Life and Letters of John Winthrop, From His Embarkation for New England in 1630, With the Charter and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, to His Death in 1649

By ROUKRT C. WINTHROP. Boston : Ticknor and Fields.
THREE years ago we gave in these pages a hearty welcome to a volume, the subject of which, under a well-marked division of place and circumstance, is presented with equal interest and fidelity of treatment in the book before us. The discovery of a very valuable collection of family papers in Connecticut, and his own diligent researches in England, had given to the living representative of our first Governor such rich materials for his biography as would of themselves have suggested that use of them, had no previous motive or prompting of duty moved the inheritor of Winthrop’s name and blood to the grateful work. The volume whose contents and theme we have already presented was wholly occupied with the ancestral family and domestic history of John Winthrop in the land of his birth, where he lived till he was in the forty-third year of his age. There his pure and noble character was developed and tested for the great enterprise of which he was the main inspiration and the devoted leader, and the triumphant success of which, fruitful as it has been of good for millions, is so largely referable to his conspicuous virtue and constancy.
The volume now in our hands is occupied with those nineteen years of his life which were passed on this soil. His arrival on the shores of New England, with the Massachusetts Company and their Charter, is dated June 22, 1630, when the Arbella was moored in the harbor of Salem. He died in his house in Boston (the Old South Church occupying the site of his garden), March 26, 1649, He was in office as Governor, serving his twelfth annual term, at the time of his death. There is something very significant, alike of the profound esteem and the exalted confidence attached to Ins character, and also of the jealous watchfulness of the founders of Massachusetts, in the circumstances which secured his frequent re-clection, and yet prevented the continuonsness of his official trust, by giving a short tenure of the chair to other less competent and less esteemed men. lie and his ablest associates seem to have had a prescience of the momentous and expanding issues which were to follow from their wilderness enterprise. More than any other company of men who have ever made a like adventure, they kept in view the wisdom and safety of all their leading measures as precedents, and religiously regarded the effect of their plannings and doings upon their posterity. Winthrop would undoubtedly have been the only bearer of the title of Governor here, so long as his life and vigor were spared, had it not been for the cautious heed of his electors lest that office, or any other among them, should be regarded or claimed as of a life tenure. He was set aside often enough to make sure of that principle, and was gladly taken up again on the ground of his pre-eminent merits and services.
The ingenious but wholly groundless pica that a charge held here by John Endicott, previous to the transfer of die Company and the Charter, entitles him to the honor of being considered the first Governor, is very quietly and decidedly disposed of by this volume. Whatever the nature of Endicott’s trust here, it was subordinate to the government of the Company then administered in England. While the Governor resided there, he of course could not be here ; and when there was a real Governor here, established with actual occupancy, there was no longer one in England. When Winthrop landed, bearing that memorable roll of parchment, now hanging in the Secretary’s office in our State-House, Enclicott recognized his superior, not his substitute, nor his successor.
The lineal descendant of the Governor, in the seventh generation, now his biographer, is chary of encomium, and reticent even where lie might, apart from any personal reference, fitly applaud rightful and noble positions taken by his honored ancestor for public ends. Not wishing to show himself the eulogist of that ancestor, he does not enter at any length, even into the exposition of his principles on subjects and occasions when he was compelled to maintain his ground against honorable or mistaken or jealous opponents. Never did a man perform, within the conditions ot place and exigency, a more noble service with more of single-hearted devotion than did John Winthrop. His character, too, was so lovable for its childlike and tender affectionateness, and so admirable for its high-toned integrity and constancy, —the oppositions which he encountered were of such sort in themselves and in their sources, and his triumph over them was always so gentle and complete, — that any biographer might have chosen him for the theme of unqualified and disinterested praise.
