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Besides these general qualifications, which so admirably fit Mr. Palfrey to become the historian of New-England for this generation, his particular studies for the faithful execution of his work are no less obvious. This first installment is replete with evidence of diligent and extensive research.
But we count Mr. Palfrey's conscious sympathy with the moral earnestness and elevation of the Puritan character the first of his qualifications.
This is the only style of man that can rise to the moral heights of the great argument involved in the rise and growth of the Puritan Commonwealth. It is easy to fasten upon the foibles of our fathers, and by false constructions render them as ridiculous as we make ourselves, by such exhibitions of an irreverent and unfilial temper. The true method is to trace the progress of the Puritans from their own standpoint, and this is precisely the principle on which Mr. Palfrey proposes to write his History, and in strict accordance with which he has made so excellent a beginning. May it have a successful issue ! It would infallibly, if the breadth of his understanding equalled its integrity. Had Mr. Palfrey's sympathies been as wide as they are earnest, he would not have failed to render equal and exact justice to the opponents of the Puritan party, both in the English Church and State.
We feel sure that he is not deficient in honesty of purpose, nor has he a "plentiful lack” of courage. It is, we apprehend, a want of that comprehensiveness of view and catholicity of temper which are the cardinal virtues of a really great historian, one whose work “the world will not willingly let die."
Such a history of the Congregational schism would probably be too much to expect from a descendant of the Puritans, while he continues to regard Puritan principles as the purest possible in Church and State.
This, however, is not Mr. Palfrey's point of view. He reveres the virtues of the Puritans, indeed, and so do we. But theologically, he is farther removed from them than we are.
We can not but think, therefore, that he is swayed by prejudice, when he revives in so grave a work the unreasonable charges of the Puritans against the Church, without so much
as hinting the noble defense her children have made of her principles, polity, and worship.
In a word, the Puritan side of the controversy is given, but not the Church side; the attack, but not the defense. This, certainly, savors more of the bar than of the bench, and the historian is one who is bound by the self-imposed obligations of his office to hear both sides ; then, having carefully collated and compared the evidence offered by each, to state the results without the fear or favor of either before his eyes. Mr. Palfrey has failed to do this. His bias is patent to every reader at all instructed in respect to the merits of the great controversy.
It is consoling to know that the subject will not rest here. It can not. Mr. Palfrey has not spoken the last word. This part of the history of New-England, which in a manner is a history of the Puritans, remains to be written, and will so remain, till the errors of each party are fairly stated, and their excellencies celebrated with equal candor. Any thing short of this must pass as merely party spirit, fit only to perpetuate party prejudices and sectarian strife.
Excelling in so many particulars, would that the accomplished anthor of this volume had abounded in this grace also; the grace which we are assured, on the highest authority, is superior to all others, in the absence of which our best endeavors are of little worth.
In saying this, we are not unmindful of the proverb touching those who live in glass houses. We confess ourselves far from blameless. As long as a class of Churchmen will persist in adoring the memories of the first Charles and of Laud, as blessed martyrs for Christ and His Church, so long may the descendants of the Puritans be pardoned for praising their godly ancestors as the embodiment of all that was praiseworthy in their generation.
What we say is, that the historic muse will refuse to recog. nize either as entitled to be crowned in consideration of services rendered in her high office, which ever was and is, when we have deeds to relate, whether lucky or unlucky, to speak of them as they were, to extenuate nothing nor set down aught in malice, prejudice, or vincible ignorance.
When this is done here, we shall have a history of the Puritan party as instructive and admonitory to Churchmen as to Calvinists.
As this brief notice of Mr. Palfrey's work is not intended for a formal review of it, we can here only refer our readers to the third, fourth, seventh, and eighth chapters, for evidence of the fairness of these comments. A thorough sifting of said chapters would fill pages.
Of the many points we should make in a professed review, we will now note but two.
Aware that the address of the Massachusetts Company to their dear brethren of the Church of England, (issued on leaving for America,) is obviously inconsistent, to say the least, with their subsequent conduct, Mr. Palfrey endeavors to reconcile the discrepancy by arguing that the attachment they professed for the Church could not refer to its government or worship, since these, being in themselves changeable, are not of the Church's essence. To which we reply, that if this were all we knew of Mr. Palfrey, we should conclude he received his education among the Jesuits.
