carried out in the name of religion.

2 comments :

misteraitch said...

I remembered where I’d heard of Foxe & his book before: it’s included in Alasdair Gray’s Book of Prefaces, which I’ve been leafing through of late.

pk said...

I was surprised by it being reported everywhere (admittedly mostly religious sites) as being so important and influential. That quote above gives a strong account of its place.

The surprise might just be a product of my general ignorance and/or it has fallen by the wayside in terms of profile. That is kind of interesting in itself - a publication of its time and place that hasn't travelled in notoriety as well as other works of perhaps lesser importance.

That's just speculation, I didn't gain that sense of it from reading around.

Some of the woodcuts are excellent nonetheless.

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