Unravelling revelation : the apocalypse in England, 1700-1834
This thesis argues that, while the Revelation of John claims to unveil reality, the interpretative structures built on the book are undermined by its own rhetoric. A historical examination of its use shows the fragility of hermeneutics, but also the power of the 'apocalyptic tone' to engender new unveilings. The first chapter presents the Apocalypse as a book constantly inviting but constantly confounding interpretation, refusing to fit conventional generic definitions or reading strategies. The next two chapters show the book's continuing prominence in eighteenth-century England after its pivotal role in the Reformation. First - writers such as Isaac Newton and William Whiston - it serves as rationalistic evidence for God's providence, as well as giving encouragement to moral 'usefulness' and to the reformation of Christianity. Secondly, its imagery reinforces the more individualistic appeal of the Wesley's preaching and hymns. But it is only with the French Revolution (treated in Chapter 4) that the Apocalypse recovers political immediacy, as seen in both radical millenarian writers like Priestley and Bicheno and in conservative ones like Burke and G.S. Faber. The Romantic period also saw a revival of prophetic and visionary writing, and for many poets John of Patmos was a guiding spirit. Coleridge, the subject of Chapter 5, moved from the millenarian declamation of 'Religious Musings' and the fragmented vision of 'Kubla Khan' to an attempt to interpret the Apocalypse as symbolic representation of polar logic and moral order.