Palfrey's and Arnold's Histories

THE London “Times,” in its comments upon a recent desponding utterance of foreboding for our republic, by President Buchanan, in his Fort Duquesne Letter, affirms that the horizon of England is clearing while our own is darkening. Mr. Bright, true to the omen of his name, thinks better of our country. He seizes upon all fit occasions, as in his late speech at Manchester, to hold up to his countrymen the opposite view, so far at least as concerns our republic. He loves to recommend to his constituents American notions and institutions. Perhaps it may be allowed, —though this is hardly to be affirmed, if any decisive argument depends upon it,— that the peculiar institutions, political and social, of the two nations, have been on trial long enough, side by side, through the same race of men and in the pursuit of the same interests, to enable a wise discerner to strike the balance between them, in respect to their efficiency and their security as intrusted with the welfare and destiny of millions. If we can learn to look at the large experiment in that light, all that helps to put the real issue intelligently before us will be of equal interest to us, from whichever side of the water it may present itself. For ourselves, we believe that the best security against despair for our country is a knowledge of its history. If the study of our annals does not train up patriots among us, we must consent to lose our heritage. We are glad to be assured that our historians do not intend to allow the republic to decay before they have written out in full the tale of its life. Their records, well digested, may prove to be the pledges of its vigor and permanence. There are those in the land, who, for reasons suggested by President Buchanan, and for others, of darker omen, to which he makes no reference, do despair, or greatly fear. What with an honest hate of some public iniquities among us,—the tolerance and strengthening of which many of our politicians regard as the vital conditions of our national existence,—and a dread of the excesses incident to our large liberty, it is not strange that some of our own citizens should accord in sentiment with the London “Times.” Probably the same proportion of persons may be now living among the native population of our national soil, as appeared at the era of the Revolution, preferring English institutions to our own, and predicting that her government will outlast our own. Discussions raised upon the present aspect of affairs in either country will not settle the issue thus opened. A real knowledge of our own institutions and a reasonable confidence in their permanence are to be found only in an intelligent and very intimate acquaintance with their growth and development. In our histories are to he found the materials of our prophecies.

We welcome, therefore, with infinite satisfaction, the two admirable volumes whose titles we have set down. For reasons which will appear before we conclude our remarks upon them, we find it convenient to unite their titles and to write about them together; but for distinctness of subject and marked individuality in the mode of treatment, no two books can stand more widely apart. Abilities and culture and aptitudes of the very highest order have been brought to the composition of each of them. An exhaustive use of abundant materials, and a most conscientious fidelity in digesting them into high-toned philosophical narrations, are marked features of both the volumes, and we will not venture upon the ungracious office of instituting comparisons, in these respects, between their authors. We must make a slight report of the story of each of them, and of the method and spirit in which it is told, and then confront them for mutual cross-examination.

Our historians have learned to write their books with full as much reference to their being read abroad as at home. The problem with which they first have to deal, therefore, is, how to make the men and the incidents and the cardinal points of our annals look as large to foreigners as they do to us. Many of our town-histories are written in the tone and style of Mr. Poole’s “Little Pedlington,”— the epithet Little being suppressed in the title, but obtruded on every page. The intensity and emphasis of our historic strain appear to foreigners to be disproportionate to the subject-matter of the story. Mr. Punch always represents a Yankee as larger than his garments. His trousers never cover his ankles; his cuffs stop far short of his wrists; his long neck extends beyond the reach of even his capacious collar; and the bone in him lacks amplitude of muscle. But Mr. Punch, with all his wisdom, does not fully understand the composition of a Yankee, as the greatest common multiple of a Teuton, Dane, Norman, Frank, Kelt, and Englishman. Dr. Palfrey’s volume will largely conciliate our cousins beyond the water to our own conceit of our annals, because, more distinctly and cogently than any previous record in pamphlet or folio, it identifies the springs and purposes of our heroic age with an era and a type of men which English historians now exalt on their own noblest pages.

