« السابقةمتابعة »
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS—To wit.
BE IT REMEMBERED, that on the eighth day of September, in the thirty fourth year of the Independence of the United States of America, JOHN ELIOT, junior, of the said district, has deposited in this office, the title of a Book, the Right whereof he claims as Proprietor, in the words following—to wit :
"A Biographical Dictionary, containing a brief account of the first settlers, and other eminent characters among the magistrates, ministers literary and worthy men, in New England. By John Eliot, D. D. Corresponding Secreta
ry of the Massachusetts Historical Society. These were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. SON OF SYRACH.”
In conformity to the Act of the congress of the United States entitled, "An Act for the encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies, during the times therein mentioned ;" and also to an Act entitled, "An act supplementary to an Act, entitled an Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies during the times therein mentioned; and extending the benefits thereof to the Arts of Designing, Engraving and Etching Historical, and other Prints." WILLIAM S. SHAW,
Clerk of the District of Massachusetts,
FOR the credit of human nature, some men have appeared in every age, who adorned their lives by good actions, or their publick stations by the dignity, virtue, and splendid excellencies of their characters. Memoirs of such persons excite a lively interest, and, from admiring their extraordinary qualities, we desire to see them in various attitudes, and to know the incidents of their private life. Hence encouragement is given to works of biography, which, in some form or other, are daily issuing from the press. Even short sketches of eminent men have been thought instructive, as well as entertaining.
The first discoverers of this quarter of the globe possessed the spirit of enterprise in a very uncommon degree. The fathers of New England were remarkable for their piety and moral worth, and also for their active virtues. They were men of firmness and resolution, ready to endure every suffering, for the sake of civil and religious freedom. They had to level forests where savage beasts, and savage men had roamed for ages, and to make comfortable dwelling places amidst barren deserts. By their sagacity and prudence, their attention to the means of improving their situation, they soon enjoyed the blessings of civilized and cultivated society. Among the first planters, we find men of genius and literary acquirements, who would have been conspicuous as statesmen in the courts of Europe, or as divines of the church of England. It is no wonder that their characters were so highly esteemed by the puritans in their own country, or that they shone as lights in the dark places of this American wilderness. Cotton, Hooker and Davenport might well rank with the Lightfoots and Owens of the age; they had equal reputation as scholars at the universities. President Chauncy, as professor of Greek, or Hebrew, had no superiour, and might have had any preferment in the national church, if he had become subservient to the views of
archbishop Laud. Norton wrote Latin with elegance and purity; his name was celebrated in various nations of Europe. Less is said about Roger Williams before he left his native country. He was young, and perhaps did not preach with the same force as he wrote. All who peruse his works will wonder at the vast expansion of his mind, and lament the eccentricities of his conduct.
