Leonard Withington.

The Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) online

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Ecce Somniator venit I

Vulgate, Gen. xxxvii. 19,






Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1836,

By Perkins & Marvin,

in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.


The critics have been very much perplexed to know
the design and connection of the ninth eclogue of Virgil.
Some of the lines are exquisite ; but, like a heap of
flowers, they seem to be thro^vn together 'without order
or sequence. I thmk I know the secret ; and I have
discovered it by being in somewhat of a similar condition
to that of the gi-eat poet. iThe case was, that he had on
his note-book a collection of splendid fragments ; lines,
which lie had laid by, partly translated and partly original,
to be worked into some of his more elaborate poems ;
but Hot finding a convenient place for them, and believing
that they were too good to be thrown away, he was
driven to the awkward expedient of telling the stoiy of
a poet, turned from his home, who sung these lines and
those ; this fragment and that ; and thus he found a string
to tie his discordant flowers together. Such was the ex-
pedient which Virgil invented, to introduce imity into
the midst of variety.

Will poor John Oldbug violate the laws of modesty,
if he should hint a comparison between himself and the
first of poets ? The resemblance, after aU, is only in an


accidental circumstance. For nearly thirty years, the
writer of these volumes has been the anonymous corres-
pondent of diverse newspapers, reviews, medleys, and
magazines. He has ^vritten a great many pieces, which
have always been read and admired by one reader at
least ; and to him, it must be confessed, they seemed too
good to be lost. Some of tliem were the production of
juvenile vivacity ; some the reflections of more sober age.
All of them were the random strokes of one, who was a
volunteer in the literary corps. My object was to collect
these forsaken plants, scattered along the past path of my
life, and present them to the reader's mercy, in one basket
of summer fruit.

In doing this, I have attempted to weave my fragments
into something of a uniform piece ; and^'herein I suppose
myself to resemble Virgil in the fore-mentioned eclogue.
It would be vanity indeed, to pretend that my tessalated
pavement is as beautiful as his ; but I trust it is no great
arrogance to claim for it as much art in union of design,
as is found in his patchwork song.

It has always seemed to me one of the most enviable
powers in an author, to hang the solidities of wisdom
behind a gauze work of sportive figures, wi-ought by
fancy, and, through the medium of the reader's fancy,
making their way more effectually to the heart. This is
not so easy a task as some imagine. I will find you
twenty men, who wUl write systems of metaphysics, over
which the world shall ya^vn, and doze, and sleep, and
pronounce their authors oracles of wisdom ; for one that
can trifle like Shakspeare, and teach the truest philoso-
phy, even when he seems to trifle most. The influence

of literature on youthful minds is immense ; and the
fault of the Butlers, the Congreves, the Swifts, the Field-
ings, the Smollets, the Stems of the writing world, is not
that they surrounded the fruits of their principles with
the richest blossoms of their wit ; but it was, too often,
that their principles were wrong. What a world should
we have had, had genius poured its combined power in
one good direction !

In these volumes, I have attempted a difficult task ;
and if I shall be pronounced to have failed, I shall neither
be grieved nor surprised. I have attempted to remember,
in every page, that I am an American ; and to write to
the wants and manners of just such a people as those
among whom I was born. I have always blamed our
authors, for forgetting the woods, the vales, the hills and
streams, the manners and minds, among which their
earliest impressions were received, and their first and
most innocent hours were passed. A sprig of white-
weed, raised in our own soil, should be more sweet than
the marjoram of Idalian bowers; and the screaking of
the night-hawk's wings, as he stoops in our evening sky,
should make better melody in our ears than the softest
warblings of a foreign nightingale. If I have sometimes
verged to too much homeliness and simplicity, my only
apology is, in the language of Scripture — / dwell among
mine own people.