Dr. Palfrey has had precisely that natural endowment, training, experience, mental discipline, and intercourse with the world in public and private relations, to furnish him with the best qualifications for the work to which he has devoted the autumn of an eminently useful and honored life. The sinewy fibre of his theme is religion. And he is a religious man of the highest pattern, deeply skilled in its scholarly lore, erudite in its Scriptural and controversial elements, and practised in the sagacity which it imparts for understanding and interpreting human nature. Religion enters into the subjectmatter of his narrative, not so much in its philosophical bearings as in its civicoecclesiastical and institutional relations; where it becomes the spine of the social fabric, traversed and perforated with the nervous life-chords for all the members of the organism. His education has been that of the highest ideal of New England,—through books and men, through professional duties and public services, bringing him into relations with youth, with men and women, and with the forms and the routine work of civil and political administrations. He has at his command the language of devotion, the rhetoric and logic of philosophy, and the technicalities of jurisprudence. To his personal friends, and they are very many in every walk of life, it is a matter of grateful recognition that he escaped from a political arena whose conflicts were not congenial with his delicacy of taste or of conscience, in season to give the vigor of his best years to the composition of a work which will spread his fame to other lands and identify it forever with what is of most reverent and honored remembrance on his native soil.

The historian’s work, when done after the best pattern, involves a duty to his readers and a privilege for himself. To them he is bound to present all the essential facts, authenticated, illustrated, and carefully disposed in their natural relations. For himself, having done this, he is at liberty to construct his own theory, to follow his own philosophy, and to pronounce judicial decisions. The highest exaction to be made of an historian, and the loftiest function which he could claim to exercise, are expressed in these two conditions. The noble privilege and opportunity secured in the latter condition are the only adequate reward for the drudgery of the labor required in the former. It would be foolish to raise a question whether it be more essential for an historian to be faithful in his narration or to be wise in his comments. Only the statement we have made will serve to remind us how essential the philosophy of human nature is to throw life into a record of old annals.

The two books in our hands, where their specific themes are identical, substantially accord in their relation of facts, —allowing for a few exceptional cases,— but they differ widely in their philosophy. Very much of the fresh interest which both of them will create in their respective subjects will be found in the collisions of their philosophy.

Dr. Palfrey had a favorable opportunity for undertaking to write anew the history of New England. Those who have yet to acquaint themselves with that history say there was no occasion for this reiterated labor. If such persons will merely read over his notes, without wasting any of their precious time upon his text, they will discover their mistake. There are in those notes matters new even to adepts. All the recent materials which have been lavishly contributed from public and private stores by public and private researches amount in sum and in importance to an actual necessity for their digest and incorporation into a new history. Dr. Palfrey has used these with a most patient fidelity, and his references to them and his extracts from them convey to his readers the results of an amount of labor which the most grateful of them will not be likely to overestimate. While he speaks to us in his text, he allows those whom we most wish to hear to speak to us in his rich and well-chosen excerpts from a mountain-heap of authorities.

The Dedication of the volume to Dr. Sparks has in it a rare felicity, which is to be referred to two facts: first, that the writer had some peculiarly touching and grateful things to say; and, second, that he knew how to say them in language fitted to the sentiment. In his Preface, he announces his purpose with its plan, refers us to his authorities and sources, and recognizes his obligations to individual friends. Some of the choicest matters in his Notes are the results of his own personal research in England.

The limit which he sets for himself will carry forward his History to the time of the English Revolution, thus embracing our annals during the vitality of our first Charter. That Charter, its origin, transfer, and subsequent service as the basis of government, the reiterated efforts to wrest it, and the persistent resolution to hold it, give to it a symbolic significance which warrants the dating of an epoch by it. Dr. Palfrey regards our local political existence as commencing from the hour in which that document, with its official representatives, reached these shores. We have seen criticisms disputing this position, but, as we think, not even plausible, still less effective to discredit it. We must have an incident, besides a punctum temporis, for our start in government; and where could we find a better one than that on which the whole subsequent course and character of the government depended? We go, then, for the old Charter, and for the setting up of a jurisdiction under it here. It was an admirable and every way convenient document; good for securing rights, impotent as impairing liberties. It comforted the “Magistrates” to have it to fall back upon, when its provisions harmonized with their purposes; nor did they allow themselves to be embarrassed by it, when it appeared that some of their purposes were not fully provided for in it. That Charter got wonderfully aired and invigorated on its ocean-passage. The salt water agreed with its constitution. In a single instance, at least, it falsified the old maxim,—Cœlum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt. That was a marvellous piece of parchment. So far as Massachusetts was concerned, the Declaration of Independence was interlined upon it in sympathetic ink.

