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CRITICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICES.
It is a pleasant exercise of the imagination, to wander back to the days of primitive simplicity, the annals of which are included in the early history of New England. To those who have mingled with the society of the present age, and have been amused and not bewildered by its pleasures; who have looked at its glittering outside, without being so dazzled as to require an unnatural splendor to excite their attention, the contemplation of this simplicity, merely in its contrast with modern refinement, will afford no small gratification. The casual observer, whose final judgment is based on first appearances, will find little to relieve the dreary sameness of the prospect before him, in the lives of those who were once regarded as the prodigies of their generations. To him, their wordly pilgrimage will seem only an unvaried routine of study, fasting and prayer, succeeding each other after measured intervals, and occupying almost every moment of the probationary threescore years and ten. Though he may find here and there a spot somewhat fresher than the rest,--perchance a green leaf or a delicate blossom, it will only excite a momentary surprise at its appearance in such a place, and the
general aspect will be to him, that of an interminable regularity on which the eye loves not to repose. Such would be his impressions on a glance at the scanty detail of events embraced in this sketch, the subject of which we shall endeavor to place in a more favorable light. Not that we shall give to his character any coloring of the romantic,—he had not a particle of it in his composition,-or disclose any tissue of the “ wild and wonderful,” in the adventures of his life, for, in truth, his days were spent in the service of God and the active duties of benevolence; but we will delineate him as the good man, who is always great.
Cotton Mather was born in Boston, on the 9th of February 1662-3. His father was the Reverend Increase Mather, pastor of the North Church, and president of Harvard College, and his mother was the daughter of John Cotton, an eminent divine. While a mere child, the subject of our narrative was distinguished for his piety, and was in the habit of writing forms of prayer for the use of his playmates, and of encouraging their devotional exercises by precept and example. After making the necessary progress in his mother tongue, he commenced the study of the ancient languages with avidity, and at the age of twelve was qualified for admission at College, having read Cicero, Terence, Ovid and Virgil, the Greek Testament, Isocrates, Homer and the Hebrew grammar. During his residence at Harvard, he was eminent for his intense and unwearied application to study, and for a scrupulous observance of those religious exercises, the performance of which he had enjoined upon himself while under the paternal roof. The systems of Logic and of Physics composed by him while a lad of sixteen, are of themselves sufficient proofs of his assiduity in the prosecution of his academical course, and the nature of the thesis, “ Puncta Hebraica sunt originis divinæ,” which he maintained on the reception of his Master's degree, when he was six months short of his nineteenth year, will give the reader some idea of the extent of his information, and of the peculiar tendency of his mind. By a reference to the ordinances of discipline enforced in our oldest university, during the earlier periods of its existence, the modern studert will readily perceive how the scholars of former times accomplished the great amount of labor required of them. The peculiar habits of the age too, in discouraging all relaxation, and in rendering it necessary for every one who would appear as an accomplished member of society, to have pursued his researches into the arcana of the abstruse sciences, gave the mind the keenest relish for study. There were not then the inducements now held out for the encouragement of levity and dissipation. The country was newly settled, by a race of men exemplary in godliness, who countenanced the indulgence of no amusement; a race of whom Oldmixon, speaking from personal observation, says, “they are severe in their laws against immorality, and so much so, as if they thought no pleasure could be innocent.” And the laws of the college, besides requiring of each individual a perusal of the scriptures twice in each day, and an exercise consisting of “theoretical observations on the language and logic of the Bible, and in practical and spiritual truths,” regarded, as an indispensable qualification for the Bachelor's degree, an ability to read the originals of the old and new Testament into the Latin tongue, and to resolve them logically, the scholar, withal, being of godly life and conversation."
