« AnteriorContinuar »
candidate to the destitute church for settlement. In this way it often happened that the Association could fill its own vacancies with men of its own stamp, and thus promote a uniformity of faith and practice. From President Dwight we have this statement. See Travels, vol. iv, p. 413: “The progress of every clergyman in the State of Connecticut until he arrives at the desk, is the following:
“From infancy to manhood his whole character is subjected to the inspection of his parents, of his school-master, of the parish in which he is born and bred, of the government, of the college in which he is educated, of the church to which he is united, and of the clergyman by whom he is instructed in theology. The inspection of the parish is here a serious object; for in no country is personal character so minutely scrutinized, or so well known, as in Connecticut. After his preparatory studies in theology are ended, he is licensed to preach; and whenever he finds a congregation sufficiently pleasing to him to render his settlement in it desirable, he is ordained, and has 'the congregation committed to his care. During every part of this progress he is subjected to a series of strict examinations concerning his character, conduct, and improvements.
Again, see idem, p. 420 :
“The clergy of Connecticut have no power, but they have much influence—an influence which every sober man must feel to be altogether desirable in every community. It is the influence of wisdom and virtue. Clergymen, here, are respected for what they are, and for what they do, and not for anything adventitious to themselves, or their office.”
During the long period of one hundred and forty years, all the ministers of Connecticut inherited their principles from the Puritans who arose in the reign of Queen Elizabeth ; but, in the application of these principles, they became more and more American, and less and less English. Thus Nathan Strong, of Hartford, in 1776, was less English and more American than Thomas Hooker in 1636. Thus, too, Chauncey Whittlesey, of New Haven, was less English and more American than John Davenport. Thus we see how it was that the ministers of Connecticut, at any one epoch, were one in habits and character, and how this oneness was transmitted from generation to generation, and how something of this oneness was extended to the whole population. This oneness was such that sometimes there seemed through the commonwealth to be a common sensorium, and common impressions on that sensorium, and common deductions from those impressions, and a common will to carry out these deductions into action. Thus the great problem of public unity of action was wrought out by the workings of individual minds.
The people heard the same doctrines on the Sabbath, the same sort of instruction in all their public schools. Each Sabbath they all went to the house of God, which they filled, sometimes to overflowing, the young ones covering the pulpit stairs. On each day they rose with the early dawn, to say their prayers and to eat their breakfast in the “sweet hour of prime," and having labored during the day, they retired early to bed at the summons of the New England curfew bell.
Their matins and vespers were not performed under the dome of some lofty cathedral, whose windows cast a “dim religious light” upon the worshipers, but under their own roof-tree, however humble, in the gray of the morning, or in the glimmering taper's light in the evening; while the husband and father was the priest at the altar. Three times a day the family, at their meals, craved a blessing and returned thanks. Family religion was urged and promoted by the clergy, and was evidenced by the general and almost universal practice of the families. As the saint, the father and the husband prayed, the feelings of devotion were mingled with the finest of human affection. Pure-eyed faith, whitehanded hope, and the unblemished form of charity were there, to reveal the mansion reserved for that family in their Father's house in the heavens, to point them to the seat reserved for each, and to be themselves the companions on their way thither.
In the temple worship, under the Mosaic dispensation,
there was in the Holy of Holies the Shekinah, or visible brightness or presence of God. At the family altar, under the Christian dispensation, “a glory gilds the sacred page, majestic like the sun.” In the former dispensation the high priest beheld the Shekinah once a year. In the latter, that glory" can be seen by the family priest every day in the year.
These family attachments culminated at the annual Thanksgiving, when descendants returned to the house of the patriarch from their several homes in the neighborhood, numbering sometimes three generations. The Puritan settlers of New England substituted Thanksgiving for the Christmas of “merry England," as a family institution. They sometimes reinforced the usual feast with the turkey, an American bird : replacing the mince pies with pumpkin pies, and the wassail bowl with the mug of flip with its high head of foam; sometimes closing off the festive week on Saturday night with the American dish, celebrated by Barlow in his sprightly poem, entitled “Hasty Pudding."
