A Stated Meeting of the Society was held at the house of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, No. 28 Newbury Street, Boston, on Thursday, 26 February, 1920, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Fred Norris Robinson, Ph.D., in the chair.
The Records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported that letters had been received from Mr. Charles Francis Jenney, Mr. George Henry Haynes, and Mr. Edward Mussey Hartwell, accepting Resident Membership.
Mr. George Russell Agassiz of Newport, Rhode Island, was elected a Corresponding Member.
Mr. Winslow Warren read the following paper:
In a Forefather’s Day ode written by the Rev. John Pierpont — one of the most inspiring odes called forth by the celebration of that day — is the following verse:
The Pilgrim spirit has not fled:
It walks in the noon’s broad light;
And it watches the bed of the glorious dead,
With the holy stars, by night.
An eminent writer in England has recently said:
It is an auspicious moment — a year that should stir America with great memories and inspire it with high motives. It is the tercentenary of the sailing of the Mayflower. A few weeks ago I stood in the little grave yard in Plymouth in New England where the Pilgrims of that immortal expedition sleep. All that is best in America will turn in reverent thought this year to that sacred spot and I have confidence that all that is best in America will prevail in this emergency as it has prevailed in the past and make the record of 1920 a fitting and everlasting memorial to the fadeless glory of 1620.
As we read words like these expressing with confidence hopes for the future, do they not inevitably suggest to our minds the question whether they are really true of this Nation to-day now that it has ceased to be homogeneous in character and become the melting pot of the world? Does the Nation retain the same moral fibre as in Pilgrim days so that the promise of the future equals the performance of the past? We cannot question the physical courage of its people — though that is a quality shared with all great nations — it has been clearly manifested upon the recent battlefields of Europe — nor can we doubt the patriotic impulses of our people, for they have shown a spirit of self sacrifice, men and women alike, in cheerfully bearing privation in a great cause and in offering their lives and their treasure for the relief of Europe and the betterment of the world. All this is of hopeful augury for the future — but great as the Nation is and great as seems the promise, to make sure of its fulfillment we must look for the same moral grandeur that ennobled the Pilgrims, the same high motives, the same fortitude, the same reliance upon God to hold it unswervingly in the path of duty and the same devotion to Christian principles which set apart the Pilgrims as a chosen people with a high mission to build up on this continent a great empire on the solid basis of justice and truth.
The permanence and prosperity of America depend upon the certainty with which an affirmative answer may be given to these questions, and yet no one can approach them without hesitation in view of the present disturbed and unsettled condition of public affairs calculated as it is to unhinge all but the strongest minds and to perplex and confuse us as we look upon the ruin the last few years have wrought upon high principles that were thought to be firmly established in the world.
The near approach of the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth not only proclaims that as a people we have reached an age of respectable antiquity, but gives us food for profound speculation and thought in the survey of three centuries which have probably been more prolific of startling events and wonderful discoveries than any equal period in the world’s history. A little forlorn band of humble emigrants struggling for existence upon the bleak shores of Plymouth, has developed under the providence of God into a mighty Nation holding to-day apparently the key to the very life of the continent from which they were driven forth — that Nation has itself passed through seven wars, three of which at least were just and necessary and a test of its stamina and strength. The three centuries have witnessed the English Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian revolution, the vast development of the English empire, the rise of Japan to a world power, and lastly the awful cataclysm that has convulsed Europe and left it in disorder and in near approach to bankruptcy.
Mighty empires have been built up and have toppled down. Napoleonic dynasties, Bourbon dynasties, Hohenzollern, Romanoff, and Hapsburg dynasties have disappeared, the unspeakable Turk retains but a corner of his once great empire and Russia with its vast population is in chaos; yet slowly but surely the principles of democracy which the Pilgrims exemplified have extended over the earth. During the same period, discoveries and inventions beyond wildest dreams have astounded the world, advances in the arts and sciences have been made beyond imagination, and civilization has been everywhere extended.
