Leonard Withington.

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

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middle life, that, all its evils, lightened by wisdom, are
to be carried with an equal mind. He draws alto-
gether a pleasant and joyous picture of human life ;
reconciling us to our being by the dictates of philoso-
phy, and vindicating the order of nature, which is reg-
ulated by Providence, from the aspersions which ma-
lignant foolishness casteth thereon. It is grievous to


remember, that these comfortable conclusions are
contravened by men clahning to be Christians, whose
sour dispositions overshadow all the seeds of grace.
The pagan blancheth the image of life ; the Chris-
tian covers it with mud and weeds, rotted by the
perverted rain.

Human life, to him looking thereon with unbiased
heart and clarified disposition, is like a spring, which
is beautiful or otherwise as you use it. It is silver
and sweet, if suffered to flow in its own purity ; if no
beast dippeth the foot in its surface to disturb its
bottom ; no boar out of the wood, defileth its waters ;
if no branch, swung by the tempest, stirreth up its
sediment, or breaks the purity of its glassy surface.
But loathsome and foul, and vaporous and unhealthy
will the very air of heaven become around it, oppres-
sing the source of life and offending the very nostrils
of those that breathe therein will it be, if one, chang-
ing its nature, turn it from a spring to a bog'.

He is but a youngling in life, who does not per-
ceive that our sharpest sorrows arise from vanity, sore
with scores of wounds. It is our bleeding pride, that
makes us miserable ; our soiled plumes, our cropped
feathers, our torn ribbons, our blotted escutcheons,
our starved ambition. Great sorrows are often the
ill-starred progeny of little things. The head of the
Nile, is a puddle in Abyssinia ; and of the Amazon,
a mountain stream. The tears of man and woman
also, may stream over an onion as well as at the


funeral of a child. The host of our sorrows become
more sorrowful yet, and magnified, because we deem
ourselves bound to bury them in a discreet silence.

By some, whose blockish minds hardly penetrate
from the altitude of the tree that blossoms in the air
to the secret depth of the root which supports it be-
low, it is misaffirmed, that humility, our enjoined
guide through the paths and perils of mistrustful life, is
a cruel step-dame, which leads us only to the delved-
out valley, cold, rocky, mountain-bound, and sun-for-
saken, where the snows of winter fall early and last
long, and where scarce a blessed flower is seen to
grow. Foolish souls ! They see not the high wis-
dom of Providence, who, in commanding man his
duty, consulted his peace. If pride wounds, humility
heals ; if pride leads us to the rock's brow only to cast
us down and rejoice in our fall, humility comes like
a pitiful matron, takes us up, pities us in our low
estate, bandages our broken limbs, and cIosqs our
galling wounds, by stanching the blood, and pouring
in from her bountiful horn, the rills of wine and oil.
Humility is like a sprig of evergreen, which grows
in the nook of the rock on the southern side of a
spreading ridge, never shaken by the east wind, never
nipt by winter, though they vex the oak or strip it of
all its honors, when most lofty and green.

Bat what is humility? Ay, there you falter; there
your conscience takes the bribe. You can see every
man's pride but your own ; you also admire humility


in all action except when it comes to trim and prune
your own life. Then, you question ; then, you doubt
and founder ; then, you fill your heart with false
visions, and your lips with idle excuses. Self-honesty,
is of all blessings most rare. Take the book of per-
sonal experien le, read over the thick-written pages of
your personal beauty or deformity ; of your poverty
or wealth, and how you have gotten it ; your actions
and their motives ; your omissions and excuses there-
for ; your hours of amusement and sleep ; your daily
slumbers, and your midnight vigils ; your faults of
tempers, and merits by blindness allowed ; your tenor
of life as a father, husband, brother, or son ; as a
citizen, neighbor, or private man ; your secret
thoughts, and careless speeches ; your aspirings and
fallings ; your hopes and purposes ; your plans and
the execution of them ; your sins, budding or blown,
to God, to man and yourself; — read over these, I say,
with a watchful eye, and a remembering bosom, even
to the last page and appendix of the volume ; read
them with acknowledged sorrow and purposed amend-
ment ; and half the evils of life will be lost — half !
nay, all will be softened — and thou shall dwell
amidst sublunary tribulations, as it were the next
door to heaven !

