The Puritan Minister
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. XII.—SEPTEMBER, 1863. — NO. LXXI.
IT is nine o’clock upon a summer Sunday morning, in the year sixteen hundred and something. The sun looks down brightly on a little forest settlement, around whose expanding fields the great American wilderness recedes each day, withdrawing its bears and wolves and Indians into an ever remoter distance,— not yet so far but that a stout wooden gate at each end of the village street indicates that there is something outside which must stay outside, if possible. It would look very busy and thriving in this little place, to-day, but for the Sabbath stillness which broods over everything with almost an excess of calm. Even the smoke ascends more faintly than usual from the chimneys of these abundant log - huts and scanty framed houses, and since three o’clock yesterday afternoon not a stroke of this world’s work has been done. Last night a preparatory lecture was held, and now comes the consummation of the whole week’s life, in the solemn act of worship. In which settlement of the Massachusetts Colony is the great observance to pass before our eyes ? If it be Cambridge village, the warning drum is beating its peaceful summons to the congregation. If it be Salem village, a bell is sounding its more ecclesiastic peal, and a red flag is simultaneously hung forth from the meeting-house, like the auctionflag of later periods, but offering in this case goods without money and beyond price. But if it be Haverhill village, then Abraham Tyler has been blowing his horn assiduously for half an hour, a service for which Abraham, each year, receives a half-pound of pork from every family in town.
Be it drum, bell, or horn, which gives the summons, we will draw near to this important building, the centre of the village, the one public edifice,—meeting - house, town - house, school - house, watch-house, all in one. So important is it, that no one; can legally dwell more than a half-mile from it. And yet the people ride to meeting, short though the distance be, for at yonder oaken block a wife dismounts from behind her husband ; — and. has it not, moreover, been found needful to impose a fine of forty shillings on fast trotting to and fro ? All sins are not modern ones, young gentlemen.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1863, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS. in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
We approach nearer still, and come among the civic institutions. This is the pillory, yonder the stocks, and there is a large wooden cage, a terror to evil-doers, but let us hope empty now. Round the meeting-house is a high wooden paling, to which the law permits citizens to tie their horses, provided it be not done too near the passage-way. For at that opening stands a sentry, clothed in a suit of armor which is painted black, and cost the town twenty-four shillings by the bill. He bears also a heavy matchlock musket; his rest, or iron fork, is stuck in the ground, ready to support the weapon ; and he is girded with his bandoleer, or broad leather belt, which sustains a sword and a dozen tin cartridge-boxes.
The meeting-house is the second to which the town has treated itself, the first having been “ a timber fort, both strong and comely, with flat roof and battlements,” —a cannon on top, and the cannonade of the gospel down below. But this one cost the town sixty-three pounds, hard-earned pounds, and carefully expended. It is built of brick, smeared outside with clay, and finished with clay-boards, larger than our clapboards, outside of all. It is about twenty-five feet square, with a chimney half the width of the building, and projecting four feet above the thatched roof. The steeple is in the centre, and the bellrope, if they have one, hangs in the middle of the broad aisle. There are six windows, two on each of the two sides, and two more at the end, part being covered with oiled paper only, part glazed in numerous small panes. And between the windows, on the outside, hang the heads of all the wolves that have been killed in the township within the year. But the Quakers think that the wolves have cheated the parish and got inside, in sheep’s clothing.
The people are assembling. The Governor has passed by, with his four vergers bearing halberds before him. The French Popish ambassadors, who have just arrived from Canada, are, told the customs of the place, and left to stay quietly in the Governor’s house, with sweetmeats, wines, and the liberty of a private walk in the garden. The sexton has just called for the minister, as is his duty twice every Sunday, and, removing his cocked hat, he walks before his superior officer. The minister enters and passes up the aisle, dressed in Geneva cloak, black skull-cap, and black gloves open at thumb and finger, for the better handling of his manuscript. He looks round upon his congregation, a few hundred, recently seated anew for the year, arranged according to rank and age. There are the old men in the pews beneath the pulpit. There are the young men in the gallery, or near the door, with ruffs, showy belts, gold and silver buttons, “points” at the knees, and great boots. There are the young women, with “ silk or tiffany hoods or scarfs,” “ embroidered or needle - worked caps,” “ immoderate great sleeves,” “cut works,” — a mystery, — “ slash apparel,” — another mystery, — “ immoderate great vayles, long wings,” etc.,—mystery on mystery, but all recorded in the statutes, which forbid these splendors to persons of mean estate. There are the wives of the magistrates in prominent seats, and the grammar - school master’s wife next them ; and in each pew, close to the mother’s elbow, is the little wooden cage for the youngest child, still too young to sit alone. All boys are held too young to sit alone also; for, though the emigrants left in Holland the aged deaconess who there presided, birch in hand, to control the rising generation in Sunday meetings, yet the urchins are now herded on the pulpitand gallerystairs, with four constables to guard them from the allurements of sin. And there sits Sin itself embodied in the shrinking form of some humiliated man or woman, placed on a high stool in the principal aisle, bearing the name of some dark crime written on paper and pinned to the garments, or perhaps a Scarlet Letter on the breast.
Oh, the silence of this place of worship, after the solemn service sets in ! “ People do not sneeze or cough here in public assemblies,” says one writer, triumphantly, “so much as in England.” The warning caution, “ Be short,” which the minister has inscribed above his studydoor, claims no authority over his pulpit. He may pray his hour, unpausing, and no one thinks it long ; for, indeed, at prayermeetings four persons will sometimes pray an hour each,—one with confession, one with private petitions, a third with petitions for church and kingdom, and a fourth with thanksgiving,— neither part of the quartette being for an instant confused with the other. Then he may preach his hour, and, turning his hour-glass, may say, — but that he will not anticipate the levity to be born in a later century with Mather Byles, —“ Now, my hearers, we will take another glass.”
