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Writing back: Robert Persons and the early modern English Catholic subject.

The subject of Roman Catholicism has returned to English Renaissance studies. Enabled by the work of historians such as John Bossy, Christopher Haigh, revisionists J. J. Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, as well as studies of anti-Catholicism by Peter Lake, Anthony Milton, and others, literary historians and critics have reexamined and expanded the early modern English canon by attending to Catholic themes and representations and by recovering Catholic books marginalized or lost over the centuries due to variously motivated forms of omission. (1) Alison Shell, author of the groundbreaking Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660, points out that although there is a long tradition of trying to identify crypto-Catholic elements in Renaissance writers and literature, serious scholarship on Catholic literary imagination in the early modern period had, until recently, largely focused on the theory and practice of devotional poetry and prose. (2) Shell observes that this vein of criticism played out once critics realized the difficulty of distinguishing between purely "Catholic" and "Protestant" forms of meditation, but I would suggest, rather, a more decisive turn in scholarship that arose from the interest in devotional poetics, and that, ultimately, provoked the current revisionist scholarship exemplified in Shell's work. Louis Martz initiated the line of research on Catholic devotional theory and practice by arguing in The Poetry of Meditation for the influence of Jesuit meditative theory and practice on English religious lyrics of the seventeenth century. His thesis was powerfully challenged by Barbara Lewalski in Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric. (3) Lewalski's work, however, did not lead so much to studies of forms of lyric devotion blending Catholic and Protestant models but, instead, largely supplanted Martz's argument by proposing a tradition of Protestant biblical poetics underlying the flowering of religious lyric poetry in seventeenth-century England. As it happened, her book, published in 1979, heralded what might be termed a "reformation" of English Renaissance literary studies by scholars working from widely differing, even divergent, theoretical perspectives and employing highly varied methodologies.

If Protestant triumphalism remained an unachieved ideal for Spenser and Sidney, it was secured belatedly in the annals of scholarship. Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), John N. King's English Reformation Literature: The Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (1982), and Alan Sinfield's Literature in Protestant England, 1560-1660 (1983), to name just three roughly contemporaneous books, all contributed in their distinctive ways to a growing scholarly consensus that the English reformation was the determining force in shaping the literary culture of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. (4) Greenblatt's final chapter, "The Improvisation of Power," might, in retrospect, seem to contain the seeds of a Catholic counter-statement in its own brilliant improvising on the confessional apparatus, but the argument of the chapter depends on collapsing rather than distinguishing the teachings of Catholic and reformed Christianity with respect to sexuality. In Greenblatt's next book, Shakespearean Negotiations, Catholicism receives more extended treatment in the chapter "Shakespeare and the Exorcists," in the form of a reading of Harsnett's A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures, where Greenblatt illuminates the anti-Catholic polemical strategy of linking Popery with theatrical illusion, and in a more recent book, residual belief in the Catholic purgatory informs a meditation on religious doctrine and cultural practice. (5) Indeed, much of the recent work on Catholicism in literature is engaged in one way or another with new historicism, through the study of representation, subversion, self-fashioning, and inwardness. (6)

While new historicism does offer the critic a purchase on topics and strategies highly relevant to Catholicism and anti-Catholicism in this period, its strategies tend both to reduce English Catholics to a homogeneous group of martyrs and recusants, and to conflate them with other dissident groups, thus missing the varieties of submission, resistance, and compromise practiced by Catholics and other minorities in the period. However, a tendency to deal in binary oppositions when discussing religious controversies is hardly limited to new historicists. Indeed, as Peter Lake and Michael Questier have noted, this practice originated in the arena of confessional polemic in early modern England and it continues in much of the modern (and postmodern) historical writing about early modern religion and politics. (7)

A distinctive feature of the continuing Roman Catholic presence and its clashes with Protestant ideology in Reformation England were the connections, in the minds of many English patriots and in the projects of some Catholic activists, to international networks and agendas directed to reclaiming England as a Catholic nation. Catholicism persisted in a variety of locations and practices in England (and Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), while it also found new life in exilic communities such as the English Colleges of Douai, Valladolid, and Rome. (8) The favorite site for focusing anti-Catholic anxieties in England throughout the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the Society of Jesus, which launched a missionary action to England from the Continent in 1580. Thanks in considerable measure to the literary and personal brilliance of such iconic figures as the martyrs Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell, both of whom in fact claimed to be loyal Englishmen, and the incisive polemics of their fellow English exile Robert Persons, the Jesuit missionaries became a lightening rod for anti-Catholic sentiments in England. Jesuits were represented as subversives, corruptors of women, and potential terrorists intent on overthrowing the crown and returning England to solidarity with the Roman Catholic nations of Europe. On the other side, the Jesuits officially described their mission as a pastoral response to state-imposed religious uniformity while also producing an impressive body of literature, including both devotional works and highly-charged critiques of government policies and the emerging Protestant ideology of the nation. (9) The pastoral, political, and literary activities of the Jesuit mission constituted forms of resistance to the developing narrative of the Protestant nation, offering English Catholics a means to continue to practice their faith, now as a religious minority, to understand their place in English history, to cultivate their continuing relationship as English subjects to an international community of faith, and even to imagine the eventual return of England to the Church of Rome.

