網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Wigglesworth, then minister of Malden, published his “Day of Doom, or, A Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment,” which retained its popularity in New England for about a century. Of this the “ Plea of the Infants,” still faintly remembered, is example enough:

Reprobate Infants plead for themselves. Rev. 20. 12, 15, compared with Rom. 5. 12. 14, & 9. 11, 13 Ezek. 18. 2.

“ Then to the Bar, all they drew near

Who dy'd in infancy,
And never had or good or bad

effected pers'nally.
But from the womb unto the tomb

were straightway carried,
(Or at the least e'er they transgrest)

who thus began to plead :
“If for our own transgression,

or disobedience,
We here did stand at thy left hand

just were the Recompence:
But Adam's guilt our souls hath spilt,

his fault is charg'd on us :
And that alone hath overthrown,

and utterly undone us.
“Not we, but he ate of the Tree,

whose fruit was interdicted :
Yet on us all of his sad Fall,

the punishment's inflicted.
How could we sin that had not been

or how is his sin our
Without consent which to prevent,

we never had a pow'r?”

[ocr errors]

The plea extends to several stanzas more ; then the Lord takes up the argument at great length, concluding as follows:

Mat. 20. 15.

“ Am I alone of what's my own,

no Master or no Lord ? Or if I am, how can you claim

what I to some afford ? Will you demand Grace at my hand,

and challenge what is mine? Will you teach me whom to set free,

and thus my grace confine ?

[blocks in formation]

Psl. 58. 3.
Rom. 6. 23
Gal. 3. 10
Rom. 8. 29, 30,
& II. 7
Rev. 21. 37
Luk. 12. 4, 8.
Mat. 11. 22.
The wicked
all convinced
and put to si-
lence.
Rom. 3. 19,
Mat. 22. 12,
Behold the
formidable
state of all
the ungodly,
as they stand
hopeless and
helpless be-
fore an im-
partial Judge,
expecting
their final
sentence.
Rev. 6. 16, 17.

[ocr errors]

"A Crime it is, therefore in bliss

you may not hope to dwell;
But unto you I shall allow

the easiest room in Hell.
The glorious King thus answering,

they cease and plead no longer :
Their Consciences must needs confess

his reasons are the stronger.”

Such work as this is more characteristic of seventeenthcentury America than the sporadic, avowedly literary verse of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet, daughter of the elder Governor Dudley, whom Professor Tyler calls the first professional poet of New England. She died in 1672, — the year when Addison was born, and the year which gave to English literature, among other things, Dryden's “Conquest of Grenada” and “Marriage à la Mode," with his “ Preface of Heroic Plays,” Sir William Temple’s “ Observations on the Netherlands,” and William Wycherly's “Love in a Wood.” A few verses from her posthumous volume published in 1678,the year which gave us the “Pilgrim's Progress,” the third part of “ Hudibras,” Dryden's “All for Love,” Lee's “Mithridates,” and South’s “ Sermons,” — will show her at her best :

[ocr errors]

“I heard the merry grasshopper then sing,

The black-clad cricket bear a second part,
They kept one tune, and played on the same string,

Seeming to glory in their little art.
Shall creatures abject thus their voices raise?
And in their kind resound their Maker's praise:
Whilst I, as mute, can warble forth no higher lays.

" When I behold the heavens as in their prime,

And then the earth (though old) still clad in green,
The stones and trees, insensible of time,

Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen;
If winter come, and greenness then do fade,
A Spring returns, and they more youthful made;

But man grows old, lies down, remains where once he's laid. “ By birth more noble than those creatures all,

Yet seems by nature and by custom curs’d,
No sooner born, but grief and care makes fall

That state obliterate he had at first:
Nor youth, nor strength, nor wisdom spring again,
Nor habitations long their name retain,
But in oblivion to the final day remain.

“O Time, the fatal wrack of mortal things,

That draws oblivion's curtains over kings,
Their sumptuous monuments, men know them not,

Their names without a record are forgot,
Their parts, their ports, their pomp's all laid in th' dust,
Nor wit nor gold, nor buildings 'scape time's rust;
But he whose name is grav'd in the white stone
Shall last and shine when all of these are gone.”

Mrs. Bradstreet's family, as the career of her brother, Governor Joseph Dudley, indicates, kept in closer touch with England than was common in America; and besides she was clearly a person of what would nowadays be called culture. Partly for these reasons her work seems neither individual nor indigenous. In seventeenth-century New England, indeed, she stands alone, without forerunners or followers; and if you compare her poetry with that of the old country, you will find it very like such then antiquated work as the “Nosce Teipsum” of Sir John Davies, published in 1599, the year which gave us the final version of “Romeo and Juliet." In its own day, there seems little doubt, the little pure literature of seventeenth-century New England was already archaic.

Apart from this, New England produced only annals, records, and far more characteristically writings of the class which may be grouped broadly under theology. Just as our glance at the history of seventeenth-century America revealed no central convulsion like the Commonwealth, dividing an old epoch from a new, so our glance at the American publications of this century reveals no central figure like Milton's standing between the old Elizabethan world which clustered about Shakspere, and the new, almost modern, school of letters which gathered about Dryden.

A fact perhaps more characteristic of seventeenth-century America than any publication was the foundation in 1636 of Harvard College, intended to preserve for posterity that learned ministry which was the distinguishing glory of the immigrant Puritans. From the very beginning, the history of Harvard reveals the liberalism which still distinguishes the college. Intended as a conservative force, its general tendency has constantly proved radical. One can see why. The English tra

. ditions of the ministers who founded it had been passionately Protestant; but, once secure in their New England isolation, these Puritans would have erected a dominant priesthood. Their purpose is nowhere better stated than in that passage of Cotton Mather's “ Magnalia” which records the first political efforts of his grandfather Cotton, the first minister of the First Church of Boston. On his arrival, “ he found the whole country in a perplexed & a divided state, as to their civil constitution;" and being requested to suggest convenient laws “ from the laws wherewith God governed his ancient people,” he recommended among other things “that none should be electors, nor elected, .. except such as were visible subjects of our Lord Jesus Christ, personally confederated in our churches. In these & many other ways, he propounded unto them an endeavor after a theocracy, as near as might be, to that which was the glory of Israel.” Now the essence of theocratic authority, which in simple English means the rule of God himself, is that it is absolute; and nothing is more fatally foreign to Protestantism than the conception of a government

[ocr errors]

asm.

which should needlessly limit individual liberty. Harvard has always been Protestant to the core. Dunster, the first president, lost his seat because he could not conscientiously free himself from Baptist heresy; to-day the unsectarian religion of the college combines with its elective system to prove Harvard for two centuries and a half faithful to the Protestant traditions of its Puritan founders.

In the history of Harvard College during the seventeenth century the most conspicuous individuals were probably President Increase Mather and his son Cotton, both of whom wasted some of the best energies of their passionately active lives in an effort to make our ancestral seat of learning rather a treasury of priestly tradition than a seminary of Protestant enthusi

The younger of these was a very prolific writer. His first publication was apparently a sermon which saw the light in 1686; before he died, on the 13th of February, 1728, he had published more than four hundred separate titles. In these forty-two years of literary activity, however, he never changed either his style or his temper; his work falls chiefly though not wholly under the two heads of religion and history, which with him were so far from distinct that it is often hard to say under which a given work or passage should be grouped. These heads are the same which we have seen to include most American writings of the seventeenth century. Cotton Mather's work, in short, may be taken as typical of all the American publications of his time. A little study of this prolific and representative writer will serve as well as more extended observation to define for us what seventeenthcentury writing in America really was.

« 上一頁繼續 »