Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: "The Journal of Richard Norwood"

Richard Norwood's definitely not a household name, but he was an important figure in the history of early Bermuda, and his several works on mathematics and navigation were widely reprinted into the eighteenth century. He traveled widely in his early years, visiting Brussels, Naples and Rome all before his 25th birthday. By the end of 1613 he was in Bermuda, having gone there to engage in a pearl diving scheme (using a primitive diving bell of his own devising). That came to nothing, but Norwood was engaged to survey Bermuda and divide its land into parcels.

After twenty years in England, Norwood returned to Bermuda in 1637 as schoolmaster, and he lived out the remainder of his days on the island. In 1639 he composed an autobiographical journal of his life to that time, edited and published as The Journal of Richard Norwood (Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1945). Much of the journal is spiritual in nature, recounting Norwood's struggles with religious belief and doctrine throughout his early life, but he also provides much information about his time in Bermuda and how his surveys were carried out there. He also (and most importantly for my purposes) offers some clues as to the types of things he and others in Bermuda at the time were reading and studying.

Norwood's writing style is forthright, and his honesty when describing his internal spiritual battles makes his journal somewhat more endearing than many examples of this sort of work. I laughed out loud at one passage, when he describes taking a walk after a particularly powerful religious visitation: "... my heart was so abundantly replenished with heavenly joys in consideration and sure apprehension of the love and mercy of God towards me and of the continuance thereof forever, that I did not so much walk but rather went leaping all the way, though I did as it were something check and restrain myself from that action of leaping" (p. 84).

The journal is accompanied by contextual essays on Norwood's life and writings, as well as a bibliography of his works and a transcription of his estate inventory.

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