Their town-meetings, “proxies,” or freemen's meetings, and other public gatherings, were opened with prayer by the minister. The population could rest securely with unbarred doors. Thus we see how it happened that Connecticut for a long time was known as THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS.”
These “steady habits” resulted from the teachings of ministers, or from the institutions and books approved by them. Under their leadership district schools were established. They examined the teachers ; they recommended the books to be used, and they visited the schools from time to time.
Each school was a little world in itself, in which laws were made, rewards bestowed, and punishments inflicted. The youth, here, could learn to see the workings in each other's hearts as distinctly as they could see the flash of light in the eye, and the flush of blood in the cheek. They read the New England Primer, with its rude cuts, its curt, solemn sayings, and its doctrinal catechism. At home, some of them read Poor Richard's Almanac, inspired by Benjamin Franklin, and learned its homely and prudent maxims. At funerals, large numbers went to the graveyard, the "school of mortality," so called by Watts, to learn the lessons of virtue from the great teacher, Death. The solitary wanderer, too, would often visit the same school, to see the quaint devices, and read the short inscriptions, and then to lay his offering on the “cold turf altar of the dead,” thus preparing himself to transmit to the future what is venerable in the past.
It should also be remembered that ministers were eminently instrumental in establishing town libraries, in which valuable standard works of the best English authors were placed for the use of those of their congregations who could relish them. These libraries were of the greatest service in promoting a high tone of thought and sentiment among the people.
If we could go back by a single bound to the period of the Revolution, or if one of the actors in the scenes of that period could rise from the dead, we could know more fully what the ministers of Connecticut were in the Revolution. Indeed, if some of us sixty or seventy years ago had opened our ears and our minds, as we might have done, to actors in those scenes, that were then living, we might do better justice to those ministers. Social life was then rife with Revolutionary traditions. The events of the war of the Revolution furnished the staple for conversation in families and at public gatherings. The old soldier had a hearty welcome, whether he described dangers and defeat to which he had been exposed, or “shouldered his crutch and showed how fields were won.” Revolutionary stories cheered the labors of the field, and Revolutionary songs were sung by the young maiden to her step, as she turned the spinning-wheel. Where are now those actors and those narrators? “Gone, glimmering through the dream of things that were.” Their traditionary voices, once so clear and strong, are now, if not hushed into silence, prolonged only by faint echoes.
The ministers of Connecticut were not parasites on the body politic. They were not like the mistletoe, which derives its support from the oak, and contributes nothing in return. They were not like the leech on the human body, which gorges itself at the expense of that body. They were, on the other hand, an organic part of the body politic. They were eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. They were the teachers and shepherds of the people.
I have spoken of the principles of the English Puritans. Hume, the historian of England, in his 4th volume, uses the following language: “So absolute, indeed, was the authority of the crown, that the precious spark of liberty had been kindled, and was preserved by the Puritans alone; and it was to this sect, whose principles appear so frivolous, and habits so ridiculous, that the English owe the whole freedom of their constitution."
The Puritans who came to New England brought in their censers this fire, which was afterwards to spread over a continent.
Thomas Hooker and his followers, who settled on the banks of the long river in 1636, brought with them discontent with the ecclesiastical and civil government of England, and a strong desire to frame an ecclesiastical and civil government of their own, under which they could make their own local laws. Liberty, in their estimation, consisted in local self-government. The same is true of John Davenport, and those who settled on the shores of the broad sound.
When the two colonies were united under the charter of 1662, there continued to be the same love of local law and local self-government, and the same dislike of imperial law and of the government of Great Britain as before.
EXTRACTS FROM THE CHARTER.
The inhabitants of this colony “shall have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects within any of the dominions of us, our heirs or successors, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever, as if they and every of them were born within the realm of England. And also from time to time to make, ordain and establish all manner of wholesome and reasonable laws, statutes, ordinances, directions and instructions, not contrary to the laws of this realm of England, as well for settling the forms and ceremonies of government and magistracy, fit and necessary