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pall on the heart of one of the anthropoid apes. He was not happy. He was afflicted with ennui. He felt stirring somewhere in the region of his diaphragm a yearning and capacity for a new life. His ideas were vague; but he resolved to make a break for freedom and try an experiment. He crawled nervously out to the end of his branch, followed by a few of his friends, hesitated a moment; then exclaimed abruptly, 'Here's where I get off,' dropped to the ground, lighted on his feet, and amid a pelting of decayed fruit and cocoanut shells and derisive shouts of 'precisian' and 'hypocrite,' walked off on his hind-legs into another quarter of the jungle and founded the human race. That was the first Puritan.
In the beginning, he had only a narrow vision; for his eyes were set near together, as you will see if you examine examine his skull in the museum. He had a vision of a single principle, namely, that he was to go upright, instead of on all fours. But he gradually made that principle pervade all his life; for he resolutely refrained from doing anything that he could not do while going upright. As habit ultimately made the new posture easy and natural, he found that there were compensations in it; for he learned to do all sorts of things in the erect attitude that he could not do, even with the aid of his tail, while he went on all-fours. So he began to rejoice in what he called 'the new free dom.' But to the eyes of the denizens of the banyan tree, he looked very ridiculous. They called him stiff-necked, strait-laced, unbending, and inflexible. But when they swarmed into his little colony of come-outers, on all fours, and began to play their monkeytricks, he met them gravely and said: 'Walk upright, as the rest of us do, and you may stay and share alike with us. Otherwise, out you go.' And out some of them went, back to the banyan tree;
and there, with the chimpanzees and the red and blue baboons, they still chatter over their cocoanut wine, and emit from time to time a scream of simian rage, and declare their straightbacked relative a tyrant, a despot, and a persecutor of his good old four-footed cousins.
You may say that this is only a foolish fable. But it contains all the essential features of the eternal Puritan: namely, dissatisfaction with the past, courage to break sharply from it, a vision of a better life, readiness to accept a discipline in order to attain that better life, and a serious desire to make that better life prevail a desire reflecting at once his sturdy individualism and his clear sense for the need of social solidarity. In these respects all true Puritans, in all ages and places of the world, are alike. Everyone is dissatisfied with the past; everyone has the courage necessary to revolt; everyone has a vision; everyone has a discipline; and everyone desires his vision of the better life to prevail.
How do they differ among themselves? They differ in respect to the breadth and the details of their vision. Their vision is determined by the width of their eyes and by the lights of their age. According to the laws of human development, some of the lights go out from time to time, or grow dim, and new lights appear, and the vision changes from age to age.
What does not change in the true Puritan is the passion for improvement. What does not change is the immortal urgent spirit that breaks from the old forms, follows the new vision, seriously seeks the discipline of the higher life. When you find a man who is quite satisfied with the past and with the routine and old clothes of his ancestors, who has not courage for revolt and adventure, who cannot accept the discipline and hardship of a new life, and who
does not really care whether the new life prevails, you may be sure that he is not a Puritan.
But who are the Puritans? Aristotle recognized that there is an element of the Puritan in every man, when he declared that all things, by an intuition of their own nature, seek their perfection. He classified the desire for perfection as a fundamental human impulse. Still, we have to admit that in many men it must be classified as a victoriously suppressed desire. We can recognize men as Puritans only when they have released and expressed their desire for perfection.
Leopardi declared that Jesus was the first to condemn the world as evil, and to summon his followers to come out from it, in order to found a community of the pure in heart. But this is an historical error. Unquestionably Jesus was a Puritan in relation to a corrupt Jewish tradition and in relation to a corrupt and seriously adulterated pagan tradition. But every great religious and moral leader, Christian or pagan, has likewise been a Puritan: Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Confucius, Buddha. Every one of them denounced the world, asked his followers to renounce many of their instinctive ways, and to accept a rule and discipline of the better life-a rule involving a purification by the suppression of certain impulses and the liberation of others.