We hardly know of fifty octavo pages anywhere in which so much investigation and labor condense their results so intelligibly into such useful information as in each of the first two chapters of this volume. The first is devoted to the Physical Geography of the Peninsula of New England, its Natural History, and its Aborigines; the second is a summary sketch of the Early Voyages and Explorations. In this we find the most discriminating view which we have ever seen of the marvellous adventures of John Smith,— so happily and suggestively described as the “fugitive slave” who was “the founder of Virginia.” The notes on the credibility and authenticity of the narrations connected with his name are admirable. In reading these two chapters, one must muse upon the wilderness trampings and the ocean perils of the keen-set and allenduring men who furnished the material for these high-seasoned pages.

“Puritanism in England” is, of course, the author’s starting-point. Here he finds his men and their principles. A partial reformation is the most mischievous influence that can work in society. It unsettles, but is not willing to rebuild, even when it can learn how to do so. Reaction and excess are the Scylla and Charybdis of its perils. Compromise is the very essence of a partial reformation; and compromise in matters of moral and religious concern, where it is not folly, is crime. Where any party has been in earnest in a strife, there is no honest end at which it can rest till it reaches the goal of righteousness. The active element of Puritanism was the persistency of a religious party in pursuing a purpose which was yielded up, at a point short of its full attainment, by another branch of the party, which up to that point had made common cause with them. To speak plainly, the English Puritans regarded their former prelatical and conformist associates as traitors to a holy cause. They had engaged together in good faith in the work of reformation. They had suffered together. When the time came for triumph, a schism divided them; and the more zealous smarted from wounds inflicted by the lukewarm. It appeared that the Prelatists had been looking to ends of state policy, while the Puritans kept religion in view. The Conformists thought their ends were reached when Roman prelacy was set aside, and certain local ecclesiastical changes had been effected; but the real Puritans wanted to get and to establish the essential Gospel.

Dr. Palfrey tells this story concisely, but emphatically. He takes two stages of the Puritan development in England, from which to deduce respectively the emigration to Plymouth and to Massachusetts Bay. Stopping at intervals to make intelligible the perplexities connected with the patents and charters, his narrative is thenceforward continuous, admitting new threads to be woven into it as the pattern and the fabric both become richer. For the first time we have the full connection presented in solid history between the Scrooby Church and Plymouth Colony. And the tracing is beautifully done. An artist may find his paintings in these pages. Our poets may here find themes which will be the more tempting and rewarding, the more closely they are held to severe historic verity. They will find, that, after all, the most promising materials for the imagination to deal with are facts. The residence of the exiles in Holland, their debates and arrangements with respect to a more distant remove, the ocean passage, the first forlorn experiences during two winters at Plymouth, are vividly presented. The paragraph, on page 182, beginning, “A visitor to Plymouth,” gives us a picture better than that which hangs in the Pilgrim Hall. If the sternest foe of the Pilgrims across the water could have looked upon the exiles in their winter dreariness, hungry, wasted, dying, cowering beneath the accumulation of their woes, he might have regarded the scene as presenting but a reasonable retribution upon a stolid obstinacy in the most direful and needless self-inflictions. “Why could they not have been content to cling to the comforts of Old England, and to restrain their wilfulness of spirit?” The question is answered now differently from what it would have been then. We have used one wrong word about those exiles, in speaking of them as cowering under their woes. They did not cower, but breasted them.