Given this interplay of Catholic writing with discourses of nationhood, insurgency, and terrorism, I wish to propose that the conflicts between early modern English Catholics and their Protestant rulers, particularly as these became focused in the Jesuit mission, can be illuminated by postcolonial theory. To be sure, numerous qualifications must be acknowledged before drawing on the resources of post colonial studies to analyze a conflict in early modern English religious history. It goes without saying that we are not dealing with the creation of the nineteenth-century European nation-state or the British Empire, which are the original foci of postcolonial studies proper. Geographically as well, we are on different ground; on English soil, neither English Catholics nor English Protestants can strictly be called either colonialists or colonials. The subject of this essay, Robert Persons, operated for a short time as a Jesuit missionary and then as a polemicist and agent for the Catholic cause from various bases on the continent, positions typically associated with the colonial power in classic postcolonial analyses; indeed, the Jesuits were typically represented in anti-Catholic discourse as potential colonialists--usually Spanish. (10) Catholic experience in general under Protestant rule is not that of the subaltern, nor is their oppression primarily driven by an ideology of race (though the orientalizing of the papacy is a familiar strategy in anti-Catholic propaganda). And Catholics tend to invert the typical order of cultures obtaining in postcolonial analysis, representing for the most part what we would call the "residual" rather than the "emergent" culture usually associated with the colonized. However, if Catholics were not subalterns in the sense typically understood in postcolonial studies, as people not of the colonial elite group, they nevertheless may have felt as if they were treated as such. More importantly, postcolonial theory and criticism have developed new ways of reading and, especially, rereading literature and culture for evidence of what was left out of previous analyses, and such topics of postcolonial critique as "othering," "hybridity," and, most importantly, "writing back" are highly relevant to English Catholic and anti-Catholic discourses during this period. (11) Without specifically invoking postcolonial studies, Shell encourages a similar approach: "Recovering the voices of the silenced has been an extraordinarily fashionable academic pursuit for the last few decades, but also a conscientiously engaged and successful one.... There has been solid victory, irreversible change, and prominence newly accorded to women's writing, homosexual writing, popular culture, anglophone literatures and the writing of ethnic minorities." (12) Eamon Duffy's revisionist history of late medieval English Catholicism represents the English reformation along the lines of a colonizing project, as a process of forcible imposition from above upon an unwilling people. To be sure, Duffy's work has been challenged for painting "too rosy a picture of the pre-Reformation Church" and for failing to allow that changes in late medieval Christianity laid the foundations of the Reformation. (13) Nonetheless, historians have generally recognized Duffy's project as itself a form of "writing back"; as G. R. Elton wrote in his review, "Duffy justly rewrites a history too long dominated by the likes of John Bale and John Foxe, but he too overbalances--in the opposite direction." (14) Elton's assessment points to the focus of this essay by reminding us that the English reformation, like nineteenth-century colonialism, was very much bound up with the project of creating a national identity. Was England always already a Protestant nation, as John Foxe claimed, or was its true origin Catholic, as Robert Persons would have it? Telling the story of the church in England was a project inextricably linked to telling the story of England.

Persons functioned as an English missionary for only a year before fleeing, following the capture of his more famous colleague, Edmund Campion. He spent the rest of his career in exile on the continent, creating The Christian Directory, one of the most influential devotional books of the era; working under the direction of his superiors in support of various projects to restore Catholicism in England through political and/or military interventions; founding new seminaries in Spain and adjudicating conflicts at the Venerable English College in Rome; and producing an impressive series of works defining and defending his vision of Catholics and Catholicism in England, including, in his later years, an argument for toleration. Persons the exilic author was the Jesuit bogeyman of the late sixteenth century, both for English Protestants and for many loyalist Catholics. He was synonymous with Jesuit anti-Elizabeth policy, bitterly opposed by a group of secular Catholic priests known as the Appellants during the archpriest controversy. As the appellant Christopher Bagshaw put it, "we will always remember as an addition when we say the litany: a machinationibus Parsoni, libera nos, Domine." (15) The works and voluminous correspondence of Persons provide ample data to support this popular view, and an examination of Persons by no less an authority than John Bossy uncovers the disturbing probability that "Persons advocated or, shall we say, did rather more than condone the assassination of Queen Elizabeth" as a step toward the forcible "conversion" of England. (16) In the historical debate about English Catholicism during the Reformation Persons has figured large: he is a key figure in John Bossy's account of the reinvention of an English Catholicism by a renovated corps of missionary clerks. By the same token, in Christopher Haigh's critique of Bossy's thesis, he is credited with the invention of "a fairy story" which transforms the failure of the mission into a heroic rescue of the lapsed Catholic gentry. (17)

Without denying the importance of the issue between Bossy and Haigh, I want to emphasize two common, and I believe related, themes in their assessments of Persons. First, Bossy notes that the "metamorphosis of the clerk into a man of action could not be allowed to suppress his character as a man of thought and scholarship. The mission itself demanded books." Haigh, too, treats Persons as a writer whose story of English Catholicism has, in one form or another, held the field for nearly 400 years. (18) Both historians, then, give us versions of Robert Persons the writer. The second common perspective has to do with the content of those writings. Much of Persons's pamphleteering uncannily rehearses central themes of the historical debate I have just summarized (just as, I am tempted to add, Elton's review of Duffy leads him back to Bale and Foxe). His challenge to Foxe's Acts and Monuments, for example, is an argument about "the continuity of Catholicism" (the title of one of Haigh's articles challenging Bossy). However, where Persons represents the Jesuit mission as an historical agent supporting the continuity of Catholicism in England both Bossy and Haigh regard that mission as an innovation--albeit, a moderately successful one by Bossy's reckoning, a misguided one by Haigh's. Combining these two themes of the writer and innovation, I want to argue that Persons's importance for early modern literary and cultural studies has to do with his realization that the struggle for English Catholicism was, among other things and to a degree not required in purely doctrinal controversies, a writing project that needed to engage the hearts and minds of his minority readership while also scoring debating points with the Protestant elite. Persons understood his mission as a writer to be the creation of a variety of texts--devotional, political, and historical--that would challenge both his oppressed minority readers and the emerging Protestant majority.

