John the Scribe drafts of "Days of Judgment for Needy Times"
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
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Overview and metadata sections
Little is known about John the Scribe who "mediated" this collection of handwritten drafts for "Days of Judgment for Needy Times." He also refers to himself as "Procyon the Scribe" and locates himself in Philadelphia. He probably worked on the drafts during the 1850s.
Despite the title ("Days of Judgment for Needy Times"), the work is not an apocalyptic text, but a jeremiad. The author is dismayed by a soi-disant "enlightened" society's lack of adherence to fixed principles; its vaunted progress he views as mere haste, travel without aim and activity without achievement. He calls for people to recommit to truth and divine law as guides of speech and action. Though he expresses a belief in the sovereign authority of "one only God" (draft 3, p. 41) and quotes frequently from the Bible, his approach is not doctrinal (nor particularly Trinitarian -- God as Father is never mentioned and Christ and the Holy Spirit barely). He is also no revivalist; the evangelical language of sin, repentance and conversion is absent from his work. Neither does he advocate for any particular social reforms (e.g. abolition, women's rights, temperance). Societal improvement is to be achieved through individual improvement; every draft includes a help-wanted advertisement for heroes, "Men who know how to act in Great Emergencies ... ready and willing to undergo any amount of Personal Sacrifice and suffering -- brave any danger -- submit to any & all kind of persecution in defence of Principle and the performance of Duty" (draft 1, p. ). Draft 1 evinces a sense of American and European exceptionalism that fades into subtext in drafts 2 and 3. By draft 3 the author also seems to begin to despair of language itself as a means of conveying truth, or at least of society's will to use it to do so, contrasting "words" (speciosity / appearance) with "worth" (truth / reality).
The author writes almost exclusively in English, with the exception of a Latin motto ("VIVE DEO ET VIVES" [i.e. Live for God and you will live]) in draft 1 and a word or name in Greek characters ("DOGOS") on the cover of draft 2. He quotes or alludes to passages from the Authorized Version of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) and the works of William Shakespeare; he also refers to well-known figures and episodes from classical mythology (e.g. the Cyclops) and history (e.g. Nero) and quotes various modern authors: Martin FarquharTupper (1810-1889), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), and also the English Baptist Robert Hall (1764-1831). His use of the traffic sign "Keep to the right as the law directs" as a metaphor for moral conduct has an antecedent in Washington Irving's History of New-York (1809); an anonymous poem on the same theme ("'Keep to the right, as the law directs,' / For such is the rule of the road ...") begins popping up in American Christian publications in the 1850s. His allegorical vignettes -- the oracle Goähead; the dialogue of the -lesses; and the meeting at Confusion's Hall -- have an unsurprisingly Bunyanesque quality.
Textual and stamp/watermark evidence indicates that these three drafts of "Days of Judgment for Needy Times," written by "John the Scribe," were likely created in the 1850s. The state of the text is confusing. The author appears to have made several attempts at a fair copy of the chief part of his work in dark or red ink, but practically all of those attempts have become templates for revisions in ink (dark or red) or pencil. Early drafts are usually in pencil or dark ink, though red ink is sometimes used. He does not cross his lines, but he generally writes on the rectos of his leaves first, "double-spacing" his text; subsequent revisions are made between the lines and sometimes over them. Many passages are struck through. The versos of the leaves seem to have been used well subsequent to the rectos, to the point where two different portions of the work in different stages of drafting run in parallel on facing pages. He also makes notes referring himself from one part of the text to another, probably as an aid to incorporating revisions into the next fair copy. His hand varies from clarity to an illegible scrawl; passages in ink are generally (though not always) more legible than those in pencil.
- Social ethics
- Enlightenment -- United States
- Popular culture -- United States
- National characteristics, American
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Liz Broadwell
- Finding Aid Date
- 2017 June 20
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.