Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Diary of Jessie Thain

A friend emailed me today, and his message included this line, "If I remember correctly, R.M.M. was engaged when he died, and I assume that you have known his fiancĂ©e’s name.". The initials denote Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-43), the main subject of my website. Here's how I responded.

The general consensus is that he may have been engaged to Jessie Thain, though I have never seen a primary source proof that would cinch this. Some editions of Alexander Smellie's biography of R. M. McCheyne (a burning light) have as an appendix, Extracts from the diary of Jessie Thain.

His note prompted me to Google for her name and I came across this gem, from which I include a brief quotation below.
In his interesting book, “Robert Murray McCheyne,” Dr. Smellie mentions the fact that McCheyne was twice engaged to be married. The excellent young lady whom he first honoured with an offer of his life and love was discouraged by her relatives who thought they saw in McCheyne’s frail body a foreshadowing of an early death. The other young lady was the writer of this Diary. Certainly her references to McCheyne’s death in her Diary are strongly suggestive of a relationship nearer than that of a pastor to his flock. Spiritual affection for those in whom we see the image of the Lord is an ennobling grace which may not always be free from pain; but the love of Jessie Thain for Robert McCheyne, while holy and intensely spiritual, appears also to have the additional marks of the fond and reciprocating attractions of nature. One cannot but admire the delicacy and refinement with which she touches on this subject.
The online page from which this quotation is taken is entitled, Jessie Thain (The Friend of Robert Murray McCheyne) - Edited by Rev. Murdoch Campbell, M.A. The editor's introduction is dated Ross-shire, September, 1955.

Miss Thain was born 31st July, 1820, and was thus seven years younger than the one she loved. Her diary covers the period 31st December, 1843 to 28th November, 1847. M'Cheyne died on 25th March 1843, aged only 29, and there is a diary entry for the same date in both 1844 and 1845. It makes poignant reading.

NB. A 2003 paperback edition from Shiloh Publications is SOLD OUT. There were earlier editions in 1961 and 1967, as well as the originally edited one of 1955. These may sometimes appear in used book stores, whether online or in retail shops.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Solitary Throne

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, "I am unable to place Jesus Christ on a solitary throne." In response to this, two books appeared in the 1930s, both with the title, The Solitary Throne, written by Christian authors.
  • The Solitary Throne: Some religious beliefs of Mahatma Gandhi in the light of Christ's teachings, by Brenton Thoburn Badley (1876-1949). Madras : Methodist Pub. House, 1931 (rep. 1935).
  • The Solitary Throne: Addresses Given at the Keswick Convention on the Glory and Uniqueness of the Christian Message, by Samuel Marinus Zwemer (1867-1952): London, 1937.
Zwemer's book was also intended as a direct rebuke to Gandhi’s statement.

Where do you place Jesus Christ?

Are you like Gandhi, merely an admirer of his life and teachings, but unable to place him where God has placed him? Or are you like both Badley and Zwemer, not only his admirer, but his true follower, believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth that He has been exalted to the highest place that heaven affords?

This hymn by J. G. Deck puts it succinctly,
1 O GOD, Thou now hast glorified
Thy holy, blest eternal Son;
The Nazarene, the Crucified,
Now sits exalted on Thy throne:
To Him in faith we cry aloud,
Worthy art Thou, O Lamb of God.

2 Father, Thy holy name we bless,
And gladly hail Thy just decree
That every tongue shall soon confess
Jesus the Lord of all to be;
But oh, Thy grace has taught us now
Before that Lord the knee to bow.

3 Him as our Lord we gladly own:
To Him alone we now would live,
Who bowed our hearts before Thy throne,
And gave us all that love could give.
Our willing voices cry aloud,
Worthy art Thou, O Lamb of God.
Jesus the Nazarene, once crucified, but then risen from the dead, now sits exalted on a solitary throne, at the right hand of God.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Origins of Silent Reading

I want to share something I just discovered during a Google search. I was already aware that silent reading was a development that occurred during European history, but this title homes in on how radical a change this was at the time.

Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, by Paul Saenger
Product Description

Reading, like any human activity, has a history. Modern reading is a silent and solitary activity. Ancient reading was usually oral, either aloud, in groups, or individually, in a muffled voice. The text format in which thought has been presented to readers has undergone many changes in order to reach the form that the modern Western reader now views as immutable and nearly universal. This book explains how a change in writing—the introduction of word separation—led to the development of silent reading during the period from late antiquity to the fifteenth century.

Over the course of the nine centuries following Rome’s fall, the task of separating the words in continuous written text, which for half a millennium had been a function of the individual reader’s mind and voice, became instead a labor of professional readers and scribes. The separation of words (and thus silent reading) originated in manuscripts copied by Irish scribes in the seventh and eighth centuries but spread to the European continent only in the late tenth century when scholars first attempted to master a newly recovered corpus of technical, philosophical, and scientific classical texts.

Why was word separation so long in coming? The author finds the answer in ancient reading habits with their oral basis, and in the social context where reading and writing took place. The ancient world had no desire to make reading easier and swifter. For various reasons, what modern readers view as advantages—retrieval of reference information, increased ability to read “difficult” texts, greater diffusion of literacy—were not seen as advantages in the ancient world. The notion that a larger portion of the population should be autonomous and self-motivated readers was entirely foreign to the ancient world’s elitist mentality.

The greater part of this book describes in detail how the new format of word separation, in conjunction with silent reading, spread from the British Isles and took gradual hold in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The book concludes with the triumph of silent reading in the scholasticism and devotional practices of the late Middle Ages.
Enjoy and learn!