Postcolonial theory can help to clarify the conditions and methods of Persons's polemics. He was what might be called a guerrilla historian. Homi Bhabha represents insurgent writers as "highly adaptable and mobile warriors" whose "discursive liminality" encourages "strategic manoeuvre and negotiation." (19) These phrases describe Persons and fellow Jesuit mission writers, publishing on the margins of the print world with false imprints from secret presses in England or from places of exile on the continent. They variously represent themselves, depending on circumstances, as loyal English subjects, fearless opponents of injustice, priests of Rome, pastors to the English flock. Most notoriously, the Jesuits became associated with perhaps the most extreme form of "discursive liminality," equivocation, upon which Persons authored an influential treatise and which became the focus of particular anxiety in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. (20) On the other hand, the minority writer's texts were also subject to manipulation or appropriation by the dominant discourse. The story of Edmund Campion's famous Letter to the Council, popularly known as "the great bragge" and one of the inaugural documents of the Jesuit campaign in England offers a case in point of the instability of the insurgent writer's texts. (21) The Letter is a delayed writing back to Bishop John Jewel's famous "challenge" sermon of 1559. (22) It was composed on the road to the shires to represent the mission against the inevitable "malignant reports" that would be circulated should he and his travelling companion, Persons, be captured. (23) After Campion's manuscript and a similar document composed by Persons were unwisely shown to supporters by an intermediary, it took no time at all for the documents to come into the hands of Protestants and appear in the publication which refuted it. As Lake and Questier point out, "from the moment that Campion's brag was circulated, the mission became a highly public challenge to the basic categories under which the Elizabethan regime organized its treatment of Catholicism and thus its claims to legitimacy in the eyes of both its subjects and the wider world." (24) Campion's text, circulated in manuscript and then published in an anti-Catholic pamphlet, was located at once both inside and outside of mainstream discourse.

Persons's writing runs the gamut of Catholic positions from "resistance" to "compromise" as spelled out in Peter Holmes's survey of Elizabethan Catholic ideologies: political non-resistance (Confessio Fidei, Epistle of the Persecution, A Brief Discourse, better known as Reasons of Refusall [1580]); recusancy and religious resistance (A Brief Discourse); casuistry (with William Cardinal Allen, Resolutiones quorundam casuum nationis Anglicanae); political resistance (A Conference about the Next Succession to the Crowne of Ingland [1594] in two versions, the second containing the argument from papal power and feudal lordship); utopianism ("A Memorial of the Reformation of England," a work composed in 1596 and circulated in manuscript, but not published until 1690 in another political context as a piece of anti-Jesuit satire); and nonresistance (A Temperate Ward-Word [1599]). (25) In an earlier essay I have discussed works from each of these phases of Catholic response. (26) Here I wish to focus on A Treatise of the Three Conversions of England as a work that directly writes back to Protestant power, specifically to John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, and exhibits both the critical strengths and "overbalancing," to borrow Elton's criticism of Duffy, of such "corrective revisions." This overbalancing, as Patrick Colm Hogan has noted, is an aspect of the "ideological ambiguity" that frequently characterizes postcolonial writing back. (27)

By the time Persons published his counter-history Foxe's work had itself become a monument of the English reformation, augmented in new editions including the 1570 edition which was ordered by Convocation to be installed in churches across the country. (28) In 1604, at the end of the bitter conflict over the archpriest and the beginning of a new reign in England, Persons published the Treatise. An "ambitious three-volume work, the Three Conversions originated as a response to a tract by Persons's erstwhile adversary Sir Francis Hastings, but it quickly developed into an attack on Hastings's sources, Foxe's Acts and Monuments, and the massive Lutheran ecclesiastical history known as the Magdeburg Centuries. The material most specifically arrayed against Foxe is organized into three parts. (29) Persons first addresses the question of continuity in English Catholicism, one that had been first famously raised by John Jewel's "challenge sermon" of 1560 and endured as an historical debate about whether or not current doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism were honored during the first 600 years of Christianity. (30) In part 2 he turns to the somewhat paradoxical task of proving the non-existence of a Protestant church: "That it was never planted in England ... nor ever was received, nor had essence or being under the name of Christian Religion, from Christ's time to ours." (31) Part 3, which has attracted the most critical attention, consists of a facing page juxtaposition of Foxe's calendar of saints and the Catholic calendar, including bibliographical references, thumbnail sketches, an index, a discussion of methodology, directions for use, and a month-by-month examination of the chief saints in Foxe's calendar. (32)

Although the historian Peter Holmes has argued in Resistance and Compromise that Persons had by 1603 largely abandoned the Catholic ideology of resistance, hope apparently sprang eternal in Persons's political thinking, for he opens the Three Conversions with "An Addition" to his Preface to Catholics in which he ruminates on the fact that "your old Persecuter [i.e., Elizabeth]" is dead and that James I is now "absolutely Lord of the whole Island of Britanny." In a stroke intended to resonate with readers informed by the history of controversy between English Catholics and Protestants, Persons compares Elizabeth to Diocletian and Julian the Apostate while James is praised as Constantine or Jovinian. Both John Bale and Foxe had portrayed Constantine as the last of the true Christian emperors, and Foxe had compared Elizabeth to Constantine. Persons compares James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, to Constantine, who "was of a different religion when he entered, yet of singular hope to become such as afterward he did, both in respect of his excellent Parts, and of his pious Mother St. Helena" (1: *v). Persons pushes the envelope even further by going on to compare James's "strange Delivery from infinite Dangers" to the infancy of Moses and to praise the newly published Basilikon Doron. Playing Fluellen's game of historical typology, Persons thus inverts the argument of Protestant ecclesiastical historians who had, particularly after Valla's discrediting of the Donation of Constantine, used Constantine as a model, if not the source, of the English king's authority over the church. (33) Persons's historical fantasy for his Catholic readers is that James, like Constantine, will convert to the true religion of his mother and return "the whole Island of Britanny" to Rome.

