William B. Cairns.

A history of American literature online

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36 AMERICAN LITERATURE

cessive use of adjectives, sometimes as many as twelve or
fifteen to one substantive. Perhaps the best descriptions of
the aborigines in New England were written by Daniel
Gookin (1612-1687), who long held the office of superintend-
ent of the Indians in the colony of Massachusetts. His main
concern for the Indians was the salvation of their souls, and
he wrote with the purpose of showing their capabilities and
the need of missionary work among them. His Historical
Collections of the Indians in New England was dedicated to
Charles II in 1674, but for some reason remained unpublished.
He also completed a history of New England on a large scale,
but the manuscript is supposed to have been destroyed by
fire. John Josselyn, who twice visited America, and who
spent, in all, some ten years in the colonies, is the author of
two picturesque works: New England's Rarities Discovered,
in Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, and Plants of that
Country, &c., published in 1672, and An Account of two
Voyages to New England, &c., 1674. Josselyn was a man
of family and education, and not much in sympathy with the
Puritan strictness of New England. He was chiefly inter-
ested in natural science, if the word science can be used in
connection with his method; for he records in the most
credulous fashion not only what he observes or thinks he
observes, but everything that he is told. His writings have
the attractiveness that belongs to a combination of a
child's book of wonders and a summary of quaint and for-
gotten theories.

By far the most significant writings produced in early New
England were those which dealt with religion and theology.

Few of these deserve the strict title of liter-
Writings 1 ature; still fewer are fairly readable to-day.

Their value comes from their intimate con-
nection with the life of the people from the fact that on
the one hand they were the chief influence in moulding liter-



THE COLONIAL TIME 37

ary taste, and that, on the other hand, they show the liter-
ary demands made by the public.

These writings were the work of the Puritan clergy, and
in order to understand them it is necessary to know some-
thing of their authors. The most notable

? :he . I ?!. w . E g ' characteristic of the ministers of the New
land Ministers

England churches was the high degree of

culture or more accurately of learning that they repre-
sented. As a rule they were Cambridge men who had made
their University studies, like everything else in their lives,
a matter of conscientious duty. The field that they covered
was not large, but they knew with the utmost thoroughness
Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and the intricate mazes of church
doctrine. Nor were these subjects for the private study
alone. Earely was a sermon printed without a motto in one
of the learned tongues. The accuracy of translations of the
Scriptures was often discussed in the pulpit. Quotations
from Greek, Latin, and Hebrew were common in sermons,
and even in prayers ; and almost every pulpit discourse, even
those intended for unlearned hearers, dealt with questions
of doctrine that would to-day be considered too abstruse for
the most intellectual congregation. This does not mean that
our ancestors were prodigies; but such powers of mind as
they had they were trained from childhood to exercise upon
questions of theology. Besides, the sermon was not a matter
for the hour only. It was the theme of conversation and of
private meditation throughout the week; and that defects of
memory might not interfere with a full mastery of its intri-
cacies, auditors were accustomed to bring to the meetinghouse
pencil and paper and take notes.

The published writings of the early ministers were largely
sermons, either singly or in series that formed virtual
systems of church doctrine, or manuals of church practice.
They also issued tracts and pamphlets on various subjects.



38 AMERICAN LITERATURE

For the minister was not only a spiritual teacher, but a
leader and an almost infallible guide in public affairs, the
interpreter of God's will to a people with whom the wishes
of Providence were supposed to control every act of life.
They were consulted at every step by legislators, governors,
and judges. These men are mpst of them remembered as
powerful influences in the colony, not as authors of any par-
ticular works of importance. It may be well, therefore, to
sketch briefly the lives of some of the most prominent of them
and afterward to notice some of the more general character-
istics of their writings.

