Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 online

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Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneThe whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 → online text (page 8 of 16)
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The old man has spent so mucli of his life in the
smoky, noisy, buzzing school-room, that, when he has
a holiday, he feels as if his place were lost and him-
self a stranger in the world. But forth he goes ; and
there stands our old chair, vacant and solitary, til]
good Master Cheever resumes his seat in it to-morrow

" Grandfather,'* said Charley, " I wonder whether
the boys did not use to upset the old chair when the
schoolmaster was out."

''There is a tradition," replied Grandfather, "that
one of its arms was dislocated in some such manner.'
But I cannot believe that any school-boy would behave
so naughtily."

As it was now later than little Alice's usual bed-
time. Grandfather broke off his narrative, promising
to talk more about Master Cheever and his scholars
some other evening.



Accordingly, the next evening, Grandfather re=
sumed the history of his beloved chair.

" Master Ezekiel Cheever," said he, " died in 1707,
after having taught school about seventy years. It
would require a pretty good scholar in arithmetic to
tell how many stripes he had inflicted, and how many
birch rods he had worn out, during all that time, in
his fatherly tenderness for his pupils. Almost all the
great men of that period, and for many years back,
had been whipped into eminence by Master Cheever.
Moreover, he had written a Latin Accidence, which
was used in schools more than half a century after his
death ; so taat the good old man, even in his grave,
was still the cause of trouble and stripes to idle school-

Grandfather proceeded to say, that, when Master
Cheever died, he bequeathed the chair to the most
learned man that was educated at his school, or that
had ever been born in America. This was the re-
nowned Cotton Mather, minister of the Old North
Church in Boston.

" And author of the Magnalia,^ Grandfather, which
we sometimes see you reading," said Laurence.

^ Whittier's poem The Garrison of Cape Ann is a story out of
Mather's Magnalia. The full title of Mather's book was Mag-
nolia Christi Americana, that is, the Mighty Deeds of Christ m


" Y'es, Laurence," replied Grandfather. " The Mag-
nalia is a strange, pedantic history, in which true
events and real personages move before the reader
with the dreamy aspect which they wore in Cotton
Mather's singular mind. This huge volume, however,
was written and published before our chair came into
his possession. But, as he was the author of more
books than there are days in the year, we may con-
clude that he wrote a great deal while sitting in this

" I am tired of these schoolmasters and learned
men," said Charley. " I wish some stirring man, that
knew how to do something in the world, like Sir
William Phips, would sit in the chair."

" Such men seldom have leisure to sit quietly in a
chair," said Grandfather. " We must make the best
of such people as we have."

As Cotton Mather was a very distinguished man,
Grandfather took some pains to give the children a
lively conception of his character. Over the door of
his library were painted these words, BE SHORT, — as
a warning to visitors that they must not do the world
so much harm as needlessly to interrupt this great
man's wonderful labors. On entering the room you
would probably behold it crowded, and piled, and
heaped with books. There were huge, ponderous
folios, and quartos, and little duodecimos, in English,
Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldaic, and all other lan-
guages that either originated at the confusion of Babel
or have since come into use.

All these books, no doubt, were tossed about in con
fusion, thus forming a visible emblem of the manner
in which their contents were crowded into Cotton
Mather's brain. And in the middle of the room stood


a table, on which, besides printed volumes, were
strewn manuscript sermons, historical tracts, and po-
litical pamphlets, all written in such a queer, blind,
crabbed, fantastical hand, that a writing-master would
have gone raving mad at the sight of them. By this
table stood Grandfather's chair, which seemed to have
contracted an air of deep erudition, as if its cushion
were stuffed with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and
other hard matters.

In this chair, from one year's end to another, sat
that prodigious bookworm, Cotton Mather, sometimes
devouring a great book, and sometimes scribbling one
as big. In Grandfather's younger days there used
to be a wax figure of him in one of the Boston mu-
seums, representing a solemn, dark-visaged person,
in a minister's black gown, and with a black-letter
volume before him.