In short, this is the pomp and circumstance of glorious preaching. Woe to any one who shall disturb its proprieties! It is written in the statute, “ If any one interrupt or oppose a preacher in season of worship, they shall be reproved by the magistrate, and on repetition shall pay £5, or stand two hours on a block four feet high, with this inscription in capitals, ‘A Wanton Gospeller.’” Nor this alone, but the law stands by the minister’s doctrine even out of the meetinghouse. It is but a few days since Nathaniel Iladloek was sentenced to be severely whipped for declaring that he could receive no profit from Mr. H—’s preaching, — since Thomas Maule was mauled to the extent of ten stripes for declaring that Mr. H—preached lies, and that his instruction was the doctrine of devils, — since even the wife of Nicholas Phelps was sentenced to pay five pounds or be whipped, for asserting that this same Mr. H— sent abroad his wolves and bloodhounds among the sheep and lambs. Truly, it is a perilous thing to attend public worship in such reverential days. However, it is equally dangerous to stay at home ; there are tithing-men to look after the absentees, and any one unnecessarily absent must pay five shillings. He may be put in the stocks or in the wooden cage, if delinquent for a month together.
But we must give our attention to the sermon. It is what the congregation will pronounce “ a large, nervous, and golden discourse,” a Scriptural discourse,— like the skeleton of the sea-serpent, all backbone and a great deal of that. It may be some very special and famous effort. Perhaps Increase Mather is preaching on “ The Morning Star,” or on “ Snow,” or on “ The Voice of God in Stormy Winds ”; or it may be his sermon entitled “ Burnings Bewailed,” to improve the lesson of some great conflagration, which he attributes partly to Sabbath-breaking and partly to the new fashion of monstrous periwigs. Or it may be Cotton Mather, his son, rolling forth his resounding discourse during a thunder-storm, entitled “ Brantologia Sacra,”— consisting of seven separate divisions or thunderbolts, and filled with sharp lightning from Scripture and the Rabbinical lore, and Cartesian natural philosophy. Just as he has proclaimed, “ In the thunder there is the voice of the glorious God,” a messenger comes hastening in, as in the Book of Job, to tell him that his own house has just been struck, and though no person is hurt, yet the house hath been much torn and filled with the lightnings. With what joy and power he instantly wields above his audience this providential surplus of excitement, reminding one irresistibly of some scientific lecturer who has nearly blown himself up by his own experiments, and proceeds beaming with fresh confidence, the full power of his compound being incontestably shown. Rising with the emergency, he tells them grandly, that, as he once had in his house a magnet which the thunder changed instantly from north to south, so it were well if the next bolt could change their stubborn souls from Satan to God. But afterward he is compelled to own that Satan also is sometimes permitted to have a hand in the thunder, which is the reason why it breaks oftener on churches than on any other buildings; and again he admits, pensively, at last, that churches and ministers’ houses have undoubtedly the larger share.
The sermon is over. The more demoralized among the little boys, whose sleepy eyes have been more than once admonished by the hare’s-foot wand of the constables,—the sharp paw is used for the boys, the soft fur is kept for the smooth foreheads of drowsy maidens, — look up thoroughly awakened now. Bright eyes glance from beneath silk or tiffany hoods, for a little interlude is coming. Many things may happen in this pause after the sermon. Questions may be asked of the elders now, which the elders may answer. — if they can. Some lay brother may “ exercise ” on a text of Scripture, — rather severe exercise, it sometimes turns out. Candidates for the church may be proposed. A baptism may take place. If it be the proper month, the laws against profaning the Sabbath may be read. The last townregulations may be read; or, far more exciting, a new marriage may be published. Or a darker scene may follow, and some offending magistrate may be required to stand upon a bench, in his worst garments, with a foul linen cap drawn close to his eyes, and acknowledge his sins before the pious people, who reverenced him so lately.
These things done, a deacon says impressively, “ Brethren, now there is time for contribution; wherefore, as God hath prospered you, so freely offer.” Then the people in the galleries come down and march two abreast, “ up one ile and down the other,” passing before the desk, where in a long “ pue ” sit the elders and deacons. One of these holds a moneybox, into which the worshippers put their offerings, usually varying from one to five shillings, according to their ability and good-will. Some give paper pledges instead ; and others give other valuables, such as “ a fair gilt cup, with a cover,” for the communion-service. Then comes a psalm, read, line after line, by some one appointed, out of the “ Bay Psalm-Book,” and sung by the people. These psalms are sung regularly through, four every Sunday, and some ten tunes compose the whole vocal range of the congregation. Then come the words, “ Blessed are they who hear the word of the Lord and keep it,” and then the benediction.
And then the reverend divine descends from his desk and walks down the aisle, bowing gravely right and left to his people, not one of whom stirs till the minister has gone out; and then the assembly disperses, each to his own home, unless it be some who have come from a distance, and stay to eat their cold pork and peas in the meeting-house.
Roll aside the panorama of the threehours’ Sunday service of two centuries ago, lest that which was not called wearisome in the passing prove wearisome in the delineation now. It needed all this accumulation of small details to show how widely the externals of New-England church-going have changed since those early days. But what must have been the daily life of that Puritan minister for whom this exhausting service was but one portion of the task of life! Truly, they were “ pious and painful preachers” then, as I have read upon a stone in the old Watertown graveyard; — “ princely preachers ” Cotton Mather calls them. He relates that Mr. Cotton, in addition to preaching on Sunday and holding his ordinary lecture every Thursday, preached thrice a week besides, on Wednesday and Thursday early in the morning, and on Saturday afternoon. He also held a daily lecture in his house, which was at last abandoned as being too much thronged, and frequent occasional days occurred, when he would spend six hours “ in the word and in prayer.” On his voyage to this country, he being accompanied by two other ministers, they commonly had three sermons a day, — one after every meal. He was “ an universal scholar and a walking library,” — he studied twelve hours a day, and said he liked to sweeten his mouth with a piece of Calvin before he went to sleep.
A fearful rate of labor; a strange, grave, quaint, ascetic, rigorous life. It seems a mystery how the Reverend Joshua Moody could have survived to write four thousand sermons, but it is no mystery why the Reverend John Mitchell was called “ a truly aged young man ” at thirty,—especially when we consider that he was successor at Cambridge to “the holy, heavenly, sweet-affecting, and soulravishing Mr. Shepard,” in continuance of whose labors he kept a monthly lecture, “ wherein he largely handled man’s misery by sin and made a most entertaining exposition of the Book of Genesis.”