The foremost minister of the first half-century in Massa-
chusetts was John Cotton (1585-1652). He was born in
Derby, England, and took his degree at Em-
' manuel College, Cambridge. After making a

brilliant record at the University he associated himself with
the Puritan party, and became pastor of a church at Boston,
England. It was in honor of this church and its illustrious
pastor that the chief town of Massachusetts was given its
name. When, in 1633, he was driven from England by the
persecutions of Archbishop Laud, the leader of the anti-
Puritan party, he came to the new Boston, where he was
made teacher and later pastor of the famous First Church.
His published works include, besides his controversy with
Eoger Williams, which will be mentioned later, such titles as :
A Brief Exposition upon Ecclesiastes; The Grounds and Ends
of the Baptism of the Children of the Faithful; A Treatise
concerning Predestination; A Modest and Clear Answer to
Mr. Ball's Discourse of Set Forms of Prayer; and the classic
New England catechism, usually known as Spiritual Milk
for Boston Babes. It is not of course by any of these tracts
and sermons that his power is to be estimated. It was
through his personal force and his pulpit oratory that he
became and long remained the real leader of the common-



THE COLONIAL TIME 39

wealth, determining the policy of the government as well as
that of the church.

This sketch of the life of John Cotton might almost serve
as the biography of most of his prominent colleagues. Among

these was Thomas Hooker (1586-1647). He
Thomas Hooker , n , .,

was born one year later than Cotton, was

also a graduate of Emmanuel College; and was also driven
from England by Laud, from whence he went first to Hol-
land, but afterward to America, crossing the ocean in the
same ship with Cotton. For three years he preached at
Cambridge, and then, with his congregation, founded the
town of Hartford, Connecticut. The eighteen titles of his
published works include : The Soul's Preparation for Christ;
or a Treatise of Contrition; The Soul's Vocation; or Effec-
tual Calling to Christ; The Saint's Dignity and Duty.

When Hooker left Cambridge in 1636 his successor in the
pulpit was Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), another graduate
of Emmanuel, and another victim of Laud.
Among his publications are: New England's
Lamentations for Old England's Errours;
Certain Select Cases Resolved; The Clear Sunshine of the
Gospel breaking forth upon the Indians in New England.
His writings are somewhat more readable to-day than those
of either Cotton or Hooker.

Cotton, Hooker, and Shepard seem at this distance to
stand out above their many devout and learned contempo-
raries, though it would be rash to say with certainty who were
really the ablest among the many early New England divines.
As has been said, in the history of literature they count more
as a class than as individuals. Great as were their differ-
ences in temperament, the overwhelming fact of their creed
seems to have reduced their methods of expression to a con-
siderable sameness.

The most noticeable characteristic of the writings of these



40 AMERICAN LITERATURE

men is logical exactness. A sermon of those days was not a
superficial discussion of a subject, but a thorough investiga-
tion of every point involved. Two hours was

a usual len ^ tl1 for such a discourse, and any
important topic was treated in a series of dis-
courses. The parishioner with his notebook was trained to
close thinking; and the sermon was arranged in numbered
headings and subheadings that suggest a modern college
textbook on an abstruse subject.

This closeness of analysis is best seen in sermons on doc-
trinal points; and to appreciate the logical structure it is
necessary to study a discourse as a whole. Every American,
certainly every American of New England ancestry, should
as a filial duty read at least one of these learned theological
discussions, to which his forefathers listened week after week.
More interesting and more readily quoted, though really less
significant, are the hortatory or damnatory sermons occa-
sionally preached to warn the hearers of the wrath to come.
The horrors of future punishment offered one of the few
subjects on which the Puritan allowed his imagination free
play ; and it sometimes seems as if he took an exultant pleas-
ure in the vivid picturing of eternal torment. Thomas
Shepard thus describes the dialogue between the Judge and
a lost soul at the last day :

In regard of the fearful sentence that then shall be passed upon
thee ; Depart thou cursed creature into everlasting fire, prepared for
the devil and his Angels. Thou shalt then cry out. Oh mercy, Lord !
Oh a little mercy! No, will the Lord Jesus say, I did indeed once
offer it you, but you refused, therefore Depart. Then thou shalt
plead again, Lord if I must depart, yet blesse me before I go : No, no,
Depart thou cursed. Oh but, Lord, if I must depart cursed, let me
go into some good place : No, depart thou cursed into hell fire. Oh
Lord, that's a torment I cannot bear ; but if it must be so, Lord,
let me come out again quickly ; No, depart thou cursed into ever-
lasting fire. Oh Lord, if this be thy pleasure, that here I must abide,
let me have good company with me. No depart thou cursed into ever-



THE COLONIAL TIME 41

lasting fire prepared for the Devil and his Angels. This shall be
thy sentence. . . .

