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And wonder if the world shall see the birth
Ere winter blossom into balmy spring,
Heaven gave him birth, one ever blessed spring,
WHAT IS A PURITAN?
BY STUART P. SHERMAN
Both the contemporary and the his- Plymouth; and it helps one to undertorical Puritan are still involved in stand why the migratory movement of clouds of libel, of which the origins lie the day was rather to than from Amerin the copious fountains of indiscrim- ica. Jonson presents a group of Puriinating abuse poured out upon the Puri- tans visiting the Fair. Their names tans of the seventeenth century by great are Zeal-of-the-land Busy, Dame PureRoyalist writers like Butler, Dryden, craft, and Win-the-fight Little-wit and and Ben Jonson. The Puritan of that his wife. Roast pig is a main feature of day was ordinarily represented by his the Bartholomew festivities; and the adversaries as a dishonest casuist and wife of Win-the-fight Little-wit feels a a hypocrite. To illustrate this point, I strong inclination to partake of it. will produce a brilliantly malevolent Her mother, Dame Purecraft, has some portrait from Jonson's comedy, Bar- scruples about eating in the tents of tholomew Fair.
wickedness, and carries the question to This play was performed in London Zeal-of-the-land Busy, asking him to six years before the Pilgrims landed at resolve their doubts. At first he replies adversely, in the canting, sing-song na- ly and prophesy; there may be a good sal fashion then attributed to the Puri- use made of it too, now I think on it: tans by their enemies:
by the public eating of swine's flesh, to ‘Verily for the disease of longing, it profess our hate and loathing of Judais a disease, a carnal disease, or appe ism, whereof the brethren stand taxed. tite .. and as it is carnal and inci- I will therefore eat, yea, I will eat exdent, it is natural, very natural; now ceedingly.' pig, it is a meat, and a meat that is The entire passage might be regarded nourishing and may be longed for, and as a satirical interpretation of Calvin's so consequently eaten; it may be eaten; chapter on Christian Liberty. In this very exceedingly well eaten: but in the fashion the anti-Puritan writers of the Fair, and as a Bartholomew pig, it can- seventeenth century habitually depictnot be eaten; for the very calling it a ed the people who set up the CommonBartholomew pig, and to eat it so, is a wealth in England and colonized Masspice of idolatry, and you make the sachusetts. In the eyes of unfriendly Fair no better than one of the high- English contemporaries, the men who places. This, I take it, is the state of came over in the Mayflower and their the question: a high-place.'
kind were unctuous hypocrites. Master Little-wit remonstrates, say- That charge, though it has been reing, ‘But in state of necessity, place vived for modern uses, no longer stands should give place, Master Busy.' And against the seventeenth-century PuriDame Purecraft cries: 'Good brother tans. Under persecution and in power, Zeal-of-the-land Busy, think to make it on the scaffold, in war, and in the wilderas lawful as you can.'
ness, they proved that, whatever their Thereupon, Zeal-of-the-land Busy re- faults, they were animated by a pasconsiders, as follows:
sionate sincerity. When the Puritan 'Surely, it may be otherwise, but it William Prynne spoke disrespectfully is subject to construction, subject, and of magistrates and bishops, Archbishop hath a face of offence with the weak, Laud, or his agents, cut off his ears and a great face, a foul face; but that face threw him back into prison. As soon as may have a veil put over it, and be he could get hold of ink and paper, shadowed as it were; it may be eaten, Prynne sent out from prison fresh atand in the Fair, I take it, in a booth, tacks on the bishops. They took him the tents of the Wicked: the place is out and cut off his ears again, and not much, not very much, we may be branded him 'S.L.,' which they inreligious in the midst of the profane, so tended to signify 'Seditious Libeller'; it be eaten with a reformed mouth, with but he, with the iron still hot in his face sobriety and humbleness; not gorged in and with indignation inspiring, perwith gluttony or greediness, there's the haps, the most dazzling pun ever refear: for, should she go there, as taking corded, interpreted the letters to mean, pride in the place, or delight in the un- Stigmata Laudis. When the Puritans clean dressing, to feed the vanity of the came into power, Prynne issued from eye, or lust of the palate, it were not his dungeon and helped cut off, not the well, it were not fit, it were abominable ears, but the heads of Archbishop Laud and not good.'
and King Charles. After that, they said Finally, Zeal-of-the-land Busy not less about his insincerity. Prynne and only consents, but joins the rest, say- his friends had their faults; but lack of ing, 'In the way of comfort to the weak, conviction and the courage of their conI will go and eat. I will eat exceeding. viction were not among them.