For the minister’s week - days were more arduous than his Sundays, and to have for each parish both pastor and teacher still left a formidable duty for each. He must visit families during several afternoons in every week, sending previous notice, so that children and domestics might be ready for catechizing. He was “ much visited for counsel ” in his own home, and must set apart one day in the week for cases of conscience, ranging from the most fine - drawn selftormentings up to the most unnatural secret crimes. He must often go to lectures in neighboring towns, a kind of religious dissipation which increased so fast that the Legislature at last interfered to restrict it. He must have five or six separate seasons for private prayer daily, devoting each day in the week to special meditations and intercessions, — as Monday to his family, Tuesday to enemies, Wednesday to the churches, Thursday to other societies, Friday to persons afflicted, and Saturday to his own soul. He must have private fasts, spending whole days locked in his study and whole nights prostrate on the floor. Cotton Mather “ thought himself starved,” unless he fasted once a month at farthest, while he often did it twice in a week. Then there were public fasts quite frequently, “ because of sins, blastings, mildews, drought, grasshoppers, caterpillars, small pox,” “loss of cattle by cold and frowns of Providence.” Perhaps a mouse and a snake had a battle in the neighborhood, and the minister must expound it as “ symbolizing the conflict betwixt Satan and God’s poor people,” the latter being the mouse triumphant. Then if there were a military expedition, the minister might think it needful to accompany it. If there were even a muster, he must open and close it with prayer, or, in his absence, the captain must, officiate instead.
One would naturally add to this record of labors the attendance on weddings and funerals. It is strange how few years are required to make a usage seem ancestral, or to reunite a traditional broken one. Who now remembers that our progenitors for more than a century disused religious services on both these solemn occasions ? Magistrates alone could perform the marriage ceremony; though it was thought to be carrying the monopoly quite too far, when Governor Bellingham, in 1641, officiated at his own. Prayer was absolutely forbidden at funerals, as was done also by Calvin at Geneva, by John Knox in Scotland, by the English Puritans in the Westminster Assembly, and by the French Huguenots. The bell might ring, the friends might walk, two and two, to the grave; but there must be no prayer uttered. The secret was, that the traditions of the English and Romish Churches must be avoided at all sacrifices. “ Doctor,” said King James to a Puritan divine, “do you go barefoot because the Papists wear shoes and stockings ? ” Even the origin of the frequent New-England habit of eating salt fish on Saturday is supposed to have been the fact that Roman Catholics eat it on Friday.
But if there were no prayers said on these occasions, there were sermons. Mr. John Calf, of Newbury, described one specimen of funeral sermon in immortal verse : —
As he was used to do,
God’s house unto, that they might know
What he had for to show;
God’s holy will he must fulfil,
For it was his desire
For to declare a sermon rare
Concerning Madam Fryer.”
The practice of wedding discourses was handed down into the last century, and sometimes beguiled the persons concerned into rather startling levities. For instance, when Parson Smith's daughter Mary was to marry young Mr. Cranch, — (what graceful productions of pen and pencil have come to this generation from the posterity of that union !) — the father permitted the saintly maiden to decide on her own text for the sermon, and she meekly selected, “Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her,” and the discourse was duly pronounced. But when her wild young sister Abby was bent on marrying a certain Squire Adams, called John, whom her father disliked and would not even invite to dinner, she boldly suggested for her text, “ John came, neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and ye say he hath a devil.” But no sermon stands recorded under this prefix, though Abby lived to be the wife of one President of the United States and mother of another.
The Puritan minister had public duties also upon him. “ New England being a country,” said Cotton Mather, “ whose interests are remarkably enwrapped in theological circumstances, ministers ought to interest themselves in politics.” Indeed, for many years they virtually controlled the franchise, inasmuch as only male church-members could vote or hold office, at least in the Massachusetts Colony. Those malecontents who petitioned to enlarge the suffrage were fined and imprisoned in 1646, and even in 1664 the only amendment was by permitting non-church-members to vote on a formal certificate to their orthodoxy from the minister. The government they aimed at was not democracy, but theocracy: “ God never did ordain democracy as a fit government,” said Cotton. Accordingly, when Cotton and Ward framed their first code, Ward’s portion was rejected by the colony as heathen, — that is, based on Greek and Roman models, not Mosaic, — and Cotton’s was afterwards rebuked in England as “fanatical and absurd.” But the government finally established was an ecclesiastical despotism, tempered by theological controversy.
In Connecticut it was first the custom, and then the order, lasting as late as 1708, that “the ministers of the gospel should preach a sermon, on the day appointed by law for the choice of civil rulers, proper for the direction of the town in the work before them.” They wrote state - papers, went on embassies, and took the lead at town - meetings. At the exciting gubernatorial election in 1637, Rev. John Wilson, minister of the First Church in Boston, not satisfied with “taking the Stump” for his candidate, took to a full-grown tree and harangued the people from among the boughs. Perhaps the tree may have been the Great Elm which still ornaments the Common; but one sees no chips of that other old block among its branches now.
One would expect that the effect of this predominant clerical influence would have been to make the aim of the Puritan codes lofty, their consistency unflinching, their range narrow, and their penalties severe, — and it certainly was so. Looking at their educational provisions, they seem all noble; looking at their schedule of sins and retributions, one wonders how any rational being could endure them for a day. Communities, like individuals, furnish virtues piecemeal. Roger Williams, with all his wise toleration, bequeathed to Rhode Island no such system of schools as his persecutors framed for Massachusetts. But the children who were watched and trained thus carefully might be put to death, if they “ cursed their orderly parents ” after the age of sixteen; — not that the penalty ever was inflicted, but it was on the statute - book. Sabbathbreaking was placed on a level with murder,— though Calvin himself allowed the old men to play at bowls and the young men to practise military training, after afternoon service, at Geneva. Down to 1769 not even a funeral could take place on Sunday in Massachusetts, without license from a magistrate. Then the stocks and the wooden cage were in frequent use, though “ barbarous and cruel” punishments were forbidden in 1641. Scolds and railers were set on a duckingstool and dipped over head and ears three times, in running water, if possible. Mrs. Oliver, a troublesome theologian, was silenced with a cleft stick applied to her tongue. Thomas Scott, in 1649, was sentenced for some offence to learn “ the chatachise,” or be fined ten shillings, and, after due consideration, paid the fine. Sometimes offenders, with a refinement of cruelty, were obliged to “go and talk to the elders.” And if any youth made matrimonial overtures to a young female without the consent of her parents, or, in their absence, of the County Court, he was first fined and then imprisoned. A new etymology for the word “ courting.”
