Wednesday, August 4, 2010

MHCC 33: Matthew Henry's Hair

In Matthew Henry's commentary, on the subject of appropriate hair length for men, one may naturally turn to 1 Corinthians 11 and read the comments of Henry's continuator, Simon Browne (1680-1732), on verses 13-15:

He enforces his argument from the natural covering provided for the woman (v. 13-15): "Judge in yourselves—consult your own reason, hearken to what nature suggests—is it comely for a woman to pray to God uncovered? Should there not be a distinction kept up between the sexes in wearing their hair, since nature has made one? Is it not a distinction which nature has kept up among all civilized nations? The woman's hair is a natural covering; to wear it long is a glory to her; but for a man to have long hair, or cherish it, is a token of softness and effeminacy." Note, It should be our concern, especially in Christian and religious assemblies, to make no breach upon the rules of natural decency.

Browne's emphasis on the distinction between the sexes with respect to hair length is consistent with what Henry has written elsewhere in the same commentary.

On Deut. 22.5, Henry writes:

The distinction of sexes by the apparel is to be kept up, for the preservation of our own and our neighbour's chastity, v. 5. Nature itself teaches that a difference be made between them in their hair (1 Cor. xi. 14), and by the same rule in their clothes, which therefore ought not to be confounded, either in ordinary wear or occasionally.

And on Ezek. 44.20, he writes:

Concerning their hair; in that they must avoid extremes on both hands (v. 20): They must not shave their heads, in imitation of the Gentile priests, and as the priests of the Romish church do; nor, on the other hand, must they suffer their locks to grow long, as the beaux, or that they might be thought Nazarites, when really they were not; but they must be grave and modest, must poll their heads and keep their hair short. If a man, especially a minister, wear long hair, it is not becoming (1 Cor. xi. 14); it is effeminate.

But are Henry's words consistent with the picture we have of him? J.B. Williams, in the preface to his Memoir of Matthew Henry wrote (pp. xv-xvi):

It is to be regretted that no verbal description of Mr. Henry's person has been preserved; and the more so, as the portrait which accompanied the Exposition, and which has been frequently copied, was not taken from a picture upon which full reliance can be placed. A pen and ink sketch only, the work of the engraver (Vertue), and now possessed by my excellent friend the Reverend Dr. Raffles, of Liverpool, is said to have been used upon that occasion.
On this account the engraving from an original picture, in my own possession, and now first published, will, it is hoped, be acceptable. The painting was executed when Mr. Henry was in his vigour at Chester; and is expressive of the animation and intelligence, for which he was pre-eminently distinguished. As it represents him in a wig, it must have been drawn subsequent to January 22, 1707-08.

We know that his father, Philip Henry, was strongly personally opposed to men wearing wigs. Matthew Henry's own memoir of his father records (p. 233) that:

He would never be persuaded to wear a perriwig or border, though he had but very little hair, and was like Elisha for a bald-head. He sometimes said, -- As long as I have three hairs of my own, I will never wear any body else's.

I have written before about the mixed views of Puritans towards male wigs, even noting the difference of opinion between Increase Mather and his son Cotton. Here we see Matthew's practice -- recall that he studied law and was around wigged jurists -- differed from his father's.

Yet, under his wig, Matthew's hair was cut as one would expect from his remarks above. His Diary for January 22, 1707-08, for instance, notes:

This day I was quite over-ruled by Brother H. and some of my friends, to cut off my hair, I having of late been very uneasy with coldness in my head, tooth-ache, and at present a deafness. I had purposed not to have done it, but feared, lest persisting in my refusal against the most earnest advice of my physician and friends, should arise from a secret pride in my own hair, and an affectation of singularity.

Although his wearing a wig is a distinct issue worthy of its own consideration, Henry was not personally inconsistent with respect to his writings and the length of his own hair.

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