The torment which wisdome shall devise, the Almighty power of
God shall inflict upon thee, so as there was never such power seen
in making the world, as in holding a poor creature under this wrath,
that holds up the soul in being with one hand, and beats it with the
other, ever burning like fire against a creature, and yet that creature
never burnt up, Rom. 9. 22. Think not this cruelty, it's justice.
. . . Thou canst not endure the torments of a little Kitchin fire on
the tip of thy finger, not one half hour together ; how wilt thou
bear the fury of this infinite, endlesse, consuming fire in body and
soul throughout all eternity? . . .

Thus (I say) thou shalt lie blaspheming, with Gods wrath like a
pile of fire on thy soul burning, and floods, nay seas, nay more,
seas of tears (for thou shalt forever lie weeping) shall never quench
it. And here which way soever thou lookest thou shalt see matter
of everlasting grief. Look up to Heaven, and there thou shalt see
(Oh) that God is for ever gone. Look about thee, thou shalt see
Devils quaking, cursing God ; and thousands, nay millions of sinfull,
damned creatures crying and roaring out with dolefull shriekings:
Oh the day that ever I was born !

Besides sermons and tracts the chief publications of the
clergy were controversial writings. Most typical are those
regarding some technicality of theology;
Writings* 1 otners were concerned with matters of church
discipline, such as methods of baptism, or
the right of women to sing psalms at public worship. An
interesting example, both from the importance of the ques-
tion discussed and the prominence of the participants, is that
between John Cotton and Roger Williams concerning perse-
cution for religious belief.

This controversy had its origin in England before the
emigration of the Puritans to America. An unknown pris-
oner, confined in Newgate because of his reli-
Tohn Cotton vs. . ,

Roger Williams & lon > com P ose d some arguments against per-
secution and sent them to a friend outside the
prison, employing the device familiar to every child of using
milk as a sympathetic ink. These arguments were pub-
lished ; and a part of them were sent to John Cotton with a



42 AMERICAN LITERATURE

request for his opinion upon them. In reply Cotton wrote
a letter, which was printed just at the time that Williams
visited England for the purpose of obtaining a charter for
Rhode Island. To this letter Williams wrote a hasty reply,
published under the title The Bloudy Tenent of Persecu-
tion for cause of Conscience, discussed in a Conference be-
tween Truth and Peace. When this reached America Cotton
wrote a rejoinder entitled The Bloody Tenent washed and
made white in the Blood of the Lamb; and this in turn called
forth from Williams The Bloody Tenent yet More Bloody: by
Mr. Cotton's endevour to wash it white in the Blood of the
Lambe.

The modern reader of this discussion is struck by the fact
that so much of it is made up of direct appeals to Scripture,
and especially to the symbolical parts of Scripture. The
prisoner in Newgate gives as his first argument against per-
secution, not the inhumanity and injustice of such treatment,
but:

Because Christ commandeth that the Tares and Wheat (which
some understand are those that walke in the Truth and those that
walke in Lies) should be let alone in the World, and not plucked up
untill the Harvest, which is the end of the World, Math. 13. 36.
88. &c.

This is followed by other similar scriptural arguments ; and
it is largely to these that Cotton devotes himself in his reply.
Thus, to the passage quoted, he says:

Tares are not Bryars and Thornes, but partly Hypocrites, like
unto the godly, but indeed carnall (as the Tares are like to Wheat
but are not Wheat,) or partly such corrupt doctrines or practices
as are indeed unsound, but yet such as come very near the truth
(as Tares do to the Wheat) and so neer that good men may be
taken with them, and so the persons in whom they grow cannot bee
rooted out, but good Wheat will be rooted out with them.

Arguments of other kinds are of course used by both Cotton
and Williams, but they are supported by frequent scriptural
citations. The tacit understanding seems to be that the con-



THE COLONIAL TIME 43

troversy must be settled by appeal not to the spirit but to
the letter of the Word of God.