There is one species of vn-iting, which vast numbers
of readers do not understand enough to see its object, or
relish its beauty. I allude to that kind of instruction
which comes from picturing ; moral picturing, where
the lesson is not direct but oblique. I was once sitting


by an eveniDg fire, with a j'oimg lady of respectable
talents, and fond of books, who was readmg the Specta-
tor. She broke out into an expression of astonishment —
What a silly book the Spectator is ! " Let me see," said
I. " What is the passage w^hich appears so foolish ? "
She was reading the 475th number ; a pretended letter
from a young lady to the author, of this import. " Now,
Sir, the thing is this : Mr. Shapely is the prettiest gen-
tleman about to%vn. He is very tall, but not too tall,
neither. He dances like an angel. His mouth is made,
I don't know how, but it is the prettiest mouth I ever
saw in my life. He is always laughing, for he has an
infinite deal of wit. If you did but see how he rolls his
stockings ! " &c. This was the folly. I asked the lady
if it was not an admirable imitation of just the maimer
in which such a character would write. The question
seemed to open a new world to her thoughts ; and she
was obliged to confess that what she had censured as
folly, was one of the most exquisite eflfbrts of genius.

What I have done in these pages I pretend not to say ;
I only know what I have endeavored. Go, little book,
and if thou art found innocently amusing, or sometimes
instructive — live ; but if critics condemn, and the world
ratifies their sentence, die ; and thy humbled sire will
drop no tear on thy grave, though for thee there should
be no resurrection.


Number. Page.

I. Introduction — Account of the Author — His Title to the
* Appellation of Puritan — New England Manners not yet

Described — The Puritan's Hopes, 9

II, A Puritan's Library — Addison — His Merits — Moral Lessons

Weakened, when seen in a Foreign Dress, 17

III. Hannah Oldbug's Character — Effects of British Novels on a

Yankee Lass, 24

IV. Religion — Puzzling-irons and Chandeliers, ..*... 35

V. Law, a coarse conception, derived from material objects, . 43

VI. Spiritual Law, a refined idea, derived from the intercourse

of spirit with spirit, 49

VII. A Fop on a Sick Bed — Vain Repentance, 58

VIII. Credulous People— Abner Alltail, 66

IX. The Art of Doubting, . . . . 78

X. The Art of Solving, 88

XI. Dark Thoughts— A Vision, 99

XII. Story of a Poor Girl— A Workhouse Scene, 106

XIII. The Wounded Spirit, a Poem 115

XIV. The Education of a Sick Child, 126


XV. Education— The Folly of Minute Theories, 133

XVI. Keeping up Appearances — Pride and Poveity, 139

XVII. Old-fashioned Thoughts— A Hymn on Humility, .... 150

XVIII. A Jack of All Trades, or Yankee Life, 156

XIX. Puritans — Their Views Explained, and Characters Defended, 163

XX. Republicanism — Its Nakedness and Simplicity — Anecdote

of the Legislature in New York, . . i 174

XXI. Historians — Their Fallacy — Always Unjust to a Defeated

Party, 180

XXII. Going to the Theatre — The Impressions of a Puritan Boy, . 188

XXIII. Austerity and Republicanism, 195

XXIV. Puritan Amusements, 202

XXV. A Question Proposed and Answered, 209

XXVI. A Letter from an English Friend, 216

XXVII. The Answer, 229

XXVIII. The Story of Solomon Packwell, 229

XXIX. Biography — Its Fallacy — The Character of Mr. James Back-
ground, 236

XXX. The Value of General Principles, 243


No. 1.

So when a smooth expanse receives imprest,
Calm nature's image on its watery breast,
Down bend the banks, the trees depending grow,
And skies beneath with answering colors glow ;
But if a stone the gentle sea divide,
Swift rising circles curl on every side,
And glimmering fragments of a broken sun,
Banks, trees and skies in thick disorder run.


I SUPPOSE that all my readers have seen that love-
liest object in creation, described in my motto. If
ever they have been out to Jamaica Plain, or taken
a ride to Fresh Pond, in calm weather, they must
have remarked the quivering landscape of the nether
world, which poets have so often pictured, and from
which moralists and philosophers have so often de-
rived their descriptions and images. There is found
a fairer world, adorned with milder colors, and
tinged with a softer light. No night obscures or
storms disturb it. It seems built for the imagination ;


and I have heard of a disappomted lover, who chose
such a scene to drown himself in, as the most agreea-
ble mode of committing suicide. The hills, the
vallies, the trees, the earth, and the sky, seem to
float in fairy vision before the inspection of the de-
lighted spectator ; and yet like all other earthly
objects, eminently fair, its beauty is founded partly
on delusion. This pictured world is always tranquil,
because a storm can never disturb without completely
destroying it.

