Joe Moshenska

‘An After-Suppers Work’: Sir Kenelm Digby and Varieties of Correspondence in the 1630s

2012 Seminar Series / Thursday 7 June, 2012


Dr Joe Moshenska (University of Cambridge) discusses the letters of natural philosopher and courtier Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), focusing especially on the impact his 1636 reconversion to Catholicism had on the nature of his correspondence. Although at the time Digby was viewed as an emblem of frivolity for being swept along in the series of fashionable Roman Catholic conversions of the 1630s, Moshenska shows, through a close reading of a number of letters, that Digby had actually been engaged in serious theological debate, regularly disputing with other thinkers about the true origins of the church. Digby’s correspondence is also used by Joe as a case study to explore more general questions about early modern letters. For instance, should the courtier’s 100-page work on the early church fathers, which was written in an epistolary fashion, be considered a letter or a treatise? What actually constitutes a letter? Furthermore, did early modern people assume that all letters were public documents unless the writer specifically indicated otherwise? Were explicit epistolary requests for secrecy, as found, for example, in Archbishop Laud’s letter to Digby after the latter’s conversion, genuine or mere rhetorical posturing?

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