Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wall Delivers Paper at Paul's Cross Conference

I delivered a presentation entitled "Virtual Paul's Cross: The Experience of Public Preaching at Paul‘s Cross in the Post-Reformation Period" at the Paul's Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520-1640, held in Montreal August 16 - 19, 2012.

I discussed the nature of digital modeling as a research tool, making two points. The first was that digital modeling projects are not exercises in time travel but opportunities to bring together diverse forms of historical documentation and to experience -- and thus to be able to assess -- the appropriateness of our conceptual models.

I also pointed out that neither are digital models castles built in the air, that our models of St Paul's Cathedral and of Pal's Cross and Paul's Churchyard are grounded in specific data provided by careful measurement of the cathedral by Christopher Wren and of the cathedral's foundations by John Schofield and of the Cross's foundations by F C Penrose.

Time on the occasion precluded my saying some of the following, but what I would have said in a more expanded format is worth including here.

Digital models do include typical or representative structures along with specific structures like the cathedral and the Cross for which detailed images come to us through the historic record and for which precise measurements enable us to re-envision them with a high degree of accuracy.

Other aspects of the model are more approximate, although every effort has been made to ground them in hard data. The houses of the book dealers around Paul's Churchyard, for example, are located and scaled according to evidence collected from the survey of building foundations made after the great fire.

No images of these buildings survive, however, so the images one sees in the model are drawn from similar contemporary structures, from surviving mixed-use or domestic buildings found either in cathedral towns or urban areas of England.

So, although it is appropriate to say that our knowledge of the appearance of these structures is limited and approximate, it is not appropriate to say that we know nothing about them.

Our construction of this model has given us the opportunity to assess the quality of the visual evidence for the appearance of these structures. We have, as noted elsewhere, been able to identify both the strengths and weaknesses of the Gipkin painting, our chief source of information about the appearance and function of Paul's Cross.

Our model of St Paul's and Paul's Churchyard enables us to explore the experience of John Donne's sermon for Gunpowder Day 1622, a sermon that was intended for delivery at Paul's Cross on the first Tuesday in November of 1622 but "because of the weather" was actually delivered inside the cathedral.

So we are not recreating an event that took place in the past but creating an event as it might have happened so that we can experience it unfolding in real time, with some regard for the experience of ambient noise -- of, for example, the birds, horses, and dogs included in the Gipklin painting.

Using this sermon also allows us to use the manuscript version of this sermon, which survives in a scribal copy done only days after the original performance, with corrections to the manuscript in Donne's own handwriting, as close a version to the actual words spoken by Donne as we have for any of Donne's sermon.

This has enabled us to explore several issues relevant to the experience of the Paul's Cross sermon.

In my talk, I addressed two of these, audibility of the sermon given possible variations in crowd sizes and the location of the auditor, and questions of preaching as an address by a speaker to a generally passive audience or as a collaborative and interactive performance, in effect, a conversation for which the surviving text of these sermons represented only one side of the conversation.

In the case of audibility, I played three versions of the sermon's opening, the first assuming a crowd of about 350, a crowd size generally in accord with the crowd depicted in the Gipkin painting, with the auditor (see red dot below) about 30 feet from the preacher.

You can hear that recording here.

The second file assumed a crowd of about 2500, and the listener is about 50 feet from the speaker.

You can hear that recording here.         

The third file assumes a crowd of about 5000 and the listener is about 100 feet from the speaker.

You can hear that recording here.

The sound of the speaker's voice here is approaching inaudibility, suggesting that Donne is right in a sermon from the late 1620'sthat some people in attendance at his sermons had trouble hearing him.

Several people have commented on the pace of speaking that Ben Crystal used in making this recording. Ben told me he adopted this pace specifically with concern for audibility. I think this last recording suggests the value of his doing so. On the other hand, this also suggests that a preacher at Paul's Cross might have adjusted his style of delivery to the size of the congregation.

In regard to the second question, the matter of the sermon as conversation, I acknowledged the challenge of recovering the congregation's side of this conversation, but suggested that congregational response was sometimes scripted, as in in its participation in the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of the sermon.

You can hear that recording here.

Other times it can be inferred from the way the preacher structures his presentation, seeming to invite certain kinds of response.

For example, when the speaker is especially emotive, a quality contemporaries of Donne include in their accounts of his preaching.  You can hear a sample of that kind of interaction here.

Or when the speaker is being witty, as in the opening of the sermon when Donne plays around with the question of whether or not the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, here. 

You will also notice the inclusion here of traces of the ambient noises of the birds, horses, and dogs shown in the Gipkin painting.

All these audio files are from Ben Crystal's realization of Donne's Gunpowder Day sermon for November 5th, 1622 with random ambient noise and hypothetical congregational responses.

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