After another most pregnant and exhaustive episode on Puritan politics in England, Dr. Palfrey brings in that thread of his story on which is strung the fortune of Massachusetts. It is here that Englishmen will find explained some of our vaunting views of the importance of our annals. Dr. Palfrey, in this and in other chapters, traces with skill and exactness the course of public measures and events in England, through kingly tyrannies and popular resistance, which ended by harmonizing the institutions of the mother country for a little while with those which had sprung up in this wilderness. He soon comes upon ticklish matters, but his touch and hold are firm, because he feels sure that he is dealing with men who understood themselves, and who were at least resolute and honest, to whatever degree they may have erred. Probably, like many of us who are aware that we could not possibly have lived comfortably with our ancestors, he feels all the more bound on that account to set their memory in the light of their noblest and least selfish ends. He is stout and unflinching in his championship of those ancestors: he sees in their experiment a lofty ideal; he vindicates their policy in the measures for realizing it; nor does he withhold apologetic or vindicatory words where “unmeet persons” among the whites or Indians stood in the way of it.

Henceforward Dr. Palfrey has to follow out each thread of his story by itself, as by-and-by he will have to gather them into one cord. He traces the developments of months and years in the original settlements, and pursues them as they lead him to new territory in the Northeast and the Southwest, into Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Another episode on the opening of the Civil War at home, which invited a large return of the exiles, and a record of the original confederacy of the New England Colonies, bring us to the present close of his labors. May they be speedily continued! and may we enjoy the reality, as we now do the promise of them!

We turn now to Mr. Arnold’s book. The field which it traverses is narrower as regards space, but its spirit is large and generous, and its subject-matter is of the loftiest significance. If the writer does not indulge us with many disquisitions, it is not from lack of ability. Wherever, as in his moralizings upon King Philip’s War, and in his incidental comments upon the peculiarities and temper of his prominent men, he allows us to meet his own mind, he is uniformly wise and interesting. He stands by Rhode Island as does Dr. Palfrey by Massachusetts; and seeing that for a far longer period than the two books run on together the two Colonies were at strife, we are glad to have before us both the ways in which the story may be told. There are various sharp judgments on Massachusetts men and principles in the Rhode Island book. The argument is in good hands on either side.

Mr. Arnold begins with the first occupation of Rhode Island by white men, and conducts his narrative to the close of the century. His research has been faithful. His style is chaste, forcible, and often picturesque. He has seen the world widely, and he knows human nature. He understands very well what a place of honor and what a well-proved assurance of safety distinctive Rhode Island principles have attained. The issue, having been found so triumphant, has dignified to the historian the early, humble, and bewildering steps and processes through which it was reached. The narrative on his pages is the most distracting one ever written in the annals of civilized men. Every conceivable element of strife, discord, agitation, alarm, dissension, and bitterness is to be found in it,—redeemed only by a prevailing integrity, right-mindedness, and right-heartedness in all the leading spirits. Each man in each of the towns composing the original elements of the Colony was a whole “democratie” in himself, and generally a “fierce” one. Disputed boundaries with both the other Colonies, and an especial and continuous feud with Massachusetts,—unruly spirits, bent upon working out all manner of impracticable theories,—the oddest and most original, as well as the most obstinate and indomitable dreamers and enthusiasts, furnished some daily nutriment to dissension with their neighbors or among themselves. Men of mark, like Roger Williams, Samuel Gorton, Governor Arnold, and William Harris, appear equally competent for fomenting strife of a sort to threaten every essential element of civil society, and for averting all permanent harm while putting on trial the most revolutionary theories. On page 337, Mr. Arnold has a note most characteristic of a large portion of his whole theme, as covering both his men and their measures. Many of the documents, of an official character, written by citizens, towns, or rulers in Rhode Island, were of such a sort in language and matter, that the town of Warwick did not think them fit for the public records, and so enjoined that the clerk should keep them in a file by themselves. This was known as “the Impertinent File,” and, more profanely, but not less appropriately, as “ the Damned File.” A certain “ perditious letter,” written by Roger Williams himself, serves as the nucleus of this deposit; and we read of another of the documents as being as “full of uncivil language as if it had been indited in hell.”