An exhibition of this mingled influence was in the relation of the ministers to the Indian wars. Roger Williams, even when banished and powerless, could keep the peace with the natives. But when the brave Miantonimo was to be dealt with for suspected treason, and the civil authorities decided, that, though it was unsafe to set him at liberty, they yet had no ground to put him to death, the matter being finally referred to five “ elders,” Uncas was straightway authorized to slay him in cold blood. The Pequots were first defeated and then exterminated, and their heroic King Philip, a patriot according to his own standard, was hunted like a wild beast, his body quartered and set on poles, his head exposed as a trophy for twenty years on a gibbet in Plymouth, and one of his hands sent to Boston: then the ministers returned thanks, and one said that they had prayed the bullet into Philip’s heart. Nay, it seems that in 1677, on a Sunday in Marblehead, “ the women, as they came out of the meeting-house, fell upon two Indians, that had been brought in as captives, and in a tumultuous way very barbarously murdered them,” in revenge for the death of some fishermen: a moral application which certainly gives a singular impression of the style of gospel prevailing inside the meeting-house that day. But it is good to know, on the other side, that, when the Commissioners of the United Colonies had declared an Indian war, and the Massachusetts Colony had become afterwards convinced that the war was unrighteous, the troops were recalled, though already far towards the field, and no pride or policy prevented the order from being rescinded.
These were some of the labors of the clergy. But no human being lives without relaxation, and they may have had theirs. True, “ministers have little to joy in in this world,” wrote old Norton; and one would think so, to read the dismal diaries, printed or manuscript, of those days. “I can compare with any man living for fears,” said Hooker. “ I have sinned myself into darkness,” said Bailey. “ Many times have I been ready to lay down my ministry, thinking God had forsaken me.” “I was almost in the suburbs of hell all day.” Yet who can say that this habit of agonizing introspection wholly shut out the trivial enjoyments of daily life ? Who drank, for instance, that twelve gallons of sack and that six gallons of white wine which the General Court thought it convenient that the Auditor should send, “ as a small testimony of the Court’s respect, to the reverend assembly of Elders at Cambridge,” in 1644 ? Did the famous Cambridge Platform rest, like the earth in the Hebrew cosmology, upon the waters,—strong waters ? Was it only the Derry Presbyterians who would never give up a p’int of doctrine nor a pint of rum ? It is startling to remember that in 1685 it was voted, on occasion of a public funeral, that “ some person be appointed to look after the burning of the wine and the heating of the cider,” and to hear that on this occasion there were thirty-two gallons of wine and still more of cider, with one hundred and four pounds of that ensnaring accessory, sugar. Francis Higginson, in writing back to the mother country that one sup of New England's air was better than a whole draught of Old England’s ale, gave convincing proof that he had tasted both beverages. But, after all, the very relaxations of the Puritan minister were more spiritual than spirituous, and to send forth a good Nineteenthly from his own lips was more relishing than to have the best Double X go in.
In spite of the dignity of this influential class, they were called only Elders for a long time. Titles were carefully adjusted in those days. The commonalty bore the appellations of Goodman and Good wife, and one of Roger Williams’s offences was his wishing to limit these terms to those who gave some signs of deserving them. The name “Mr.” was allowed to those who had taken the degree of Master of Arts at College, and also to professional men, eminent merchants, military officers, and mates of vessels, and their wives and daughters monopolized the epithet “ Mrs.” Mr. Josiah Plastow, when he had stolen four baskets of corn from the Indians, was degraded into plain Josiah. “ Mr.” seems to have meant simply “My Sir,” and the clergy were often called “ Sir ” merely, a title given also to college graduates, on Commencement programmes, down to the time of the Revolution. And so strong was the Puritan dislike to the idolatry of saints’ names, that the Christian Apostles were sometimes designated as Sir Paul, Sir Peter, and Sir James.
In coming to the private affairs of the Puritan divines, it is humiliating to find that anxieties about salary are of no modern origin. The highest compensation I can find recorded is that of John Higginson in 1671, who had £ 160 voted him “in country produce,” which he was glad, however, to exchange for £120 in solid cash. Solid cash included beaverskins, black and white wampum, beads, and musket - balls, value one farthing. Mr. Woodbridge in Newbury at this same time had £60, and Mr. Epes preached in Salem for twenty shillings a Sunday, half in money and half in provisions. Holy Mr. Cotton used to say that nothing was cheap in New England but milk and ministers. Down to 1700, Increase Mather says, most salaries were less than £100, which he thinks “might account for the scanty harvests enjoyed by our farmers.” He and his son Cotton both tell the story of a town where “two very eminent ministers were only allowed £30 per annum” and “ the God who will not be mocked made them lose £300 worth of cattle that year.” The latter also complains that the people were very willing to consider the ministers the stars, rather than the mere lamps, of the churches, provided they, like the stars, would shine without earthly contributions.
He also calls the terms of payment, in one of his long words, “ Synecdotical Pay,” — in allusion to that rhetorical figure by which a part is used for the whole. And apparently various causes might produce this Synecdoche. For I have seen an anonymous “ Plea for Ministers of the Gospel,” in 1706, which complains that “young ministers have often occasion in their preaching to speak things offensive to some of the wealthiest people in town, on which occasion they may withhold a considerable part of their maintenance.” It is a comfort to think how entirely this source of discomfort, at least, is now eradicated from the path of the clergy; and it is painful to think that there ever was a period when wealthy parishioners did not enjoy the delineation of their own sins.
