Common prayer: a catalogue of mortality

Books of Common Prayer record death as well as life. Here, in the same Adeane family BCP in which births and marriages are chronicled in the previous item, Matthew Adeane dates the deaths of seven of his nine children, as well as his wife of forty-one years. From the optimistic spacing of the first entry for a girl who died in infancy, quickly corrected to make room for the many losses to follow, to the old man’s scrawl of the final entry for a forty-seven-year-old daughter, this brief record stitches an individual chronology of grief into the fabric of a common idiom and common practice, tying these particular deaths to the general fact of mortality and, perhaps, seeking solace in the salvational orientation of the liturgy. ‘The life of the world to come’ is anticipated at every stage of the liturgy, a reassurance that might offer restitution to this grim little list. The survival of this small private family record as an archival artefact in a cathedral library folds it into another community: the materials of collective memory by which we make our understanding of history.

Book of Common Prayer (London: Robert Barker, 1603).

YML: XVII/3.C.24

Further reading:

Adam Smyth, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010).

William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, 2007).

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