On Knowledge Creation II
Bill Long 7/25/11
More Points from "Digitus Dei"
6. Because Jennings was a physician, he makes several extended remarks about the poison (mercury in the pap of an apple, which he calls a "beneficium hamatum"-- a sinful benefit--a phrase only attested one other time on the Internet) or the medications that Ruth Anton had sought from him in earlier days. We would need to have a link describing the nature of medical practice in 17th century England, education of physicans, drugs available, treatments for various kinds of diseases, etc. Later in the narrative, he describes her body. Her neck was swollen and discolored; some blood had issued out of her left ear. Even though her head and neck were "loose and limber," but with all other parts he observed a "tonick motion" (the effects of death). I didn't know that the word "tonic" had a meaning in physiology and pathology, going back to the 17th century, "pertaining to, consisting in, or producting tension, especially in relation to the muscles."
7. Jennings says that her body was discovered the next day by a "Want or Mole-Catcher." I didn't know that moles used to be called "Wants." The word is derived from the Swedish and faded from use in the 18th century. But this is a fascinating indication of the use of language, which you can get from no other source than reading the text.
8. The first interpretation of the dead young woman lying in the field was that she was "taken in a pang, and died suddenly." But when Jennings was called in actually to look at the body, he concluded differently. It appeared that some "industrious hand" had prepared her for her coffin, and "I did vehemently suspect" that some one or other had "destroyed her." Her body was lying in a very orderly fashion, while death mostly "caus(ing)es a preposterous figure." Originally the term "preposterous" meant that something "behind" (post...) was placed "in front of" (pre..); thus by extension "preposterous" grew to mean "monstrous, foolish, perverse." Thus, dead bodies were normally not in an "organized" appearance.
9. Latinisms suffuse the story. He described how members of the Inquest (and here we would have to link to a history of the jury system in England, with attention to how the Inquest differed from a jury trial) were of different minds about whether the position of the body gave evidence of a murder. Because there was doubt, "Semper in dubiis benigniora sund praeferenda.."--where there is doubt, one always should judge most charitably. This, however, was the initial reaction, which changed considerably when evidence was actually given.
10. He finally convinced the others in the Inquest that a murder indeed had taken place. I love the way he says it. "And that we might build upon a firm ground (not like the Ephesian Temple upon a Quagmire)..." The ancient historian Lacus Curtius talks about the swamp in which the famous Temple of Diana at Ephesus was built. What some people just cast off as throw-away knowledge... At first it was suspected that the "wench" had killed her "bastard," because some women did that to "cover their infamy." But Rogers also was quickly suspected, because he was her "sweet-heart" (hyphen appears here) and seemed to have a rather reckless temperament. Indeed, one of the things that bothered Jennings and several of the Inqest members was the rather cavalier way that he acted after the murder, even going so far to play with some of the ladies who came and visited him in prison. Indeed, he must have been a handsome man...
11. One of the most remarkable events of the narrative happened after Rogers became a suspect. He was sent for, to view the body, and when he came "in sight of the body, he falls a bleeding..." Well, his bleeding was stopped, but then he was brought in to touch the body. "But whether it did bleed upon him or not, I cannot affirm..." The whole story of whether the corpse of a slain lover will bleed at the presence of the beloved is then discussed at some length--with physician Jennings going into a medical explanation of why certain of the dead person's orifices would suffer an "ebullition" of blood upon sensing the presence of the killer. As he says, "the dead body is said to bleed upon the peccant person..." Where does this story come from? Not only would there be a long excursus here to explore that idea, but we would also try to reflect on which stories that doctors told and believed in the 18th or 19th or even 20th centuries have been discarded. Which beliefs, we would speculate, of contemporary medicine will probably soon be abandoned?
12. There is a lengthy consideration of the evidence against Rogers. One of the reasons he acted so confident was that there was only circumstantial evidence against him--and care would need to be taken to describe the nature of evidence and how it evolved over the years.
13. In addition, we are introduced to the "Assize," or circuit court, that came twice yearly, apparently, to hold court on more serious offenses. This little fact in the text should open up large notes on the nature of the courts available in 17th century England and the ways they were conducted. In this case, they put off the trial of Rogers until the next Assize, several months later, so that there might be more time to consider the case.
Much more could be said from the text, but I will stop here. Much space is given by Jennings to the condemned man's final prayers and last words. Finally, he was hanged, to the words of Psalm 36: "The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and do good" (v. 3, for example).
What I am suggesting here is not merely a long commentary on the text, though sometimes a textual clarification or explanation is necessary. What I really am concerned about is to use a text to give us not simply a window into the language and event it describes, but into great vertical and horizontal dimensions. The vertical is the development of medicine in England over the years; the evolution of law, crime, Assizes, over the years; the way that religion was used to create the context for considering the moral dimension of what was done. The horizontal is the interest in building a rich understanding of English society at the time of the crime. For example, what was the nature of Devon life, so to speak, at the time? How many murders were committed in those years? For what crimes could one get the death penalty in the 17th century? What kinds of legal procedures were followed and for what reasons? Finally, we might want to look at the story as narrative, and trace the ways that we have told the story of murder over the centuries. Just as the concept of the obituary changed dramatically, for example, in the 20th century, so the way we talk about murder has changed, too.
If we just keep the horizontal and vertical in mind, and then see our task as a thick description of a story that is told, we will not go far wrong. But if we create all these links for a text like this, we will gradually be offering knowledge that will lead to depth, insight and fuller useful knowledge of our past. It will help develop the mind, refine thinking, lead to precision in expression and focus our questions. If we follow this method with care, we will become useful questioners on all things and will bring a breadth of knowledge that not only is impressive but yields that most needed of all things in public and private discourse: insight.
Phew, only 124,999 texts to go...