Although this beautiful image has long been hack-
neyed by poets and other pilfering writers, yet there
is one use I do not remember to have seen made of
it. We shall find, if we examine, that a smooth
expanse of w^aters always represents the scenery
actually around it, so that it is a lively instance of
reflection, borrowing her beauties from local nature.
A loch in Scotland can never represent the banks of
a pond in America, any more than it can roll the
waves of our Lake Superior. The waters of all
countries are at least original ; whether they return
from their bosoms the peaks of some barren mount,
the arid wastes of Palestine, the steppes of central
Asia, or, frozen by a northern winter, the stars of a
polar night. Such are the Lakes ; and such should
be the poets and moral writers of every tongue and
people. Such must be the character of all those
pages, which are destined to last, because they are
felt to profit and to please. It is the writer, who


takes his scenes and characters, his incidents and
images, fresh from life ; and life as modified in his
own land, that will attract readers by mixing the
useful with the sweet. O, I should have no doubt that
my book would float to a literary immortality, if I
could only make it as original as the waters of our
Lakes !

When an author invites the attention of the read-
er, his first duty seems to be, to afford some proof
that he is competent to the subject. I have styled
myself a Puritan ; and my readers may fairly ask me
what title I have to that venerable name. Had I
called myself a Greek, it had been sufficient, perhaps,
to bring some document that I was born in sight of
Hymettus, and had tinctured my lips with the honey
of its classical bees ; but to be born in New England,
will hardly be allowed sufficient, to entitle one to the
appellation of a full-blooded Puritan. Such is the
influx of foreigners on our native soil ; such the
innovations of time, that our primitive manners are
fast fading away, I will give some account of my
descent, by which it will appear that my name is not
an usurpation. I am a Puritan of the straightest

I was born of a line of ancestors, who came over
from England in 1640, and were immediately made
freemen of the country. Whether my grandfather,
or great grandfather, prefixed to his name a good man
or a Mr. J I am not able to say \ but I have often


heard my father boast that none of our race ever got
into the general court or the workhouse, which he
considers as the Scylla and Charybdis of modern
society. If they escaped the laurels of political life,
they sunk to no inexpiable disgrace. We all trod
the middle path ; that very condition which all wise
men, since the days of Horace, have considered as
the golden mean. Two of my progenitors, I believe,
were selectmen ; one was a deacon, and one a ruling
elder in the church. I do not mention this to boast
of my high family, fjr I abhor vanity ; but it seems
necessary to give weight to my speculations. They
all devoutly believed the Assembly's Catechism ; and
were acquainted with painting and the fine arts,
enough to have contemplated with devout admiration,
the burning of Mr. John Rogers in the New England
Primer ; and they abhorred the tyranny that brought
that good man to the stake. They were perfectly
initiated into the mysteries of Hoder's arithmetic ; and
had passed regularly through the then prevalent
grades of learning ; that is, they had gone from the
Primer to the Psalter, and from the Psalter to the
Testament, and from the Testament to the book
where all this elementary wisdom was combined — the
Bible. My great grandfather had an income of about
four hundred pounds a year, old tenor. My ances-
tors were chiefly ploughmen, cultivating their own
free-hold ; and in certain legal instruments which I
have seen, some were called cordwainers, some yeo-


men, and one of them bore the title of gentleman. I
remember in looking over some old leases between
my grandfather and his elder brother, my boyish
indignation was greatly moved, on finding my grand-
father called a yeoman, and my great uncle a gentle-
man. I set myself to inquire what made this
distinction in the family, I found that the elder
brother had received a commission from Governor
Hutchinson to command a militia company ; had
actually spoken to that great man, as he passed by
his house, in his gubernatorial chariot, most respect-
fully taking off his hat and bowing to the ground ;
and was consequently entitled to be considered as a
born gentleman ever after. But I must confess the
captain was not my grandfather ; he was only my
great uncle ; and, as the Scripture says, I would not
exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high
for me.

