Random Thoughts on a Day in the Princeton Archives

Today was an amazing day rummaging through the papers of William Plumer in the Princeton Seminary archives. Several thoughts:

1. It is a wonder that 180 year old paper isn’t more brittle! To be sure, they keep these papers in a climate controlled room. But still, you’d think something written in 1833 would crack as you turned the page. It didn’t.

2. Penmanship is a lost art. Plumer’s handwriting is exquisitely beautiful script – though it’s also hard to read at points. Especially in his letters. I don’t write in script, because a) it takes me too long and b) I can’t write it well enough to read my own handwriting.

3. They didn’t have computers or typewriters in the mid-1800s, which meant that pastors hand wrote their sermon manuscripts. And yet Plumer’s manuscripts are actually neat. To be sure, there are signs of editing at times, but it appears that he just sat down and put pen to paper and coherent thought flowed. Perhaps he had scratch paper on which he wrote thoughts/outlines first. (He did have many more sermon outlines than sermon manuscripts.) But still, when I think about how many times I delete and retype, or move blocks of text around, or write the conclusion first and watch it move down the page as I type…it makes me very thankful to be living in 2012.

4. It was fun to see their “notebook paper” – usually more like an 11×17 page folded in half, or a legal page folded in half, than like our letter sized paper. It looked like he would buy “notebooks” that were bound with ribbon or string for each sermon. I’m pretty sure there are offical names for this paper, but I haven’t learned them all yet (“octavo” comes to mind). Sometimes each paged would be embossed with the manufacturer’s logo.

5. There were some newspapers from the mid-1800s that were nearly as wide folded as one of our newsprint sheets unfolded. It felt like holding a bed sheet.

6. Looking at all the “papers” of Plumer (which includes not only his personal writing, but also things he had collected along the way, letters, newpaper clippings, random pieces of paper that were in his personal collection when he passed away) make me wonder what people will do with all my files when I pass away. It also makes me think that I haven’t done the best job of keeping up with the writing I’ve done. It isn’t much, but it sure isn’t organized in such a way that if I died yesterday someone would be able to read everything I’ve written. And so many of the articles, etc. in my files are only interesting to me. So if perchance there are the “Caleb Cangelosi papers” one day, someone is going to be very bored, puzzled, or frustrated.

7. Holding a sermon that was held by a father in the faith 130-180 years ago is a sobering, fearful affair. It reminds me of my mortality, of my dependence upon the saints that have gone before me, of God’s providence in ensuring that my sermons are heard by the precise people He desires each week, of the futility of preaching “under the sun” (it all end up in some box in an archive – vanity of vanities) – but also of the power of preaching “under heaven” (God used these words to gather and grow His people).

8. The architecture in Princeton is stunning. You can tell the city has been around for awhile. Check out these pictures:

I have felt like I am in London. These pictures aren’t even that good, or of the best buildings.

9. Plumer was a prolific author. He reminds me of men today like John Piper, Joel Beeke, R. C. Sproul. A few months before Plumer died in 1880 (at the age of 78), he was saying to his friends, “Give me a theme for a book. Set me a task. I want to work for so good a Master as Christ.” The Lord often gifts men to write voluminously for the well being of His church. Praise Him for that. I don’t think I have that gift. But I hope that I will have the same willing spirit of service when I’m 78, not to mention the ability to do something approximating what Plumer did.

10. Digital cameras are amazing tools that enable the bulk of research to be done at home, since you can take pictures of everything you see in the archives. Again, I’m thankful that I’m living when I’m living.

11. It’s so easy for history to be lost in the archives of some dusty library. But even when it’s staring you in the face, the way Alexander Hall and Miller Chapel at Princeton Seminary are staring current Princeton students in the face every day, that doesn’t mean that you will have a clue what your roots are. I’ve met several students who don’t know who Archibald Alexander was (if you don’t know who he was, start here). History and biography is something that every Christian must learn to love. As you read your Bibles, notice how many times God uses the words, “Remember” or “Don’t forget.”

12. The original “Design of Princeton Seminary” was “to unite…that piety of heart, which is the fruit only of the renewing and sanctifying grace of God, with solid learning… religion without learning, or learning without religion, in the ministers of the gospel, must ultimately prove injurious to the church.” I am so thankful for the privilege of working at a church that encourages me to keep on studying and learning and growing intellectually and spiritually. I am thankful for a wife and children who encourage me to pursue further studies. I am thankful for spiritual fathers in the faith like William Plumer, who attended Princeton and learned at the feet of Archibald Alexander, and preached sound truth plainly for the people of God, and lived a pious life that was infectious. I am thankful that the knowledge of the truth is according to godliness. I am thankful for a God and Father who saves us by grace to live a holy life.



3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by sean c on January 25, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Pretty stinkin cool. Are you wearing latex gloves? Do you feel like Nicholas Cage?


    • Posted by calebcangelosi on January 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

      No, no gloves. And yes, there is the thrill of knowing I’m one of only a couple people who have laid eyes on this material; and with the Plumer material in particular, it probably hasn’t been looked at by anyone in a long time (library staff not included). Neat.


  2. Posted by Katy Brink on January 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    VERY cool. Excited for you. What an opportunity! And I’m with you — I don’t write in script either…mine is too ugly.


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