After his graduation, Mr Mather commenced the study of theology, pursuing those inquiries for which he had now acquired a decided taste, with unabated zeal and extraordinary
Soon after his initiation, however, into the science of divinity, he abandoned his original design of preparing himself for the pulpit, on account of a hesitation in his speech, which, as he thought, would so affect his delivery, as tò unfit him for the sacred office. He relinquished his favorite pursuit, and without loss of time, directed all his energies to the study of medicine, till a friend of his, Elijah Corlet, who if we mistake not was master of the school connected with the college, gave him the following advice, a strict observance of which might perhaps be found as beneficial to the stammerer, as any series of lectures by our modern Leighs and Chapmans. “Sir,” said
he, “I should be glad if you would oblige yourself to a dilated deliberation in speaking ; for as in singing there is no one who stammers, so by prolonging your pronunciation, you will get a habit of speaking without hesitation.” The consequence was, that Mr Mather resumed the profession of his choice, and in due time attained a ready and happy delivery.
In 1680 he received a unanimous invitation from the North Church to become a colleague of his father, and during the three succeeding years, was urged repeatedly by the same society to accept their offers, all of which he declined. The reasons assigned for this conduct are “his modest opinion and low apprehension of himself and his talents.” It must be confessed however, that he appeared very much in the light of him, who on the Lupercal “ did thrice refuse a kingly crown,"? for according to the representation of his own son, he was ever influenced by the most ardent anticipations of becoming a great man. The malicious might well have said on this occasion, in the language of the sarcastic Casca, “ he put it by once: but for all that, to my thinking he would fain have had it,” for which supposition the sequel afforded good grounds. “At last,” says his son, “he was prevailed with to accept the sacred burden, onus angelicis humeris formidandum !” and in May 1684 was ordained. He placed in his diary his meditations on his recent advancement, followed by the record of his affectation, and immediately after, indulging in a humorous conceit, added, in allusion to his sermons preached after his installation, his conviction that proud thoughts had fly-blown his best performances.
In the twentyfourth year of his age, Mr Mather married Miss Abigail Phillips, “a comely, ingenious woman, and an agreeable consort,” by whom he was made the father of nine children. From this era no remarkable events occurred in his life until the wicked administration of Andros, when, for the first and only time, he became conspicuous for his ardor in the business of state. It is not often that men whose talents are devoted to the cause of literature, and whose time is consecrated and set apart for employments that divert the attention from secular concerns, can feel a lively interest in the party strife and divisions which are inseparable attendants on a freedom of the press and a government with but a shadow of liberty in its constitution. The retirement of the study is ill adapted to the dreamer whose visions are unceasingly of the sceptre of power, the chair of state and the sword of authority, and who, whether toiling and sweating for their attainment, or anxiously watching the current of popular opinion, is in an everlasting fever of restlessness. He may, it is true, in the midst of his books, speculate with much warmth, and work himself into a species of poetic frenzy, as his theories assume a shape which is to him that of perfection; yet they are only beautiful apparitions that lose their comeliness, and vanish before the observation of the practical politician, who looks for something tangible, that will bear the test of critical examination. The only school for politics is in the midst of bustling life, and he only who has experienced its agitations can become an adept in the science, or feel interested in its progress. Hence is it that the man who is partially secluded from the world, is not aroused by the tumults which affect the surface merely of affairs. But when the aim of the aggressor is at the very heart of civil liberty, the dwellers in the shades of the Academy, and even the loiterers in the laurel groves of the Muses have never been the last to repel the advances of the invader. Accordingly, when the mad career of Andros had attracted all eyes, and excited an universal indignation in the colonies, we find Mr Mather among the first to cry aloud against the maleadministration of the government, and of course in the ranks of those singled out by the council as obnoxious to their vengeance. He promoted by his voice and influence a manly resistance to the illegal measures sanctioned by Sir Edmund. He urged the people to a serious consideration of the duties to themselves, their children and their God, devolving upon them in consequence of those decrees which had recently received the unholy ratification of a traitor to the trust reposed in him by the king. Thus encouraged to commence the labor of thrusting from