However, the ministerial households contrived to subsist, in spite of rhetorical tropes and malecontent millionnaires. The Puritan divine could commonly afford not only to keep house, but to keep horse likewise, and to enjoy the pet professional felicity of printing his own sermons. As to the last privilege there could have been no great trouble, for booksellers were growing rich in New England as early as 1677, — not that it is always an inevitable inference that authors are,—and Cotton Mather published three hundred and eighty-two different works for his own share. Books were abundant enough at that day, though somewhat grim and dingy, and two complete Puritan libraries are preserved in the rich collection of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester, — without whose treasures, let me add, this modest monograph never could have been written. As for the minister’s horse, the moral sentiment of the community protected him faithfully ; for a man was fined in Newbury for “ killing our elder’s mare, and a special good beast she was.” The minister’s house was built by the town ; in Salem it was “ 13 feet stud, 23 by 42, four chimnies and no gable-ends,” — so that the House with Seven Gables belonged to somebody else;— and the Selectmen ordered all men to appear with teams on a certain day and put the minister’s grounds in order.
Inside the parsonage-house, however, there was sometimes trouble. Rev. Ezekiel Rogers wrote in 1657 to his brother in England,—“ Much ado I have with my own family; hard to get a servant who enjoys catechising or family duties. I had a rare blessing of servants in England, and those I brought over were a blessing; but the young brood doth much afflict me.” Probably the minister’s wife had the worst of this; but she seems to have been generally, like the modern minister’s wife, a saint, and could bear it. Cotton Mather, indeed, quotes triumphantly the Jewish phrase for a model female, — “ one who deserved to marry a priest” ; and one of the most singular passages in the history of the human heart is the old gentleman’s own narrative, in his manuscript diary, of a passionate loveadventure, in his later years, with a fascinating young girl, an “ ingenious child,” as he calls her, whom his parish thought by no means a model female, but from whom it took three days of solitary lasting and prayer to wean him at last.
He was not the only Puritan minister who bestowed his heart somewhat strangely. Rev. John Mitchell, who succeeded the soul-ravishing Shepard at Cambridge, as aforesaid, married his predecessor’s widow “ on the general recommendation of her,” and the college students were greatly delighted, as one might imagine. Rev. Michael Wiggles worth, in 1691, wooed the Widow Avery in a written discourse, which I have seen in manuscript, arranged under twelve different heads,— one of which treats of the prospect of his valuable life being preserved longer by her care. She having children of her own, he offers mysteriously to put some of his own children “ out of the way,” if necessary,—a hint which becomes formidable when one remembers that he was the author of that once famous theological poem, “The Day of Doom,” in which he relentingly assigned to infants, because they had sinned only in Adam, “ the easiest room in hell.” But he wedded the lady, and they were apparently as happy as if he had not been a theologian; and I have seen the quaint little heart-shaped locket he gave her, bearing an anchor and a winged heart and “ Thine forever.”
Let us glance now at some of the larger crosses of the Puritan minister. First came a “ young brood ” of heretics to torment him. Gorton’s followers were exasperating enough ; they had to be confined in irons separately, one in each town, on pain of death, if they preached their doctrines, — and of course they preached them. But their offences and penalties were light, compared with those of the Quakers. When the Quakers assembled by themselves, their private doors might be broken open,—a thing which Lord Chatham said the king of England could not do to any one,— they might be arrested without warrant, tried without jury, for the first offence be fined, for the second lose one ear, for the third lose the other ear, and for the fourth be bored with red-hot iron through the tongue,—though this last penalty remained a dead letter. They could be stripped to the waist, tied to a cart, and whipped through town after town, — three women were whipped through eleven towns, eighty miles, — but afterwards the numher was limited to three. Their testimony was invalid, their families attainted, and those who harbored them were fined forty shillings an hour. They might be turned out shelterless among wolves and bears and frosts; they could be branded H for Heretic, and R for Rogue ; they could be sold as slaves; and their graves must not be fenced to keep off wild beasts, lest their poor afflicted bodies should find rest there.
Yet in this same age female Quakers had gone as missionaries to Malta and to Turkey and returned unharmed. No doubt the monks and the Sultan must have looked on the plain dress much as some clerical gentlemen have since regarded the Bloomer costume, — and the Inquisition imprisoned the missionaries, though the Sultan did not. But meanwhile the Quaker women in New England might be walking to execution with their male companions, — like Mary Dyer in Boston,—under an armed guard of two hundred, led on by a minister seventy years old, and the fiercer for every year. When they asked Mary Dyer, “ Are you not ashamed to walk thus hand in hand between two young men ? ” she answered, “ No, this is to me an hour of the greatest joy I could enjoy in this world. No tongue could utter and no heart understand the sweet influence of the Spirit which now I feel.” Then they placed her on the scaffold, and covered her face with a handkerchief which the Reverend Mr. Wilson lent the hangman ; and when they heard that she was reprieved, she would not come down, saying that she would suffer with her brethren. And suffer death she did, at last, and the Reverend Mr. Wilson made a pious ballad on her execution.
It is no wonder, if some persons declare that about this time the wheat of Massachusetts began to be generally blasted, and the peas to grow wormy. It is no wonder, that, when the witchcraft excitement came on, the Quakers called it a retribution for these things. But let us be just, even to the unjust. Toleration was a new-born virtue in those days, and one which no Puritan ever for a moment recognized as such, or asked to have exercised toward himself. In England they did not wish to be tolerated for a day as sectaries, they claimed to have authority as the one true church. They held with Pym, that “ it is the duty of legislators to establish the true religion and to punish false,” — a doctrine equally fatal, whether applied to enforce the right theology or the wrong. They objected to the Church of England, not that it persecuted, but that its persecution was wrongly aimed. It is, therefore, equally absurd to praise them for a toleration they never professed, or to accuse them of any inconsistency when they practised intolerance. They have been so loosely praised, that they are as loosely blamed. What was great in them was their heroism of soul, not their largeness. They sought the American wilderness not to indulge the whims of others, but their own. They said to the Quakers, “ We seek not your death, but your absence.” All their persecution, after all, was an alternative sentence ; all they asked of the Quakers was to keep out of their settlements and let them alone. Moreover, their worst penalties were borrowed from the English laws, and only four offenders were put to death from the beginning; — of course, four too many.
