Transcribing Trapnel’s Report and Plea

For the last week or so, one of my projects has been a transcription of Anna Trapnel’s Report and Plea as part of my work on my fourth chapter. Trapnel was a Fifth Monarchist known for prophesying in verse against Cromwell (among others) during ecstatic trances that would last for days. Trapnel made a trip to Cornwall, was arrested, put on trial, released, arrested again in London, put on trial, and again released, albeit after months in Bridewell prison.  The account of these journeys, trials, and eventual releases formed the basis of The Report and Plea, one of four works published by Trapnel or her associates in 1654.  Of these, The Report and Plea is the only one that can be directly associated with Trapnel’s own hand; her other texts, The Cry of the Stone, Strange and Wonderful Newes from White-Hall, and The Legacy of Saints were primarily accounts of her prophesies that were written down by witnesses and then distributed by her church. Some of these do exist in scholarly editions: The Cry of the Stone has a physical edition edited by Hilary Hinds.  The Brown Women Writers Online project also has transcriptions of The Cry of the Stone and Strange and Wonderful Newes.

As far as I’ve been able to discover, only one section of The Report and Plea has ever been published, though that section has had by far the widest distribution for a while: not only did it appear in Her Own Life, an anthology of seventeenth-century English women’s autobiographies, a portion also appeared in at least one edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, though it has been removed from the current (9th) Edition. Since the Norton is still the standard textbook for introductory survey courses, being included is nearly equivalent with being canonical. Thousands of students owned a text with a section from A Report and Plea, even if they never encountered any of her other texts.

But in both the NAEL and Her Own Life, Trapnel’s text has been excerpted. The Norton website still offers a portion of Trapnel’s text as a supplementary pdf file; the excerpt is 3 pages long. Her Own Life has nine pages, plus a four or five page introduction and several pages of notes. Just for contrast, my transcription is about 17 Word pages (about 12,000 words), and I’m only about 1/3 done. The original book had more than 60 pages. The selections in both NAEL and Her Own Life are provide a tiny fraction of her text. They report only Trapnel’s account of her first trial; neither includes Trapnel’s direct address to her reader, her discussion of how she came to travel to Cornwall, what led up to her arrest, or what followed once she was released, including her subsequent re-arrest and time in prison.

The focus on the first trial scene is understandable, to an extent.  It is certainly the most dramatic portion of the text. The editors of Her Own Life note that some of the courtroom scene is “even set out like a play” (74), with the dialogue between Trapnel and the Justice Lobb appearing like this (my transcription):

Lobb. But why did you come into this Country?

A.T. Why might I not come here, as well as into another Country?

Lobb. But you have no lands, nor livings, nor acquaintance to come to in this Country.

A.T. What though? I had not I am a single person, and why may I not be with my friends anywhere?

Lobb. I understand you are not married.

A.T. Then having no hinderance, why may not I go where I please, if the Lord so will?

But while this trial scene is certainly at the center of Trapnel’s text, it is by no means the majority of the text.  It takes up only about 3 pages of the original book. Much more of the text is narrative, and as such is more like Anne Askew’s account of her examinations than it is like a play. And, perhaps most importantly, ending where the selection tends to — Trapnel’s apparent but largely passive victory over the people who had her arrested and put on trial — could be misleading in its teleology. Her Own Life ends with Trapnel’s account of all the people who “were very loving and careful to help me out of the crowd” because they no longer believed she was a witch on account of her behavior, closing with Trapnel’s statement she prays for her enemies. The Norton selection ends with her warning to the justices about a coming day of judgment:

“I leave one word with you, and that is this: A time will come when you and I shall appear before the great Judge of the tribunal seat of the Most High, and then I think you will hardly be able to give an account for this day’s work before the Lord, at that day of true Judgement.” . . . So they were willing to have no more discourse with me.

But this isn’t the end of Trapnel’s text. There are almost 30 pages left in The Report and Plea. Not only does she recount her return to London, re-arrest, and extended stay in Bridewell prison, she spends a lot of time discussing the state of her own soul and the temptations she experienced to give up–issues that would have been important not just to her detractors, but to her supporters and fellow sectarians who were experiencing similar persecution.  She also appends a short text titled “A Defiance to all reproachfull, scandalous, base, horrid, defaming speeches, which have been vented by Rulers, Clergy, and their Auditors, and published in scurrilous Pamphlets up and down in Cities and Countries.” In it, Trapnel ends not just with prayer for her enemies and a call for them to humble themselves, but also a statement of encouragement to her friends who were still encountering persecution. There isn’t a sense that Trapnel has won so much as that she is still fighting and will win eventually.

For this reason, among others, it’s very unfortunate that there is no full scholarly edition of this text. The Report and Plea is a fascinating, very public examination of Trapnel’s sense of prophetic vocation and her on-going struggles with trying to reach a very divided public. If someone doesn’t beat me to it, maybe I’ll try my hand at creating a scholarly edition, or at least submitting it to the BWWO. But I’ve found that creating a transcription instead of using a scholarly edition has its benefits. Trying to decipher a mediocre facsimile of a text that regularly uses the long s is difficult, and transcribing makes me really pay attention to the details of the text that I might miss. Typing every word helps me notice what words get repeated over and over again, what words seem to carry special significance for Trapnel. I’m more aware of when her language changes, especially when she’s using language or syntax from scripture. And, most important for my project, I’m more aware of when her voice shifts to address a different audience–moving from the skeptical audience who has been taken in, so to speak, by her critics, to the friends; I might have still recognized these shifts if I was just reading the text, but they probably wouldn’t be quite so obvious to me.

*This post was at least partly inspired by reading Sarah Werner’s recent post on where material book culture meets digital humanities, and particularly the problems with EEBO facsimiles, which is what I’m working from for my transcription.