" It is difficult, my children," observed Grandfather,
" to make you understand such a character as Cotton
Mather's, in whom there was so much good, and yet
so many failings and frailties. Undoubtedly he was a
pious man. Often he kept fasts ; and once, for three
whole days, he allowed himself not a morsel of food,
but spent the time in prayer and religious meditation.
Many a live-long night did he watch and pray. These
fasts and vigils made him meagre and haggard, and
probably caused him to appear as if he hardly be-
longed to the world."

" Was not the witchcraft delusion partly caused by
Cotton Mather ? " inquired Laurence.

" He was the chief agent of the mischief," answered
Grandfather ; '^ but we will not suppose that he acted
otherwise than conscientiously. He believed that
there were evil spirits all about the world. Doubtless


he imagined that they were hidden in the corners and
crevices of his library, and that they peeped out from
among the leaves of many of his books, as he turned
them over, at midnight. He supposed that these un-
lovely demons were everywhere, in the sunshine as
well as in the darkness, and that they were hidden
in men's hearts, and stole into their most secret

Here Grandfather was interrupted by little Alice,
who hid her face in his lap, and murmured a wish that
he would not talk any more about Cotton Mather and
the evil spirits. Grandfather kissed her, and told
her that angels were the only spirits whom she had
anything to do with. He then spoke of the public
affairs of the period.

A new war between France and England had broken
out in 1702, and had been raging ever since. In the
course of it. New England suffered much injury from
the French and Indians, who often came through the
woods from Canada and assaulted the frontier towns.
Villages were sometimes burned, and the inhabitants
slaughtered, within a day's ride of Boston.^ The peo-
ple of New England had a bitter hatred against the
French, not only for the mischief which they did with
their own hands, but because they incited the Indians
to hostility.

The New-Englanders knew that they could never
dwell in security until the provinces of France should
be subdued and brought under the English govern-
ment. They frequently, in time of war, undertook
military expeditions against Acadia and Canada, and
sometimes besieged the fortresses by which those ter-
ritories were defended. But the most earnest wish of

^ See Whittier's poem Pentucket.


their hearts was to take Quebec, and so get posses*
sion of the whole province of Canada. Sir William
Phips had once attempted it, but without success.

Fleets and soldiers were often sent from England to
assist the colonists in their warlike undertakings. In
i710 Port Royal, a fortress of Acadia, was taken by
the English. The next year, in the month of June, a
fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker,
arrived in Boston Harbor. On board of this fleet was
the English General Hill, with seven regiments of
soldiers, who had been fighting under the Duke of
Marlborough in Flanders. The government of Mas-
sachusetts was called upon to find provisions for the
army and fleet, and to raise more men to assist in
taking Canada.

What with recruiting and drilling of soldiers, there
was now nothing but warlike bustle in the streets of
Boston. The drum and fife, the rattle of arms, and
the shouts of boys were heard from morning till night.
In about a month the fleet set sail, carrying four regi-
ments from New England and New York, besides the
English soldiers. The whole army amounted to at
least seven thousand men. They steered for the
mouth of the river St. Lawrence.

" Cotton Mather prayed most fervently for their
success," continued Grandfather, " both in his pulpit
and when .he kneeled down in the solitude of his
library, resting his face on our old chair. But Provi-
dence ordered the result otherwise. In a few weeks
tidings were received that eight or nine of the vessels
had been wrecked in the St. Lawrence, and that above
a thousand drowned soldiers had been washed ashore
on the banks of that mighty river. After this mis-
fortune Sir Hovenden Walker set sail for England ;


and many pious people began to think it a sin even to
wish for the conquest of Canada."

" I would never give it up so," cried Charley.

" Nor did they, as we shall see," replied Grand-
father. " However, no more attempts were made
during this war, which came to a close in 1713. The
people of New England were probably glad of some
repose ; for their young men had been made soldiers,
till many of them were fit for nothing else. And those
who remained at home had been heavily taxed to pay
for the arms, ammunition, fortifications, and all the
other endless expenses of a war. There was great need
of the prayers of Cotton Mather and of all pious men,
not only on account of the sufferings of the people,
but because the old moral and religious character of
New England was in danger of being utterly lost."

