ePub 版
[ocr errors]

cal experience of native Englishmen, and which, on the other hand, are pretty clearly the prototypes of those written constitutions under which the United States have grown and prospered. In both colonies, too, the ideals of dominant Puritanism prevailed from the beginning, more than half a generation before Cromwell dominated English history. In England, dominant Puritanism was transitory, – breaking into the course of English constitutional history amid the convulsion of the Civil Wars, and fatally unable to maintain itself among the complexities and traditions which compose the historical continuity of the old world. In New England, on the other hand, there was no historical continuity, no tradition, no political and social complexity, to check its growth.

its growth. In England the Civil Wars came ; then the Commonwealth; then the Restoration. In the history of New England we can find no epoch-making facts to correspond with these. There was change of sovereignty, of course; there were heart-burnings and doubts and fears enough, and to spare ; but there was no irruption of political ideals strange to the founders of our American Commonwealth, nor was there any essential change of dominant ideals until the seventeenth century was over. What might have happened except for the Revolution of 1688, no one can say; but that revolution substantially confirmed the traditions of the New England fathers.

Throughout the seventeenth century meanwhile a fact had been developing itself on the American continent which was perhaps more significant to the future of New England than any in the history of the mother country. Before 1610 the French had finally established themselves in the regions now known as Nova Scotia, and from that time forth the French power was steadily extending itself to the northward and westward of the English colonies. The works of Francis Parkman, in which the history of the French power in America is finally dealt with, have sometimes been deemed little more than records of picturesque adventure and border

warfare, hardly deserving the lifelong devotion of our most powerful historian. In point of fact, however, the matters which they so vividly record are perhaps the most decisive which have yet occurred on the American continent. The French domination of Canada and of the West meant the planting and the growth there of a language, with all the moral and political ideals which language so fatally involves, utterly foreign to those English ideals which have finally come to characterise our people. It is hard to generalise rationally; but perhaps we may suggestively say that in a single word the ideal for which the French power stood in religion and in politics alike was the ideal of authority, - of a centralised earthly power which, so far as it reached, should absolutely control human thought and conduct.

Divine authority, of course, New England always recognised; but this it found expressed not in a traditionally established hierarchy, but in the written words of an inspired Bible which all men might read for themselves. Temporal authority, too, New England recognised; but temporal authority secured and limited by written charters, nor yet so absolute that for a moment it could be suffered unopposed to violate the traditional liberties of England. In a way, then, the conAlict between France and England in the New World, a conflict which came to fierce fighting only in the very last years of the seventeenth century, was really a conflict between the Civil and Canon Law and the Law of England, between vestiges of the antique empire of Rome and the beginnings of that newer empire of the English language which chiefly among modern systems now seems to promise something like Roman extension and permanence. It was not until well into the eighteenth century, however, that France and England, imperial Rome and the Common Law, came to their death-grapple in America. In the seventeenth century, or at least until the last ten years of it, there was little more warfare in New England than was caused by the inevitable struggles of the native Indians to maintain their existence in the presence of the invading race which has long ago swept

them away.

The history of seventeenth-century New England, in brief, is that of a dominant Puritanism, twenty years older than Cromwell's and surviving his by forty years more. Amid the expanding life of a still unexplored continent, Puritanism was disturbed by no such environment as impeded it in England and fatally checked it so soon. Rather, the only external fact which affected New England Puritanism at all, was one which strengthened it, — the threatening growth near by of a system as foreign to every phase of English thought as it was to Puritanism itself.

