Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Jennifer Snead


evangelical, Literature, John Holmes


In his 1744 The Reverend Mr. Whitefield's Answer to the Bishop of London's Last Pastoral Letter, the controversial evangelical George Whitefield claimed that he would indeed own up to any of his writings found "blameable in any Respect:' Reader John Holmes of Exeter commented in the margins of his copy, "Oh ho! And how do you know and distinguish your mistakes from verities? Supposing that there are any verities and realities:'1 Frank Lambert, in his 1994 study of Whitefield in the context of transatlantic print culture, cites Holmes's marginalia as an instance of "readers... [ engaging] in dialogue with writers as if they were discussing the subject in a parlor... To Holmes the book afforded an opportunity to question and criticize the author:'2 While Holmes's "Oh ho!" is undeniably conversational, I want to underscore instead the relationship between the first and the second halves of his marginal comment. Calling Whitefield on his assertion that he is capable of sorting out truth from falsity in his own writings led Holmes to invoke a more general state of uncertainty concerning truth and knowledge, reading and print: "supposing there are any verities and realities:' The evangelical revival that began in the late 1730s and early 17 40s, of which Whitefield was perhaps the most visible and controversial public representative, was a catalyst for such anxieties of epistemology and interpretation.