There is much talk of the austerities of the Puritan households of our forefathers, austerities which were largely matters of necessity. But two thousand years before these forefathers, there were Greek Stoics, and Roman Stoics, and Persian and Hindu ascetics, who were far more austere, and who practised the ascetic life from choice as the better life. There is talk as if Protestant Calvinism had suddenly in modern times introduced the novel idea of putting religious duty before gratification
of the senses. But a thousand years before Knox and Calvin, there were Roman Catholic monasteries and hermitages, where men and women, with a vision of a better life, mortified the flesh far more bitterly than the Calvinists ever dreamed of doing. If contempt of earthly beauty and earthly pleasure were the works of Puritanism, then the hermit saints of Catholicism who lived before Calvin should be recognized as the model Puritans. But the hermit saint lacks that passion for making his vision prevail, lacks that practical sense of the need for social solidarity, which are eminent characteristics of the true Puritan, both within and without the Roman Church.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman Church, which also had a strong sense of the need for social solidarity, strove resolutely to keep the Puritans, whom it was constantly developing, within its fold and to destroy those who escaped. If I follow the course of those who successfully left the fold, it is not because many did not remain within; it is because the course of those who came out led them more directly to America. In the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe, the first famous English Puritan, felt that the Roman Church had become hopelessly involved with the 'world' on the one hand, and with unnatural, and therefore unchristian, austerities on the other, and that, in both ways, it had lost the purity of the early Christian vision of the better life. To obtain freedom for the better life, he became convinced that one must come out from the Roman Church, and must substitute for the authority of the pope the authority of the Bible as interpreted by the best scholarship of the age. He revolted, as he thought, in behalf of a life, not merely more religious, but also more actively and practically moral, and intellectually more honest. For him, accepting certain traditional doc
trines meant acquiescence in ignorance and superstition. His followers, with the courage characteristic of their tradition, burned at the stake rather than profess faith in a 'feigned miracle.' True forerunners, they were, of the man of science who 'follows truth wherever it leads.'
A hundred and fifty years later the English Church as a whole revolted from the Roman, on essentially the grounds taken by Wycliffe; and under Mary its scholars and ministers by scores burned at the stake for their vision of the better life, which included above all what they deemed intellectual integrity. At that time, the whole English Church was in an essentially Puritan mood, dissatisfied with the old, eager to make the new vision prevail, fearless with the courage of the new learning, elate with the sense of national purification and intellectual progress.
But the word Puritan actually came into use first after the Reformation. It was applied in the later sixteenth century to a group within the English Church which thought that the national church had still insufficiently purged itself of Roman belief and ritual. Among things which they regarded as merely traditional and unscriptural, and therefore unwarrantable, was the government of the church by bishops, archdeacons, deacons, and the rest the Anglican hierarchy. And when these officers began to suppress their protests, these Puritans began to feel that the English Church was too much involved with the world to permit them freedom for the practice of the better life. Accordingly, in the seventeenth century, they revolted as nonconformists or as separatists; and drew off into religious communities by themselves, with church governments of representative or democratic character, the principles of which were soon to be transferred to political communities.
If I recall here what is very familiar, it is to emphasize the swift, unresting onward movement of the Puritan vision of the good life. The revolt against the bishops became a revolution which shook the pillars of the Middle Ages and prepared the way for modern times. The vision, as it moves, broadens and becomes more inclusive. For the seventeenth-century Puritan, the good life is not merely religious, moral, and intellectual; it is also, in all affairs of the soul, a self-governing life. It is a free life, subject only to divine commands which each individual has the right to interpret for himself. The Puritan minister had, to be sure, a great influence; but the influence was primarily due to his superior learning. And the entire discipline of the Puritans tended steadily toward raising the congregation to the level of the minister. Their daily use of the Bible, their prompt institution of schools and universities, and the elaborate logical discourses delivered from the pulpits constituted a universal education for independent and critical free-thought.
Puritanism made every man a reasoner. And much earlier than is generally recognized, the Puritan mind began to appeal from the letter to the spirit of Scripture, from Scripture to scholarship, and from scholarship to the verdict of the philosophic reason. Says the first pastor of the Pilgrims: 'He that hath a right philosophical spirit and is but morally honest would rather suffer many deaths than call a pin a point or speak the least thing against his understanding or persuasion.' In John Robinson we meet a man with a deep devotion to the truth, and also with the humility to recognize clearly that he possesses but a small portion of truth. He conceives, indeed, of a truth behind the Bible itself, a truth which may be reached by other means than the Scripture, and which
was not beyond the ken of the wise pagans. All truth,' he declares, 'is of God. . . . Whereupon it followeth that nothing true in right reason and sound philosophy can be false in divinity. . . . I add, though the truth be uttered by the devil himself, yet it is originally of God.'
The delightful aspects of this 'Biblical Puritan,' besides the sweetness of his charity and his tolerance, are his lively perception that truth is something new, steadily revealing itself, breaking upon us like a dawn; and, not less significant, his recognition that true religion must be in harmony with reason and experience. 'Our Lord Christ,' he remarks quietly yet memorably 'calls himself truth, not custom.'
Cotton Mather, partly because of his connection with the witchcraft trials, has been so long a synonym for the unlovely features of the culture of his time and place, that even his biographer and the recent editors of his journal have quite failed to bring out the long stride that he made toward complete freedom of the mind. If the truth be told, Mather, like every Puritan of powerful original force, was something of a 'heretic.' For many years he followed a plainly mystical ‘inner light.' His huge diary opens in 1681 with a statement that he has come to a direct agreement with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that no man or book, but the spirit of God, has shown him the way. He goes directly to the several persons of the Trinity, and transacts his business with them or with their ministering angels. There is an 'enthusiastic' element here; but one should observe that it is an emancipative element.
