The Web of Friendship

The Web of Friendship: Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding

Joyce Ransome
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: James Clarke & Co Ltd
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    The Web of Friendship
    Book Description:

    A biography of Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637) and his family with a focus on his background, his education and experiences that shaped that ministry as well as the circumstances that brought the family to the village of Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire. Avoiding the hagiographic tone adopted by Ferrar's biographers, Joyce Ransome shows how the search for community was central to his life and has therefore become the unifying theme around which she has constructed his biography. br>

    eISBN: 978-0-227-90089-5
    Subjects: Religion, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. 5-6)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. 7-8)
  4. Acknowledgements (pp. 9-11)
  5. Editorial Conventions (pp. 12-12)
  6. Note on Sources (pp. 13-16)
  7. Abbreviations (pp. 17-18)
  8. Introduction (pp. 19-24)

    When in 1980 Nicholas Ferrar was added to the Church of England’s calendar, he was commemorated as ‘the Founder of the Little Gidding community’.¹ The twentieth century had indeed seen the establishment of communities, including one at Little Gidding itself, which invoked the Little Gidding example.² Basil Blackstone, who in 1938 published a composite of three early biographies of Ferrar along with a number of letters from the Ferrar Papers, there called him a ‘seeker after the perfect community’.³ Clearly the idea of community appealed to many in the twentieth century, including some Anglicans. The Little Gidding they envisioned, however,...

  9. 1 Formative Years: ‘the time of his ingathering’ (pp. 25-49)

    Nicholas Ferrar as the spiritual director of Little Gidding was above all an educator and one whose idea of education spanned a wide spectrum ranging from the spiritual to the academic to the practical. Isaac Walton rightly characterised the household at Gidding as ‘a little college’; it was certainly the ‘school of religion’ that George Herbert’s Country Parson desired his household to be.¹ It was also a school of crafts and music, history and geography, household management and of course the standard curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic and languages. The varied educational programmes he devised for his family inevitably incorporated...

  10. 2 The New Household at Little Gidding: ‘United not only in Cohabitation but in Hartes’ (pp. 50-79)

    The ministry to his family that Nicholas Ferrar had taken as his mission required more than a simple exchange of hectic London life for contemplative country retreat. As ‘a Father for Care’ and ‘mayster for instruction’,¹ he faced immediately a twofold task: 1) to renovate the house itself, not simply to make it habitable but also to adapt it to provide living quarters for the several families and individuals as well as common rooms for the household’s meals and their devotional and instructional activities; 2) to order the household’s life in a way that would instruct the minds and promote...

  11. 3 Enlarging the Community: The ‘Web of Friendship’ (pp. 80-109)

    The preceding chapter focused on the establishment of the distinctive household at Little Gidding itself, a process that took place not in isolation but in company with worldly demands to which Nicholas Ferrar himself as well as other family members, especially cousin Arthur Woodnoth in London, had to respond. While he certainly assumed the role of spiritual director for the household, Ferrar did not limit that role to those living at Gidding. He also looked beyond the immediate household, seeking to bind Woodnoth and others who were united ‘in heart’ though not ‘in cohabitation’ with the family at Gidding into...

  12. 4 Voluntarism and the Wider Mission: ‘A Light Upon a Hill could not be hid’ (pp. 110-133)

    After 1630, the year in which Mary Ferrar, then in her mid-seventies, had declared that ‘now I begin to live’, Nicholas too found himself free to turn his attention and that of his household in new directions. We have seen how in those preceding years his ministry to the family had drawn the household more closely together in a now firmly established routine. By 1630 he had also begun developing a ‘web of friendship’ that extended his ministry to those outside the household. It was a significant step in his search for the ‘perfect community’. This larger community could engage...

  13. 5 Temperance and Tensions: ‘Frayltie & Fears’ (pp. 134-158)

    Earlier attempts to preach by words in the form of a publishable gospel harmony and a translation of Valdes had disappointed the hopes that Nicholas Ferrar had invested in them. He had not, however, lost his ambitious aim to make Little Gidding ‘a Light on a Hill’, a pattern for an age he was convinced needed such patterns. He had a message for his contemporaries and an instrument to hand by which to convey it. Temperance was the message and the Little Academy, reconstituted in October 1632 under Mary Collet Ferrar’s leadership, provided the means of clarifying the message and...

  14. 6 Harmonies Royal: ‘Rarities in their Kind’ (pp. 159-174)

    While disappointment and discord from time to time hampered the Ferrars’ efforts to practice and promote their programme of temperance, an earlier disappointment turned quite unexpectedly into a dazzling opportunity to reach a far more exalted audience than they could ever have anticipated. This transformation involved the gospel harmonies*they had first created for use in the family’s devotions. They had subsequently hoped, as we have seen, to put out a published harmony and thereby widen its circle of influence but had abandoned that hope when Johan Hiud in 1632 published a version of his own.

    Following this disappointment over...

  15. 7 Nicholas Posthumous (pp. 175-192)

    Ferrar’s health declined in the course of 1637, probably hastened by the austerities of diet and vigils that he had long maintained.¹ As Bathsheba reported, not without a certain Schadenfreude indicative of her attitude to the temperance diet,

    Now Nicholas is very Sick[ly] Faulen upon it and they all thinke he will dye For he hath soe Starved him selfe with Lussions [Lessius] that he hath wasted his Inward parts within[.] he Can not Speake ever Since Saturday.²

    The family, however, described his death in terms reminiscent of those traditional accounts of the deaths of saints that they had read...

  16. Conclusion (pp. 193-197)

    Francis Turner, like John Ferrar before him and others after him, saw Nicholas Ferrar as an example and bulwark for the Church of England. He called Ferrar ‘a most Burning and Shining Light’ possessed of wisdom, humility, patience, charity, temperance, and industry together with a quick wit, firm memory and deep judgment, an assessment for which John Ferrar had doubtless supplied evidence.¹ A new perspective modifies this adulatory appraisal, not by denying him those qualities but by making them less absolute. He was undoubtedly temperate and industrious, charitable in almsgiving and in giving emotional support to friends and family members,...

  17. Appendix: The Ferrar and Collet Families (pp. 198-200)
    David R. Ransome
  18. Notes (pp. 201-257)
  19. Family Trees: Ferrars, Collets and Mapletofts (pp. 258-260)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 261-285)
  21. Back Matter (pp. 286-286)


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