Blessed be the hour when one heart at least dis-
covered this comfortable truth ! Blessed the hour,
which showed the at-first-painful light, coming in-
creased and reflected, from the bleeding tree of sal-


vation. Then the toys and plumes of the man-child
took their proper place ; and, when little more hap-
piness was expected from these baubles, then another
day-star arose to usher in the light of another sun.
The man of humility can write gramercy at the bot-
tom of the page of every day's diurnal. The fountain
thereof was so great, that it jetted out in streams of
poetical running ; and, candid reader, the first fruits,
wherein I hope the heart prompts the fantasy, shall
be given to thee.

Man, wretched man, was never made
In pride or power to place his trust;

His dwelling, is the lowly shade ;
His home — his shelter is the dust.

Those hapless hearts, that highest soar,
The widest range of misery see ; —

Know this — you need to learn no more —
That wisdom is humility.

In deepest vales the flowers display
The fairest hues, the world around ;

The jewel, lurking in the clay,

We seek by looking on the ground.

Of heaven, if you would reach a gleam,
On humblest objects fix your eyes ;

So travellers, on a picturing stream,
Look down indeed, but see the skies.


No. 18.

O, most gentle Jupiter ! — what tedious homily of love have you wearied
your parishioners withal, and never cried, Have patience, good people.

As you like it.

Very curious is it to remark how in proportion to
the despotism of the government, and the fixedness of
religious and other opinions, is the changeless condi-
tion in which people are retained in the profession to
which they are supposed to be born. In Hindostan,
a shudra never can rise from his station ; he is
chained down to it by all the restraints of opinion and
custom. In Germany, the ranks of society are a little
less restricted ; and in Great Britain, the freest
country in Europe, we begin to find the career of
enterprise ; and it scarcely surprises us, that one of
their prime ministers was the son of an actress;
though even there, a man is generally found in age
in the profession, which was the choice of his youth.
But in New England, society is like a troubled sea ;


all its elements mix and ferment ; the high sink , and
the low rise ; and no man knows how soon his lau-
rels may fade, or his disgraces be turned into glory.

Of all this, the life of poor John Oldbug has been
a striking instance. When 1 left my father and
grandfather's houses, (between which I used to alter-
nate, like a Canadian goose between the northern and
southern skies,) I was sent into Boston, to stand be-
hind a counter, and measure silks and tape to the
ladies. There I was taught to tell shop-lies ; to re-
ceive the ladies with my best bow and my polite
smile ; to fold over the goods with my polished fin-
gers ; and to assure the gulls, who were credulous
enough to believe me, that on special occasions, and
to favorite customers, we sold our articles cheaper
than we bought them. On Saturday night, I was
permitted to fly, like an uncaged bird, to the coun-
try, to display my new plumes in the sight of my
brother rustics, and to show how much the city had
polished my manners. To this life, I was destined by
my honest father, who had such a taste for the superfi-
cial genteel. However, it lasted not long. Two years
completed my miseries ; I became sick of the busi-
ness, sick of my master, and sick of myself I have
often wondered I did not become a woman-hater.
To be compelled, hour after hour, to turn over half the
goods in the shop ; and after racking your conscience
to tell the best story possible, to have nothing bought !
— " I thank you, Sir ; put up your goods ; I will call


again." O misery ! Lawyers lie ; but they lie to
some purpose. But for a shopkeeper, the wave of op-
ulence breaks, ere it reaches him, and throws him
nothing, but the vitious foam.

Now I resolved to be a scholar ; and went to An-
dover to finish my studies. It was a great transition.
Boston and Andover ! It was like passing from a
dancing school to a funeral. But I mast speak well
of that serious place. There I drank deep at the
fountains of classical knowledge. Our mild instruc-
tor, Mr. Newman, whose virtue won us as his learn-
ing guided, was not more the master than the father
of all his pupils. Every shade in that sober town,
even the wild pasture where the pupils were wont to
wander to feast on whortleberries, is connected with
some pleasing and useful recollection.

It is the spot,
We ne'er forget, though there we are forgot.

