網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

Some familiar dates in the history of American education emphasise these facts. Yale College, founded in 1700, began its career under King William III., until whose reign the only established school of higher learning in America had been Harvard College founded under Charles I. The avowed purpose of the founding of Yale was to maintain the orthodox traditions threatened by the constantly growing liberalism of Harvard. Under George II., three considerable colleges were founded in the middle colonies. In 1746, Princeton College was established to maintain an orthodoxy as stout as that of Yale. In 1749, partly under the auspices of the American Philosophic Society which had lately been founded by Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania began an academic history which more than any other in America has kept free from entanglement with dogma. In 1754, King's College was founded at New York, where, under the name of Columbia, it still maintains admirable traditions of learning in friendly relation with the ancestral Church of England. Meanwhile Harvard College had done little more than preserve its own prudently liberal traditions, with no marked alteration in either character or size. The higher intellectual activity of America was clearly tending for a while to centralise itself elsewhere than in those New England regions where the American intellect had first been active.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, too, there had rapidly grown up in America a profusion of periodical publications. We had no“ Tatler,” to be sure, or “Spectator ;” but from 1704, when the “Boston News Letter” was established, we had a constantly increasing number of newspapers. A dozen years before the Revolution these had everywhere become as familiar and as popular, in a country where technical illiteracy was rare, as were those annual almanacs which had already sprung up in the seventeenth century, and of which the most highly developed example was the “Poor Richard's Almanac,” begun by Franklin in 1733. Pretty clearly, this

eighteenth century was a period of growing intellectual activity and curiosity among the whole people of America ; and these same people were showing disposition to concern themselves rather with the affairs of this world than with those of the next.

In the Middle Colonies there was meanwhile developing an aspect of religion very different from that which commended itself to the orthodox Calvinism of New England. Undoubtedly the most important religious writing in America at the period with which we are now concerned was that of Jonathan Edwards. But the memory of another American, of widely different temper, has tended, during a century and more, to strengthen in the estimation of those who love comfortable spiritual thought expressed with fervid simplicity. John Woolman was a Quaker farmer of New Jersey, born in 1720, who became in 1746 an itinerant preacher, who began to testify vigorously against slavery as early as 1753, and who died during a visit to England in 1772. His record of a vision will show at once why he held himself bound to oppose slavery, and how the eternities presented themselves to American Quakers of the eighteenth century :

[ocr errors]

.

“In a time of sickness with the pleurisy, I was brought so near the gates of death that I forgot my name. Being then desirous to know who I was, I saw a mass of matter of a dull, gloomy colour, between the south and the east; and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be and live ; and that I was mixed in with them, and that henceforth I might not consider myself as a distinct or separate being. In this state I remained several hours. I then heard a soft, melodious voice, more pure and harmonious than any I had heard with my ears before; I believed it was the voice of an angel, who spake to the other angels. The words were ; John Woolman is dead.' I soon remembered that I once was John Woolman, and being assured that I was alive in the body, I greatly wondered what that heavenly voice could mean. ...

“ I was then carried in spirit to the mines, where poor, oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I grieved, for his name to me was precious.

" Then I was informed that these heathen were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ ; and they said amongst themselves, if Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant.

“ All this time the song of the angel remained a mystery; and in the morning my dear wife and some others coming to my bedside, I asked them if they knew who I was; and they telling me I was John Woolman, thought I was light-headed, for I told them not what the angel said, nor was I disposed to talk much to any one, but was very desirous to get so deep that I might understand this mystery.

“My tongue was often so dry that I could not speak till I had moved it about and gathered some moisture, and as I lay still for a time, at length I felt divine power prepare my mouth that I could speak, and then I said: 'I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ that liveth in me; and the life I now live in the flesh is by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.'

“ Then the mystery was opened, and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that the language John Woolman is dead' - meant no more than the death of my own will.”

According to the Quaker faith, in brief, man was not essentially lost, nor was God the grimly just autocrat of Calvinism. The Quakers, to quote one of themselves, “ drank in the truth of the universal love of God to all men in Christian, Jewish, or Pagan lands, that God so loved the world that He sent His Son, that Christ died for all men, and that His atonement availed for all who in every land accepted the light with which He enlightened their minds and consciences, and who listening to His still small voice in the soul turned in

any true sense toward God, away from evil and to the right and loving.” If we choose, these Quakers held, we may save ourselves by voluntarily accepting Christ — by willing attention to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.

Though words like Woolman's throw light on a growing phase of American sentiment, however, they are not precisely literature. Neither was such political writing as we shall consider more particularly when we come to the Revolution; nor yet was the more scholarly historical writing of which the principal example is probably Thomas Hutchinson’s “ History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay.” The first volume of this appeared in 1764. Neglected by reason of the traditional unpopularity which sincere, self-sacrificing Toryism brought on the last native governor of provincial Massachusetts, this remains an admirable piece of serious historical writing, not vivid, picturesque, or very interesting, but dignified, earnest, and just. In the history of pure literature, however, it has no great importance.

Further still from unmixed literature seems the work of the two men of this period who for general reasons now deserve such separate consideration as we gave Cotton Mather. They deserve it as representing two distinct aspects of American character, which closely correspond with the two ideals most inseparable from our native language. One of these ideals is the religious or moral, inherent in the lasting tradition of the English Bible; the other is the political or social, equally inherent in the equally lasting tradition of the English Law. In the pre-revolutionary years of our eighteenth century, the former was most characteristically expressed by Jonathan Edwards ; and the kind of national temper which must always underlie the latter was incarnate in Benjamin Franklin. Before considering the Revolution and the literature which came with it and after it, we may best attend to these men in turn.

V

JONATHAN EDWARDS

JONATHAN EDWARDS, son of a minister who had been educated at Harvard, was born at East Windsor, Connecticut, on October 5, 1703. In 1720 he took his degree at Yale, where he was a tutor from 1724 to 1726. In 1727 he was ordained colleague to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, minister of Northampton, Massachusetts. Here he remained settled until 1750, when his growing austerities resulted in his dismissal from that ministry. The next year he became a missionary to the Stockbridge Indians, in a region at that time remote from civilisation. In 1757 he was chosen to succeed his son-in-law, Burr, as President of Princeton College. He died at Princeton, in consequence of inoculation for smallpox, on March 22, 1758.

Beyond doubt, Edwards has had more influence on subsequent thought than any other American theologian. In view of this, the uneventfulness of his life, so utterly apart from public affairs, becomes significant of the condition of the New England ministry during his lifetime. He was born hardly two years after Increase Mather, the lifelong champion of theocracy, was deposed from the presidency of Harvard College; and as our glance at the Mathers must have reminded us, an eminent Yankee minister of the seventeenth century was almost as necessarily a politician as he was a divine. Yet Edwards, the most eminent of our eighteenth-century ministers, had less to do with public affairs than many ministers of the present day. A more thorough divorce of church and state than is indicated by his career could hardly exist.

« 上一頁繼續 »