Mr. Arnold picks his way through all these dissensions, and finds a full reward in the nobleness of the men and the principles with which he has in the main to deal. His only abatement of praise to Roger Williams is on account of his bitter feud with William Harris. He repels, as slanderous, the imputations founded on alleged interpolations restricting religious liberty in the code, and cast at Roger Williams for undue severity to Quakers and for favoring Indian slavery. Randolph’s visit, Andros’s administration, the suspension and resumption of the Charter, bring him out into broader matters, which he treats with frankness and skill.

The more histories we have from the pens of competent writers, even though they go over the same ground, the more lively and interesting will the pages be. We need not fear that like fidelity and ability in the use of the same materials by different writers will reduce our modern histories to a dead level of uniform narration. None but those well-skilled in our annals are aware what scope they afford, not only for special pleas, but also for honest diversity of judgment, in viewing and pronouncing upon many testpoints vital to the theme. Indeed, when the historic vein shall have been exhausted, it will be found that there is more than a score of special and contested points, in each of our first two centuries, admirably suited for monographs. We have but to compare a few pages in each of the two excellent works now in our hands, to see how men of the highest ability, of rigid candor, and scrupulous fidelity in the use of the same materials, while spreading the same facts before their readers, may tell different tales, varying to the whole extent of the diversity in their respective judgments and moralizings. We can easily illustrate this assertion from the pages before us. Though Dr. Palfrey stops more than a half-century short of the date to which Mr. Arnold carries us, the former indicates exactly how and where he will be at issue with the latter, even to the end of the story common to both of them. So strong and clear is Dr. Palfrey’s avowal of fealty to the honorable and unsullied fame of the founders of Massachusetts, that he will not be likely, on any later page, to qualify what he has already written. It happens, too, that the points in which any two of our historians would be most disposed to part in judgment lie within the space and the years common to both these writers. We can but indicate, in a very brief way, some of the more salient divergences between them, and we must preface the specification by acknowledging again the high integrity of both.

Dr. Palfrey writes, unmistakably, as a man proud of his Massachusetts lineage. He honors the men whose enterprise, constancy, persistency, and wise skill in laying foundations have, in his view, approved their methods and justified them, even where they are most exposed to a severe judgment. He wishes to tell their story as they would wish to have it told. They stand by his side as he reads their records, and supply him with a running comment as to meaning and intention. Thus he is helped to put their own construction on their own deeds,—to set their acts in the light of their motives, to give them credit for all the good that was in their purposes, and to ascribe their mistakes and errors to a limitation of their views, or to well-founded apprehensions of evil which they had reason to dread. Under such pilotage, the passengers, at least, would be safe, when their ship fell upon a place where two seas met. Now Massachusetts and Rhode Island were in stiff hostility during the period here chronicled. The founder of Rhode Island and nearly all of its leading spirits had been “spewed out of the Bay Colony,”—and the institutions which the Rhode Islanders set up, or rather, their seeming purpose to do without any institutions, constituted a standing grievance to the rigid disciplinarians of Massachusetts. Indeed, we have to look to the relations of annoyance, jealousy, and open strife, which arose between the two Colonies in the ten years following 1636, for the real explanation of the severity visited upon the Quakers in Massachusetts in the five years following 1656. These early Quakers, when not the veritable persons, were the ghosts of the old troublers of “the Lord’s people in the Bay.” Gorton, Randall Holden, Mrs. Dyer, and other “exorbitant persons,” who had been found “unmeet to abide in this jurisdiction,” could not be got rid of once for all.

