Page images
PDF
EPUB

ought to have felt for themselves, that the Puritans did not write, because they acted poems. Shame on the men, who are not“ strongly attracted by the moral purity and greatness, and that sanctity of civil and religious duty, with which the tyranny of Charles the First was struggled against."

"Nor shall the eternal roll of praise reject

Those unconforming; whom one rigorous day
Drives from their Cures, a voluntary prey
To poverty and grief, and disrespect,
And some to want-as if by tempest wrecked
On a wild coast; how destitute ! did they
Feel not that Conscience never can betray,
That peace of mind is virtue's sure effect ?
Their altars they forego, their homes; they quit
Fields which they love, and paths they daily trod,
And cast the future upon Providence ;
As men the dictate of whose inward sense
Outweighs the world; whom self-deceiving wit

Lures not froin what they deem the cause of God." We wish also that with respect to the faults of the two parties, a comparison might be instituted, and that the question might be decided whether the party opposed to the Puritans were not as deeply tinctured with those very faults, which are charged to the Puritans alone, and for which they are so generally cast out to reproach. Were they excessively scrupulous ? Did they attach an undue importance to matters of trivial consequence? Doubtless they did. But let it be remembered, that the times were times of excessive scrupulosity, and that the two opposing parties in politics and religion ought alike to receive ibis charge from those men of the present day, who seem to understand the motives and conduct of neither. They were scrupulous for the same reason that the courtier is so nice in matters of etiquette, and the duellist, so precise in applying the law of honor, because they deemed it of importance, to uphold or withstand great principles even in things which otherwise had been but trifles indeed. The Puritans are laughed at for their scruples about the square cap and the surplice. It is forgotten, that they did not regard the cap and the surplice as in themselves of consequence, but in the times in which they lived, and knowing well the influence of such things over the people, they refused them, as relics of popery; and it is for no man to condemn them, who cannot go back into those times, and

understand whether they were trifes then or not. When conformity was pressed upon them, on their allegiance to their sovereign and the rulers of the church, they resisted upon another principle, which concerned no less a matter, than the freedom which should be claimed by a man and a Christian. They scrupled about “the habits” as Hampden did about the shipmoney, and upon the same principles which roused the spirit of our fathers against the stamp act. Let it be allowed, that they were too scrupulous in withholding conformity in regard to trifles. Elizabeth and Whitgift were equally so in enforcing conformity in matters so trivial, with this difference, that if the queen with the arch-bishop, led the way by making such terrible demonstrations of her over nice fancy, it was hardly to be expected but that her subjects should be strenuous even in small matters, to assert to themselves the liberty, wherewith Christ had made them free.

But the Puritans were certainly more narrow-minded than the defenders of the church. So far from this,-as these men appear to us in their writings, they were possessed of a larger liberality in their views, and a loftier elevation in their sentiments, than were their opponents. Both, it is true, erred in a too narrow and forced interpretation of the Scriptures, especially in relation to the points at issue in their controversy. The Puritans may in this respect bave erred more frequently and more fantastically than the writers of the other party. But we count it the error of the nobler sort, to interpret the prophets and the apostles a little too strictly, than first to exalt the fathers to an authority almost divine, and then to subject them to a constrained interpretation. An inherent vitiosity in the principles of the defenders of the church, and a tame cringing to usurped authority, under the fair aspect of the reverence and honor due to God's vicegerents, could not but be seen in the contracting influence, which it exerted over the noblest minds. No dignity or beauty of style, no general elevation of philosophic eloquence, can secure even the noblest men who defended the church against the non-conformists, from the charge of being essentially narrow in their principles, and illiberal in their feelings towards those who differed from them. This gives a dark shade to the otherwise luminous pages of the noble Hooker. This gives to the wonderful Taylor the appearance of doting superstition, in what he says of the fathers and the church, wbich the golden tissue of his lengthened periods, and the sweet music of his heavenly aspirations can never wipe away. Who can contrast the fervent affection and the deep reverence, with which some of the non-conformist writers speak of their dear mother the church of England, and the general respect with wbich her character and fame is treated by them all, with the excommunicatory fury with which the gentle Taylor always speaks of the non-conformists, and the biting sarcasm, with which they are transfixed by the witty South and not decide at once, who possessed the nobler and more liberal souls ?

We venture to add, that we are sorry to see too much of the same spirit, which narrowed the minds of the fathers in the church of England, still prevalent in the minds of so many of the sons, even at the present day. There is still with them, on both sides of the water, an important assumption and a constrained reserve, in their language and air towards their sister churches, which did it seem a little more like the hearty attachment of minds constrained by a sincere love of the simple truth, and a liule less like a voluntary make-believe, sustained by the necessary interoal effort, would commend itself more to our respect than it now does.