We had thought that the blessings of Christianity had kept equal pace with civilization and that the great Nations of the earth had been so led into the paths of peace that the barbarism of war, if not impossible, had at least been tempered by more civilized rules of warfare; but from this last has come a rude awakening and we have seen the world disgraced in the recent war by barbarism triumphant in a great Nation which has trampled in the dust the rights of noncombatant people, committed hideous crimes on sea and land, and wrought purposeful destruction of private property without the least military necessity, and we have everywhere seen all the destructive agencies of modern science and invention harnessed to the chariot of war.
It can hardly be wondered at that, in face of this apparent relapse into barbarism, many thoughtful minds have questioned whether Christianity itself has not failed and still ponder over the situation, uncertain whether the world will awaken from this temporary backsliding and gain from all the sacrifice and suffering a higher conception of duty and a more serious and deeper insight into the great moral questions that may lead towards the light of a better Christianity — or whether the awful scenes of horror and carnage through which men have passed and the temporary loosening of the rules of law and order have made them callous, brutalized their natures, and so led to a disregard of the laws of God and man.
The gravity of such a situation cannot be overestimated, and whether in our own country we are to emerge from it unstained must, as I have indicated, largely depend upon the survival of the Pilgrim spirit and upon whether our people have truly absorbed the lessons to be drawn from Pilgrim patient acceptance of hardship without impairment of their sublime faith and absolute reliance upon divine protection.
With these things in mind it is well to recall the story of 1620 and to see what meaning it has in the present day — not the details of Pilgrim life, for those are too familiar to all of you, but certain phases of their character and purpose which have not always been fairly told and which are liable to misconception by exaggeration of defects which those men shared with all the sons of men. I have slight interest in or patience with writers who seem to delight in portraying the failings of those early pioneers and cannot appreciate how little those failings really detract from the sterling character and earnest devout purpose and the amazing fortitude of those Pilgrim fathers. It is difficult to understand the value of such books as the True History of the Pilgrims, the True George Washington, the True Thomas Jefferson, which are greatly untrue because they exaggerate defects and minimize virtues. It may be they serve an unlooked for purpose inasmuch as a contemplation of human failures sometimes serves to magnify the virtues — as some one has said that the weaknesses of great men increase their popularity — upon the theory we must assume that many people are better pleased with themselves when they realize that those held up to them as models of virtue had after all a human side.
Without hesitation, we may admit that the Pilgrims though more tolerant than most of their contemporaries were in their nature or from their experiences hard and stern men—that being modified, however, by the gentle side shown in their family relations which often indicate a tinge of romance — we may freely concede that they were bigoted in their beliefs, relentless towards opposition, and that they turned away from the brighter side of life and dwelt upon its serious and darker side — as Boyle O’Reilly puts it in his poem at Plymouth, “they missed God’s smile to watch his frown,” but is it any wonder that their hardships and sufferings were too great for lightness of heart and that “God’s smile” seemed very distant from them? If they turned away from the contemplation of earthly pleasures they never wavered in their faith in a heavenly reward.
They were doubtless men of their time and their thoughts were of the times in which they lived, except in so far as they had caught a glimpse of something higher and better. Their creed was Mosaic, their God a cruel and relentless being, Heaven and Hell were intensely real to them, and their Bible was to be construed with extreme literalness, with no allowance at all for its being clothed in oriental form and delivered to oriental nations; yet, what was rare in those days, they did have strivings for broader light and a more humane conception of their relations to their fellow-men, even though they had but a glimpse of the spirit of toleration. We would like to accept Mrs. Hemans’s poetic version that they came here to establish “Freedom to worship God,” but if that is to be taken in any other meaning than that they sought freedom for themselves to worship God unmolested — the phrase is hardly in accordance with their own conception of their mission, for they had not reached the point of general toleration nor had any people in the world, not even in tolerant Holland.
We may therefore be charitable in our judgment of their intolerance towards later comers whose religious views seemed to the Pilgrims to threaten the loss of their own religious freedom, yet it is something that they were much less harsh than their neighboring colony and made little trouble for those among them who conscientiously but quietly differed without openly proselyting or disturbing the public peace and order — and the fact is remarkable as well as suggestive that the colony became much more intolerant after the Pilgrims had all passed away than during their lifetime.