Persons's inversion of the Constantine topos of Protestant history is a kind of epitome for his entire project in the Three Conversions, which is to write a counter-history to that of Foxe. He accordingly opens the book with a brief discussion of methodology, presented by means of another analogy which distinguishes his historical project from doctrinal controversy. The dispute between English Catholics and Protestants is compared to a legal contest over inheritance of an estate, in which the various parts of the estate--"those Woods, that Glebe-land, and the like"--are likened to specific doctrines disputed by the controversialists:

whereas other men hitherto have taken upon them to defend and prove particular Points of Controversies severally: As for example, the Real Presence, Purgatory, Prayer to Saints, Seven Sacraments, and the like, ... my purpose is to prove all together, by joyning the foresaid Issue about the chief Mansion-house, and true Owners thereof; ... for that we proving this only, we prove the whole, no man being able to deny but that where this House and Family is found, there is all the Right and Interest that may be pretended to the State and Dignity aforesaid. (1: **7r)

Persons's analogy is subtle and complex. Specific doctrines controverted by Catholics and Protestants are compared to particular properties attached to an estate ("woods" and "glebeland"); Persons argues that these specific properties will fall into the possession of the party (the "family") judged to be the rightful inheritor of the "chief mansion-house" (i.e., the true church). Under the system of primogeniture, the oldest of the heirs would inherit the estate, and thus much of the treatise is focused on the question of primacy--which religion was first established in England, Catholicism or Protestantism? The rightful, i.e., first-born, heir thus "owns" or wins the all of the disputed doctrines; doctrinal truth follows upon determination of the true English Church, not the other way around. In a sense, the figurative and literal levels converge in Persons's historical argument, for his treatise is about ownership; framing the argument in terms of possession and inheritance, Persons lays the groundwork for his case against Foxe regarding the establishment and historical records of the English church. In Persons's view, the owner of the true English Church is the owner of doctrinal truth.

Persons's inversions and analogies may appear to support Haigh's characterization of him as the creator of a "faery story," but I want to push a bit harder on that idea to say something different about Persons as an insurgent writer. In fact, his books of controversy are marked by their concern with and use of historical sources and argumentation. The most interesting of these works, however, also display a power of historical imagination that seems at once designed to stir readers to action and to substitute for it, a feature which perhaps contributes to Haigh's characterization of Persons's story-telling. In making this claim, I do not mean to minimize his political commitment and activism, though I believe these aspects of his mission are more accessible in his correspondence than in his controversial publications. While admitting their overtly political agenda, I want to argue that works like The Three Conversions also produce for English Catholic readers an historical imaginary, an interpretation of history offering "imaginary or formal 'solutions'" to the contradictions in which they find themselves. (34) These works are perhaps not what we would regard as histories but they are not fairy tales either. For lack of a better term I am calling them devotional histories, or historical devotions--works that interpret history with a view toward offering the reader an imaginary position as a subject of history.

This "what if" aspect of Persons's framing of the Three Conversions also characterizes a number of his other major texts, including his Conference about the Next Succession (a 1594 dialogue concerning the viability of the Infanta as successor to Elizabeth), and A Memorial for the Reformation of England (Persons's utopian vision of an England restored to Catholicism, written around 1596 and apparently circulated in manuscript form, but not published until 1690 as an anti-Jacobin tract). (35) The Three Conversions, like these works, produces for English readers what Bhabha calls "counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries"; the nation itself thus "becomes a liminal form of social representation, a space that is internally marked by cultural difference and the heterogeneous histories of contending peoples, antagonistic authorities, and tense cultural locations." (36) On the one hand, Persons constructs a totalizing counter-history which aims to displace the officially sanctioned account of English Christianity; on the other hand, his project is a controversial one which places Foxe's history and Persons's counter-history in open contention.

I've used the phrases "historical fantasy" and "devotional history" to suggest an approach to Persons's writing that differs from our usual notions of historical argument. My phrases have parallels, I think, in Bhabha's distinction between what he calls the "pedagogical" and the "performative" discourses of the nation. The pedagogical encompasses the historian's account of the origins and development of the nation, the political scientist's theory of the nation, the "teleology of progress"--in a phrase, "the certainties of a nationalist pedagogy." But in writing the nation, Bhabha insists that we must also account for the subjective and affective experience of the nation, "that continual process by which the national life is redeemed and signified as a repeating and reproductive process. The scraps, patches, and rags of daily life must be repeatedly turned into the signs of a national culture, while the very act of the narrative performance interpellates a growing circle of national subjects." (37) The long history of the coming-into-being of the English Church seems to me to illustrate what Bhabha is talking about here. If we think of the construction of a national church as a process analogous in crucial respects to the construction of the nation, Bhabha's pedagogical and performative modes provide a way of theorizing those tumultuous struggles of the sixteenth century and their continuation in conflicts over ceremony and ritual in the seventeenth as evidence of "that continual process by which the national life is redeemed and signified as a repeating and reproductive process."

With specific reference to Persons's writing of the national church, this distinction between pedagogy and performance can illuminate the organization and strategies of the Three Conversions. Persons's counter-narrative is of a mixed genre, a combination of historical scholarship, ecclesiastical satire, and devotional manual. The "pedagogical" parts 1 and 2 of the treatise are chiefly taken up with a close reading, interpretation, and refutation of the historical sources. Persons brings humanist principles such as anachronism effectively to bear on his opponents, as when in part 1 he catches "Reynard" Foxe trying to "make St. Bede seem to be a late Writer; whom they cannot abide, for that he setteth down the Beginning and Progress of our Church far different from theirs," or the Magdeburgians doing the opposite with Geoffrey of Monmouth, "that seemeth to favour them sometimes in his Narrations about St. Augustin" (1:33, 39). The authenticity of textual sources used by Foxe is also challenged at times. (38) At his best, Persons can produce a fine piece of historical argumentation, a la Notes and Queries, such as his two well-wrought paragraphs on Claudia Ruffina, the British wife of a Roman senator mentioned by Holinshed and Camden as a conduit of Christianity to Britain. This skeptical discussion of a figure who would support his general argument about the Roman origins of British Christianity enhances Persons's self-presentation as historian. It also contributes toward a larger pattern in the Three Conversions of disparagement of the chronicler Raphael Holinshed--along with William Harrison, contributor to Holinshed's Chronicles--and Richard Hooker, author of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as writers who share Foxe's religious agenda. (39)