Again, it is to be remembered that the Quaker peculiarities were not theological only, but political and social also. Everything that the Puritan system of government asserted the Quakers denied; they rendered no allegiance, owned no laws, paid no taxes, bore no arms. With the best possible intentions, they subverted all established order. Then their modes of action were very often intemperate and violent. One can hardly approve the condemnation pronounced by Cotton Mather upon a certain Rarey among the Friends in those days, who could control a mad bull that would rend any other man. But it was oftener the Quakers who needed the Rareys. Running naked through the public streets. — coming into meeting dressed in sackcloth, with ashes on their heads and nothing on their feet, —or sitting there with their hats on, groaning and rocking to and fro, in spite of elders, deacons, and tithing-men : these were the vagaries of the zealots, though always repudiated by the main body. The Puritans found themselves reproached with permitting these things, and so took refuge in outrageous persecutions, which doubled them. Indeed, the Quakers themselves began to persecute, on no greater provocation, in Philadelphia, thirty years afterwards,—playing over again upon George Keith and his followers the same deluded policy of fines and imprisonment from which they had just escaped;— as minorities have persecuted subminorities ever since intolerance began.
Indeed, so far as mere language went, the minority always watched the majority. Grave divines did not like to be pelted with such epithets as these: “ Thou fiery fighter and green-headed trumpeter ! thou hedgehog and grinning dog ! thou mole! thou tinker! thou lizard! thou bell of no metal but the tone of a kettle ! thou wheelbarrow ! thou whirlpool ! thou whirligig! thou firebrand! thou moon-calf! thou ragged tatterdemalion ! thou gormandizing priest! thou bane of reason and beast of the earth ! thou best to be spared of all mankind ! ” — all of which are genuine epithets from the Quaker books of that period, and termed by Cotton Mather, who collected them, “quills of the porcupine.” They surpass even Dr. Chauney’s catalogue of the unsavory epithets used by Whitefield and Tennent a century later; and it was not likely that they would be tolerated by a race whose reverence for men in authority was so comprehensive that they actually fined some one for remarking that Major Phillips's old mare was as lean as an Indian’s dog.
There is a quaint anecdote preserved, showing the continuance of the Quaker feud in full vigor as lately as 1705. A youth among the Friends wished to espouse a fair Puritan maiden; but the Quakers disapproved his marrying out of their society, and the Congregationalists his marrying into theirs; so in despair he thus addressed her: — “Ruth, let us break from this unreasonable bondage. I will give up my religion, and thou shalt give up thine ; and we will marry and go into the Church of England, and go to the Devil together.” And they fulfilled the resolution, the Puritan historian says, so far as going into the Church, and marrying, and staying there for life. But probably the ministers thought it to be another case of synecdoche.
With the same careful discrimination we must try to study the astonishing part played by the ministers in the witchcraft delusions. It must be remembered that the belief in this visitation was no new or peculiar thing in New England. The Church, the Scriptures, the mediaeval laws, had all made it a capital crime. There had been laws against it in England for a hundred years. Bishop Jewel had complained to Queen Elizabeth of the alarming increase of witches and sorcerers. Sir Thomas Browne had pronounced it flat atheism to doubt them High legal and judicial authorities, as Dalton, Keeble, Sir Matthew Hale, had described this crime as definitely and seriously as any other. In Scotland four thousand had suffered death for it in ten years; Cologne,Nuremberg, Geneva, Paris, were executing hundreds every year ; even in 1749 a girl was burnt alive in Würtzburg; and is it strange, if, during all that wild excitement, Massachusetts put to death twenty? The only wonder is in the independence of the Rhode Island people, who declared that “ there were no witches on the earth, nor devils, — except ” (as they profanely added) “ the New-England ministers, and such as they.”
John Higginson sums it up best: — “ They proceeded in their integrity with a zeal of God against sin, according to their best light and law and evidence.” “But there is a question,” he wisely adds, “ whether some of the laws, customs, and privileges used by judges and juries in England, which were followed as patterns here, were not insufficient.” Cotton Mather also declared that he observed in judges and juries a conscientious endeavor to do the thing which was right, and gives a long list of the legal authorities whom they consulted; observing, finally, that the fact of fifty confessions was, after all, the one irresistible vindication of their strong measures.
It must have been so. Common sense and humanity might have refuted every other evidence than that of the victims themselves. But what were the authorities to do, when, in addition to all legal and Scriptural precedents, the prisoners insisted on entering a plea of guilty? When Goody E-testified that she and two others rode from Andover to a witch-meeting on a broomstick, and the stick broke and she fell and was still lame from it, — when her daughter testified that she rode on the same stick, and confirmed all the details of the casualty, — when the grand-daughter confirmed them also, and added, that she rode on another stick, and they all signed Satan’s book together, — when W. B—, aged forty, testified that Satan assembled a hundred fine blades near Salem Meeting-House, and the trumpet sounded, and bread and wine were carried round, and Satan was like a black sheep, and wished them to destroy the minister’s house, (by thunder probably,) and set up his kingdom, and “then all would be well,” — when one woman summoned her three children and some neighbors and a sister and a domestic, who all testified that she was a witch and so were they all,—what could be done for such prisoners by judge or jury, in an age which held witchcraft a certainty? It was only the rapid rate of increase which finally stopped the convictions.
One thing is certain, that this strange delusion, a semi-comedy to us, — though part of the phenomena may find their solution in laws not yet unfolded, — was the sternest of tragedies to those who lived in it. Conceive, tor an instant, of believing in the visible presence and labors of the arch-fiend in a peaceful community. Yet from the bottom of their souls these strong men held to it, and they waged a hand-to-hand fight with Satan all their days. Very inconveniently the opponent sometimes dealt his blows, withal. Surely it could not be a pleasant thing to a sound divine, just launched upon his seventeen-headed discourse, to have a girl with wild eyes and her hair about her ears start up and exclaim, “Parson, your text is too long,” — or worse yet, “ Parson, your sermon is too long,” — or most embarrassing of all, “ There’s a great yellow bird sitting on the parson’s hat in the pulpit.” But these formidable interruptions veritably happened, and received the stern discipline in such cases made and provided.