The much discussed question of their treatment of the Quakers, however severe it may have been, shows the Pilgrims to have been greatly more lenient than elsewhere, and it is always difficult to determine how far their action was because of the religious opinions of the Quakers or of their unruly behavior and abuse of the constituted authorities; the fact remains that there were Quakers who, quietly holding their opinions, dwelt among them undisturbed — as did also certain Roman Catholics who later joined the settlement. It was to their credit also that they were often in trouble with their Boston neighbors for harboring and protecting men of unorthodox views who had fled from that colony; that they never in any way shared the prevailing witchcraft delusion, but treated it with ridicule and contempt; that they were just in dealing with the Indians, though stern and decisive in their action towards those who were hostile and treacherous; and that they took the first great step towards democracy in separating church and state by giving freeholders the ballot regardless of church membership.
A recent preacher of some note has criticized their action in suppressing the Merry Mount settlement at Wessagussett, upon the ground that that hilarious crowd, though fond of maypoles and dancing and merriment, at any rate carried their prayer books in their hands; a curious defence, for they certainly did not carry them in their hearts or regard such teachings in their drunkenness and riot and open sale of firearms and fire water to the Indians of the vicinity, making the latter more dangerous than ever to the Pilgrim neighbors; nor did the preacher, if he was aware of it, take the trouble to mention at all the creditable fact that after the dispersal of the Merry Mount settlers Thomas Morton their chief leader was allowed to live in Plymouth without molestation.
The prayer book story may be classed with other mythical titbits of incorrect history — such as the story of Christmas among the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620, which disregards the fact that all the men were on shore that day, hard at work felling timber for their houses and that the only notice of the day mentioned in history is that the captain of the Mayflower served out an extra allowance of beer to those on board. With their peculiar views it is needless to say that Christmas was the last day in the year the Pilgrims would have celebrated. Or we may class the story with that of the first Sunday on Clark’s Island with a picture showing the Mayflower in the offing and a preacher in full canonicals performing service, — though the Mayflower was then at Provincetown and the Pilgrims had no preacher with them on the island, Brewster not being of the party. Such stories are to be compared for accuracy with the recent statement that it was the Roman Catholic bishops who procured Magna Charta from King John at Runnymede, the only apparent foundation for the statement being that among the large concourse of nobles and barons present there may have been Roman Catholic bishops: if there were bishops there at all, they must at that period have been Catholics.
But passing from the question of the failings of the Pilgrims, the more impressive fact stands out that they bore their severe hardships with unswerving courage, steadfastly held to their principles in reliance upon divine guidance, and with what light they had strove to infuse a spirit of righteousness upon their struggling settlement. No hope of gain inspired them, no knowledge that they were to be the cornerstone of a great empire, no desire or ambition to glorify their undertaking — they simply recognized themselves as humble instruments of the divine will and walked conscientiously and faithfully in the narrow path of duty. Their thoughts were upon the heavens above more than upon any possible success in this world, and they were content with the belief that through their sufferings a pure religious belief would be transmitted to their descendants. No one can read Bradford’s and Winslow’s account of the migration without being impressed by the simple matter of fact portrayal and the entire absence of any attempt to exploit the undertaking or to claim credit for the hardship and suffering.
There are passages in the Pilgrim writings which seem to express in striking manner their mental attitude and their hopes and fears; at the risk of quoting what is already familiar to you, I want to group extracts from a few of those writings, for I know of none which more clearly breathe the genuine spirit of the Pilgrim. First I would recall Bradford’s description of the little church at Scrooby where was lighted the fire that has illuminated a continent:
So many therfore of these proffessors as saw ye evill of these things (in thes parts,) and whose harts ye Lord had touched with heavenly zeale for his trueth; they shooke of this yoake of Antichristian bondage. And as ye Lords free people, joined them selves (by a covenant of ye Lord) into a church estate, in the felowship of the Gospell, to walke in all his wayes, made known, or to be made known unto them (according to their best endeavours) whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. And that it cost them something this ensewing historie will declare.31
And those later words when they were on the point of leaving for Holland where they described themselves as “a poor people of Lincolnshire who being enlightened by the word of God and urged with the yoke of subscription had been led to see further.”
The modesty and genuineness of these declarations are as noticeable as the honest strivings to gain further light. It is impossible to read the words now without being impressed with their advanced thought and with the willingness to accept whatever light the future might bring.