Part 2 flows logically enough from the opening emphasis on ownership of what we might call the material culture of Christianity in Britain. Against Foxe's claim that the true church was not always visible to the world, Persons argues for an unbroken succession of bishops who presided over a visible church. If the Protestant church was, as Foxe asserts, invisible, then how, Persons asks, did it happen that its members were persecuted? Using the so-called "curt style" of seventeenth-century wits, Persons describes Foxe's Protestant Church as a fantasy, "both visible and invisible, to wit, visible to some, and invisible to others, visible to them that are in her, and invisible to them that are out of her" (1:293). (40) A prime example of this fantastical character of the rival church is Foxe's account of a dream which revealed to him a numerological solution to an apparent discrepancy between Revelation and the Protestant periodization of history (1:468-69). Thus part 2 of the Three Conversions works in a primarily satirical mode to demystify Foxe's narrative of the invisible church. Again employing a trope of inversion, Persons summarizes Foxe in the following way: it is "as if a man would say of the City of London, that for these thousand years and more all those Men and Women that have been punished by the same City for Malefactors, were the true Citizens indeed, and the others that punished them only intruders" (1:472-73).

The satirical manner is heightened in the double calendar of part 3, which is split across Volumes II and II and surrounded by a plethora of scholarly and devotional apparatus (of which more in a moment). The first six months of the double calendar is prefaced by an "Epistle Dedicatory to the Protestants of England," the gist of which is an argument that Foxe's books draw his readers "into the communion, and society of a most impious, & infamous companie of condemned hereticks, & wicked malefactors" (2: *7v). The double calendar, then, works something like Joseph Hall's book of Characters of Vertues and Vices (1608): Persons predictably contrasts the Catholic saints--"a most noble ranke of holy servants of Christ, venerable for their antiquity, renowned for their sanctity, illustrious for their miracles, and most of them famous also for science and learning--with Foxe's "poor rabble of ... phantasticall people proud, willfull, and obstinate in their particular opinions" (3:20), A typical set of contraries are the saints commemorated on January 21:

Catholic--d. 304 "Agnetis virg. & mart. This was a noble Roman virgin, who being of most tender age suffered martyrdome in Rome under Diocletian, whome all the holy fathers do wonderfully commend in their books and sermons, as namely S. Hierome ep.8 ad Demetriad. and S. Ambrose serm.90 and lib.1 offic. Cap. 41 and S. Austen serm. 101."

Protestant--d. 1556 "William Water, and Ioane Sole mart. The first of these was an artificer, and the second a poore ignorant woman, and burned for like opinions as the former [Zwinglians Ioane Catmer and Agnes Snoth], being both of them so obstinate and willfull, as albeit they understood not what they denyed, yet would they needs dy for defence of their fancyes." (2: a7v, a8r)

The pairing exemplifies Persons's technique of juxtaposition: St. Agnes is "a noble Roman" ("noble" is Persons's adjective of choice for Catholic saints), as opposed to the "poore ignorant" Joan. Like the vast majority of his Catholic saints, Agnes lived in the early centuries of the Christian era. In the first six months (January to June) I count only fourteen Catholic saints in Persons's calendar who died after 800 C.E. The Catholic calendar, in addition to presenting statistically overwhelming numbers--3,704 saints, though only forty-seven of them British, against 456 for the Protestants--is well-stocked with nobility and hierarchs, including eleven kings and queens, thirty-five popes, 100 bishops, as compared with a mere six bishops and one king (Edward VI) for the Protestants. Persons's classism is often joined to promotion of Catholic learning, best seen in a list of twelve of "the greatest disputers of this ranke against the Cath. Bishops, and other learned men," including a cook, a cowherd, an artificer, a tailor, a blacksmith, an iron-maker, a miller's wife, a married woman, a cutler's wife, a poor woman, a spinster, and a "doctrix" named Alice Driver, who taught "new opinions" to another Foxian martyr, Alexander Gouch, a weaver. Driver, Persons writes, "was so malepart and contumelious before the judges, as first her eares were cut of, for calling Q. Mary Iesabell, and after many disputations with diuers learned men, she would needs burne for her new doctrine" (2: ******r-*******r). Classist and sexist jokes attempt to belittle Foxe's humble exemplars: George Tankerfield was "a cook who, being condemned, did communicate himselfe before he went to the fire, with a loafe of bread and a pynt of Malmesy, without help of a minister"; Elizabeth Felkes was a serving maid, "but so forward in the new ghospellinge spirit of the dayes, as she became a mistresse in perverting others"; Richard Bayfield was an apostate monk who, after being converted by two bricklayers, "tooke a woman, cast of his coule, and became a book-seller" (2: ***8r, ****3r, xxxxxx6r). Foxe's saints, to summarize, were madmen and vagrants, commoners who, Persons claims, disputed and overcame learned members of the clergy. Or they were incompatible sectarians and heretics--Waldensians, Albigensians, Lollards, Lutherans Zwinglians, Calvinists, etc.--"where every man canonizeth or condemneth according to his own fancy," without the "great and long search," the "many hundred persons examined," and "many records ... of the life and actions of the person" required by the Catholic canonization process (3:366, 368).