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Authorship and Reading in Seventeenth Century Prophets

This is my first “real” post, I guess.  I though I’d share a little bit about what I’m currently working on. (Please keep in mind: most of this is for my own benefit, as I’m still thinking through some issues.) I am in the process of revising Chapter 4 of my dissertation which is, loosely speaking, on seventeenth-century prophets.  The overarching arc of my dissertation is about how Protestant writers often constructed authorship as a way of collaborating with God. This type of authorship often appears in the form of claims of divine inspiration, a sense of God as patron, or, as Abiezer Coppe described it, just a command to “write, write, write.”

The problem so far has been that describing the different ways specific seventeenth-century prophets talked about their prophetic authorship as collaboration with the divine didn’t end up advancing my argument nearly as much as I had hoped it would. I made no new discoveries about this divine collaboration that I hadn’t already seen in previous writers. But, after talking through this particular frustration with both my advisors, a few colleagues, and even my father (who is surprisingly willing to let me go on and on about books he’s never read and isn’t interested in reading), I realized that while these prophets weren’t doing anything particularly new in terms of divine collaboration, they could allow me to explore another facet of it that I had previously pushed to the background: the audience, the readers who were reacting to this construction of authorship.

Two books have shaped how I’m thinking about the issues of readers.  First, Kevin Sharpe’s Reading Revolutions and Sharon Achinstein’s Milton and the Revolutionary Reader.  What both scholars propose is that how people read changed during the English Civil Wars/Revolutionary period (whether you use “Civil Wars” or “Revolution” seems to have connotations about historical perspectives, and I haven’t quite figured out which side I’m on yet). Perhaps more important, how they read shifted as authorship started losing its authority and readers started gaining it. The representative texts in this debate about where authority lies–the author or the reader–might be Charles I’s Eikon Basilike and Milton’s Eikonoklastes, which were both published immediately following Charles I’s beheading in 1649. Eikon Basilike connects authorship and authority with the divine right of kings as it appeared as a spiritual autobiography; Eikonoklastes, on the other hand, argued for the right of the people to behead a tyrant, and therefore, implicitly, to challenge the authority of the author.  (Of course, there is no small irony in telling readers that they can challenge the authority of the author if one is an author, but Milton’s confidence knew very few boundaries; he would claim divine inspiration himself when he wrote his epic poems.) Eikonoklastes in this sense was a continuation of Milton’s thought from Areopagitica.

Some of the seventeenth-century prophets that I deal with in my chapter handle the issue well; Gerrard Winstanley seems to embrace the sense that he has no authority on his own (or even as a divinely inspired author) if readers do not find confirmation of what he says in their own personal experience of God. Anna Trapnel walks a fine line as she address an audience that ranges from those who are predisposed to accept that God speaks to her to those who think that she is demon possessed instead of divinely inspired. But whether they handle it easily or carefully, the prophets’ sense of authorship is constructed at least in part as a response to an audience that they expect to be skeptical and make their own decisions about the author’s authority.

So what I think I’m beginning to see here is that while the authors themselves seem to still have a sense of divine collaboration, what has changed is the way other parts of the text undercut the idea that this grants a clear authority over the reader. Instead, authors must find a way to invite readers to participate in their texts through interpretation, and thus to participate in divine collaboration themselves. 

Ha! That last paragraph, especially that last line, is not something I had really thought of until I wrote this blog post, but I think I might be on to something.  Blogging seems to be working for *me* even if no one else ends up reading this stuff.

Sapience Reading

Welcome to my new blog! My old blog, which was called “Sapience Speaks,” has been defunct for a while: I hadn’t posted on it in almost a year, and then I hid it away from view as I was trying out the job market, at least partially because I didn’t think potential employers should be confronted with what I posted as a college student. There was nothing that would be damaging if colleges or search committees saw it, but much of it was a record of my pre-grad-school self, and some of the content was a decade or more out of date. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when searching for a tenure track position you want to be judged on what you write now, not what you wrote when you were twenty. (Especially if your writing was as crappy as mine was at twenty.) After taking what amounted to a two-year break from blogging, I decided that I wanted my online presence to be a bit more focused. That meant creating a little bit of a separation from the old blog–hence this new one.

One factor in the decision was I was beginning to think a little harder about my different online presences: my blog had increasingly become associated with my academic work as I posted larger thoughts from my research, while bits and pieces of fluff were more and more being relegated to Facebook.  There will probably continue to be some crossover between the different types of material I post on the two forums, but this is more a space for academic or semi-academic musings, while facebook is more for personal or very short bits.  (To students who may find this: I will not friend you on Facebook until after you graduate or at least leave my class.)

The two titles of this blog, one from the address (“Reforming Authorship”) and one from the official title space (“Sapience Reading,”) are meant to reflect some of that change but also some continuity with the old blog.  “Reforming Authorship” reflects the two major intellectual projects I’m committed to in my research: first, exploring how the religious reformations of the 16th and 17th centuries affected conceptions of authorship; and second, reforming the modern ideas about authorship that are still focused on claims of originality and isolated genius. Both of those issues were represented on the old blog, but perhaps less clearly. “Sapience Reading” maintains the pseudonym  I’ve used online for well over a decade now, but moves the emphasis from speaking to reading, the primary activity that shapes what I choose to write about here.

So, in the near future, you can probably expect a few posts about my on-going research and attempts to finish revisions on my “problem” chapter.  This summer I hope to blog about a research trip I’ll be taking and the final preparations for my dissertation defense.  In the fall, there will perhaps be a few posts relating the usual job-market angst, as well as some excitement about getting back into teaching after being on fellowship this last year.