When, a hundred years ago, Macau- have insisted on being hanged — as lay wrote his famous passage on the signal illustrations of the intolerance Puritans in the essay on Milton, he of Puritanism and its peculiar fanatitried to do them justice; and he did cism. But, as a matter of fact, these brush aside the traditional charge of things were merely instances of a comhypocrisy with the contempt which it paratively mild infection of the Purideserves. But in place of the picture tans by a madness that swept over of the oily hypocrite, he set up another the world. In Salem there were twenty picture equally questionable. He paint- victims, and the madness lasted one ed the Puritan as a kind of religious year. In Europe there were hundreds superman of incredible fortitude and of thousands of victims; and there were determination, who 'went through the witches burned in Catholic Spain, world, like Sir Artegal's iron man Talus France, and South America a hundred with his flail, crushing and trampling years after the practice of executing down oppressors, mingling with human witches had been condemned among beings, but having neither part nor lot the Puritans. Comparatively speaking, in human infirmities, insensible to fa- the Puritans were quick to discard and tigue, to pleasure, and to pain, not to condemn the common harshness and inbe pierced by any weapon, not to be tolerance of their times. withstood by any barrier.'
The Puritan leaders in the sevenNow this portrait of Macaulay's is teenth century were, like all leaders, executed with far more respect for the exceptional men; but if looked at closePuritan character than Jonson exhib- ly, they exhibit the full complement of ited in his portrait of Zeal-of-the-land human qualities, and rather more than Busy. But it is just as clearly a carica- less than average respect for the rights ture. It violently exaggerates certain and the personality of the individual, harsh traits of individual Puritans under since their doctrines, political and relipersecution and at war; it suppresses gious, immensely emphasized the imall the mild and attractive traits; and portance and sacredness of the indiCarlyle, with his hero-worship and his vidual life. They had iron enough in eye on Cromwell, continues the exag- their blood to put duty before pleasure; geration in the same direction. It gives but that does not imply that they banan historically false impression, because ished pleasure. They put goodness it conveys the idea that the Puritans above beauty; but that does not mean were exceptionally harsh and intolerant that they despised beauty. It does not as compared with other men in their own set them apart as a peculiar and abnortimes.
mal people. In every age of the world, For example, the supposedly harsh in every progressing society, there is, Puritan Cromwell stood for a wide lati- there has to be, a group, and a fairly tude of religious opinion and toleration large group, of leaders and toilers to of sects at a time when the Catholic whom their own personal pleasure is a Inquisition had established a rigid cen- secondary consideration - a considerasorship and was persécuting Huguenots tion secondary to the social welfare and and Mohammedans and Jews, and tor- the social advance. On the long slow turing and burning heretics wherever progress of the race out of Egypt into its power extended. It is customary the Promised Land, they prepare the now to point to the Salem witchcraft line of march, they look after the arms and the hanging of three Quakers in and munitions, they bring up the supBoston — who incidentally seem to plies, they scout out the land, they rise
up early in the morning, they watch at ing. Read the records of the first Bosnight, they bear the burdens of leader- ton church, and you will find that one ship, while the children, the careless of the first teachers was a wine-seller. young people, and the old people who Read the essays of John Robinson, first have never grown up, are playing or pastor of the Pilgrims, and you will find fiddling or junketing on the fringes of that he ridicules Lycurgus, the Sparthe march. They are never popular tan law-giver, for ordering the vines among these who place pleasure first; cut down, merely because men were for they are always rounding up strag- sometimes drunken with the grapes.' glers, recalling loiterers, and preaching Speaking of celibacy, Robinson says, up the necessity of toil and courage and ‘Abstinence from marriage is no more endurance. They are not popular; but a virtue than abstinence from wine or they are not inhuman. The violet smells other pleasing natural thing. Both marto them as it does to other men; and riage and wine are of God and good in rest and recreation are sweet. I must themselves.' illustrate a little the more intimately Since I do not wish to incite a religious human aspect of our seventeenth-cen- and Puritanical resistance to the Voltury group.
