Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

lover. If she were not pious, she stole waiting for his ship to sail, he writes the records of his conversation with still to his wife by every possible mesangels, and went, like Mather's wife, senger, merely to tell her that she is his into magnificent fits of jealousy against chief joy in all the world; and before he the Lord of Hosts. The resulting at- leaves England he arranges with her mosphere may not have been ideal, but that, as long as he is away, every week it is not to be described as “sullen on Tuesday and Friday at five o'clock gloom'; it was not humdrum like a he and she will think of each other Dreiser novel; it was tense with the ex- wherever they are, and commune in citement of living on the perilous edge spirit. When one has been married ten of Paradise.

or twelve long years, that is more exDid these Puritan husbands lack traordinary. It shows, I think, romancharm, or devotion to their women? I tic feeling equal to that in Miss Lulu find that theory hard to reconcile with Bett, or Poor White, or Moon-Calf. the fact that so many of them had three Finally, I will present an extract from wives. Most of us modern men feel a letter of this same John Winthrop to that we have charm enough, if we can this same wife, written in 1637, when obtain and retain one, now that higher they had been married twenty years. education of women has made them so It is an informal note, written hurriedly, exacting in their standards and so in the rush of business: expensive to maintain. Now, Cotton Mather had three wives; and when he SWEETHEART, — was forty or so, in the short interim be- I was unwillingly hindered from comtween number two and number three, ing to thee, nor am I like to see thee he received a proposal of marriage from before the last day of this weeke: therea girl of twenty, who was, he thought, fore I shall want a band or two: and the wittiest and the prettiest girl in cuffs. I pray thee also send me six or the colony. I conclude inevitably that seven leaves of tobacco dried and powthere was something very attractive in dered. Have care of thyself this cold Cotton Mather. Call it charm; call it weather, and speak to the folks to keep what you will; he possessed that which the goats well out of the garden. . the Ladies' Home Journal would de If any letters be come for me, send scribe as 'What women admire in men.' them by this bearer. I will trouble thee

As a further illustration of the 'sul- no further. The Lord bless and keep len gloom of their domestic habits, thee, my sweet wife, and all our family; take the case of John Winthrop, the and send us a comfortable meeting. So pious Puritan governor of Massachu- I kiss thee and love thee ever and rest setts. After a truly religious courtship,

Thy faithful husband, he married his wife, about 1618, against

JOHN WINTHROP. the wishes of her friends. We have some letters of the early years of their life to- If, three hundred years after my gether, in which he addresses her as death, it is proved by documentary eviMy dear wife,' 'My sweet wife,' and dence that twenty years after my mar“My dear wife, my chief joy in this riage I still, in a familiar note, mixed up world. Well, that is nothing; at first, love and kisses with my collars and towe all do that.

bacco — if this is proved, I say, I shall But ten years later Winthrop pre- feel very much surprised if the historian pared to visit New England, without of that day speaks of the sullen gloom

' his family, to found a colony. While of my domestic habits.'

a

III

Despite the 'plank' of universal

sympathy in the rather hastily conBut now, three hundred years after structed literary platform of these Winthrop's time, what is actually being young people, it is manifest that they said about the Puritans? In spite of are out to destroy the credit of the abundant evidences such as I have ex- Puritan in America. We are not exhibited, our recent Pilgrim celebration ceptionally rich in spiritual traditions. was a rather melancholy affair. From It would be a pity, by a persistent camthe numerous commemoratory articles paign of abuse, to ruin the credit of any which I have read, I gather that there good ones. One of the primary funcare only three distinct opinions about tions, indeed, of scholarship and letthe Puritan now current

every one ters is to connect us with the great of them erroneous.

traditions and to inspire us with the The first, held by a small apologetic confidence and power which result group of historians and Mayflower from such a connection. Puritanism, descendants, is, that the Puritan was a rightly understood, is one of the vital, misguided man of good intentions. progressive, and enriching human tradiSince he was a forefather and has long tions. It is a tradition peculiarly necesbeen dead, he should be spoken of re- sary to the health and the stability and spectfully; and it is proper from time to the safe forward movement of a demotime to drop upon his grave a few dried cratic society. When I consider from immortelles. The second opinion is, what antiquity it has come down to us that the Puritan was an unqualified and what vicissitudes it has survived, I pest, but that he is dead and well do not fear its extermination; but I redead, and will trouble us no more for- sent the misapprehension of its char

The third, and by far the most acter and the aspersion of its name. prevalent, is, that the Puritan was Perhaps our insight into its true nature once a pest, but has now become a may be strengthened and our respect menace; that he is more alive than renewed, if we revisit its source and reever, more baleful, more dangerous. view its operations at some periods a

This opinion is propagated in part by little remote from the dust and diaold New Englanders like Mr. Brooks tribes of contemporary journalism. Adams, who have turned upon their ancestors with a vengeful fury, crying,