The "pedagogical" counter-history of English Christianity, wherein Catholic readers might locate themselves as English subjects, thus concludes with a "performative" devotional calendar of the saints through which these same English readers can identify themselves as Catholics by a process of comparing and contrasting Protestant and Catholic images of sanctity. Persons is evidently uneasy, however, with his satirical method in the double calendar. At the opening of part 3 he notes that the contradictory nature of the two calendars might confuse the reader, "which thing Saint Paul unto his scholler Tymothy calleth subuersionem audientium, the very subversion or overthrow of them that heare" (2: Alr). Thus, in the very process of correcting Foxian history Persons cannot avoid reminding his readers of "heterogeneous histories of contending peoples, antagonistic authorities, and tense cultural locations." While claiming that the only sure remedy for these conflicts is a return to the true church, Persons is forced, under the circumstances of Protestant rule, to produce a provisional form of authority by dividing his three-decker octavo treatise so as to make it "more manual and portable" and by packing his volumes with devotional and interpretive aids to assure proper use of the calendars in the absence of an institutional authority (his treatise will not be placed in churches by order of the government). The latter include a historical survey of learned recommendations on the proper honoring of saints; forms of prayer devised for specific kinds of saints (the Virgin, apostles, doctors of the church, etc.); a scholarly discussion of the motives and methods of early church calendars; a survey of the various sects that have disturbed the church in the past 400 years; an analysis of the heretical character; a critique of Holinshed, Harrison, and Hooker on the so-called first heresy in England; and a month-by-month commentary on Foxe's calendar, including Persons's own narratives correcting Foxe--e.g., Anne Askew: "a coy dame.... she left the company of her husband ... to gad up & downe the countrey a ghospelling & ghossipinge" (2:495).

Delegitimatizing Foxe, then, is perforce the work of a writer-inexile, himself constrained to write a history without all the pertinent documents, which, he admits, remain in the control of English Protestants. (41) The book Persons produces is thus an unstable mixture of historical scholarship, ecclesiastical satire, and devotional manual. The dedications to the three volumes that comprise the Three Conversions suggest the trajectory of Persons's project: first, the "pedagogical" parts 1 and 2, dedicated to the Catholics of England, including the additional preface on James's accession; second, the first half of the "performative" calendar, dedicated to English Protestants, who are dishonored by Foxe's canon; and third, the second half of the calendar, dedicated "to the glorious Company of English Saints in heaven." Forced to rely on Foxe's text, with occasional support from chroniclers like Holinshed who are elsewhere in the text blasted as heretical historians, for accounts of the Protestant martyrs, Persons constructs a provisional English Catholic church of fact and imagination.

The reclamation of Catholic writing in the English Renaissance carries canonical and interpretive implications analogous to those introduced by postcolonial theory and criticism. Alison Shell's books exemplify the work of recovering the voices of the other that we associate with one version of postcolonial studies. Heretofore invisible recusant women and church-papists have also been brought into the picture. (42) Other historians and critics are working along the lines of Orientalism, demonstrating how Catholicism and its writers were misrepresented through various strategies of othering. (43) In the literary canon, one thinks immediately of the marginalization of Southwell and, even more, the exoticization of Crashaw, the great other of seventeenth-century poetry, whose work, as Richard Rambuss has shown, shares important features with the poetry of Donne and Herbert. (44)

The Jesuit missionaries comprised, of course, a distinct minority of the minority, and, as I noted at the outset, they came in for their share of vilification from their fellow Catholics, as well as from Protestant enemies. I hope to have illuminated the supple, yet fraught character of Persons's rewriting of Foxe in the Three Conversions by viewing it in light of some key postcolonial categories. His corrective revision of Foxe offers a powerful counter-history of the English Church in parts 1 and 2, while the double calendar of part 3 changes the positions of minority and majority: Foxe's belittled ranks of English saints are ranged against the overwhelming force of centuries of Catholic sainthood, represented in models of nobility, learning, and virtue intended to outshine their Protestant counterparts. (45) Against Acts and Monuments, installed in the churches of Reformation England, Persons circulates his "manual and portable" octavos in hope of another conversion.

Kent State University


(1) John Bossy's influential works include "The Character of Elizabethan Catholicism," Past and Present 21 (1962): 39-59, and The English Catholic Community 1570-1850 (London: Darnton, Longman & Todd, 1975); Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), "The Continuity of Catholicism in the English Reformation," Past and Present 93 (1981): 37-69, and "From Monopoly to Minority Catholicism in Early Modern England," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 31 (1981): 129-47; J. J. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984); Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (Yale U. Press, 1992); Peter Lake, "Anti-Popery: The Structure of a Prejudice," Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics 1603-1642, ed. Richard Crust and Ann Hughes (London: Longman, 1989), 72-106; Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought 1600-1640 (Cambridge U. Press, 1995). Recent literary and cultural studies include Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660 (Cambridge U. Press, 1999) and Oral Culture and Catholicism in Early Modern England (Cambridge U. Press, 2008); Arthur F. Marotti, Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England (Notre Dame, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 2005), and Marotti, ed., Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism in Early Modern English Texts (London: Macmillan, 1999); Frances E. Dolan, Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender, and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture (Cornell U. Press, 1999); Ronald Corthell, Frances E. Dolan, Christopner Highley, and Arthur F. Marotti, eds, Catholic Culture in Early Modern England (Notre Dame, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 2007); Scott R. Pilarz, Robert Southwell and the Mission of Literature, 1561-1595: Writing Reconciliation (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004); Anne Sweeney, Robert Southwell: Snow in Arcadia, Redrawing the English Lyric Landscape, 1586-95 (Manchester U. Press, 2006); Victor Houliston, Catholic Resistance in Elizabethan England: Robert Persons's Jesuit Polemic, 1580-1610 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007); Raymond Tumbleson, Catholicism in the English Protestant Imagination: Nationalism, Religion,-and Literature, 1660-1745 (Cambridge U. Press, 1998), Dennis Flynn, John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 1995); Ceil Sullivan, Dismembered Rhetoric: English Recusant Writing, 1580-1603 (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press, 1995); and Lowell Gallagher, Medusa's Gaze: Casuistry and Conscience in the Renaissance (Stanford U. Press, 1991).

(2) Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, 2.

(3) Louis Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (Yale U. Press, 1954); Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Princeton U. Press, 1979).

(4) Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (U. of Chicago Press. 1980); John N. King, English Reformation Literature: the Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (Princeton U. Press, 1982); Alan Sinfield, Literature in Protestant England, 1560-1660 (London: Croom Helm, 1983).

(5) Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (U. of California Press, 1988), and Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton U. Press, 2001).