stead Act, I must add that Robinson,
in that tone of sweet reasonableness II
which characterizes all his essays, reIt is a part of the plot of our droll marks further :' Yet may the abuse of a and dry young people to throw the op- thing be so common and notorious and probrium of the present drought upon the use so small and needless as better the Puritans. These iron men, one in- want the small use than be in continfers from reading the discourses, for ex- ual danger of the great abuse.' And ample, of Mr. Mencken, banished wine this, I suppose, is exactly the ground as a liquor inconsistent with Calvinistic taken by the sensible modern prohibitheology, though, to be sure, Calvin tionist. It is not a matter of theological himself placed it among ‘matters in- sin with him at all. It never was that. different.' And the Puritans, as a mat- It is now a matter of economics and ter of fact, used both wine and tobacco æsthetics, and of the greatest happiness - both men and women. If Puritan- and freedom to the greatest number. ism means reaction in favor of obsolete These iron men are accused of bestandards, our contemporary Puritans ing hostile to beauty, the charge being will repeal the obnoxious amendment; based upon the crash of a certain numand all who are thirsty should circulate ber of stained-glass windows and altar the Puritan literature of the seventeenth ornaments, which offended them, howcentury. Read your Pilgrim's Progress, ever, not as art, but as religious symand you will find that Christian's wife, bolism. Why fix upon the riot of soldiers on the way to salvation, sent her child in war-time and neglect to inquire: back after her bottle of liquor. Read Who, after the death of Shakespeare, in Winthrop's letters, and you will find all the seventeenth century, most elothat Winthrop's wife writes to him to quently praised music and the drama? thank him for the tobacco that he has Who most lavishly described and most sent to her mother. Read Mather's exquisitely appreciated nature? Who diary, and you will find that he sug- had the richest literary culture and the gests pious thoughts to be meditated most extensive acquaintance with poupon by the members of his household etry? Who published the most magwhile they are engaged in home-brew- nificent poems? The answer to all these questions is, of course, that conspicu- from my bone; and that not only be ous Puritan, the Latin secretary to cause I am somewhat too fond of these Oliver Cromwell, John Milton.
great mercies, but also because I should In a letter to an Italian friend, Mil- have often brought to my mind the ton writes: ‘God has instilled into me, many hardships, miseries, and wants if into anyone, a vehement love of the that my poor family was like to meet beautiful. Not with so much labor is with, should I be taken from them, esCeres said to have sought her daughter pecially my poor blind child, who lay Proserpine, as it is my habit day and nearer my heart than all I had besides. night to seek for this idea of the beau- O the thought of the hardship I thought tiful ... through all the forms and my blind one might go under, would faces of things.' With some now nearly break my heart to pieces.' obsolete notions of precedence, Milton Finally, these iron men are grievously did place God before the arts. But was charged with a lack of romantic feeling he hostile to the arts? The two most and the daring necessary to act upon it. important sorts of people in the state, Much depends upon what you mean by he declares, are, first, those who make romance. If you mean by romance, a the social existence of the citizens 'just life of excitement and perilous advenand holy,' and, second, those who make ture, there are duller records than that it 'splendid and beautiful.' He insists of the English Puritans. Not without that the very stability of the state de- some risk to themselves, not without at pends upon the splendor and excellence least an occasional thrill, did these pious of its public institutions and the splen- villagers decapitate the King of Engdid and excellent expression of its social land, overturn the throne of the Archlife — depends, in short, as, I have in- bishop of Canterbury, pull up stakes sisted, upon the coöperation of the and settle in Holland, sail the uncharted Puritans and the artists, upon the in- Atlantic in a cockleshell, and set up a tegrity of the national genius.
kingdom for Christ in the howling wilThese iron men are said to have been derness. I don't think that dwellers in devoid of tenderness and sympathy in Gopher Prairie or Greenwich Village personal relations. But this does not have a right to call that life precisely agree with the testimony of Bradford, humdrum. who records it in his history that, in the Add to this the fact that the more first winter at Plymouth, when half the fervent Puritans were daily engaged in colony had died and most of the rest a terrifically exciting adventure with were sick, Myles Standish and Brew- Jehovah. Some women of to-day would ster, and the four or five others who think it tolerably interesting, I should were well, watched over and waited on suppose, to be married to a man like the rest with the loving tenderness and Cotton Mather, who rose every day the unflinching fidelity of a mother. after breakfast, went into his study,
These people had fortitude; but was put, as he said, his sinful mouth in the it due to callousness? Were they really, dust of his study floor, and, while the as Macaulay intimates, insensible to tears streamed from his eyes, conversed their own sufferings and the sufferings directly with angels, with ‘joy unof others? Hear the cry of John Bun- speakable and full of glory.' If a Puriyan when prison separates him from tan wife was pious, she was engaged in his family: ‘The parting with my wife a true "eternal triangle'; when Winand poor children hath often been to throp left home, his wife was committed me in this place as the pulling the flesh by him to the arms of her heavenly