" How glorious it would have been," remarked Lau-
rence, " if our forefathers could have kept the country
unspotted with blood ! "

" Yes," said Grandfather ; " but there was a stern,
warlike spirit in them from the beginning. They
seem never to have thought of questioning either the
morality or piety of war."

The next event which Grandfather spoke of was
one that Cotton Mather, as well as most of the other
inhabitants of New England, heartily rejoiced at.
This was the accession of the Elector of Hanover to
the throne of England, in 1714, on the death of Queen
Anne. Hitherto the people had been in continual
dread that the male line of the Stuarts, who were de-
scended from the beheaded King Charles and the bar
ished King James, would be restored to the throne.

" The importance of this event," observed Grand-
father, " was a thousand times greater than that of a


Presidential election in our own days. If tne people
dislike their President, tliey may get rid of him in
four years ; whereas a dynasty of kings may wear the
crown for an unlimited period."

The German elector was proclaimed king from the
balcony of the town-house in Boston, by the title of
George I. ; while the trumpets sounded and the people
cried amen. That night the town was illuminated ;
and Cotton Mather threw aside book and pen, and
left Grandfather's chair vacant, while he walked hither
and thither to witness the rejoicings.



"Cotton Mather," continued Grandfather, "was
a bitter enemy to Governor Dudley; and nobody
exulted more than he when that crafty politician
was removed from the government, and succeeded
by Colonel Shute.^ This took place in 1716. The
new governor had been an officer in the renowned
Duke of Marlborough's army, and had fought in some
of the great battles in Flanders."

" Now I hope," said Charley, " we shall hear of his
doing great things."

" I am afraid you will be disappointed, Charley,"
answered Grandfather. "It is true that Colonel
Shute had probably never led so unquiet a life while
fighting the French as he did now, while governing
this province of Massachusetts Bay. But his troubles
consisted almost entirely of dissensions with the Legis-
lature. The king had ordered him to lay claim to a
fixed salary ; but the representatives of the people in=
sisted upon paying him only such sums from year tc
year as they saw fit."

Grandfather here explained some of the circum-
stances that made the situation of a colonial governor
so difficult and irksome. There was not the same
feeling towards the chief magistrate now that had ex-

1 Hawthorne connects his story of Lady Eleanore^s MantU
mth. Governor Shute.


isted while he was chosen by the free suffrages of the
people, it was felt that as the king appointed the
governor, and as he held his office during the king's
pleasure, it would be his great object to please the
king. But the people thought that a governor ought
to have nothing in view but the best interests of those
whom he governed.

" The governor," remarked Grandfather, " had two
masters to serve, — the king, who appointed him ; and
the people, on whom he depended for his pay. Few
men in this position would have ingenuity enough to
satisfy either party. Colonel Shute, though a good-
natured, well-meaning man, succeeded so ill with the
people, that, in 1722, he suddenly went away to Eng-
land and made complaint to King George. In the
meantime Lieutenant-Governor Dummer directed the
affairs of the province, and carried on a long and
bloody war with the Indians."

'* But where was our chair all this time ? " asked

" It still remained in Cotton Mather's library," re>
plied Grandfather ; " and I must not omit to tell you
an incident which is very much to the honor of this
celebrated man. It is the more proper, too, that you
should hear it, because it will show you what a terrible
calamity the small-pox was to our forefathers. The
history of the province (and, of course, the history
of our chair) would be incomplete without particular
mention of it."

Accordingly Grandfather told the children a story,
to which, for want of a better title, we shall give that
of The Rejected Blessing,

One day, in 1721, Doctor Cotton Mather sat in his
library reading a book that had been published by the


Royal Society of London. But every few moments
he laid the book upon the table, and leaned back in
Grandfather's chair with an aspect of deep care and
disquietude. There were certain things which trou-
bled him exceedingly, so that he could hardly fix his
thoughts upon what he read.

It was now a gloomy time in Boston. That terrible
iisease, the small-pox, had recently made its appear-
ance in the town. Ever since the first settlement of
the country this awful pestilence had come at inter-
vals, and swept away multitudes of the inhabitants.
Whenever it commenced its ravages, nothing seemed
to stay its progress until there were no more victims
for it to seize upon. Oftentimes hundreds of people
at once lay groaning wdth its agony ; and when it de*
parted, its deep footsteps were always to be traced in
many graves.