Next to a thoroughly manly and noble character grounded on true piety, and trained by a deep-seated sincerity in religion, the best claim of Governor Winthrop to the prime place of honor and service among the founders and the benefactors of Massachusetts is in the completeness of the devotion with which he gave himself and all that he possessed to the enterprise which he had undertaken. He was prompted in this, not by any wilful ness of purpose, nor any motive of thrift, nor even, as some have supposed, by religious fanaticism, but by an aim which was in itself ennobling, because unselfish and inspired by the prospective view of advantages to be secured by others. So far as profit was concerned, the contingencies of tire case certainly left it doubtful whether the proprietary and trading Company, of which he had become a prominent member, would not reap more pecuniary advantage by agencies established here than by their own immigration hither. In the former volume of our author we read with what deliberation the enterprise was projected and resolved upon. There is evidence that some who had been solicited to take part in it were disheartened at its aspect. This fact required an emboldened resolution in those who committed themselves to it. From first to last, after the agreement was subscribed, John Winthrop was its acknowledged inspiration and its firmest adherent. Among ids partners, he was the largest adventurer, and he had the most worldly substance, as well as the most self-sacrificing spirit. He parted with Iris manorial estate in green old England, — the home anil burial-place of his ancestors, — and converted the proceeds into funds to be used in the stock and encouragement of the adventure. As far as those proceeds were available in cash, he used them freely to meet his own expenses and to lend to friends. A large part which, as a remainder, he was expecting to devote to the same purpose, while in the hands of an unworthy agent was lost to him, and the good man before his life closed here felt the pinch of privation. His sacrifices and misfortunes were tenderly appreciated in this Colony, and he was willing to accept true sympathy as more and better than compensation, which circumstances put out of the question. lie arrived here with a part of his family, and his beloved son Henry was drowned the day after landing on these shores. The Governor’s wife, who was compelled to remain in England, expecting the birth of a child, followed him as soon as possible with the infant, which the father was never to see, for it died upon the ocean. Some of those who had put their hands to the plough, early disheartened by the straits and sufferings of exile in the wilderness, returned one by one, without, however, involving any serious peril to the enterprise. But hardly had the early struggles been encountered, and the pledges of success and permanency risen before those who had done the most for the cause and had everything to lose by its failure, than the heart of the Governor was sorely tried by an apprehension which was far worse to him than the decay of his own fortune. The turn of affairs in England had brought out into activity and infiuence the class of men and the principles engaged in the great experiment on these shores. Of course the tide set homeward. Restless and hopeful spirits — those discouraged here and excited by the prospect of turmoil and revolution in England—• returned, giving up the Colony and its struggling cause. The fluctuations of trade at times swelled the cost here ol all foreign commodities, and depreciated the value of the native products. A deep gloom settled over the hearts of those who must abide to the last by the venture they had made. Governor Winthrop, seeing some on whom lie had most depended falling away, could not but yield to the melancholy which the prospect before him excited. Some of the most touching and beautiful sentences from his heart and pen, disclosing the tender and steadfast qualities of his fine nature, were written in this mood. But for himself there was no looking back, no regret, no calculation even of what had been lost, or of what might yet be saved. He came here to abide. He had consecrated his all, and lie would reclaim nothing of it. lie almost made up his mind once, though with great reluctance, to cross the ocean on a commission in behalf of the Colony. But had he gone, it would have been only with a view to a quick return, for he wished to end his days and to find his mortal rest here. His beloved wife, Margaret, the pride and ornament of the Colony, the example of that matronly dignity and that fidelity which have furnished a model for the pious and helpful women of New England of the old stock, shared with him and sustained him under all his buffetings. His oldest Son John, the Governor of Connecticut, loved and served her as if she had been his own mother, and Winthrop counted it as among the chief of his blessings from God that he had so noble and good a son.
The administration of the public interests of the Colony may seem to us to have been very easy, and the means and results of it are often pronounced upon in these latter days as narrow and trivial. Such may be the judgment of the ignorant and the conceited ; but the thorough and appreciative students of our history judge quite otherwise Our first Governor, during Liis twelve terms of service, had tasks and duties more exacting than have weighed on any one of his successors, If we regard the experimental nature of his trust, the sort of responsibilities attending it, and the momentous consequences which must follow the early legislation as establishing precedents, we may well say that he furnished the example and guide for all those successors. His associates in the government were men of strong will, of independent and often eccentric natures; and those whom they governed had also their crotchets and jealousies. He was the most evenly balanced among them all, and his breadth and fairness of view were least affected by the limitations and superstitions of the. age. One of the most charming and suggestive of the personal disclosures made in Governor Winthrop’s journal are the allusions to his variances with his rival, Governor Dudley, or rather, we should say, to Governor Dudley’s manifest and ill-tempered jealousy of him.
It will ever be to the praise of Winthrop, that the only complaint ever brought against him was that of too great leniency. Ife vindicated himself from any fault on this score, by asserting the occasion for it, and by insisting upon it as the course of wisdom and rectitude. lie was willing, however, to try to be more severe, more rigid, more like his associates. ITis partial success in these efforts almost led him into some mistakes. Only when he died was his full worth known to the Colony, as we learn to know it in the present most faithful biography of an excellent and great man.
We may add, that the biographer, being richly favored with materials of the highest value,—the Governor’s own journals and the family papers, — has chosen to allow them to speak for themselves, with illustrative details and sparse comments from his own pen. Of the letter written by Winthrop on the day of his death, and sent by an Indian runner to his son in Connecticut, one of the most interesting of these papers, we are given a very acceptable fac-simile.