Mr. Arnold glories in the early reproach of Rhode Island. He finds its title to honor above every other spot on earth in the phenomena which made it so hateful to Massachusetts. In every issue raised between it and the Bay Colony from the very first, and in every element of its strife, he stands stoutly forth as its champion, and casts scornful reflections, though not in a scornful spirit. Wherever our two historians have the same point under treatment, we discern this antagonism between them,—never in a single case manifesting itself in an offensive or bitter way, but tending greatly to give a brisk and quickening vigor to their pages. Arnold claims that a perfectly democratical government and entire religious freedom are “exclusively Rhode Island doctrines, and to her belongs the credit of them both.” He might afford to give Massachusetts the appreciable honor of having been the indirect means of opening those large visions to the eyes of men who certainly were a most uncomfortable set of citizens while under pupilage. Mr. Bancroft had previously written thus:—“Had the territory of Rhode Island corresponded to the importance and singularity of the principles of its early existence, the world would have been filled with wonder at the phenomena of its history.”2 It was only because the State was no larger that it was a safe field for the first trial of such principles. And it has often proved, that, the larger the principle, the more circumscribed must needs be the field within which it is first tested. It was well that the first experiments on the capabilities of steam were tried by the nose of a teakettle. Seeing that most of the early settlers of Rhode Island had very little property, and scarce anything of what Christendom had previously been in the habit of regarding as religion, the territory was the most fitting place for the trial of revolutionary principles. Mr. Arnold says, very curtly, but very truly, —“No form of civil government then existing could tolerate her democracy, and even Christian charity denied her faith.” (p. 280.) The wonder of the world, however, would have been more curiously engaged in watching what legislation for religion could possibly have devised for a community made up of all sorts of consciences. The little State deserves the honor claimed for her. But had she any alternative course?

Mr. Arnold, we think, defines with more sharp and guarded accuracy than does Dr. Palfrey the ruling aim and motive of the founders of Massachusetts. An historian of Massachusetts, knowing beforehand through what a course of unflinching and resolute consistency with their first principles he is to follow her early legislators, has reason to limit their aim and motive at the start, that he may not assume for them more than he can make good. Especially if he intend to palliate, and, still more, to justify, some of the severer and more oppressive elements of their policy, he will find it wise to qualify their purpose within the same limitations which they themselves set for it. Dr. Palfrey parts with an advantage of which he afterwards has need to avail himself, when he states the motive of the exiles too broadly, as a search for a place in which to exercise liberty of conscience. He speaks of these exiles as recognizing in “religious freedom a good of such vast worth as to be protected by the possessor, not only for himself, but for the myriads living and to be born, of whom he assumes to be the pioneer and the champion.” (p. 301.) This large and unqualified claim might be advanced for the founders of Rhode Island, but it cannot be set up for the founders of Massachusetts. Whoever asserts it for the latter commits himself most unnecessarily to an awkward and ineffective defence of them in a long series of restrictive and severe measures against “religious freedom,” beginning with the case of the Brownes at Salem, and including acts of general legislation as well as of continuous ecclesiastical and judicial proceeding. Winthrop tells us that the aim of his brotherhood was “to enjoy the ordinances of Christ in their purity here.” The General Court repeatedly signified its desire to have a draft of laws prepared which might be “agreeable to the word of God.” Now either of these statements of the ruling purpose of the colonists, as then universally understood and interpreted, was inconsistent with what we now understand by “freedom in religion,” or “liberty of conscience.” What were regarded as “the pure ordinances of Christ” could not have been set up here, nor could such laws as were then considered as “agreeable to the word of God” have been enacted here, without impairing individual freedom in matters of religion. Indeed, it was the very attempt to realize these objects which occasioned every interference with perfect liberty of conscience. The fathers of Massachusetts avowed their purpose to be, not the opening of an asylum for all kinds of consciences, but the establishment of a Christian commonwealth. Their consistency can be vindicated by following out their own idea, but not by assigning to them a larger one.