Now turn to Holland, when after their residence there of twelve years they had determined to seek a new home in America, and read John Robinson’s wise letter of advice to the adventurers in July, 1620:
Wheras you are to become a body politik, using amongst your selves civill governments, and are not furnished with any persons of spetiall eminencie above ye rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdome and godlines appeare, not only in chusing shuch persons as doe entirely love and will promote ye commone good, but also in yeelding unto them all due honour and obedience in their lawfull administrations; not behoulding in them the ordinarinesse of their persons, but Gods ordinance for your good, not being like the foolish multitud who more honour the gay coate, then either the vertuous minde of the man, or glorious ordinance of ye Lord.32
Following this counsel upon civil matters was Robinson’s well known sermon upon the eve of their departure from Leyden (or such part of it rather as has been handed down to us in Edward Winslow’s Briefe Narration) from the text “and there by the river Ahava I proclaimed a Fast that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek a right way for ourselves and for our children and for all our substance.” To appreciate its true spirit and to recognize the breadth of its tone I must venture in harmony with my subject to quote what has often been quoted before, for it is essential to those who would grasp the true inwardness of this Pilgrim departure. In part, as Winslow gives it, it reads:
He charged them before God and his blessed angels, to follow him no further than he followed Christ; and if God should reveal any thing to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it as ever we were to receive any truth by his ministry; for he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.
You see the Calvinists, they stick where he left them; a misery much to be lamented; for though they were precious shining lights in their times, yet God had not revealed his whole truth to them; and were they now living . . . they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light, as that they had received. . . . For . . . it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness, and that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.33
The breadth and liberality of these utterances of Robinson have often been commented upon, but to me the most remarkable thing connected with them is that this man, the most eminent scholar in the Pilgrim church, and upon whose counsel the Pilgrims both in Holland and America depended so much, a man who had been abused and harried in England, who had been driven from his native land and who through every discouragement had ministered in Leyden to his poor and struggling company, should have had it in his heart to give such broad and hopeful advice to the departing members of his congregation without a tinge of bitterness and with no reference to what they had borne and suffered.
A proper sequel is Bradford’s brief but pathetic account of the final departure from Delft Haven August 1, 1620:
They looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits. . . . The next day, the wind being faire, they wente aborde, and their friends with them, where truly dolfull was the sight of that sadd and mournfull parting; to see what sighs and sobbs and praires did sound amongst them, what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches peirst each harte; that sundry of ye Dutch strangers yt stood on the key as spectators, could not refraine from tears.34
So with these utterances from their hearts they embarked upon the stormy and dangerous voyage to a land they knew nothing of and to encounter all the perils and risk of settlement in the wilderness, but they were buoyed up by an implicit faith and by a courage that dared all obstacles.
Hardly had they anchored in the harbor of Provincetown when all the male members, other than apprentices and servants, joined in signing the immortal Compact in the cabin of the Mayflower November 21:
Haveing undertaken, for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutualy in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame shuch just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.35
Could there have been a more fitting conclusion of their voyage or a more masterly or concise statement of their determination that the new colony should be governed by law and that all should respect constituted authority? They attempted no elaboration of great principles, but laid the keystone of the democratic arch in this simple and conclusive manner.
These papers that I have cited express in few words the inspiration of the Pilgrims — patience, courage, faith and unshaken fortitude. As they looked back to their experiences of the previous three months, desperate as the future yet seemed, they could not but feel that a special Providence had guided them over the three thousand miles of sea in their overcrowded, ill-fitted and almost unseaworthy ship, and yet more recently in saving from utter wreck the small shallop which safely crossed the Bay from Provincetown to Clark’s Island midst a fierce storm which threatened every moment to swamp the frail boat. That boat truly bore Cæsar and all his fortunes, for in it were Carver, Bradford, Winslow, Standish and Howland, and if those men had perished it is unlikely that the Plymouth Colony would have been heard of in history.