One controversial pamphlet must almost be placed in a
class by itself. This is The Simple Cobler of Aggawamm,

by Nathaniel Ward (1579F-1652?). The
Nathaniel Ward , , - V

author was another of the graduates of Em-
manuel College, Cambridge, but instead of passing at once
from the University to the ministry, he studied and prac-
ticed law, travelled much, and saw the world. Finally he
took orders, and soon afterward, like most of his Puritan
brethren, suffered the displeasure of Laud. He came to
America in 1634, and settled as pastor of the church at
Aggawam, afterwards Ipswich. Owing to ill health he
resigned his pastorate after three years, but he continued to
reside in the colony until 1647, when he returned to England.
The Simple C oiler was begun in 1645 and was published in
London in 1647. On the title-page the author assumes the
character of a poor cobbler "willing to help mend his Native
Country, lamentably tattered, both in the upper-leather and
sole, with all the honest stitches he can take. And as willing
never to bee paid for his work, by Old English wonted pay."
He makes no attempt, however, to write in the manner of
a cobbler. The work may be characterized as a satire on
things in general, and a manual of advice to English Puri-
tans, especially to the Parliament. Nathaniel Ward's
breadth of experience had not given him breadth of mind,
and the first pages of his book are devoted to an intense
tirade against religious toleration :

It is said, That Men ought to have Liberty of their Conscience,
and that it is persecution to debarre them of it: I can rather stand
amazed then reply to this: it is an astonishment to think that the
braines of men should be parboyl'd in such impious ignorance ; Let
all the wits under the Heavens lay their heads together and finde an
Assertion worse then this (one excepted) I will petition to be chosen
the.universall Ideot of the world.



44 AMERICAN LITERATURE

This passage represents the style of the author when he is
most conventional. When he wishes to be forcible, he uses
outlandish words coined by himself, quotations from the
Latin, and figures that have the same effectiveness as those
of modern slang :

It is a most toylsome taske to run the wild-goose chase after a
well-breath'd Opinionist : they delight in vitilitigation : it is an itch
that loves alife to be scrub'd : they desire not satisfaction, but
eatisdiction, whereof themselves must be judges : yet in new erup-
tions of Error with new objections, silence is sinfull.

The reverend author does not exhaust his vocabulary in
attacking religious toleration, but pays his respects to women
of fashion in a still more forcible manner. The following is
a comparatively mild passage:

It is a more common then convenient saying, that nine Taylors
make a man: it were well if nineteene could make a woman to her
minde : if Taylors were men indeed, well furnished but with meer
morall principles, they would disdain to be led about like Apes, by
such myinick Marmosets. It is a most unworthy thing, for men that
have bones in them, to spend their lives in making fidle-cases for
futulous womens phansies ; which are the very pettitoes of Infirmity,
the giblets of perquisquilian toyes.

The latter part of the work is given over to a discussion of
contemporary affairs in England. Here are opinions as out-
spoken as those on toleration. Of the Irish after the mas-
sacres of 1641 he says:

I begge upon my hands and knees, that the Expedition against
them may be undertaken while the hearts and hands of our Souldiery
are hot, to whom I will be bold to say briefly : Happy is he that
shall reward them as they have served us, and Cursed be he that shall
do that work of the Lord negligently, Cursed be he that holdeth back
his Sword from blood : yea, Cursed be he that maketh not his Sword
starke drunk with Irish blood, that doth not recompence them double
for their hellish treachery to the English, that maketh them not
heaps upon heaps, and their Country a dwelling place for Dragons,
an Astonishment to Nations : Let not that eye look for pity, nor that
hand to be spared, that pities or spares them, and let him be
accursed, that curseth not them bitterly.



THE COLONIAL TIME 45

The peculiarities of the Simple C oiler are explained partly
by the author's personality and partly by the fact that he
was writing for English readers. It is an example of that
rough-and-ready pamphleteering which was less necessary in
the colonies, but which to many lower-class Englishmen of
Cromwell's time must have been more effective than the
systematic presentation of arguments buttressed with appeals
to Scripture. That the work was popular with the classes
for whom it was written is shown by the fact that it went
through four London editions in less than a year. More
recently it has been regarded chiefly as a literary curiosity.
The oddities of the author's manner have drawn attention
from his matter and the result has perhaps been fortunate
for his reputation. Read for its ideas alone, the work is an
exhibition of narrowness and bigotry unusual even in Puri-
tan times.

Contemporary biographies record the learning and the
virtues of many other early New England ministers, most of
whom published at least a few sermons and
tracts that were admired in their day. Few
of these men, however, deserve a place in a
literary history. Charles Chauncy (1592-1672), a graduate
of Trinity College, Cambridge, came to America in 1638,
and settled first at Plymouth and then at Scituate. In 1654
he became president of Harvard college. His publications
include two /volumes of sermons, and a controversial work
entitled Antisynodalia Americana. Because of his illustrious
descendants rather than of his own work mention should be
made of Richard Mather (1596-1669), the father of Increase,
the father of Cotton. Unlike most of his Puritan brethren
he was educated at Oxford. When he was driven from Eng-
land by Laud he came to America in 1635 and was for many
years pastor at Dorchester. His publications, besides his
part in the Bay Psalm Book, were mostly sermons.