(6) On representations of Catholicism, see, for example, the essays by Marotti, Julian Yates, John Watkins, and Frances E. Dolan in Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism. On Catholic self-fashioning and inwardness, see Katherine Eisaman Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (U. of Chicago Press, 1995), esp. her introduction and chap. 3, and Elizabeth Hanson, "Torture and Truth in Renaissance England," Representations 34 (1991): 53-84. On subversion, see Corthell, "'The Secrecy of Man': Recusant Discourse and the Elizabethan Subject," ELR 19 (1989): 272-90; and Steven Mullaney, "Lying Like Truth: Riddle Representation and Treason in Renaissance England," ELH47 (1980): 32-47.

(7) Lake and Questier, "Puritans, Papists, and the 'Public Sphere' in Early Modern England: The Edmund Campion Affair in Context," The Journal of Modern History (2000): 587-627.

(8) On the importance of the English Catholic diaspora to an understanding of early modern Catholicism in England, see Mark Netzloff, "The English Roman Life: Representing the English Catholic Diaspora in Early Modern Europe," in Catholic Culture in Early Modern England, 236-60.

(9) Jesuit writing from this period is included in the massive collection of English Catholic writing collected by A. F. Allison and D. M Rogers under the general title of English Recusant Literature 1558-1640, 532 vols. (Menston, England: Scolar Press, 1969-78). See also Allison and Rogers, The Contemporary Printed Literature of the English Counter-Reformation between 1558 and 1640, 2 vols. (Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1989-94), and A Catalogue of Catholics Books in English Printed Abroad or Secretly in England, 1558-1640 (London: Dawson, 1964).

(10) See Marotti, Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy, 44, 53.

(11) The locus classicus of "writing back" is Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 1989). This work, and the notion of writing back have been the subject of much criticism and refashioning. See, for example, Patrick Colm Hogan, Empire and Poetic Voice: Cognitive and Cultural Studies of Literary Tradition and Colonialism (Albany: SUNY Press, 2004), 31-51. Hogan prefers the term "corrective revision" (244). Othering is a pervasive theme in the field; an originary text is Edward Said, Orientalism (1978; 2nd ed. London: Penguin, 1995). Hybridity, also much critiqued by postcolonial theorists, is usually associated with Homi Bhabha's deconstructive approach to postcolonial identities as continually created and recreated from multiple discourses; see Bhabha, "DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern Nation," in Nation and Narration, ed. Homi K. Bhabha (New York: Routledge, 1990), 291-322. For a recent critique, see Benita Parry, Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique (London: Routledge, 2004), 55-74.

(12) Shell, Catholicism, Controversy, 18.

(13) The quotation is from Richard Kieckhefer's review article, "A Church Reformed though not Deformed," The Journal of Religion, 74 (1994): 241, See also John Dillenberger, review of The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, by Eamon Duffy, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63 (1995): 149-51.

(14) G.R. Elton, review of The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, by Eamon Duffy, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 44 (1993): 721.

(15) Quoted from Bagsaw's A Sparing Discovery of Our English Jesuits (1601) in Peter Holmes, Resistance and Compromise: The Political Thought of the Elizabethan Catholics (Cambridge U. Press, 1982), 193. The Appellants were a group of secular priests in England who in 1598-99 appealed to Rome for the removal of George Blackwell, who supported the Jesuits' anti-Elizabeth policy, as superior of the secular priests from foreign seminaries sent to England. Blackwell's title was "archpriest," and thus this conflict between the seculars and the Jesuits is known as the "archpriest controversy."

(16) John Bossy, "The Heart of Robert Persons," The Reckoned Expense: Edmund Campion and the Early English Jesuits, ed. Thomas M. McCoog (Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 1996), 155. On Persons's commitment to "conversion" by force, see Michael Carrafiello, "English Catholicism and the Jesuit Mission of 1580-81," The Historical Journal 37 (1994): 761-74.

(17) Haigh "From Monopoly to Minority," 129. See also Haigh, "The Continuity of Catholicism in the English Reformation, Past and Present 93 (1981): 37-69. Bossy's thesis is presented in "The Character of Elizabethan Catholicism," Past and Present 21 (1962): 39-69 and The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850 (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1976). Michael Carrafiello has critiqued both the Bossy and Haigh theses, arguing that they incorrectly assume a pastoral purpose for the Jesuit mission when in fact it was primarily political in nature. See Michael L. Carrafiello, Robert Parsons and English Catholicism, 1580-1610 (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna U. Press, 1998).

(18) Bossy, "The Character of Elizabethan Catholicism," 47; Haigh, "From Monopoly to Minority," 147. I have discussed the intertwined nature of the historical and the historiographical controversies in "Robert Persons and the Writer's Mission," in Marotti, Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism, 35-62.

(19) Bhabha, "DissemiNation," 296, 297. The phrase "highly adaptable and mobile warriors" is quoted from Baker, Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (U. of Chicago Press, 1987), 77, who in turn is quoting from Richard Price, Maroon Societies.

(20) Persons's careful parsing of equivocation is found in A Treatise Tending to Mitigation towardes Catholicke-Subjectes in England (1608). On equivocation and resistance, see Mullaney, "Lying Like Truth," 32-47, and, more recently, Olga L. Valbuena, Subjects to the King's Divorce: Equivocation, Infidelity, and Resistance in Early Modern England (Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, 2003).

(21) It should be emphasized that oppositional writing and publishing were established as central activities of the Jesuit mission even before its pastoral work began in earnest. On this point see Nancy Pollard Brown, "Robert Southwell: The Mission of the Written Word," The Reckoned Expense: Edmund Campion and the Early English Jesuits, ed. Thomas M. McCoog (Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 1996), 193-213.

(22) See Thomas M. McCoog, "'Playing the Champion': The Role of Disputation in the Jesuit Mission," The Reckoned Expense, 119-39.

(23) I follow the account in A. C. Southern, Elizabethan Recusant Prose, 1559-1582 (London: Sands, 1950), 149-50. On the circumstances of publication and character of the statements prepared by Campion and Persons, see also McCoog, "'Playing the Champion.'"