Experience, however, taught Mather a certain distrust of the mystical inner light. Experience with witches taught him a certain wariness of angels. In 1711, after thirty years of active serv
ice in the church, Mather writes in his diary this distinctly advanced criterion for inspiration:
"There is a thought which I have often had in my mind; but I would now lay upon my mind a charge to have it oftener there: that the light of reason is the law of God; the voice of reason is the voice of God; we never have to do with reason, but at the same time we have to do with God; our submission to the rules of reason is an obedience to God. Let me as often as I have evident reason set before me, think upon it; the great God now speaks to me.'
Our judgment of Mather's vision must depend upon what reason told Mather to do. Well, every day of his life reason told Mather to undertake some good for his fellow men. At the beginning of each entry in his diary for a long period of years stand the letters 'G.D.,' which mean Good Designed for that day. And besides all this,' he declares, 'I have scarce at any time, for these five-and-forty years and more, so come as to stay in any company without considering whether no good might be done before I left it.' One sees in Mather a striking illustration of the Puritan passion for making one's vision of the good life prevail. 'It has been a maxim with me,' he says, 'that a power to do good not only gives a right unto it, but also makes the doing of it a duty. I have been made very sensible that by pursuing of this maxim, I have entirely ruined myself as to this world and rendered it really too hot a place for me to continue in.'
Mather has here in mind the crucial and heroic test of his Puritan spirit. Toward the end of his life, in 1721, an epidemic of smallpox swept over Boston. It was generally interpreted by the pious as a visitation of God. Mather, a student of science as well as of the Bible had read in the Transactions of the Royal Society reports of
successful inoculation against smallpox practised in Africa and among the Turks. He called the physicians of Boston together, explained the method, and recommended their experimenting with it. He also published pamphlets in favor of inoculation. He was violently attacked as opposing the decrees of God. In the face of a storm of opposition he inoculated his own child, who nearly died of the treatment. None the less, he persisted, and invited others to come into his house and receive the treatment, among them a fellow minister. Into the room where the patient lay, was thrown a bomb intended for Mather, which failed, however, to explode. To it was attached this note: 'Cotton Mather, you dog, damn you; I'll inoculate you with this, with a pox to you!'
Mather stood firm, would not be dissuaded, even courted martyrdom for the new medical truth. 'I had rather die,' he said, 'by such hands as now threaten my life than by a fever; and much rather die for my conformity to the blessed Jesus in essays to save life than for some truths, tho' precious ones, to which many martyrs testified formerly in the flames of Smithfield.'
Here, then, please observe, is the free Puritan mind in revolt, courageously insisting on making his new vision of the good life prevail, resolutely undertaking the discipline and dangers of experiment, and, above all, seeking what he calls the will of the 'blessed Jesus,' not in the Bible, but in a medical report of the Royal Society; thus fulfilling the spirit of Robinson's declaration that 'Our Lord Christ calls himself truth, not custom'; and illustrating Robinson's other declaration that true religion cannot conflict with right reason and sound experience. In Mather, the vision of the good life came to mean a rational and practical beneficence in the face of calumny and violence. For
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his conduct on this occasion, he deserves to have his sins forgiven, and to be ranked and remembered as a hero of the modern spirit.
He hoped that his spirit would descend to his son; but the full stream of his bold and original moral energy turned elsewhere. There was a Boston boy of Puritan ancestry, who had sat under Cotton Mather's father, who had heard Cotton Mather preach in the height of his power, and who said years afterward that reading Cotton Mather's book, Essays to do Good, 'gave me such a turn of thinking, as to have an influence on my conduct through life; for I have always set a greater value on the character of a doer of good, than on any other kind of reputation; and if I have been a useful citizen, the public owes the advantage of it to that book.' This boy had a strong common sense. To him, as to Mather, right reason seemed the rule of God and the voice of God.
He grew up in Boston under Mather's influence, and became a free-thinking man of the world, entirely out of sympathy with strait-laced and stiffnecked upholders of barren rites and ceremonies. I am speaking of the greatest liberalizing force in eighteenthcentury America, Benjamin Franklin. Was he a Puritan? Perhaps no one thinks of him as such. Yet we see that he was born and bred in the bosom of Boston Puritanism; that he acknowledges its greatest exponent as the prime inspiration of his life. Furthermore, he exhibits all the essential characteristics of the Puritan: dissatisfaction, revolt, a new vision, discipline, and a passion for making the new vision prevail. He represents, in truth, the reaction of a radical, a living Puritanism, to an age of intellectual enlighten
Franklin began his independent effort in a revolt against ecclesiastical