46 AMERICAN LITERATURE

There was almost no poetry, in any strict sense of the term,
produced by the early New England colonists. Verses, or
attempts at verses, were common, and were
made by almost every one who wrote at all.
Governor Bradford put in rhyme many economic facts re-
garding New England :

Cattle of every kind do fill the land ;

Many are now kill'd, and their hides tann'd :

By which men are supply'd with meat and shoes,

Or what they can, though much by wolves they lose.

Other writers composed jingles of the sort current in En-
gland during the troubled political times saws intended
to stick in the popular mind, and to express a general truth
so as to suggest its application, perhaps in a treasonable way,
to current events. Nathaniel Ward furnishes several
examples of these couplets in the Simple Cobler.

In ending wars 'tween Subjects and their Kings,
Great things are sav'd by losing little things.

The body beares the head, the head the Crown,
If both beare not alike, then one will down.

Verses were also used for no other apparent purpose than to
relieve the monotony of prose. William Wood, in his New
England's Prospect, often puts catalogues of plants, trees,
animals, etc., in verse:

The Turkey-Phesant, Heathcocke, Partridge rare,
The carrion-tearing Crow, and hurtful Stare,
The long liv'd Raven, th' ominous Screech-Owle
Who tells, as old wives say, disasters foule.

The most common use of verses was, however, as memorial
tributes. At the death of any minister or public man his
friends felt called upon to express their grief
in rn y me( ^ l ines - These show perhaps better
that anything else the esthetic barrenness of
the times. They abound in puns, quibbles, and conceits.
Some of them show, as well as commemorate, great learning ;



THE COLONIAL TIME 47

but not one of them impresses a reader to-day as the heart-
felt expression of a true emotion. A very few examples of
this kind of literature must suffice. On the death of Thomas
Hooker, Peter Bulkley wrote:

Let Hartford sigh, and say, I've lost a treasure ;

Let all New England mourn at God's displeasure,

In taking from us one more gracious,

Than is the gold of Ophir precious,

Sweet was the savour which his grace did give,

It season'd all the place where he did live.

His name did as an ointment give it smell,

And all bear witness that it savoured well.

The death of John Cotton called forth many effusions, one
of the best of which was by John Norton :

And after Winthrop's Hooker's, Shepard's hearse,
Doth Cotton's death call for a mourning verse?
Thy will be done. Yet lord, who dealest thus,
Make this great death expedient for us.

That comets, great men's deaths do oft forego,
This present comet doth too sadly show.
This prophet dead, yet must in's doctrine speak,
This comet saith, else must New England break.
Whate'er it be, the heavens avert it far,
That meteors should succeed our greatest star.
In Boston's orb, Winthrop and Cotton were;
These lights extinct, dark is our hemisphere.

Morton's Memoriall, the great storehouse of these eulogies,
preserves this gem:

The ninth of May, about nine of the clock,
A precious one God out of Plimouth took ;
Governor Bradford then expired his breath,
Was call'd away by force of cruel death.

The following, on the death of the Reverend Mr. Norton and
the Reverend Mr. Stone, is more ingenious:

Last spring this summer may be autumn styl'd,
Sad withering fall our beauties which despoil'd ;
Two choicest plants, our Norton and our Stone,
Your justs threw down ; remov'd, away are gone.



48 AMERICAN LITERATURE

One year brought Stone and Norton to their mother,
In one year April, July did them smother.

A stone more than the Ebenezer fam'd ;
Stone splendent diamond, right orient nam'd ;
A cordial stone, that often cheered hearts
With pleasant wit, with Gospel rich imparts ;
Whetstone that edgified th' obtusest mind ;
Loadstone, that drew the iron heart unkind.
A pond'rous stone, that would the bottom sound
Of scripture depths, and bring out Arcan's found.

The same limitations that are seen in these elegiac verses



Online LibraryWilliam B. CairnsA history of American literature → online text (page 4 of 41)