Surely no other settlement has been undertaken in such a spirit and never under more discouraging and hopeless circumstances. The details of the Pilgrim life at Plymouth have been amply and eloquently told — it is needless for me to weary you with a story so well known; there was nothing to encourage those men except a single piece of good fortune that before their coming the Indians of the vicinity had been largely destroyed by disease, rendering them less exposed to hostile attack — other than that, and even of that. they knew nothing but rumors, the story is one of prolonged hardship and suffering, of distressing losses by sickness, of near famine and of the doubtful struggle to maintain life itself. But they refused to be daunted and in the end overcame all obstacles and secured a lasting triumph in seeing their colony grow and strengthen until, after they themselves had passed on, it united with the stronger colony of Massachusetts and became a part of the great development of this mighty Republic.
But let us not misinterpret the spirit of the Pilgrims as applied to the present times, it never meant that we should be content to stand where they stood — Robinson’s words apply now as they applied then, that men of our day should be “as ready and willing to embrace further light as that they had received;” to keep abreast of their spirit their descendants must also welcome the opportunity to “see further” and it is for them to show their rightful descent by enlarging and developing the spirit of truth and freedom. We of this age will deserve little credit unless the seed so carefully sown three hundred years ago shall ripen into a richer fruit. Even if our Pilgrim ancestors fell short of their highest ideals, as all men and nations have fallen and always will, they gave us at any rate their manly struggle with trying experiences and depressing hardships and their ever hopeful courage as bases on which to build a solid edifice of popular government and free and enlightened institutions.
What other than a renewal of the spirit of earlier days sustained the men of the Revolution in their long contest and enabled them to embody in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States the principles clearly shadowed forth in the Compact of 1620 — what other than that inspired the loyalty that preserved this great Union in 1861 and brought about the emancipation of the slave — what other than that spirit carried America into the recent world conflict and ranged her with no selfish aim on the side of imperilled civilization in Europe? And now when the storm has lulled what but that spirit with the added light of centuries of experience, of growing knowledge and developing wisdom will enable this Nation to gather in the full harvest of freedom and democracy?
But the preservation of the ancient spirit in its full force and the extension of its influence requires the most constant watchfulness — especially just now when, temporarily we believe, the public mind has lost something of its balance. The prevailing restlessness, the excited condition of the public, the abnormal situation in business affairs, the threatened financial disturbance, have combined to create a nervous tension which gives ominous signs of danger to great principles which lie at the foundation of republican institutions. This condition is not unusual as the result of war and was to have been expected after a war that swept in all the great nations of the earth. With us, it takes the form of a distrust of free thought and free discussion and we see an American Congress discussing the necessity of a return to alien and sedition laws which were tried in the infancy of our Republic and emphatically discarded by the intelligence of the people. What is needed now is not more laws but more respect for those we have and possibly a more judicious enforcement of them. Drastic legislation invading personal rights and so out of harmony with the general views of a very large section of the people as to require armies of officers and spies to enforce it, will not cure the disease attacked but is sure to increase the general ferment and bring into disrepute wise and salutary laws. It is the old story that well-meant reforms are apt to defeat their own ends if too hasty and sweeping and if forced upon a people unprepared for them and more than doubtful of their wisdom. Never more than now was calm judgment and deliberation needed in our public affairs. It is unthinkable that here in America we should fear the freest thought and widest public discussion, subject only to recognized limitations that no one can publicly advocate crime or incite or attempt the overthrow of our government. I have no fear that truth can be overcome by the ravings of ignorant or fanatical talkers, nor can I doubt that if speech becomes action or an obvious incitement to action an intelligent people will find ready means to protect itself.
An eminent Judge of the Federal Supreme Court has recently wisely said that it was better to let steam escape and be dissipated into thin air than to risk explosion by attempting to confine it. It was the foresight of the framers of the Constitution that forbade conviction for treason except upon the proof of overt acts by at least two witnesses — surely for lesser public crimes we can rely upon due process of law without imperilling the sacred right of free thought and of such free speech as does not degenerate into unbridled licence. To be sure we have the embarrassment now that results from the extraordinary liberality of our emigration laws and we feel rightly indignant that aliens who seek the protection of our laws should violate decency and law in the attempt to foment trouble among our people. They must be sternly dealt with and the government must exercise its right of protecting itself by withdrawing its permission that they should remain among us, but even those men are entitled to fair hearings.