But beside Quakers and witches, the ministers had other female tormentors to deal with. There was the perpetual anxiety of the unregenerated toilet. “ Immodest apparel, laying out of hair, borders, naked necks and arms, or, as it were, pinioned with superfluous ribbons,” —these were the things which tried men’s souls in those days, and the statute-books and private journals are full of such plaintive inventories of the implements of sin. Things known as “ slash apparel ” seem to have been an infinite source of anxiety ; there must be only one slash on each sleeve and one in the back. Men also must be prohibited from shoulderbands of undue width, double ruffs and cuffs, and “ immoderate great breeches.” Part of the solicitude was for modesty, part for gravity, part for economy: none must dress above their condition. In 1652, three men and a woman were fined ten shillings each and costs for wearing silver-lace, another for broad bone-lace, another for tiffany, and another for a silk hood. Alice Flynt was accused of a silk hood, but, proving herself worth more than two hundred pounds, escaped unpunished. Jonas Fairbanks, about the same time, was charged with “ great boots,” and the evidence went hard against him ; but he was fortunately acquitted, and the credit of the family saved.
The question of veils seems to have rocked the Massachusetts Colony to its foundations, and was fully discussed at Thursday Lecture, March 7th, 1634. Holy Mr. Cotton was utterly and unalterably opposed to veils, regarding them as a token of submission to husbands in an unscriptural degree. It is pleasant to think that there could be an unscriptural extent of such submission, in those times. But Governor Endicott and Rev. Mr. Williams resisted stoutly, quoting Paul, as usual in such cases ; so Paul, veils, and vanity carried the day. But afterward Mr. Cotton came to Salem to preach for Mr. Skelton, and did not miss his chance to put in his solemn protest against veils; he said they were a custom not to be tolerated ; and so the ladies all came to meeting without their veils in the afternoon. Probably the most astounding visible result from a single sermon within the memory of man.
Beginning with the veils, the eye of authority was next turned on what was under them. In 1675 it was decided, that, as the Indians had done much harm of late, and the Deity was evidently displeased with something, the General Court should publish a list of the evils of the time. And among the twelve items of contrition stood this : “ Long hair like women’s hair is worn by some men, either their own or others’ hair made into periwigs;—and by some women wearing borders of hair, and their cutting, curling, and immodest laying out of their hair,” (does this hint at puffcombs ?) “ which practice doth increase, especially among the younger sort.” Not much was effected, however,—“ divers of the elders’ wives,” as Winthrop lets out, “ being in some measure partners in this disorder. The use of wigs also, at first denounced by the clergy, was at last countenanced by them: in portraits later than 1700 they usually replace the black skull-cap of earlier pictures, and in 1752 the tables had so far turned that a churchmember in Newbury refused communion because ‘‘the pastor wears a wigg.” Yet Increase Mather thought they played no small part in producing the Boston Fire. “Monstrous Periwigs, such as some of our church-members indulge in, which make them resemble the Locusts that came out of ye Bottomless Pit. Rev. ix. 7, 8,—and as an eminent Divine calls them, Horrid Bushes of Vanity; such strange apparel as is contrary to the light of Nature and to express Scripture. 1 Cor. xi. 14, 15. Such pride is enough to provoke the Lord to kindle fires in all the towns in the country.”
Another vexation was the occasional arrival of false prophets in a community where every man was expected to have a current supply of religious experiences always ready for circulation. There was a certain hypocritical Dick Swayn, for instance, a seafaring man, who gave much trouble; and E. F., — for they mostly appear by initials, — who, coming to New Haven one Saturday evening, and being dressed in black, was taken for a minister, and asked to preach : he was apparently a little insane, and at first talked “ demurely,” but at last “ railed like Rabshakeh,” Cotton Mather says. There was also M. J., a Welsh tanner, who finally stole his employer’s leather breeches and set up for a preacher, — less innocently apparelled than George Fox. But the worst of all was one bearing the since sainted name of Samuel May. This vessel of wrath appeared in 1699, indorsed as a man of a sweet gospel spirit, —though, indeed, one of his indorsers had himself been “a scandalous fire-ship among the churches.” Mather declares that every one went a-Maying after this man, whom he maintains to have been a barber previously, and who knew no Latin, Greek, Hebrew, nor even English, — for (as he indignantly asserts) “ there were eighteen horrid false spells, and not one point, in one very short note I received from him.” This doubtful personage copied his sermons from a volume by his namesake, Dr. Samuel Bolton, — “ Sam the Doctor and Sam the Dunce,” Mather calls them. Finally, “ this eminent worthy stranger,” Sam, who was no dunce, after all, quarrelled with his parish for their slow payments, and “ flew out like a Dragon, spitting this among other fire at them:—‘ I see, no longer pipe, no longer dance,’—so that they came to fear he was a cheat, and wish they had never seen him.” Then “ the guilty fellow, having bubbled the silly neighbors of an incredible number of pounds, on a sudden was gone,” and Cotton Mather sent a letter after him, which he declares to have been the worst penalty the man suffered.
It is safer to say little of the theological scheme of the Puritan ministers, lest the present writer be pronounced a Wanton Gospeller, and have no tithingman to take his part. But however it may be with the regular standards of theology of that period, every one could find a sufficient variety to suit him among its heresies. Eighty-two “ pestilent heresies” were counted as having already sprung up in 1637; others say one hundred and six ; others, two hundred and ten. The Puritans kept Rhode Island for what housekeepers call an “ odd drawer,” into which to crowd all these eccentricities. It was said, that, if any man happened to lose his religious opinion, he might be sure to find it again at some village in Rhode Island. Thither went Roger Williams and his Baptists; thither went Quakers and Ranters ; thither went Ann Hutchinson, that extraordinary woman, who divided the whole politics of the country by her Antinomian doctrines, denouncing the formalisms around her, and converting the strongest men, like Cotton and Vane, to her opinions. Thither went also Samuel Gorton, a man of no ordinary power, who proclaimed a mystical union with God in love, thought that heaven and hell were in the mind alone, but esteemed little the clergy and the ordinances. The colony was protected also by the thoughtful and chivalrous Vane, who held that water baptism had had its day, and that the Jewish Sabbath should give place to the modern Sunday. All these, and such as these, were called generally “ Seekers ” by the Puritans, — who claimed for themselves that they had found that which they sought. It is the old distinction ; but for which is the ship built, to be afloat or to be at anchor ?