The succeeding generation bore a resemblance to their fathers in their character, but were not equal to them in erudition. The writer of the Magnalia divides into three classes the eminent preachers, who emigrated to New England. The first were in the exercise of their ministry when they came over. They were educated either at Oxford, or Cambridge. The second class comprehends those, whose education was unfinished, and had only such advantages to complete it, as they could obtain in the plantations. Mr. John Higginson, Mr. Sherman and Thomas Thacher were the most famous among them. The third consisted of those who were ejected from the ministry, after the res toration of the monarchy, and establishment of the episcopal church. These were pious and good men; but in their literary accomplishments they were not superiour to those who were educated at Harvard College, which was the only seminary in North America for many years. This institution could not vie with the colleges in Europe for endowments; but during the civil wars of England, the universities lost their ablest professors, and less attention was paid to the means of making eminent scholars. We may well suppose that polite literature would fall prostrate with the laws of the realm. Few went to the pure fountains of classical knowledge, though many Greek and Roman authors were read. The works of their theologians, some of whom were great and excellent men, displayed the stores of learning without the skill and graces of composition. The quaint style and manner, which then prevailed in England, was imitated by our American divines. They were as much disgusted with the works of the English writers,who lived in the reign of Charles or of William, as the most famous authors in Great Britain, in those reigns, were disgusted with the writings of the preceding age. Cotton Mather, the most voluminous American author, and a man of immense learning, has very little credit with the present generation, because his narrations are so prolix, and so many strange
things occur in so strange a style. He was a man of unbounded fancy, astonishing memory, but of no judgment. With his
marvellous stories he has, however, collected many facts, and it would be unpardonable if the author of this work did not pay a tribute to his memory. Every writer of the affairs of Massachusetts is much indebted to him for the use of his materials,
From the date of the new charter we find very few leading characters, who were not born and bred in the colonies. There was no great encouragement for men, who had genius and talents, to come over to New England for the sake of gaining a subsistence. At this time, it has been said, that learning was at a low ebb in our country. A late writer has thus described the college at New Haven: "The students had heard of a certain new and strange philosophy in vogue in England, and the names of Boyle, Locke and Newton had reached them, but they were not suffered to think that any valuable improvements were to be expected from philosophical innovations"* This description is much exagger ated by the prejudices of a party writer. One of the governours of Connecticut had been the intimate friend of Mr. Boyle, and was a principal founder of the royal society. Two of the corporation of Harvard College were fellows of the royal society at this very time, and the mode of instruction was the same in both seminaries. Can we suppose that the Newtonian philosophy was not adopted, or that the first characters in their churches and colleges were sitting so contentedly in the shades of ignorance? From our sketches it will appear, that we had at this period not only students in the new philosophy, but scholars who excelled in polite learning. Philological inquiries grew fashionable, and very excellent productions appeared from the hands of gentlemen in civil life, as well as from the clergy. It is true that these were days of tranquillity, and such times are not favourable to great exertions. If we except the disturbances, which were caused by Indian wars, we can hardly conceive of a more happy state of society, than New England exhibited for the first half of the 18th century. The people were submissive to the laws. There was order in the cities, peace in the villages, and religion in the temples. These are not the times to display great talents any more than great
Chandler's life of Dr. Johnson, president of King's College.
crimes. When occasion called forth the exertions of Americati citizens, they discovered vigour abilities, as well as patriotism, strong and manly virtues with political skill, and all that energy of character necessary for raising provinces into an empire. During the course of the war, the officers of the American army showed courage and magnanimity. They were brave, active, with a spirit of enterprise, and would have obtained distinction in the armies of Europe. The members of the first congress were viewed with admiration bordering on enthusiasm. Their abilities as statesmen, and their political integrity, did honour to the United States, and gained them respect from the great men of other na tions. They certainly have a claim upon the gratitude of posterity. If more particular attention have been paid to one part of this biographical work, it is in doing justice to the characters of those who lived between the peace of Paris, and the commencement of the American revolution. The age of the writer made every thing impressive. He was acquainted with those who were active in our publick concerns, and has been favoured with written accounts, that are strengthened by the opinion and conversation of those who are still alive. Whenever he has recurred to the publications of the day, he has endeavoured to gain collateral evidence to make the representation just. In writing biography we ought to be very careful about taking the character from newspapers. Facts are not always to be depended upon; characters very seldom. If the deceased had virtues they are exaggerated by his friends; and how often are particular delineations made by those who knew not the man! A pen is employed which is elegant, and if the sketch is done in the best manner, there is no inquiry whether it be true? If we had no other knowledge of men, but what we get from newspapers, would there be a proper discrimination between the good and bad members of society?
A remark of a similar kind may be made upon funeral sernions. If they are not in the style of eulogy they are not printed. What the preacher says he doubtless believes; but how often is his opinion different from that of his audience? How many funeral orators paint nothing? Such performances require a nice and delicate pencil to finish; but,in general, they are the most un studied compositions of their authors. This is not, however, what Erst excited the remark. Our objection is, that they are not pure