Then came college-life under the tuition of Dr.
Dwight. I can seem to see that venerable tutor now,
in the eyes of a burning memory, as he entered the
lecture room ; his large frame, his firm tread, his
head a little inclined forward, his hat on his breast,
his green spectacles, his white-top-boots, and the
solemn and paternal air with which he took the
chair, at the head of the hall by the old fireplace, to
deal out those instructions, so animated and yet so


useful, as even to make the sound of the dinner-bell
almost unwelcome ! Though neither a poet, nor
metaphysician, nor a scholar, nor an orator, in the
highest and exclusive sense of those terms, he yet
always poured out a mass of good sense, which
stamped him as the great man ; and with many of his
maxims, I hope to sprinkle my humble page ; for
unless I collect them they will be lost forever.

After leaving college, I spent some time, like other
yotmg men, in a bewildered state ; not knowing ex-
actly what to do. The choice of a profession is no
small affair, as it reduces many an ingenuous youth to
the borders of despair. During this state of suspense,
I took two journies to the eastward (i. e. the then
District of Maine) to measure wild land ; went one
voyage to the West Indies, as a kind of half super-
cargo, and spent one year in the house of a southern
nabob, as a teacher to his children, amid the black
slaves of the high sons of liberty. In all these con-
ditions, I had my eyes open. I watched the follies
and virtues of mankind ; and having no business of
my own, I learned how to direct that of other people,
in that blessed separation of theory from practice,
which, in religion and morality, forms the glory and
the goodness of the present age.

After this, I betook myself to the study of divinity.
For three years I preached, but never received a
call; which was a mystery I never could explain.
Greek and Latin I had in abundance ; my character


was unimpeached ; I put as much good sense and
divinity into the only sermon I ever wrote, as I was
master of; but yet no people saw fit to invite me to a
settlement. To be sure, some people were pleased
to say I was eccentric, but what that means, I never
could find out. After riding, with my saddle-bags,
as a candidate, for three years, and preaching my
double sermon on this text — Remember Lot's wife, in
all the vacant parishes north and south of the Blue
Hills, with more diligence than success, I began to
conclude that the world was eccentric, as well as I ;
to please them, would be difficult ; and to please them
and profit them both, would be impossible ; so I gave
up divinity for the science of drugs and medicines ;
in short, I became a physician.

Here, too, my ill-stars followed me; and I was
stopped in this career, by my conscience. For the old
Esculapian with whom I studied, having charged me
to be sure to kill the disease, whether the patient re-
covered or not, I soon found it was much easier to
kill both, than to do justice to either. I began to be
afraid to ride by night, (for I had not shaken off all
belief in ghosts,) and I certainly know no person
more proper to be haunted by all the spirits in a
church-yard, than a physician. This fear, together
with my conscience, made me hesitate when I came
into a sick chamber ; and I was so long in determin-
ing what was the disease and what the remedy, that
my patients lost all confidence in me. In short, I


was an honest man, told the truth, confessed my
ignorance, and got out of business ; so that I was
once more reduced to shrink behind a counter in a
grocery store, set up in my native town, with certain
red casks standing on one end, with the inscriptions
— Wine, New England Rum, Brandy, &lc.

For my honor's sake, I must say, I abandoned this
business long before the temperance reformation ;
but not until my neighbors began to crack some very
severe jokes at my expense. Some began to conjec-
ture that I never should be good for any thing. One
told me the story of a man, who kept an owl in hopes
he' would at last prove a singing bird, because he
kept such a long, solemn thinking beforehand. One
wag declared, in reference to my several professions
of preacher, doctor, and rum-seller, that I first tried
to save the soul, then the body, and, failing in these,
I at last tried to destroy soul and body both. Thus
have sorrows and disappointments been rained on my
defenceless, unfortunate head.