Mr. Arnold, as we have said, is more sharply guarded in his statement of the aim of the founders of the Bay Colony in this respect; and it is all the more remarkable that he does not give them the benefit of the recognized limitation. He defines for them a restricted object, but he judges them by a standard before which they never measured themselves, and then condemns them for short-comings. He tells us distinctly that the motives of the exiles "were certainly not those assigned them by Charles I., 'the freedom of liberty of conscience’” (p. 10); that “they looked for a home in the New World where they might erect an establishment in accordance with their peculiar theological views. 'They sought a faith’s pure shrine,’ based on what they held to be a purer system of worship, and a discipline more in unison with their notions of a church. Here they proceeded to organize a state, whose civil code followed close on the track of the Mosaic Law, and whose ecclesiastical polity, like that of the Jews, and of all those [Christian governments?] then existing, was identified with the civil power. They thus secured, what was denied them in England, the right to pursue their own form of religion without molestation, and in this the object of their exile was attained.” (p. 11.) And again, Mr. Arnold says,—"They founded a colony for their own faith, without any idea of tolerating others.” (p. 41.) All this is admirably said. It is precisely what the exiles would wish might be said of them in all the histories of them; for it is what they said of themselves, in defining their own object; it was, further, what they felt in their hearts to be their object, more intensely than they could give it utterance. But the object is at once seen to be limited within the fearful license of religious freedom. The Scriptural and legislative fetters on such liberty were too repressive not to amount to an essential qualification of it. "The Simple Cobbler of Agawam,” Ward of Ipswich, made a clean breast for himself and his contemporaries, when he numbered among the “foure things which my heart hath naturally detested: Tolerations of diverse Religions, or of one Religion in segregant shapes. He that willingly assents to this, if he examines his heart by daylight, his conscience will tell him he is either an Atheist, or an Heretigal, or an Hypocrite, or at best a captive to some lust. Poly-piety is the greatest impiety in the world.” With such frank avowals on the part of those who had borne so much in the attempt to make themselves comfortable in their exile to these hard regions, that they might here try to work out their harder problem, it is a great deal too severe a standard for judging their acts which is set up for them in the fancied principle of religious liberty. We wonder that Mr. Arnold withholds from them the benefit of his and their own clear limitation of the principle,—a limitation so severe, as, in fact, to constitute quite another principle. Was it at all strange, then, that they should deal resolutely with Roger Williams, on account of "the firmness with which, upon every occasion, he maintained the doctrine, that the civil power has no control over the religious opinions of men.”? (p. 41.) It was for no other purpose than to engage the civil power for a pure religion that they were dwelling in poor huts on these ocean headlands, and sustaining their lives upon, muscles gathered on the shore after the receding of the tide.

Dr. Palfrey and Mr. Arnold hold and utter quite opposite judgments about the treatment of Roger Williams by Massachusetts. The latter, having stated more definitely than the former the limited aim of our colonists, which was utterly inconsistent with toleration in religion and with laxity in civil matters, nevertheless considers the men of Massachusetts unjustifiable in their course toward the founder of Rhode Island. Dr. Palfrey, on weaker grounds than those allowed by Mr. Arnold, thinks their most stringent proceedings perfectly defensible. He regards Mr. Williams as an intruder, whose opinions, behavior, and influence were perilous alike to the civil and the religious peace of the colonists; and he holds the colonists as not chargeable with any breach of the laws of justice or of mercy in sending out of their jurisdiction, into another patch of the same wilderness, a man all whose phenomena were of the most uncomfortable and irritating character. We confess that our reading and thinking identify our judgment on this matter with that of our own historian. There can be no question but that Roger Williams—whether he was thirty-two years old, as Mr. Arnold thinks, or, as Dr. Palfrey judges, in his twentyfifth year, when he landed here—was, in what we must call his youth, seeing that he lived to an advanced age, a heady and contentious theorizer. Our fathers could not try more than one theory at a time; and the theory they were bent upon testing naturally preceded, in the series of the world’s progressive experiments, the more generous, but, at the same time, more dangerous one which he advanced; and their theory had a right to an earlier and a full trial, as lying in the way of a safe advance towards his bolder Utopianism. The mild Bradford and the yet milder Brewster were glad when Plymouth was rid of him. His first manifestation of himself, on his arrival here, requires to be invested with the halo of a later admiration, before it can be made to consist with the heralding of an apostle of the generous principles of toleration and charity in religion. Winthrop had recorded for us his refusal “to join with the congregation at Boston.” This had been understood as referring to an unwillingness on the part of Williams to enter into communion with the church. But from a letter of his which has come to light within the year, it seems that he had been invited, previously to the arrival of Cotton, to become teacher of the church. And on account of what constraint of soulliberty did he decline the office? Because the members of that church “would not make a public declaration of their repentance for having communion with the churches of England, while they lived there”! The good man lived to grow milder and more tolerant of the whims and prejudices and convictions of his fellow-men, through a free indulgence of his own. And, what is more remarkable, he found it necessary to apply, in restraint of others, several of the measures against which he had protested when brought to bear upon himself. He came to discover that there was mischief in “such an infinite liberty of conscience” as was claimed by his own followers. The erratic Gorton was to him precisely what the legislators of Massachusetts had feared that he himself would prove to be to them. He publicly declared himself in favor of “a due and moderate restraint and punishing” of some of the oddities of the Quakers. In less than ten years after he had so frightened Massachusetts by questioning the validity of an English charter to jurisdiction here, he went to England on a successful errand to obtain just such a document for himself and his friends.