Such were those pious worthies, the men whose names are identified with the leadership of the New-England colonies, — Cotton, Hooker, Norton, Shepard, the Higginsons, the Mathers. To these might be added many an obscurer name, preserved in the quaint epitaphs of the “ Magnalia”: — Blackman, “ in spite of his name, a Nazarene whiter than snow”; — Partridge, “ a hunted partridge,” yet “ both a dove and an eagle ” ; — Ezekiel Rogers, “ a tree of knowledge, whose apples the very children might pluck” ; — Nathaniel Rogers, “a very lively preacher and a very preaching liver, he loved his church as if it had been his family and he taught his family as if it had been his church ” ; — Warham, the first who preached with notes, and who suffered agonies of doubt respecting the Lord’s Supper ; — Stone, “both a loadstone and a flint stone,” and who set the self-sacrifieing example of preaching only one hour.
These men had mingled traits of good and evil, like all mankind, — nobler than their descendants in some attributes, less noble in others. The most strait-laced Massachusetts Calvinist of these days would have been disciplined by them for insufferable laxity, and yet their modern successor would count it utter shame, perhaps, to own a slave in his family or to drink rum-punch at an ordination, — which Puritan divines might do without rebuke. Not one of them has left on record a statement so broad and noble as that of Roger Williams : — “ To be content with food and raiment, — to mind, not our own, but every man the things of another,—yea, and to suffer wrong, and to part with what we judge to be right, yea, our own lives, and, as poor women martyrs have said, as many as there be hairs upon our heads, for the name of God and for the Son of God’s sake,— this is humanity, this is Christianity ; the rest is but formality and picture-courteous idolatry, and Jewish and Popish blasphemy against the Christian religion.” And yet the mind of Roger Williams was impulsive, erratic, ami unstable, compared with theirs; and in what respect has the work they left behind them proved, after the testing of two centuries, less solid or durable than his ?
These men were stern even to cruelty against all that they held evil,—Satan and his supposed emissaries, witches, Quakers, Indians, negligent parishioners, disobedient, offspring, men with periwigs, and women in slash apparel. Yet the tenderest private gentleness often lay behind this gloomy rigor of the conscience. Some of them would never chastise a son or daughter, in spite of Solomon ; others would write in Greek characters in their old almanacs quaint little English verses on the death of some beloved child. That identical “ Priest Wilson ” who made the ballad at Mary Dyer’s execution attended a military muster one day. “ Sir,” said some one, “ I 'll tell you a great thing: here’s a mighty body of people, and there’s not seven of them all but loves Mr. Wilson.” “ Sir,” it was replied, “ I ’ll tell you as good a thing: here’s a mighty body of people, and there’s not one of them all but Mr. Wilson loves him.” Mr. Cotton was a terror to evil-doers, yet, when a company of men came along from a tavern and said, “ Let us put a trick upon Old Cotton,” and one came and cried in his ear, “ Cotton, thou art an old fool,” — ” I know it, I know it,” retorted cheerily" the venerable man, and pungently added, “ The Lord make both me and thee wiser ! ” Mr. Hooker was once reproving a boy in the street, who boldlyreplied, “ I see you are in a passion ; I will not answer you,” and so ran away. It contradicts all one’s notions of Puritan propriety, and yet it seems that the good man, finding afterwards that the boy was not really guilty, sent for him to apologize, and owned himself to have been wrong.
What need to speak of the strength and courage, the disinterestedness and zeal, with which they bore up the fortunes of the colony on their shoulders, and put that iron into the New-England blood which has since supplied the tonic for a continent ? It was said of Mr. Hooker, that he was “ a person who, while doing his Master’s work, would put a king in his pocket”; and it was so with them all: they would pocket anything but a bribe to themselves or an insult to God or their profession. They flinched from no reproof that was needed : “ Sharp rebukes make sound Christians ” was a proverb among them. They sometimes lost their tempers, and sometimes their parishes, but never their independence. I find a hundred anecdotes of conscientious cruelty laid up against them, but not one of cowardice or of compromise. They may have bored the tongues of others with a bar of iron, but they never fettered their own tongues with a bar of gold, — as some African tribes think it a saintly thing to do, and not African tribes alone.
There was such an absolute righteousness among them, that to this day every man of New-England descent lives partly on the fund of virtuous habit they accumulated. And, on the other hand, every man of the many who still stand ready to indorse everything signed by a D. D.—without even adding the commercial E. E., for Errors Excepted — is in part the victim of the over-influence they obtained. Yet there was a kind of democracy in that vast influence also : the Puritans were far more thorough Congregationalists than their successors; they recognized no separate clerical class, and the “ elder ” was only the highest officer of his own church. Each religious so ciety could choose and ordain its own minister, or dispense with all ordaining services at will, without the slightest aid or hindrance from council or consociation. So the stern theology of the pulpit only reflected the stern theology of the pews ; the minister was but the representative man. If the ministers were recognized as spiritual guides, it was because they were such to the men of their time, whatever they might be to ours. Demonax of old, when asked about the priests’ money, said, that, if they were really the leaders of the people, they could not have too much payment, — or too little, if they were not. I believe that on these conditions the Puritan ministers well earned their hundred and sixty pounds a year, with a discount of forty pounds, if paid in wampum-beads, beaver-skins, and musket-balls. What they took in musket-balls they paid back in the heavier ammunition of moral truth. Here is a specimen of their grape-shot: —
“ My fathers and brethren,” said John Higginson, “ this is never to be forgotten, that our New England is originally a plantation of religion, and not a plantation of trade. Let merchants and such as are making cent. per cent. remember this. Let others who have come over since at sundry times remember this, that worldly gain was not the end and design of the people of New England, but religion. And if any man among us make religion as twelve and the world as thirteen, let such a man know he hath neither the spirit of a true New-England man, nor yet of a sincere Christian.”