« AnteriorContinuar »
by exercising an immediate supervision over the conduct of every individual in the community in all his private as well as public acts and relations. In their zeal for making men righteous by sumptuary legislation, the rulers and law-makers of New England were admonished by signs that filled them with dismay that they had overshot the mark. Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. The tide of vice and uncleanness could not be kept out of the fancied Arcadia of New England by such ineffectual dykes as they endeavoured to construct. The laws against lechery were specially severe and drastic, yet unnatural crimes were frequent, and punishment was continually inflicted for the vice of unchastity. The prevalence of this vice may be in a large measure accounted for by the influx of a heterogeneous population, made up of adventurers from Europe, and whose natural depravity was intensified by the attempted pressure of restraint. Anyhow, such doings spread great consternation throughout the colonies. “Marvilious it may be," exclaims Governor Bradford,“ to see and consider how some kind of wickedness did grow and break forth here,” notwithstanding the austerity of public opinion and the severity of the law, both exceeding that of any place he ever knew or heard of; and the latter so relentless as to be “somewhat censured by moderate and good men.” For such wickedness Bradford can only account on the supposition that “the divell may carrie a greater spite against the Churches of Christ and the gospell hear,” and that “Satane hath more power in these heathen lands, as som have thought, then in more Christian nations, especially over God's servants in
But perhaps we may be pardoned for thinking that the overstrained character of the laws that were enacted for their suppression, and the mixed population of the colonies, as well as the publicity which was necessarily given to all flagitious offences in so small a community, these furnish a more rational explanation of the matter than the occult and malign influence of the Evil One.
Education in New England.-The colonists of New England would have subscribed to the opinion that “it is better to be unborn than untaught." They saw no security for religion or social order save as these were built round by the bulwark of cultivated intelligence. The Puritans dreaded to have an illiterate ministry. They dreaded also to have an illiterate people. A common school, public as the highway, was being projected by the Fathers at Plymouth at a very early date, just when they had succeeded in scaring away the wolf of starvation, and when the number of men, women, and children, all told, did not exceed one hundred and eighty.. In 1635 the inhabitants of Boston passed a vote" that our brother Philemon Pormont be entreated to become schoolmaster for the teaching and nurturing of youth among us.” The system of common schools came into existence as early as 1647, by an Act of the General Court: “ To the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers in Church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours, it is therefore ordered by this Court and authority thereof, that every township in this
History of Plymouth Plantation, pp. 385, 386.
jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their towns to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read." These common schools, now thickly planted down throughout the towns and villages of New England, may be said to constitute “ the great discovery of our Puritan Fathers.” They were the first lawgivers who saw clearly and enforced practically the simple moral and political truth, that knowledge was not an alms to be dependent on the chance charity of private men, or the precarious pittance of a trust-fund, but a sacred debt which the commonwealth owed to every one of her children.” 1
In 1636 the famous Harvard College 2 was founded by John Harvard, a graduate of Cambridge, who had crossed the Atlantic to become the “minister of God's word at Charlestown." It was of his poverty that John Harvard gave to the college that immortalises his name. His endowment consisted of half of his property, namely, £400 and his library. The General Court voted to the cost of its erection a sum equal to a year's rate of the whole colony, and in honour of the mother university the name of the town was changed to Cambridge. The assembly which decreed the establishing of the college,—-fitly pre
1 Lowell's Among my Books, p. 231. As to the origin of the common school system, whether imported from Geneva or Holland, the reader may consult Mr. Douglas Campbell. He contends earnestly, as against Mr. Bancroft and other historians, for the Netherlands as its birthplace and cradle,—The Puritan in Holland, England, and America, ii. pp. 338-340.
2 Quincy, History of Harvard University.
sided over by an Oxonian, Henry Vanė, the friend of Milton,-is said to have been “ the first body in which the people, by their representatives, gave their own money to found a place of education.” “ The act was a memorable one, if we have regard to all the circumstances of the year in which it was done. On every side danger was in the air. Threatened at once with an Indian war, with the enmity of the home Government, and with grave dissensions among themselves, the year 1636 was a trying one indeed for the little community of Puritans, and thei founding a college by public taxation just at this time is a striking illustration of their unalterable purpose to realise in this. new home their ideal of an educated Christian society."
1 Fiske's Beginnings of New England, p. 111.