Our two historians, with all the facts before them, honestly stated too, but diversely interpreted, stand in open antagonism of judgment about the proceedings of Massachusetts against the Antinomians. That bitter strife—Dux fœmina facti—was in continuation of the issue opened by Roger Williams, though it turned upon new elements. Here, again, Mr. Arnold stands stoutly for the partisans of Mrs. Hutchinson, who moved towards the new home in the Narragensett country. He sees in the strife, mainly, a contest of a purely theological character, leading on to a development of democratical ideas. (p. 66.) Dr. Palfrey insists that it would be unjust to allege that the Antinomians were dealt with for holding “distasteful opinions on dark questions of theology,” and affirms that they were put down as wild and alarming agents of an “immediate anarchy.” (pp. 489, 491.) In this matter, also, our own judgment goes with our own historian. And the very best confirmation that it could have is found in the fact, that the prime movers in the most threatening stage of that dire conflict afterwards made ample confession of their heat, their folly, and their outrages,—approving the stern proceedings under which they had suffered. Wheelwright, especially, in whose advocacy the cause of his sister-in-law first assumed so threatening an aspect, most humbly avowed his sin and penitence.

One more very curious illustration of the divergence of judgment in our two new historians may be instanced. They have both written, as became them, quite brilliantly and vigorously, about the aborigines of the soil. But how marvellously they differ! Dr. Palfrey discredits the romance of Indian character and life. His mind dwells upon the squalor and wretchedness of their existence, the shiftlessness and incapacity of their natural development, their improvidence, their beastliness and forlorn debasement; and he is wholly skeptical about the savage virtues of constancy, magnanimity, and wild-wood dignity. He sighs over them another requiem, toned in the deep sympathy of a true Christian heart; but he does not lament in their sad method of decay the loss of any element of manhood or of the higher ingredients of humanity. But Mr. Arnold pitches his requiem to a different strain. He reproduces and refines the romance which Dr. Palfrey would dispel. He exalts the Indian character; gathers comforts and joys and pleasing fashionings around their life; enlarges the sphere of their being, and asserts in them capacity to fill it. The wigwam of Massasoit is elegantly described by Mr. Arnold as “his seat at Mount Hope,” (p. 23,)—and pungently, by Dr. Palfrey, as “his sty,” in whose comfortless shelter, Winslow and Hopkins, of Plymouth, on their visit to the chief, had “a distressing experience of the poverty and filth of Indian hospitality.” (pp. 183, 184.) Arnold tells us, the Indians “were ignorant of Revelation, yet here was Plato’s great problem of the Immortality of the Soul solved in the American wilderness, and believed by all the aborigines of the West.” (p. 78.) But Palfrey, knowing nothing of what his contemporary was writing, had already put into print this sentence:—“The New England savage was not the person to have discovered what the vast reach of thought of Plato and Cicero could not attain.” (p. 49.)

Here are strange variances of judgment. But how much more of interest and activity lives in the mind, both of writers and readers, when history is written with such divergent philosophies and comments! Nobly, in both cases before us, have the writers done their work, and heartily do we render our tribute to them.

  1. History of New England during the Stuart Dynasty. By John Gorham Palfrey. Vol. I. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1858. 8vo. pp. 636.
  2. History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. By Samuel Greene Arnold, Vol. I. 1636-1700. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1859. 8vo. pp. 574.
  3. BANCROFT’S History of the United States. I. 380.