Monday, 1 December 2014

'religion and methodism'

misfortunes, troubles, disappoinments, grief...206
family/heredity.................................................115
fevers................................................................110
religion and methodism......................................90
childbed.................................................... .........79
love.....................................................................74
drink...................................................................58
fright...................................................................51
study...................................................................90

These figures are for 'Lunacy by Cause' in a table published by the apothecary of the Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) towards the end of the 18th century. I came across it in The Air Loom Gang, Mike Jay's fascinating study of the case of James Tilly Matthews.
 The table can read like a kind of macabre poem, or summing up of human life. I particularly like the category 'religion and methodism' - as if Methodism were not quite worthy of classifying as 'religion'. This no doubt reflects contemporary suspicion of the inflammatory emotionalism of some Methodist preachers. Methodism was blamed by some for triggering not only religious mania but also sexual frenzy and its regrettable consequences. Indeed it was commonplace in some parts of the country for young men to loiter outside Methodist chapels in the hope of taking advantage of the aroused state of susceptible young women after a particularly strong sermon by a good-looking preacher. How very unlike the present-day incarnation of Wesley's great movement.

7 comments:

  1. Been hanging around vainly outside Methodist Chapels for years, Nige. At last I know why my patience has remained so resolutely unrewarded!

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  2. I fear you arrived a couple of centuries late Guy...

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  3. Methodism also means an excessive preoccupation with systems and methods. Is it possible that is what was being referred to, especially given the lack of a capital m? Perhaps, as with today, excessive engagement in the religion vs. science wars led to widespread lunacy on all sides.

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