Of his defense of the persecutions set on foot by the Puritans in Massachusetts, we will add merely this, that if conclusive, it furnishes (mutatis mutandis) a complete justification of those who persecuted the Puritans at home. That is to say, if it was right in the Puritans to persecute in order to preserve their polity, then it was equally so for Laud as the primate of all England. If persecution was merely expedient in the colonies, it may have been no less so at home. If, however, the conduct of the Puritans was neither right nor expedient, but only excusable, and that because they were fallible men who shared in the spirit of their age, we enter the same plea for the pedantic James, the tyrannic Charles, and the bigoted Laud. Albeit we like these even less than those. We regard all arbitrary prelates as the most dangerous enemies of the Church.
Inimical as are their proceedings to all non-conformists, they are still more so to the true interests of religion. We, therefore, will laud neither them nor their acts.
Our prayer is for the restoration of an ecclesiastical unity, once existing, but unhappily lost, immolated to the demon of controversy.
All good men ought now to constitute a council of conciliation. A better opportunity to engage in this good work was never presented to any than to Dr. Palfrey in his character of historian. In the first volume he has certainly neglected it. May he improve it in those which shall follow. If he does, he will be entitled to the gratitude of two noble nations, instead of the approval of a party, comparatively small, though highly respectable in each.
BIOGRAPHY.* The Life and Times of Milton. This title raises great expectations, but no more, we feel sure, than the performance will fulfill. All that scholarship and research can effect have been freely bestowed on this first volume, which covers the first of the three divisions of time into which Milton's life divides itself: the first extending from 1608 to 1640, which was the period of his education and of his minor poems; the sec. ond extending from 1640 to 1660, or from the beginning of the Civil Wars to the Restoration, and forming the middle period of his polemical activity as a prose-writer; and the third extending from 1660 to 1674, which was the period of his later muse, and of the publication of Paradise Lost.
The principal topics taken up in this volume, are Milton's ancestry, birth, education, plan of life, Continental tour, and a critical survey of English literature at that period. Passing by, for the present, all other questions raised by Professor Masson, we submit a few remarks on the reasons which deterred Milton from entering the Church, as he originally intended.
It is interesting to know that the sublimest and most learned, as well as religious of our poets, was designed for the Church, and himself grew up with the expectation of serving in her courts. With this view he entered the University of Cambridge, and there made those splendid attainments in literature which rendered him the foremost man of his time in learning as in genius. Why, then, was this good design of his parents defeated ? And why his own cherished plan abandoned ? Want of purpose or of character can not have been the cause, for of these no man displayed more than John Milton. Nor was it aversion to the duties of the ministry. Still less was it skepticism. Milton had a truly religious soul, and was, especially in early life, of a reverent temper. He loved retirement, study, devotion to religious duties, and was of the purest moral character.
* THE LIFE OF JOHN MILTON. Narrated in connection with the Political, Ecclesiastcial, and Literary History of his Time. By DAVID Masson, M.A., Professor of English Literature in University College, London. Vol. I. Boston: Gould & Lincoln.
Why, then, did he change his purpose to enter the Church ?
John Milton was deterred from entering the Church by « conscientious scruples." This is the explanation. It is a re. lief to know, however, that the opposition which at this time sprang up in his heart, and was warmed there till it increased to fever-heat, was not directed against the Church of Cranmer or of White. Milton's life fell on evil days. Had he lived before Laud, he would have lived and died a minister, perhaps a bishop of the Church of England. Had he been born in America two hundred years later than he was in England, he could heartily have accepted and acted on the moderate principles of " our ecclesiastical Washington.” Even then, and in England, he could and would have conformed to the Church had the pure Protestantism of Archbishop Abbot prevailed over the antagonistic Romanizing tendencies of Laud. Strictly speaking, it was not against the Church of England that Milton protested, but against Laudism. Before such a man he refused to bow. To such a bigot he declined committing his conscience. His whole soul revolted from the sway of “the little red-faced” ruler of the Church. Milton's piercing glance could not but discern the certain consequences of committing the Church to the care of such a man. He read his character well, and foresaw the certain results of following such a leader. Accordingly he gave up his cherished purposes, and cutting loose from the ancient moorings of the University, threw himself upon the uncertain sea of literature and politics.