Figure 1: John Gipkin, Painting of Paul’s Cross (1616). Image courtesy of the Bridgeman Art Library, New York, and the Society of Antiquaries, London.
DONNE’S GUNPOWDER DAY SERMON IN PERFORMANCE
This page holds links to two complete recordings of Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon for November 5, 1622. Both replicate, in effect, the setting Gipkin shows us, with about 250 or so people in attendance.
The first recording places us at the back of the crowd, at ground level, about 50 feet from the preacher, sitting or standing in the midst of the crowd gathered for this occasion.
The second recording places us higher up, above the crowd, in the Sermon House in the box for the most distinguished guests.
Each recording of the sermon — lasting about two hours and 10 minutes — is divided up into 9 segments, shaped by the ringing of the cathedral clock, a bell struck by mechanical hammers to toll the quarter hours.
Each segment is therefore approximately 15 minutes in length, making the entire sermon more accessible. One can listen to the nine segments sequentially or individually, making the sermon performance more accessible.
This recording places us places us about 50 feet from the preacher, sitting on a bench among those willing and able to pay a fee for such comfort. We are perhaps wrapped in a heavy cloak against the chill and damp of a November day in London.
Figure 3: Paul’s Cross from 50 feet away. From the Visual Model, constructed by Joshua Stephens, rendered by Jordan Grey.
Depending on the size of the crowd, we may be standing among “the meanest Sonnes of thy sonne, in this Assembly,” in the area behind the seats.at the back of the crowd.
In either case, we are at ground level, approximately in the spot indicated by the red dot in the above diagram of Paul’s Churchyard.
Figure 2: St Paul’s Churchyard, Crowd of 250 people. From the Visual Model, constructed by Joshua Stephens.
The second recording places us higher up, above the crowd, in the Sermon House in the box for the most distinguished guests. In Gipkin’s painting, this person is supposed to be James I, in a scene from 1616, a royal visitation to which Donne makes reference in his Gunpowder Day sermon (“he visited these walls”).
Figure 4: Paul’s Cross, as seen from the Sermon House, From the Visual Model, constructed by Joshua Stephens, rendered by Jordan Grey.
On November 5th, 1622, however, the person sitting in this box (“the Lieutenant of thy Lieutenant”) was likely to have been the Lord Mayor of London, in early November of1622 Sir Edward Barkham, a member of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers and Master of the Drapers Company who had served as Sheriff of London in 1611-12 and who had been knighted on June 16, 1622.
These two positions have been chosen as listening positions because they represent two ends of the social scale among the crowd gathered to hear Donne’s sermon but also because they seem to represent the two most dramatically different positions in terms of acoustics.
The position on the ground is representative of other positions on the ground, exhibiting the least reverberation. The listening position in the Sermon House, on the other hand, demonstrates substantially greater reverberation.