Saturday, 17 August 2013

A curious clocke

Inscription from beneath the tomb of Lady Dorothy Dodderidge (d.1614), spotted in Exeter Cathedral earlier this summer. Although idiosyncratic, the Seventeenth Century English is clear enough, except at a couple of points where I've had to guess the meaning from the context and from other variant readings found on line:*
As when a curious clocke is out of frame
A workman takes in peeces small the same
and mendinge what amiss is to be found,
the same rejoynes and makes it trewe and sound
So god this Ladie into two partes tooke
too soone her soule her mortall corse forsooke
But by his might att length her bodie sounde
shall rise rejoynd unto her soule now crownd
Till then they rest in earth and heaven sundred
att which conjoynd all such as knewe them wondred
The central conceit and style bring John Donne to mind, although I've no particular reason to think it's by Donne. The other thing it brings to mind is William Paley's watchmaker analogy, living beings understood as as intricate pieces of clockwork that must have been put together by some designer.

I knew that Paley didn't get his idea form nowhere - clockwork analogies were used by Descartes and, in a slightly different context, by Newton, with his idea of the divine first cause winding up the celestial clockwork - but it's interesting to see that the metaphor already had enough salience in the wider world to crop up on early Seventeenth Century memorial inscriptions, rather than being confined to the abstruse writings and debates of natural philosophers. Interesting, too, to see how this earlier use of the clockwork analogy incorporates Cartesian dualism, with the 'soule' and 'mortall corse' being the two major elements of the human mechanism.

Given the immaterial nature of the 'soule', it surprises me that modern creationists don't make more use of a more precise update of the two-part clockwork metaphor, with the 'soule' as software, the 'mortall corse' as hardware and the divine techie reassembling and rebooting the whole system at Judgement Day. Or maybe they already do, but I'm just not masochistic enough to have read that much creationist literature.

* 'sow' at the end of line four, is clearly an abbreviated form of 'sound' and I'm assuming that the penultimate word in the poem, 'the', which makes no sense, should read 'them.' I suppose it might also be 'thee', but as the poet doesn't address the deceased directly at any other point in the poem, this seems unlikely.