Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Howells Sabbath Devotions
By James Howell (c. 15941666)
From Familiar Letters
TIS true, though there be rules and rubrics in our liturgy sufficient to guide every one in the performance of all holy duties, yet I believe every one hath some mode and model or formulary of his own, especially for his private cubicular devotions.
I will begin with the last day of the week, and with the latter end of that day, I mean Saturday evening, on which I have fasted ever since I was a youth in Venice, for being delivered from a very great danger: this year I use some extraordinary acts of devotion to usher in the ensuing Sunday in hymns, and various prayers of my own penning before I go to bed. On Sunday morning I rise earlier than upon other days, to prepare myself for the sanctifying of it; nor do I use barber, tailor, shoemaker, or any other mechanic that morning, and whatsoever diversions, or lets may hinder me the week before, I never miss, but in case of sickness, to repair to Gods Holy House that day, where I come before prayers begin, to make myself fitter for the work by some previous meditations, and to take the whole service along with me; nor do I love to mingle speech with any in the interim about news or worldly negotiations in Gods Holy House. I prostrate myself in the humblest and decentest way of genuflection I can imagine: nor do I believe there can be any excess of exterior humility in that place: therefore I do not like those squatting unseemly bold postures upon ones tail, or muffling the face in the hat, or thrusting it in some hole, or covering it with ones hand: but with bended knee, and an open confident face, I fix my eyes on the east part of the church, and heaven. I endeavour to apply every tittle of the service to my own conscience and occasions, and I believe the want of this, with the huddling up, and careless reading of some ministers, with the commonness of it, is the greatest cause that many do undervalue, and take a surfeit of our public service.
For the reading and singing psalms, whereas most of them are either petitions or eucharistical ejaculations, I listen to them more attentively, and make them my own; when I stand at the creed, I think upon the custom they have in Poland, and elsewhere, for gentlemen to draw their swords all the while, intimating thereby, that they will defend it with their lives and blood: And for the Decalogue, whereas others use to rise, and sit, I ever kneel at it in the humblest and tremblingst posture of all, to crave remission for the breaches passed of any of Gods holy commandments (especially the week before), and future grace to observe them.
I love a holy devout sermon, that first checks, and then cheers the conscience, that begins with the Law, and ends with the Gospel: but I never prejudicate or censure any preacher, taking him as I find him.
And now that we are not only adulted, but ancient christians, I believe the most acceptable sacrifice we can send up to heaven, is Prayer and Praise, and that sermons are not so essential as either of them to the true practice of devotion. The rest of the holy Sabbath, I sequester my body and mind as much as I can from wordly affairs.