I am now settled, in a small, one-story house, which
stands behind six apple-trees, in Bundleborough,
my native town. I have a wife and six small chil-
dren, who are, to confess the truth, in a most poetic
condition, and certainly in no danger of losing their
morals by feeding on the fat of the land. I cultivate
a little farm, which I manage by books, and by read-
ing Mr. Fessenden's paper, as anybody might see by
looking at the fields and fences ; and being told by


my neighbors, that I am fit for nothing else, I have
resolved to turn author. My wife sometimes weeps,
when she sees me leaning over my desk, rather than
ov€r the plough, and tells me the state of our pork-
tub. But, I assure her, I am resolved to write on ;
and that a generous public, either out of admiration
or pity, and perhaps a mixture of both, will never
suffer my speculations to be neglected, or my family
to perish.

My poor, pale wife, my ragged children, see !
If you have pity in you, pity me.


No. 19.

— Gewgaws fetched from Aaron's old wardrobe, or the flamen's vestry.


In a republic, it should be the aim of every man
to be a good citizen ; and in this character, is in-
cluded a knowledge of his duty, and a disposition to
perform it. Respecting the disposition, I have little
to say on the present occasion. Only I vt^ould re-
mark, that a disposition to our duty, is the best incen-
tive to those painful studies by which its theory is
sometimes to be known A citizen of our republic,
can hardly understand his offices without a retrospect
of past times. As in looking at a tree, its whole
constitution cannot be understood without delvino; to
its roots, so our present condition is the result of
causes which operated long before we were born.
Would we judge of the beauty of the tree of liberty,
or know where to place ourselves under its blessed


shade, we must go back and see the period in which
its seed was planted, and mark how its trunk and
branches grew.

In the beginning of the 16th century, Europe was
overshadowed by thick darkness ; and the power of
the Roman pontiff seemed consolidated into a pre-
scriptive right. " All the complaints," says father
Paul, " against the grandeur of the Roman court,
seemed to have ceased, and the western Christians
were living in obedience to its laws. There was a
small sect in the south of France, detested by all
their neighbors, who dissented from the established
church. But they were a simple and ignorant people,
and not likely to spread their opinions. John Huss,
too, had left some followers in Germany ; but they
were reo-arded as a defeated and broken sect. The
difficulties between the popes and secular princes
respecting investitures, had been composed." All
Europe agreed in bowing with reverence before the
papal throne. Whatever antiquity had established,
and time handed down, was received with submission.
The Bible was unknown ; Aristotle reigned in the
schools ; princes held their thrones, and priests their
authority, by the same divine right ; a right, which it
was considered impiety to question. In politics, in
religion, in philosophy, it seemed to be the business
of the human mind, not to reason, but to receive
implicitly whatever was offered to it. There was a
wonderful unity in public opinion, but it was a unity
caused by darkness, and secured by chains.


But when the principle was once admitted, that it
was not a sufficient proof that an opinion was right
because it was established, you can easily see that a
door was opened for a diversity of views. Pre-
scription was a settled law, not very difficult to as-
certain ; and, when once known, no more was to be
thought of than to obey it. It was a highway in
which the dullest as well as the brightest intellect
might walk with ease. But as soon as this common
road was left, and men strayed into the open field, it
became a matter of judgment how far it was wise
to deviate. A new guide was set up — investigation. -
Hence there arose sects in philosophy, and parties in
politics and religion.

The three great subjects before the human mind,
are religion, politics, and philosophy ; and with re-
spect to each of them in their chief questions, there
seems to be two sides to be taken which are consist-
ent ; and there is no middle ground. Thus in pol-
itics, you may make the public welfare, or the rights
of man, your chief object ; or you may go back to
charters, and laws, and positive enactments; and con-
sider whatever is established as binding. It seems
to me that most of the British writers, who attempt a
medium, are very imperfect in their statement of
facts, and very partial in their deduction of conse-
quences. Burke is an example. He speaks with
great abhorrence of French principles, and especially
of their grand principle, the rights of man. " They


despise," says he, " experience, as the wisdom of un-
lettered men ; and as for the rest, they have wrought,
under ground, a mine that will blow up, at one grand
explosion, all examples of antiquity ; all precedents,
charters, and acts of parliament. They have the
rights of men. Against these there is no prescription ;
against these, no argument is binding ; any thing
withheld from their full demand, is so much fraud and
injustice." But, I ask, how was it possible to justify
a single step in favor of liberty, without blowing up
these barbarous examples of antiquity ? The moment
you admit the established, as a proof of the just and
the true, the cause of liberty is lost, and the tyrant
will reduce you to silence, however strongly you may
be entrenched behind the mound of reason. On this
principle, in every question between king Charles and
his parliament, the king was right, and the people
were wrong. Even the extravagant doctrine of Sib-
thorp and Manwaring, (those servile clergymen,) that
all property belonged to the king ; that parliaments
were not necessary for taxes ; that he might take
what he pleased even to beggaring the subject, and
that it was treason to resist him; all this can be
maintained. For nothing is better known, than on
feudal principles, all property was considered as the
king's ; he dealt it out to his subjects, and they paid
an acknowledgment in wardships, scutages, &.c. So
that the most absolute tyranny had a hoary antiquity
on its side, and could plead a long prescription to


ratify its severest laws. I recollect that Blackstone,
after acknowledging that an acquaintance with feudal
institutions is necessary to the understanding of the
common law of England, undertakes to trace their
liberties to established customs from Saxon times ;
but in my opinion, with very little success. 1 was
struck with his inconsistency in almost every page.
There never was a more inconsistent being, than an
English politician, denying the right of the people to
elect their chief magistrate, and yet defending the
title of William, prince of Orange, to the throne.
King James it is said abdicated ; that is, the people
drove him away because they would not bear his
tyranny any longer. He abdicated almost with a
bayonet at his breast. The very word is replete with
deception ; and there is no other mode of getting rid
of these entangling consequences, than to appeal
boldly to first principles, and to say at once, the wel-
fare of the people is the supreme law : — and what is
the welfare of the people, but a better name for the
rights of man?

So in religion, there are two consistent sides to be
taken. You must either say that the Bible is a suffi-
cient guide ; and that each man has a right to inter-
pret it, subject to no control but his own conscience ;
or you must admit all the terrible consequences that
the man of Rome will draw from authority. It is
vain to distinguish here, between essentials and non-
essentials, since who has the privilege of saying what


these non-essentials are ? If the magistrate may reg-
ulate the non-essentials, and claim the further pre-
rogative of deciding what these non-essentials are,
he can bring every article of religion within the scope
of his authority. He has only to call whatever sub-
ject he pleases a non-essential, and it immediately
falls within his province. In a word, he is a pope
with a secular name. The first protestants broke
away from the church of Rome with the Bible in their
hands to justify their secession, and still better prot-
estants broke away from them, and retorted on them
with greater consistency, their own principles. The
stream became clear as it receded from the fountain ;
and the gospel never recovered its first purity, until
the rights of conscience were fully understood.

I have hardly time to illustrate the two sides in
philosophy ; they seem to be the authority of Aristotle,
and the evidence of experiments. The same spirit
prevailed in all the departments of knowledge, and
was to be resisted on the same principles.

No class of people ever came nearer to consistency
in the views they adopted concerning the religious
part of these questions, than the ancient Puritans.
Let us consider the rise of this sect, their character,
and their principles. We have a personal interest in
this investigation ; for we cannot understand our own
history, without looking back to the party from which
our institutions arose.

When we hear of the wisest and most learned men


of a nation, arranged into parties, and disputing about
a, vestment, a square cap, a rochet, a mitre, we can
hardly refrain from a smile ; it seems ridiculous.
But when we think a little further, we find that all
human subjects derive their importance, not from
their nature considered in singleness, but from their
connections. As in war, the battle is often fought
on a narrow plat of ground, which is to decide the
fate of kingdoms between w^hole circles of longitude,
so in moral affairs the question may be narrow in its
nature, but wide in its bearing. It is but reasonable
to presume, that when an apparent trifle excites the
strongest passions of men for a long time, it is con-
nected with permanent interests ; it is the signal and
the seal of some important instrument. We assume
to ourselves an unproved superiority, if we imagine
ourselves so much wiser than those ancient leaders, as
to be entitled to ridicule their controversies ; at least
before we understand them as well as they did them-
selves. It is very rare in the conflicjt of human pas-
sions, that the outward and visible sign is all. One

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe Puritan : a series of essays, critical, moral, and miscellaneous (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 9 of 14)