I was educated in the house of my grandfather.
— Dear, dear spot, how art thou imprinted on my
memory ! how closely is every weed around that old
cellar, entwined around my heart ! I see the place,
the dear, sacred abode ; it rises in vision ; it rolls
back the flood of years ; it rebuilds the dilapidated
edifice, and recalls to life the departed dead ; it
places before me, in the eye of imagination, the
scenes in which I sported so freely, and which I
loved so well. There is the old mansion, with every
story jutting out, contrary to all the rules of modern


architecture, wider at the top than at the foundation ;
there is the tall well-pole, rising towards the sky, with
a good quantity of old iron on the farther end, to
balance the bucket when full of water ; there is the
pear-tree, with the huge grindstone under it ; there
is the meadow, with its maple grove, from whose
recesses on some summer evening, I used to hear
the Whippowil ; the sun-dial, the pasture, the great
rock, the barberry bushes, the lilacs, the sprigs of
mullen and elecampane, all, all are present to the
mental eye, and are seen through the mist of years
with a deeper interest than ever. If the reader will
step in with me into the house, I will show him the
best room, with its homemade carpet, carefully woven
with strips of cloth, in which the red, blue, and
yellow, are nicely adjusted to produce the best effect.
I will show him the kitchen, with its vast fireplace,
an apartment in itself, collected in which the family
was wont to huddle in a cold vv^inter evening, to hear
stories of olden time. I can show him the red dres-
ser, with its well-scoured platters, made of pewter,
but bright as silver, lessenincr in rows one above the
other. I can present him with a family Bible, bound
in buff leather, and printed at Oxford by his Majesty's
special command. I can show him the old worn
hourglass, standing in two leather loops on a shelf
above the fireplace, which my grandfather used to
turn exactly at eight o'clock in the evening, that we
might be sure to go to bed duly at nine. I can show


him — but alas ! tho, winds of heaven have long since
swept away the last mouldering beam of that sacred
abode, and before its domestic altar, the white-headed
saint will never pray again.

My grandfather had a little library ; but it was a
Puritan library. Shakspeare and Ben Jonson found
no place among his books. I doubt whether, reader
as he was, and immortal as are their works, he had
ever heard of their names. There were no Homers
nor Horaces among his volumes ; for he knew no
language but his mother tongue. His library con-
sisted of Mr. Flavel's works, Bunyan's Grace Aboun-
ding, Alleine's Alarm, and Baxter's Call to the
Unconverted. Nor was poetry wholly left out. He
had Sternhold's and Hopkins's Psalms, and Dr.
Watts's Lyric Poems, two books not to be named
the same day. But there was one volume sweeter
than all the rest, which stole many a weary hour from
my life, and banished all care from my heart. I
read it and was happy; I remembered it and was
happy ; I dreamt of it and was happy ; and to this
hour, delight and improvement seem stamped on
every page. My grandfather always said it was the
next book to the Bible ; but 1 must own I was wicked
enough to think it somewhat better. It was the
Pilgrim's Progress from this world to that which is
to come, delivered under the similitude of a dream.
By John Bunyan. I should have no doubt of my
final salvation, if I could tread the real path to Zion,


in faith and obedience, as often and with as much
dehght, as I have trodden the allegorical one in
fancy and imagination.

Such were the scenes in which I grew up ; so the
foundations of my mind were laid. As Sancho
boasted that all his family were old Christians, that
is, Spaniards without any mixture of Moorish blood ;
so may I say that I am descended maternally and
paternally from genuine Puritans. This is the true
nobility of New England. I nursed Puritan milk, drew
Puritanical air, read Puritanical books, received Pu-
ritanical doctrines, was formed amidst Puritanical
manners, and, when I go to the grave, shall sleep in
the recesses which inclose Puritanical dust, until the
morning of the resurrection. Have I not then some
reason to call myself The Puritan? But I see the
shade of Arrogance pass before me, and I must
stop —

For search, and you shall find humility
Is best for you, O reader, and for me ; -
And so may heaven rain it much upon
The sinful souls of this generation.


No. 2.

His pen is taken from a bird of light,
Addicted to a swift and lofty flight.

JVicholas JVoyes to Cotton Mather.

