By John Spencer. Full title: A discourse concerning prodigies; wherein the vanity of presages by them is reprehended, and their true and proper ends asserted and vindicated.
Michael Robinson • Link
Spencer, John, 1630-1693.
A discourse concerning prodigies: wherein the vanity of presages by them is reprehended, and their true and proper ends asserted and vindicated. By John Spencer, B.D. Fellow of Corpus Christi Colledge in Cambridge.
[London] : Printed by John Field for Will. Graves bookseller, and are to be sold at his shop over against Great S. Maries Church in Cambridge, 1663.
, 105,  p. ; 4⁰. Wing (CD-ROM, 1996), S4947
The Pepysian Library contains a copy of the second, expanded, edition (PL 920):-
A discourse concerning prodigies: wherein the vanity of presages by them is reprehended, and their true and proper ends asserted and vindicated. The second edition corrected and inlarged. To which is added a short treatise concerning vulgar prophecies. By John Spencer, B.D. Fellow of Corpus Christi Colledg in Cambridge.
London : printed by J. Field for Will. Graves over against Great S. Maries Church in Cambridge, 1665.
, 408, , 136,  p. ; 8⁰.Wing (CD-ROM, 1996), S4948
A discourse concerning prodigies: wherein the vanity of presages by them is reprehended, and their true and proper ends asserted and vindicated. By John Spencer 1630-1693.
[Cambridge?]: Printed by John Field for Will. Graves, 1663.
Complete text from Early English Books Online:
John Gadbury defined a prodigy as, ‘a thing that comes to pass beyond the altitude of man’s imagination and begets in him a miraculous contemplation, yea, often horror and amazement’.
Incidents in reports fell into categories.
The ‘celestial wonders’ involved apparitions of pitched battles, swords and balls of fire, irregular planetary occurrences, duplicate suns and moons, rainbows at night, comets, meteors and blazing stars.
Earthly wonders included freak weather, such as rain turning to blood.
Deformed births or 'monstrous' animals and children were popular, and another category covered 'strange accidents', such as sudden or painful illness and death, which were punishments from God.
Most 17th-century observers agreed on the meaning of these wonders. They were signs of divine displeasure, and warnings of imminent disaster, or, as the Parliamentarian John Vicars explained, 'most apparent prints and even visible footsteps of God's highly conceived indignation and provoked patience'.
Inevitably events of the 1640s and 1650s led to interest in prodigies. As the English sought explanations for the civil war, regicide, the overturning of cherished traditional beliefs and customs, reports of wonders proliferated, and the urge to interpret them became intense.
In Discourse Concerning Prodigies, Spencer said: "... as for the common sort of people, Prodigy hath always appeared to them a word clothed about with death, and a comet creates in them more solemn thoughts than Hell doth."
Credulity was not confined to the lower class. Between 1640 and 1662, political and religious factions used reports of wonders to justify their own beliefs, and heap condemnation on their enemies; they invested money and effort, and often subjected themselves to danger, to produce amusing diversions. Those who reported wonders may have believed in them, and relied on a high level of credulity among their readership. However, by tying wonders to partisan positions, they undermined that credulity.
The first to assault belief in prodigies and their significance as divine messages was Spencer's Discourse Concerning Prodigies.
Influenced by the uses made of wonders during the previous 25 years, Spencer commented: "Men's minds, disturbed with love or hatred (as it often falls out in religious differences), each party superstitiously interprets all accidents in favor of itself ..."
Spencer likened prodigies to 'mercenary soldiers', which 'may be easily brought to fight on either side in any case', and counselled his readers to: "... leave off ... the entailing salvation solely upon their own Party, and not to go about to hedge in the Holy Dove by appropriating the graces and influences thereof to themselves. For then they would not be so prone to believe God's judgments design no higher than the service of their sorry passions, parties and persuasions."
I'm having mixed results with this link today. The article is by Chris Durston, published in History Today Volume 37 Issue 10 October 1987.
If it gives you trouble, copy, paste and relink this entire link (I've put a break in the middle so the Pepys site doesn't cut it short): http://www.historytoday.com/chris-durston/ signs-and-wonders-and-english-civil-war
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.