Friday, February 09, 2007

Lovecraft Goes to Church: Part 2 (1923)

This is the bell, HPL saw. However, it was not then, nor now, the original bell of the 1775 church.

We read in an historical treatise:

"The First Baptist Meeting House was the first church in New England to have a steeple. {Lovecraft waxes eloquntly over the steeple}. It was erected in only three and a half days—sections were prefabricated and hauled up from the inside, like an extending telescope. At 185 feet, the steeple of the Meeting House is so tall that, during the age of sailing ships, it was used as an aid to navigation. The tower houses a 2,515-pound bell that was cast in London."

So, Lovecraft has his facts correct - so far !

"These were unusual features for their time—in England, Baptist churches were forbidden from building steeples and using bells, because of their status as dissenters."

HPL, when he declares "God Save the King" sees through a bit rosy coloured {sic!) glasses, as England was not fond of Baptists.

"They couldn't even be called "churches," for that matter, and were designated "chapels" instead. Although New England churches were not so much under the same strictures as those in the mother country, they tended to follow the tradition anyway. Rhode Islanders were especially likely to ignore such rules, however, and this is reflected in the inscription that was on the bell as it was originally cast:" {my bold, CP}

"For Freedom of conscience the town was first planted,
Persuasion not force was used by the people;
This church is the eldest and has not recanted,
Enjoying and granting bell, temple, and steeple."

The "us'd" of Lovecraft is apparently a fanciful amendment.

"The bell cracked in 1787 and was recast with a less-poetic inscription:
This church was formed in 1639, the first in the state and the oldest of the Baptists in America."

Thus the bell was NOT the one declared by HPL. It was a recast. Yet, more lore follows ...

"In 1844 the bell cracked and was repaired again. The new, and current, inscription adds a few more facts: This church was founded in 1639, by Roger Williams, its first pastor, and the first asserter of Liberty of Conscience. It was the first church in Rhode Island, and the first Baptist Church in America."

There you have it - as far as can be told, HPL has spun an antiquarian tale of high imagination to Sam Loveman.

{If you have been there and seen the bell - please chime in, no pun intended, and tell us what YOU saw.}

...continued ...

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