(24) Lake and Questier, "Puritans, Papists, and the 'Public Sphere,'" 607. Campion's text was published in an anti-Catholic pamphlet by Meredith Hanmer as The great bragge and challenge of M. Champion a Iesuite (London, 1581).

(25) Peter Holmes, Resistance and Compromise: The Political Thought of the Elizabethan Catholics (Cambridge U. Press, 1982). See Houliston, Catholic Resistance, for a comprehensive account of Persons's works.

(26) Corthell, "Robert Persons and the Writer's Mission," 35-62.

(27) On "corrective revision," see Hogan, Empire and Poetic Voice, 31-51: "though typically viewed as politically progressive ... corrective revision often repeats the oppressive ideology it is designed to oppose" (245). Persons's writing, as already noted, advocates a range of responses to the Protestant regime, from active resistance to pleas for toleration. In the Three Conversions his representations of Foxe's martyrs, as we will see, often display a contempt bordering on the oppressive.

(28) On the many editions of Fox's work and the process whereby Acts and Monuments achieved the status of orthodoxy, see Jesse M. Lander, Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England (Cambridge U. Press, 2006), 56-79.

(29) In addition to the material directed against Foxe, Three Conversions also includes a revised version of Persons's account of a public disputation in 1600 between the Bishop of Evreux and the Huguenot Philippe du Plessis Mornay (added to vol. 2), and "A re-view of ten publicke Disputations ... under K. Edward & Qu.Mary, concerning some principall points in Religion" that inspired the Foxian martyrs (added to Volume 3). Houliston, Catholic Resistance, 96, views these additions as complementary to the main body of the treatise, "defining and clarifying the faith for which the 'true' [i.e., Catholic] saints and martyrs died from earliest times, and which the pseudo-martyrs rejected." The disputation of 1600 hinged on "Certayn pointes of corrupting and falsifying authors," a central claim underlying Persons's critique of Foxe. N. D. [Robert Persons], A Treatise of Three Conversions of England, from Paganisme to Christian Religion, 3 vols., part 3, (St. Omer, France, 1604), 2:Alr.

(30) On this debate, see Arthur B. Ferguson, Clio Unbound: Perception of the Social and Cultural Past in Renaissance England (Duke U. Press, 1979), chap. 6, and F. J. Levy Tudor Historical Thought (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1967), 107ff.

(31) A Treatise of the Three Conversions of England from Paganism to Christian Religion, part 1, vol. 1 (St. Omer, France, 1603), sig. ***4r; subsequent citations to the St. Omer edition of 1603-04 appear parenthetically by volume and page or signature.

(32) For discussions of the calendars, see Anne Dillon, The Construction of Martyrdom in the English Catholic Community, 1535-1603 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002), 323-69; Ceri Sullivan, "'Oppressed by the Force of Truth': Robert Persons Edits John Foxe," John Foxe: An Historical Perspective, ed. David Loades (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 1999), 154-66.

(33) See Levy, Tudor Historical Thought, 83, who also relates this understanding of Constantine as a precedent for Henry VIII's establishment of an English Church to "the otherwise strangely exorbitant insistence by the Tudor chroniclers on the British origin of Constantine and his mother, Helena." See Houliston, Catholic Resistance, 101, for another instance of Persons's use of inversion of Foxe in his argument about the early history of the English church. Fluellen's typological account of "Alexander the Pig" and Henry V is found in Henry V, 4. 7.11-50.

(34) I am here following Fredric Jameson's characterization of symbolic production in The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Cornell U. Press, 1981), 79.

(35) See The Jesuit's Memorial, for the Intended Reformation of England, ed. Edward Gee (London, 1690), also titled The Jesuit's Memorial for the Destruction of the Church of England. Persons's text apparently circulated in manuscript, or at least it was known to exist, as it was attacked by "Appellant" writers in the archpriest controversy. For illuminating analyses of the Memorial, see J. J. Scarisbrick, "Robert Persons's Plans for the 'True' Reformation of England," Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honor of J. H. Plumb, ed. Neil McKendrick (London: Europa, 1974), 19-42; and Houliston, Catholic Resistance, 88-93.

(36) Bhabha, "DissemiNation," 300, 299.

(37) Bhabha, "DissemiNation," 294, 297.

(38) See, e.g., the discussion of "a forged Gildas" in Three Conversions, 1:85-86.

(39) For an explicit statement of this point, see Three Conversions, 1:162.

(40) On the issue of seventeenth-century prose styles, see the essays in Stanley E. Fish, ed., Seventeenth-Century Prose: Modern Essays in Criticism (Oxford U. Press, 1971), 3-235.

(41) See Houliston, Catholic Resistance, 93-95, on Persons's sources and his unfinished ecclesiastical history, Certamen Ecclesiae Anglicanae, of 5,000 manuscript pages.

(42) See Dolan, Whores of Babylon; Alexandra Walsham, Church Papists: Catholicism, Conformity and Confessional Polemic in Early Modern England (Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 1993).

(43) See Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed; Lake, "Anti-Popery"; Marotti, Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy; and essays by Marotti, Shell, King, and Dolan in Marotti, Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism.

(44) Richard Rambuss, "Pleasure and Devotion: The Body of Jesus in Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric," Queering the Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (Duke U. Press, 1994), 253-79. For important reassessments of Southwell, see Pilarz, Robert Southwell, and Sweeney, Robert Southwell. See also Shell's chapter on Crashaw and Southwell, "Catholic Poetics and the Protestant Canon," in Catholicism, Controversy, 56-104.

(45) For an overview and critique of "outdoing the colonizer" in postcolonial writing, see Hogan, Empire and Poetic Voice, 157-96. Persons's text, of course, inverts the usual pattern m postcolonial literature whereby a great canonical forebear is outdone by a subaltern writer; in the double calendar and accompanying apparatus, Persons registers outrage that the canonical saints have been displaced by a motley assemblage of dissidents and heretics.
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