We are not careful to assert the claims of the Puritaps to the bighest literary merit. As we have already intimated, they had a higher calling than that of merely literary cultivation. They furnished the materials for literature in their own fervid souls and in the stern conflicts which they sustained. They could not stay to mould and make them permanent, by polished care, and elaborate workmanship. And yet to their claims to literary merit, till but recently, the greatest injustice has been done, by the body of English critics. We admit that a greater number of writers of an inferior grade, belonging to the Puritan party, have survived till the present time, than can be named upon the oiher side. Writers of every grade were probably ten or a hundred fold more numerous from among the Puritans than from ainong their opponents in the excitements of the passing contests. Many of them are homely and fantastical enough, in point of language and of thought, and so doubtless with a few splendid exceptions were the mass of the devotional and controversial writers upon the opposite side.

There are also splendid names in literature from among the Puritans. There is Milton, and Vane, and Andrew Marvel, and Baxter, and Bates, and Bunyan, and Howe. There may be those who profess to be critical in matters of this nature, who

are so entranced with the substantial strength of the judicious Hooker, that they can find no merit in the surpassing sublimity of the noble Howe. There

may be others who while they delight in the brilliant acuteness of the witty South, have no bigh meed of praise to render to the fiery directness, and the unrivalled simplicity of one Richard Baxter, or who wander with delight through the endless mazes of Taylor's accumulated richness, but who have neither eye nor ear nor soul, to be moved by the surprising inagery of Bunyan. There may be such critics. We wish them sounder principles and a more catholic taste.

We are well aware, that certain of our readers will receive with some surprise, the assertion of claims like these, on behalf of the Puritans, as the result of a candid investigation. Surely they will say, we have only to apply them to John Davenport, that man of crude fancies, and to his most favorite colony, so fantastically founded and reared with such a burlesque solemnity. Such a test will put them to shame, and turn them into a downright farce. We shall see.

Who then was John Davenport ? We hardly need open the records of bis history, or peruse a line of his writings to answer the question. We have only to gaze with attention, upon the features of his countenance, as they gleam through the veil which time has cast across his old portrait in the gallery at Yale College, or as they may be read in the engraving which adorns the volume before us.

John Davenport as we read in that face of bis, was a bold and eager enthusiasi, in whose character simplicity of faith and ardor in action were strongly developed. As we learn from his writings and his history, he was an enthusiast of the noblest order, an enthusiast in regard to the great principles of government and religion. Such an one was Sir Thomas More, such was Lord Bacon, such was Harrington. The Utopia, the New Atlantis, , and the Oceana are all evidences of the same aiming at ideal perfection, which was a predominant trait in the character of Davenport. There was this difference, they projected their views in theory. He must carry bis into actual realization. These philosophers attempted to present the ideal of a perfect state. Davenport attempted in fact to found both church and state, according to the idea of each, and to unite the two into one harmonious and well ordered commonwealth.

True John Davenport never was Lord High Chancellor of England, nor did he ever sit at the Board of his majesty's Privy Council. His scheme of a perfect government was not framed “in the quiet and still air of delightful studies," nor amid the elevating associations, that cluster so thickly in the balls of an ancient university. It was framed anid scenes of the severest trial ; and with the assured certainty, that to propound it as founded upon the word of God, and sanctioned by divine authority, would expose hiin to threatening danger. It was matured, amid the perils of an unquiet life. Its foundations were laid and its pillars reared by a band of humble exiles, in a lowly senate house. But what of all this. This should not certainly detract from our estimation of the philosophic wisdom of the scheme, and of the practical sagacity and the noble confidence of its enthusiastic founder. Let no man sneer at the transactions in Mr. Newman's barn because they were characterized by a little too much prayer and praise, and because the serious care and the grave thoughifulness of the founders of that little colony, seem to him to be hardly in keeping with an enterprise so humble. The fault may be with himself, that he has no right estimate at all of the serious care with which the principles of every institution should be considered, and perhaps, it may never have entered into his mind, that there are principles at all in politics and religion.

But enough of this. We are content to leave to Mr. Bacon the vindication of Davenport and his associates. This has he done most triumphantly in his review of the proceedings which gave being to the civil state. We should be glad to quote the whole of his remarks, but our limits forbid. We can only refer our readers to the second of these discourses, and particularly to that portion of it which is included from p. 24 to 33. These pages are admirable for their singular sagacity, and their intrepid boldness. No one who was not born with a genius for historic investigation could have written them at all; and but few if any of our best historians could have written better.

We hardly know, whether in these days of rebukes, it will be safe for a New England man, to say a word in order to explain or vindicate the principles of Congregationalism, or whether such an attempt will gain even a bearing, with those, wbo know nothing of Congregationalism, except that it is the parent of New Divinity and divers other monstrous and prodigious things. But the history of Davenport and of his colony, together with sundry remarks of Mr. Bacon, bave brought vividly to mind the times when Congregationalism arose, and the cir

« PreviousContinue »