From this state of affairs resulted a general state of social character which may best be understood by comparing the historical records of New England during the hundred years now in question. The earliest history of Plymouth is that of Governor Bradford, sometimes so blunderingly called the “Log of the · Mayflower; "" and the earliest history of Massachusetts is that of Governor Winthrop. Winthrop, born in 1988, died in 1649; and Bradford, born in 1590, died in 1657. Both were born under Queen Elizabeth; both emigrated before English Puritanism was dominant; and neither survived to see the Restoration. The state of life and feeling which they record, then, must clearly belong to the first period of the seventeenth century, - the period when mature men were still of Elizabethan birth. In 1652, three years after Winthrop died and five years before the death of Bradford, Samuel Sewall was born in England. In 1661, four years after Bradford's

, death, he was brought to Massachusetts, where he lived all his life, becoming Chief Justice of the Superior Court. From 1674 tɔ 1729 he kept a diary, which has been published by the Massachusetts Historical Society. He died in 1730. Sewall's life, then, mostly passed in Massachusetts, was contemporary with the English literature between Walton's “Complete Angler” and Pope's “Dunciad.” Both Winthrop and Bradford, on the other hand, were born before Shakspere was certainly known as a popular playwright. Yet a hasty comparison of Bradford's writing or Winthrop's with Sewall's will show so many more points of resemblance than of difference, both in actual circumstance and in general mood, that it is hard to realise how when Sewall began his memoranda — not to speak of when he finished them — the generation to which

Winthrop and Bradford belonged was almost extinct. The three books impress one as virtually contemporary.

How different this social pause was from the social progress of seventeenth-century England may be felt by similarly comparing two familiar English records of the period. Lord Herbert of Cherbury, born in 1582 and dead in 1648, was almost exactly contemporary with Winthrop; his autobiography, written in his last years, is among the most characteristic records of social temper in our language. Fifteen years before Lord Herbert's death, and ten before he began his autobiography, Samuel Pepys was born, whose celebrated diary runs from 1660 to 1669. Pepys stopped writing five years before Sewall began, and so far as age goes he might personally have known Lord Herbert. Yet the whole temper of Herbert is so remote from that of Pepys as to make their writing seem of distinctly different epochs; the fact that their lives overlapped seems half incredible.

Almost any similar comparison you choose will tell the same story. Compare, for example, your impressions of Essex and of Ralegh with those of Monk and of Marlborough; compare Bacon with Newton, and Elizabeth with William III. Then hastily name to yourself some of the worthies who are

remembered from seventeenth-century America. Bradford and Winthrop, we have named already; Winslow and Dudley, too. Add to them Standish, Endicott, Roger Williams, and John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians; John Cotton and Richard Mather ; Increase Mather, son of the one and son-in-law of the other; Cotton Mather, who combined the blood of the two immigrant ministers; Sir William Phips; and Sewall, who with Stoughton and the rest sat in judgment on Salem witchcraft. You can hardly help admitting that, though the type of character in America could not remain quite stationary, the change there between the earlier years of the seventeenth century and its close was surprisingly less marked than was the change in England. A little thought will speedily show what this means. Although the type of character which planted itself in New England during the first quarter of the seventeenth century was very Puritan and therefore, from the point of view of its contemporary English literature, very eccentric, it was truly an Elizabethan type. One conclusion seems clear: the native Yankees of 1700 were incalculably nearer their Elizabethan ancestors than were any of their contemporaries born in the mother country.

In this fact, – a fact rarely emphasised, but once perceived hardly to be denied, – we come to a consideration worth pondering. Such historical convulsions as those which declared themselves in the England of the seventeenth century result from the struggling complexity of social and political forces in densely populated regions. Such stagnation of social evolution as marks the seventeenth century in New England is humanly possible only under conditions where the pressure of external fact, social, political, and economic, is relaxed, under conditions, in short, where the individual type is for a while stronger than environment. Such changes as the course of history brought to seventeenth-century England, which it found in the full vigour of Elizabethan life and left under the constitutional sway of King William III., are changes which must result to individuals just as much as to nations themselves in something which, for want of a more exact word, we may call experience. Such lack of change as marks the America of the seventeenth century indicates the absence of this. Yet even in the America of the seventeenth century

« 上一頁繼續 »