IV "Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.' And I noticed only the other day A good many ages before Rome was that Mr. Robert Herrick was speaking founded, or Athens, or ancient Troy, remorsefully of Puritanism as an 'an- or Babylon, or Nineveh, there was an cestral blight' in his veins. But the umbrageous banyan tree in India, in opinion is still more actively propa- whose wide-spreading top and popugated by a literary group which comes lous branches red and blue baboons, out flatfootedly against the living Puri- chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-outangs, tan as the enemy of freedom, of science, and a missing group of anthropoid apes of beauty, of romance; as a being with had chattered and fought and Airted unbreakable belief in his own bleak and and feasted and intoxicated themselves narrow views; a Philistine, a hypocrite, on cocoanut wine for a thousand years. a tyrant, of savage cruelty of attack, At some date which I can't fix with acwith a lust for barbarous persecution, curacy, the clatter and mess and wranand of intolerable dirty-mindedness. gling of arboreal simian society began to

ever.

a

a

pall on the heart of one of the anthro- and there, with the chimpanzees and poid apes. He was not happy. He was the red and blue baboons, they still afflicted with ennui. He felt stirring chatter over their cocoanut wine, and somewhere in the region of his diaphragm emit from time to time a scream of simia yearning and capacity for a new life. an rage, and declare their straightHis ideas were vague; but he resolved backed relative a tyrant, a despot, and to make a break for freedom and try a persecutor of his good old four-footed an experiment. He crawled nervously cousins. out to the end of his branch, followed You may say that this is only a foolby a few of his friends, hesitated a mo- ish fable. But it contains all the essenment; then exclaimed abruptly, 'Here's tial features of the eternal Puritan: where I get off,' dropped to the ground, namely, dissatisfaction with the past, lighted on his feet, and amid a pelting courage to break sharply from it, a of decayed fruit and cocoanut shells vision of a better life, readiness to acand derisive shouts of 'precisian' and cept a discipline in order to attain that 'hypocrite,' walked off on his hind-legs better life, and a serious desire to make into another quarter of the jungle and that better life prevail — a desire refounded the human race. That was the flecting at once his sturdy individualism first Puritan.

and his clear sense for the need of social In the beginning, he had only a nar- solidarity. In these respects all true row vision; for his eyes were set near Puritans, in all ages and places of the together, as you will see if you examine world, are alike. Everyone is dissatishis skull in the museum. He had a vi- fied with the past; everyone has the sion of a single principle, namely, that courage necessary to revolt; everyone he was to go upright, instead of on all has a vision; everyone has a discipline; fours. But he gradually made that and everyone desires his vision of the principle pervade all his life; for he better life to prevail. . resolutely refrained from doing any- How do they differ among themselves? thing that he could not do while going They differ in respect to the breadth upright. As habit ultimately made the and the details of their vision. Their new posture easy and natural, he found vision is determined by the width of that there were compensations in it; their eyes and by the lights of their age. for he learned to do all sorts of things in According to the laws of human develthe erect attitude that he could not do, opment, some of the lights go out from even with the aid of his tail, while he time to time, or grow dim, and new went on all-fours. So he began to re- lights appear, and the vision changes joice in what he called 'the new free from age to age. dom.' But to the eyes of the denizens What does not change in the true of the banyan tree, he looked very ri- Puritan is the passion for improvement. diculous. They called him stiff-necked, What does not change is the immortal strait-laced, unbending, and inflex- urgent spirit that breaks from the old ible. But when they swarmed into his forms, follows the new vision, seriously little colony of come-outers, on all seeks the discipline of the higher life. fours, and began to play their monkey- When you find a man who is quite satistricks, he met them gravely and said: fied with the past and with the routine ‘Walk upright, as the rest of us do, and and old clothes of his ancestors, who you may stay and share alike with us. has not courage for revolt and advenOtherwise, out you go.' And out some ture, who cannot accept the discipline of them went, back to the banyan tree; and hardship of a new life, and who does not really care whether the new of the senses. But a thousand years life prevails, you may be sure that he is before Knox and Calvin, there were not a Puritan.

Roman Catholic monasteries and herBut who are the Puritans? Aristotle mitages, where men and women, with a recognized that there is an element of vision of a better life, mortified the the Puritan in every man, when he de flesh far more bitterly than the Calclared that all things, by an intuition vinists ever dreamed of doing. If conof their own nature, seek their perfec- tempt of earthly beauty and earthly tion. He classified the desire for per- pleasure were the works of Puritanism, fection as a fundamental human im- then the hermit saints of Catholicism pulse. Still, we have to admit that in who lived before Calvin should be recogmany men it must be classified as a nized as the model Puritans. But the victoriously suppressed desire. We can hermit saint lacks that passion for makrecognize men as Puritans only when ing his vision prevail, lacks that practhey have released and expressed their tical sense of the need for social solidardesire for perfection.