Though my grandfather's library was very small,
and confined to a few books of a theological cast, yet
I shall always remember with gratitude, that, in the
town of Bundleborough, there was a social library,
selected by the worthies of the place, in which my
grandfather owned a share. Here I first met with
the Spectator ; and it was one of the first books
which strongly arrested my attention. Criticism
with me is a very simple affair. Whatever powerfully
impresses my heart, and cleaves to my memory, I
pronounce good, without stopping to inquire on what
principles it pleases, or by what rules it is written.
Addison is not merely the painter of manners ; he
draws his characters and observations often fi'om the
depths of the heart. Though some have seen fit to


represent him as a secondary writer, tame and in-
efficient, compared with the great masters of our
passions, yet I must conceive that he has some of the
same witchery of genius, which is found in John
Bunyan. I would not say that John Bunyan is equal
to Addison, but I would say that Addison is some-
times equal to John Bunyan. I judge from youthful
impressions ; and I must say that the vision of Mirza,
with its enchanted rock, its musical shepherd, its
great valley and rolling flood, excited, in my mind,
some of those mystic feelings with which I accom-
panied the harassed pilgrim, in his journey from this
world to that which is to come. Every one must
allow, I think, that some of his characters for satire,
are drawn with the same spirit as that which formed
a Talkative or By-ends. In short, Addison, playful
and gentle as he is, sometimes takes the highest
flights of genius ; and has diversified his pictures of
life with wonderful truth and boundless fertility of
invention. It would be impossible to crown the urn
of Shakspeare with a single flower which would not
throw its fragrance around the tomb of Addison.*

There cannot also be imagined a more agreeable
mode of writing, than that which was adopted by him

* That is, so far as describing life and manners is concerned.
Addison, in his poetry or prose, has very little of that gilding
fancy, that witchcraft of diction, which, in Shakspeare's crea-
tive garden, tips with silver all the fruit tree tops.


and his associates. By whom the method of pub-
lishing in short papers was invented, I am not able to
say ; it lies, I believe, between Steele and Addison.
But every wise man knows that the great secret of
profiting mankind is, to gain their attention, to reach
their understanding through their curiosity, their
amusement, or their passions. In ancient times this
was done by the drama, and sometimes by the voice
of the popular orator. But the drama exaggerates,
and a popular orator is not the production of every
century. Those little papers, those short, lively rep-
resentations, which Addison has invented or used,
are like the invisible seeds, scattered by the summer
winds ; they fly everywhere, and bear fruit in the
remotest corners of the earth.

The Spectator is one of the books faithful to
nature ; but it certainly presents us nature in a local
and peculiar dress. Its moral representations may
be compared to the plates or pictures, which some-
times accompany the older editions. The persons
have the shape, features, eyes, noses of other human
beings, in all ages and all parts of the globe. But
they are somewhat disguised, (at least to a modern
reader,) by the hooped petticoats and flowing wigs
of the age of queen Anne. The manners of old Eng-
land and New England are different. We have here
no titled aristocracy ; no married woman enjoying a
jointure ; no fashionable coquette stipulating for pin-
money ; no beaux rolling in chariots, or wearing a


bag wig, with a golden hilted sword. Our compara-
tively rich man has not a troop of tenants, who bow
in double ranks to his worship as he leaves the
church, and receive his hams and plum-porridge on
the Christmas holydays. The middle ranks of life
present a class of people very different from what is
known or imagined in England. Now, though a
beautiful statue, in a gothic dress, may still present
the great outlines of nature, yet somewhat incum-
bered by these out-dated accompaniments, so, it
seems, the most faithful exhibitions of human life,
lose some of their beauty to please, and power to
instruct, by bein^ disguised in a system of obsolete
and unknown manners. This, to be sure, is no fault
of the author, but it is the misfortune of the book. Y)

I am not sure that this foreign dress in the picture
presented, does not diminish the moral effect. Every
man's duty in part arises from his station ; and that
may be moderation and frugality in an English noble-
man, which would be pride and profusion in a
Yankee farmer. Besides, there is an aspiring after
imaginary grandeur ; an apish attempt to mimic im-
possible modes of life, which springs up uncon-
sciously in their minds, who fasten their attention
more on the drapery than the essential figure. " La! "
said a lady in Connecticut to one of her companions,
after reading a British novel, well sprinkled over
with personages from high life, " I have been so
long conversing with duchesses and marquises, that it

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 1 of 14)