The people never felt secure from this calamity.
Sometimes, perhaps, it was brought into the country
by a poor sailor, who had caught the infection in for-
eign parts, and came hither to die and to be the cause
of many deaths. Sometimes, no doubt, it followed in
the train of the pompous governors when they came
over from England. Sometimes the disease lay hid-
den in the cargoes of ships, among silks, and brocades,
and other costly merchandise which was imported foi
the rich people to wear. And sometimes it started up
seemingly of its own accord, and nobody could tell
whence it came. The physician, being called to attend
the sick person, would look at him, and say, " It is
the &mall-pox! Let the patient be carried to the

And now this dreadful sickness had shown itself
again in Boston. Cotton Mather was greatly afflicted


for the sake of the whole province. He had children^
too, who were exposed to the danger. At that very
moment he heard the voice of his youngest son, for
whom his heart was moved with apprehension.

" Alas ! I fear for that poor child," said Cotton
Mather to himself. " What shall I do for my son

Again he attempted to drive away these thoughts
by taking up the book which he had been reading.
And now, all of a sudden, his attention became fixed.
The book contained a printed letter that an Italian
physician had written upon the very subject about
which Cotton Mather was so anxiously meditating.
He ran his eye eagerly over the pages ; and, behold !
a method was disclosed to him by which the small-pox
might be robbed of its worst terrors. Such a method
was known in Greece. The physicians of Turkey, too,
those long-bearded Eastern sages, had been acquainted
with it for many years. The negroes of Africa, igno-
rant as they were, had likewise practised it, and thus
had shown themselves wiser than the white men.

" Of a truth," ejaculated Cotton Mather, clasping
his hands and looking up to heaven, "it was a merci-
ful Providence that brought this book under mine
eye. I will procure a consultation of physicians, and
see whether this wondrous inoculation may not stay
the progress of the destroyer."

So he arose from Grandfather's chair and went out
of the library. Near the door he met his son Samuel,
who seemed downcast and out of spirits. The boy
had heard, probably, that some of his playmates were
taken ill with the small-pox. But, as his father looked
cheerfully at him, Samuel took courage, trusting that
either the wisdom of so learned a minister would find


feome remedy for the danger, or else that his prayers
would secure protection from on high.

Meanwhile Cotton Mather took his staff and three-
cornered hat and walked about the streets, calling at
the houses of all the physicians in Boston. They were
a very wise fraternity ; and their huge wigs, and black
dresses, and solemn visages made their wisdom appear
even profounder than it was. One after another he
acquainted them with the discovery which he had hit

But the grave and sagacious personages would
scarcely listen to him. The oldest doctor in town
contented himself with remarking that no such thing
as inoculation was mentioned by Galen or Hippocrates ;
and it was impossible that modern physicians should
be wiser than those old sages. A second held up his
hands in dumb astonishment and horror at the mad^
ness of what Cotton Mather proposed to do. A third
told him, in pretty plain terms, that he knew not what
he was talking about. A fourth requested, in the
name of the whole medical fraternity, that Cotton
Mather would confine his attention to people's souls,
and leave the physicians to take care of their bodies.

In short, there was but a single doctor among them
all who would grant the poor minister so much as a
patient hearing. This was Doctor Zabdiel Boylstonc
He looked into the matter like a man of sense, and
finding, beyond a doubt, that inoculation had rescued
many from death, he resolved to try the experiment in
his own family.

And so he did. But when the other physicians
heard of it they arose in great fury and began a war
of words, written, printed, and spoken, against Cotton
Mather and Doctor Boylston. To hear them talk, you


would have supposed that these two harmless and be^
nevolent men had plotted the ruin of the country.

The people, also, took the alarm. Many, who
thought themselves more pious than their neighbors,
contended that, if Providence had ordained them to
die of the small-pox, it was sinful to aim at preventing
it. The strangest reports were in circulation. Some
said that Doctor Boylston had contrived a method for
conveying the gout, rheumatism, sick-headache, asthma,
and all other diseases from one person to another, and
diffusing them through the whole community. Others
flatly affirmed that the evil one had got possession of
Cotton Mather, and was at the bottom of the whole

You must observe, children, that Cotton Mather's
fellow-citizens were generally inclined to doubt the
wisdom of any measure which he might propose to
them. They recollected how he had led them astray
in the old witchcraft delusion ; and now, if he thought
and acted ever so wisely, it was difficult for him to get
the credit of it.

The people's wrath grew so hot at his attempt to
guard them from the small-pox that he could not walk
the streets in peace. Whenever the venerable form
of the old minister, meagre and haggard with fasts
and vigils, was seen approaching, hisses were heard,
and shouts of derision, and scornful and bitter laugh-
ter. The women snatched away their children from
his path, lest he should do them a mischief. Still,
however, bending his head meekly, and perhaps stretch-
ing out his hands to bless those who reviled him, he
pursued his way. But the tears came into his eyes
to think how blindly the people rejected the means of
safety that were offered them.


Indeed, there were melancholy sights enough in the
streets of Boston to draw forth the tears of a compas-
sionate man. Over the door of almost every dwelling
a red flag was fluttering in the air. This was the sig-
nal that the small-pox had entered the house and at-
tacked some member of the family ; or perhaps the
A^hole family, old and young, were struggling at once
vvith the pestilence. Friends and relatives, when they
met one another in the streets, would hurry onward
without a grasp of the hand or scarcely a word of
greeting, lest they should catch or communicate the
contagion ; and often a coffin was borne hastily

" Alas ! alas ! " said Cotton Mather to himself,
" what shall be done for this poor, misguided people ?
Oh that Providence would open their eyes, and enable
them to discern good from evil ! "

So furious, however, were the people, that they
threatened vengeance against any person who should
dare to practise inoculation, though it were only in his
own family. This was a hard case for Cotton Mather,
who saw no other way to rescue his poor child Samuel
from the disease. But he resolved to save him, even
if his house should be burned over his head.

" I will not be turned aside," said he. " My towns-
men shall see that I have faith in this thing, when I
make the experiment on my beloved son, whose life is
dearer to me than my own. And when I have saved
Samuel, peradventure they will be persuaded to save

Accordingly Samuel was inoculated ; and so was
Mr. Walter, a son-in-law of Cotton Mather. Doctor
Boylston, likewise, inoculated many persons ; and while
hundreds died who had caught the contagion froni


the garments of the sick, almost all were preserved
who followed the wise physician's advice.

But the people were not yet convinced of their mis-
take. One night a destructive little instrument, called
a hand-grenade, was thrown into Cotton Mather's win-
dow, and rolled under Grandfather's chair. It was
supposed to be filled with gunpowder, the explosion
of which would have blown the poor minister to atoms.
But the best informed historians are of opinion that
the grenade contained only briui stone and assafcetida,
and was meant to plague Cotton Mather with a very
evil perfume.

This is no strange thing in human experience. Men
who attempt to do the world more good than the world
is able entirely to comprehend are almost invariably
held in bad odor. But yet, if the wise and good man
can wait awhile, either the present generation or pos-
terity will do him justice. So it proved in the case
which we have been speaking of. In after years, when
inoculation was universally, practised, and thousands
were saved from death by it, the people remembered
old Cotton Mather, then sleeping in his grave. They
acknowledged that the very thing for which they had
so reviled and persecuted him was the best and wisest
thing he ever did.

'* Grandfather.^ this is not an agreeable story," ob-
served Clara.

" No, Clara," replied Grandfather. '' But it is right
that you should know what a dark shadow this disease
threw over the times of our forefathers. And now, if
you wish to learn more about Cotton Mather, you must
read his biography, written by Mr. Peabody, of Spring-
field. You will find it very entertaining and instruC'


fcive ; but perhaps the writer is somewhat too harsh in
his judgment of this singular man. He estimates him
fairly, indeed, and understands him well ; but he un-
riddles his character rather by acuteness than by sym-

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Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneThe whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 → online text (page 8 of 16)