ity, which are eminent characteristics Leopardi declared that Jesus was the of the true Puritan, both within and first to condemn the world as evil, and without the Roman Church. to summon his followers to come out In the early Middle Ages the Roman from it, in order to found a community Church, which also had a strong sense of the pure in heart. But this is an his- of the need for social solidarity, strove torical error. Unquestionably Jesus was resolutely to keep the Puritans, whom it a Puritan in relation to a corrupt Jewish was constantly developing, within its tradition and in relation to a corrupt fold and to destroy those who escaped. and seriously adulterated pagan tradi- If I follow the course of those who suction. But every great religious and cessfully left the fold, it is not because moral leader, Christian or pagan, has many did not remain within; it is belikewise been a Puritan: Socrates, Plato, cause the course of those who came out Zeno, Confucius, Buddha. Every one led them more directly to America. In of them denounced the world, asked the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe, his followers to renounce many of their the first famous English Puritan, felt instinctive ways, and to accept a rule that the Roman Church had become and discipline of the better life - a rule hopelessly involved with the 'world'

a involving a purification by the suppres- on the one hand, and with unnatural, sion of certain impulses and the libera- and therefore unchristian, austerities tion of others.

on the other, and that, in both ways, it There is much talk of the austerities had lost the purity of the early Chrisof the Puritan households of our fore tian vision of the better life. To obtain fathers, austerities which were largely freedom for the better life, he became matters of necessity. But two thousand convinced that one must come out from years before these forefathers, there the Roman Church, and must substiwere Greek Stoics, and Roman Stoics, tute for the authority of the pope the and Persian and Hindu ascetics, who authority of the Bible as interpreted by were far more austere, and who prac- the best scholarship of the age. He re tised the ascetic life from choice as the volted, as he thought, in behalf of a life, better life. There is talk as if Protes- not merely more religious, but also tant Calvinism had suddenly in modern more actively and practically moral, times introduced the novel idea of put- and intellectually more honest. For ting religious duty before gratification him, accepting certain traditional doctrines meant acquiescence in ignorance If I recall here what is very familiar, it and superstition. His followers, with is to emphasize the swift, unresting onthe courage characteristic of their tradi- ward movement of the Puritan vision tion, burned at the stake rather than of the good life. The revolt against the profess faith in a 'feigned miracle.' True bishops became a revolution which forerunners, they were, of the man of shook the pillars of the Middle Ages science who ‘follows truth wherever it and prepared the way for modern times. leads.'

The vision, as it moves, broadens and be A hundred and fifty years later the comes more inclusive. For the sevenEnglish Church as a whole revolted from teenth-century Puritan, the good life is the Roman, on essentially the grounds not merely religious, moral, and inteltaken by Wycliffe; and under Mary its lectual; it is also, in all affairs of the scholars and ministers by scores burned soul, a self-governing life. It is a free at the stake for their vision of the bet- life, subject only to divine commands ter life, which included above all what which each individual has the right to they deemed intellectual integrity. At interpret for himself. The Puritan that time, the whole English Church minister had, to be sure, a great influwas in an essentially Puritan mood, dis- ence; but the influence was primarily satisfied with the old, eager to make the due to his superior learning. And the new vision prevail, fearless with the entire discipline of the Puritans tended courage of the new learning, elate with steadily toward raising the congregathe sense of national purification and tion to the level of the minister. Their intellectual progress.

daily use of the Bible, their prompt inBut the word Puritan actually came stitution of schools and universities, into use first after the Reformation. and the elaborate logical discourses de It was applied in the later sixteenth livered from the pulpits constituted a century to a group within the English universal education for independent Church which thought that the na- and critical free-thought. tional church had still insufficiently Puritanism made every man a reapurged itself of Roman belief and ritual. soner. And much earlier than is genAmong things which they regarded as erally recognized, the Puritan mind merely traditional and unscriptural, began to appeal from the letter to the and therefore unwarrantable, was the spirit of Scripture, from Scripture to government of the church by bishops, scholarship, and from scholarship to archdeacons, deacons, and the rest - the verdict of the philosophic reason. the Anglican hierarchy. And when Says the first pastor of the Pilgrims: these officers began to suppress their ‘He that hath a right philosophical protests, these Puritans began to feel spirit and is but morally honest would that the English Church was too much rather suffer many deaths than call a involved with the world to permit them pin a point or speak the least thing freedom for the practice of the better against his understanding or persualife. Accordingly, in the seventeenth sion.' In John Robinson we meet a century, they revolted as nonconform- man with a deep devotion to the truth, ists or as separatists; and drew off into and also with the humility to recognize religious communities by themselves, clearly that he possesses but a small with church governments of representa portion of truth. He conceives, indeed, tive or democratic character, the prin- of a truth behind the Bible itself, a ciples of which were soon to be trans- truth which may be reached by other ferred to political communities. means than the Scripture, and which

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »