« ZurückWeiter »
was not beyond the ken of the wise ice in the church, Mather writes in his pagans. All truth,' he declares, 'is of diary this distinctly advanced criterion
‘ God. . Whereupon it followeth that for inspiration:nothing true in right reason and sound “There is a thought which I have often philosophy can be false in divinity. .. had in my mind; but I would now lay I add, though the truth be uttered by upon my mind a charge to have it ofthe devil himself, yet it is originally of tener there: that the light of reason is God.'
the law of God; the voice of reason is The delightful aspects of this ‘Bibli- the voice of God; we never have to do cal Puritan,' besides the sweetness of with reason, but at the same time we his charity and his tolerance, are his have to do with God; our submission to lively perception that truth is some- the rules of reason is an obedience to thing new, steadily revealing itself, God. Let me as often as I have evident breaking upon us like a dawn; and, not reason set before me, think upon it; less significant, his recognition that the great God now speaks to me.' true religion must be in harmony with Our judgment of Mather's vision reason and experience. 'Our Lord must depend upon what reason told Christ,' he
he remarks - quietly yet Mather to do. Well, every day of his memorably ---calls himself truth, not life reason told Mather to undertake custom.'
some good for his fellow men. At the Cotton Mather, partly because of his beginning of each entry in his diary for connection with the witchcraft trials, a long period of years stand the letters has been so long a synonym for the un- 'G.D.,' which mean Good Designed for lovely features of the culture of his that day. 'And besides all this,' he detime and place, that even his bio- clares, “I have scarce at any time, for grapher and the recent editors of his these five-and-forty years and more, so journal have quite failed to bring out come as to stay in any company withthe long stride that he made toward out considering whether no good might complete freedom of the mind. If the be done before I left it.' One sees in truth be told, Mather, like every Puri- Mather a striking illustration of the tan of powerful original force, was some- Puritan passion for making one's vision thing of a 'heretic.' For many years he of the good life prevail. 'It has been a followed a plainly mystical “inner light.' maxim with me,' he
maxim with me,' he says, 'that a power
' His huge diary opens in 1681 with a to do good not only gives a right unto statement that he has come to a direct it, but also makes the doing of it a duty. agreement with the Lord Jesus Christ, I have been made very sensible that by and that no man or book, but the spirit pursuing of this maxim, I have entirely of God, has shown him the way. He ruined myself as to this world and rengoes directly to the several persons of dered it really too hot a place for me to the Trinity, and transacts his business continue in.' with them or with their ministering an- Mather has here in mind the crucial gels. There is an ‘enthusiastic' element and heroic test of his Puritan spirit. here; but one should observe that it is Toward the end of his life, in 1721, an emancipative element.
an epidemic of smallpox swept over Experience, however, taught Mather Boston. It was generally interpreted a certain distrust of the mystical inner by the pious as a visitation of God. light. Experience with witches taught Mather, a student of science as well as him a certain wariness of angels. In of the Bible had read in the Trans1711, after thirty years of active serv- actions of the Royal Society reports of successful inoculation against smallpox his conduct on this occasion, he deserves practised in Africa and among the to have his sins forgiven, and to be Turks. He called the physicians of ranked and remembered as a hero of Boston together, explained the method, the modern spirit. and recommended their experimenting He hoped that his spirit would dewith it. He also published pamphlets scend to his son; but the full stream in favor of inoculation. He was vio- of his bold and original moral energy lently attacked as opposing the decrees turned elsewhere. There was a Boston of God. In the face of a storm of op- boy of Puritan ancestry, who had sat position he inoculated his own child, under Cotton Mather's father, who had who nearly died of the treatment. heard Cotton Mather preach in the None the less, he persisted, and invited height of his power, and who said years others to come into his house and re- afterward that reading Cotton Mather's ceive the treatment, among them a fel- book, Essays to do Good, 'gave me such low minister. Into the room where the a turn of thinking, as to have an inpatient lay, was thrown a bomb intended fluence on my conduct through life; for Mather, which failed, however, to for I have always set a greater value on explode. To it was attached this note: the character of a doer of good, than on ‘Cotton Mather, you dog, damn you; any other kind of reputation; and if I I'll inoculate
with this, with a pox have been .. a useful citizen, the to you!'
public owes the advantage of it to that Mather stood firm, would not be dis- book.' This boy had a strong common suaded, even courted martyrdom for sense. To him, as to Mather, right reathe new medical truth. 'I had rather son seemed the rule of God and the voice die,' he said, 'by such hands as now of God. threaten my life than by a fever; and He grew up in Boston under Mather's much rather die for my conformity to influence, and became a free-thinkthe blessed Jesus in essays to save life ing man of the world, entirely out of than for some truths, tho' precious ones, sympathy with strait-laced and stiffto which many martyrs testified for- necked upholders of barren rites and merly in the flames of Smithfield.' ceremonies. I am speaking of the great
Here, then, please observe, is the free est liberalizing force in eighteenthPuritan mind in revolt, courageously century America, Benjamin Franklin. insisting on making his new vision of Was he a Puritan? Perhaps no one the good life prevail, resolutely under- thinks of him as such. Yet we see that taking the discipline and dangers of ex- he was born and bred in the bosom of periment, and, above all, seeking what Boston Puritanism; that he acknowhe calls the will of the 'blessed Jesus,' ledges its greatest exponent as the not in the Bible, but in a medical re- prime inspiration of his life. Furtherport of the Royal Society; thus fulfill- more, he exhibits all the essential charing the spirit of Robinson's declaration acteristics of the Puritan: dissatisfacthat 'Our Lord Christ calls himself tion, revolt, a new vision, discipline, truth, not custom’; and illustrating Rob- and a passion for making the new vision inson's other declaration that true re- prevail. He represents, in truth, the ligion cannot conflict with right rea- reaction of a radical, a living Puritanson and sound experience. In Mather, ism, to an age of intellectual enlightenthe vision of the good life came to mean ment. a rational and practical beneficence in Franklin began his independent efthe face of calumny and violence. For fort in a revolt against ecclesiastical VOL. 128 - NO. S
authority, as narrow and unrealistic. plies his discoveries with immense pracRecall the passage in his Autobiography tical benevolence to ameliorating the where he relates his disgust at a sermon common lot of mankind, and to difpreached on the great text in Philip- fusing good-will among men and napians: Whatsoever things are true, tions. Light breaks into his mind from honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good every quarter of his century. His vision report, if there be any virtue, or any of the good life includes bringing every praise, think on these things. Franklin faculty of mind and body to its highest says that, in expounding this text, the usefulness. With a Puritan emancipaminister confined himself to five points: tor like Franklin, we are not obliged to keeping the Sabbath, reading the Scrip- depend, for the opening of our minds, tures, attending public worship, par- upon subsequent liberators devoid of taking of the sacraments, and respect- his high reconstructive seriousness. ing the ministers. Franklin recognized I must add just one more name, for at once that there was no moral life in the nineteenth century, to the history that minister, was 'disgusted,' and at- of our American Puritan tradition. tended his preaching no more. It was The original moral force which was in the revolt of a living Puritanism from a Mather and Franklin passed in the Puritanism that was dead.
next age into a man who began to For, note what follows, as the conse- preach in Cotton Mather's church, quence of his break with the church. Ralph Waldo Emerson, descendant of It was about this time that I conceived,'
many generations of Puritans. The says Franklin, 'the bold and arduous church itself had now become Unitarian: project of arriving at moral perfection. yet, after two or three years of service, I wished to live without committing Emerson, like Franklin, revolted from any fault at any time, and to conquer the church; the vital force of Puritanall that either natural inclination, cus- ism in him impelled him to break from tom, or company might lead me into.' the church in behalf of his vision of sinEveryone will recall how Franklin drew cerity, truth, and actuality. “Whoso up his table of the thirteen real moral would be a man,' he declares in his virtues, and how diligently he exercised famous essay on Self-Reliance, ‘must himself to attain them. But, for
be a nonconformist. He who would significant feature of his enterprise was gather immortal palms must not be the realistic spirit in which it was con- hindered by the name of goodness, but ceived: the bold attempt to ground the must explore if it be goodness.' virtues on reason and experience rather No American ever lived whose perthan authority; the assertion of his sonal life was more exemplary; or who doctrine ‘that vicious actions are not expressed such perfect disdain of outhurtful because they are forbidden, but worn formulas and lifeless routine. forbidden because they are hurtful, the There is dynamite in his doctrine to nature of man alone considered.'
burst tradition to fragments, when Having taken this ground, it became tradition has become an empty shell. necessary for him to explore the nature ‘Every actual state is corrupt,' he cries of man and the universe. So Puritan- in one of his dangerous sayings; 'good ism, which, in Robinson and Mather, men will not obey the laws too well.' was predominantly rational, becomes in To good men whose eyes are wide and Franklin predominantly scientific. With full of light, there is always breaking a magnificent fresh moral force, he seeks new vision of right reason, which is the for the will of God in nature, and ap- will of God, and above the law. Emer
son himself broke the Fugitive Slave sion for emancipating, not merely the Law, and in the face of howling Pro- religious and moral, but also the intelSlavery mobs declared that John Brown lectual and the political and social and would make the gallows glorious like æsthetic capacities of man, so that he the cross.
may achieve the harmonious perfection That is simply the political aspect of of his whole nature, body and soul. To his radical Puritanism. On the æsthetic this vision of the good life, Puritanism side, Emerson disregarded the existing has come by inevitable steps in its pilconventions of poetry to welcome Walt grimage through the ages. Whitman, who saluted him as master. What have I been trying to demonEmerson hailed Walt Whitman be- strate by this long review of the Puritan cause Whitman had sought to make tradition? This, above all: that the splendid and beautiful the religion of Puritan is profoundly in sympathy a Puritan democracy; and a Puritan with the modern spirit, is indeed the democracy is the only kind that we have formative force in the modern spirit. reason to suppose will endure.
The Puritan is constantly discarding Let these two examples of Emerson's old clothes; but, being a well-born soul, revolt and vision suffice to illustrate he seeks instinctively for fresh raiment. the modern operation of the Puritan Hence his quarrel with the Adamite, spirit, its disdain for formalism and who would persuade him to rejoice in routine.
nakedness and seek no further. Now, our contemporary leaders of the Man is an animal, as the Adamites attack against the modern Puritan de- are so fond of reminding us. What esclare that modern Puritanism means capes their notice is, that man is an campaigns of 'snouting and suppres- animal constituted and destined by his sion.' That, we should now be pre- nature to go on a pilgrimage in search pared to assert, is precisely and dia- of a shrine; and till he finds the shrine, metrically opposite to what modern constrained by his nature to worship Puritanism means. Modern Puritanism the Unknown God. This the Puritan means the release, not the suppression, has always recognized. And this, preof power, welcome to new life, revolt cisely, it is that makes the Puritan a from decay and death. With extrava- better emancipator of young souls than gant asceticism, with precisianism, mod- our contemporary Adamite. ern Puritanism has nothing whatever A great part of our lives, as we all to do.
feel in our educational period, is ocWhat made the teaching of Emerson, cupied with learning how to do and to for example, take hold of his contem- be what others have been and have done poraries, what should commend it to before us. But presently we discover us to-day, is just its unfailingly positive that the world is changing around us, character; its relish for antagonisms and and that the secrets of the masters and difficulty; its precept for the use of the the experience of our elders do not spur; its restoration of ambition to its wholly suffice to establish us effectively proper place in the formation of the
in our younger world. We discover manly character; its power to free the within us needs, aspirations, powers, of young soul from the fetters of fear and which the generation that educated us send him on his course like a thunder
seems unaware, or toward which it
apbolt; and, above all, its passion for pears to be indifferent, unsympathetic, bringing the whole of life for all men or even actively hostile. We perceive to its fullest and fairest fruit; its pas- gradually or with successive shocks of surprise that many things which our constantly sifting, discriminating, refathers declared were true and satis- jecting, and holding fast that which is factory are not at all satisfactory, are good, only till that which is better is by no means true, for us. Then it within sight. This endless quest, when dawns upon us, perhaps as an exhilarat- it becomes central in a life, requires ing opportunity, perhaps as a grave and labor, requires pain, requires a measure sobering responsibility, that in a little of courage; and so the modern spirit, while we ourselves shall be the elders, with its other virtues, is an heroic spirit. the responsible generation. Our salva- As a reward for difficulties gallantly tion in the day when we take command undertaken, the gods bestow on the will depend, we believe, upon our dis- modern spirit a kind of eternal youth, entanglement from the lumber of heir- with unfailing powers of recuperation looms and hereditary devices, and upon and growth. the free, wise use of our own faculties. To enter into this spirit is what the
At that moment, if we have inherited, Puritan means by freedom. He does not the Puritan heirlooms, but the liv- not, like the false emancipator, merely ing Puritan tradition, we enter into the cut us loose from the old moorings and modern spirit. By this phrase I mean, set us adrift at the mercy of wind and primarily, the disposition to accept tide. He comes aboard, like a good pinothing on authority, but to bring all lot; and while we trim our sails, he takes reports to the test of experience. The the wheel and lays our course for a modern spirit is, first of all, a free spirit fresh voyage. His message when he open on all sides to the influx of truth, leaves us is not, 'Henceforth be mastereven from the past. But freedom is not less,' but, 'Bear thou henceforth the its only characteristic. The modern sceptre of thine own control through spirit is marked, further, by an active life and the passion of life.' If that mes curiosity, which grows by what it feeds sage still stirs us as with the sound of upon, and goes ever inquiring for fresh,
trumpet, and frees and prepares us, er and sounder information, not content not for the junketing of a purposeless till it has the best information to be had vagabondage, but for the ardor and disanywhere. But since it seeks the best, cipline and renunciation of a pilgrimit is, by necessity, also a critical spirit, age, we are Puritans.