There is danger to the public welfare too in the facility with which pseudo Americans are allowed to stir up ill blood against nations with which we are at peace and to proceed to the very verge of illegality in interference with the domestic affairs of other nations. The mark of the true American, to the manor born or American by adoption, should ever be that he always and ever places the interests of America before those of any other land and never forgets that his allegiance to America admits of no possible allegiance elsewhere.
Freedom of thought—freedom of speech, obedience to the law are in full harmony with the true Pilgrim spirit as developed by three centuries of progress, for the Pilgrim — though the radical of his day and though he realized how abhorrent his principles were to the rest of the world — maintained his freedom of thought and speech, never looked unkindly upon the land he had left but put away the remembrance of the persecution and abuse from which he had suffered — never conspired in any way against the government of his native land or against his neighbor, and above all things was impatient of any disregard of orderly government or of disrespect for constituted authorities; — he was a practical man of action, but his acts were the result of careful thought and deliberation and ever of a deep and abiding faith in God and a sure reliance upon his guidance.
We want now as humble a spirit, as deep a faith and as pure a motive as he possessed. We may look beyond his ideals as the centuries have given more light, but while we pride ourselves that we have advanced free thought and a spirit of toleration we must be equally sure that we are firm in maintaining that advance and are not shaken by temporary gusts of popular excitement or passion.
Only then can we properly celebrate the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims and lay claim to the descent of their spirit. We thankfully acknowledge what was praiseworthy in their lives and when we criticize their failings, we admit that we must prove by our actions that we of this generation have seen the “further light” and not only have seen it but have profited by it.
The Rev. Henry W. Foote read the following —
A number of years ago I found, among some old family papers which had belonged to my great-uncle, the Rev. William Orne White of Brookline, a package containing a dozen eighteenth century sermons written in a crabbed hand, with no indication as to their authorship, but with notes showing that they had been delivered in Marblehead between 1743 and 1769. I put them aside, intending some day to look into a history of Marblehead to see who had been minister there during that period. But one day last autumn, being in the Treasure Room of the Widener Library in Cambridge, my eye was caught by a small copy of the first volume of William Ames’s Opera, published in 1658, which was lying in one of the exhibition cases. It had been placed there because it contained three autographs of interest, namely those of the second Simon Bradstreet (son of the Governor) and of his son and grandson, the third and fourth of the same name. The last of the three had added beneath his name “Avus, Pater, Filius et Nepos, 1742.” The Librarian’s explanatory card beneath the book added the information that the second Simon Bradstreet (H. C. 1660) had been minister at New London, Connecticut; that the third (H. C. 1693) had been minister at Charlestown; and that the fourth had graduated from Harvard in 1728 and had been minister in Marblehead. Making further inquiries I found that the fourth Simon Bradstreet was born June 23rd, 1709, and was minister at Marblehead from 1738 till his death there on October 5, 1771.
Returning home with this information I looked once more at my packet of old sermons. They are made up in the shape of little booklets, each containing from sixteen to forty pages, save one which is only a fragment, the last four pages of a sermon. The pages are stitched together, and range in size from 5 by 3½ to 6 by 4 inches. Each sermon is divided into two parts, or, rather, the same discourse served for both morning and afternoon services, the minister preaching to about the middle of his discourse in the morning and finishing it in the afternoon, though when he repeated a sermon he did not always divide it at the same point. On the last page of each sermon are memoranda as to its use. One was preached four (or five) times between 1751 and 1767; two were preached three times; the rest once each. The preacher generally noted the weather and attendance. After a sermon preached after the death of Judge Stephen Sewall there is a note on his character; another memorandum refers to the earthquakes of November, 1755; another to the young men recently returned from a fishing voyage; another to the writer’s birthday.
It was this last sermon which completed the identification of the author. Its first memorandum is as follows:
Mhead. June 23, 1751, A & P M — being my Birthday when I entred upon my 42d year — Lord! I desire to praise & adore thee for all ye mercies of my past Life, & intreat thy forgiveness of all my past sins, & grace to improve ye future part of my Life to thy glory, ye good of thy people com̄itted to my Charge, and to my own eternal Salvation, Thro J. X. Amen.
It will be remembered that the fourth Simon Bradstreet was born June 23, 1709, so that he would have been forty-two on this day in 1751; thus, according to our computation, he would have been entering his forty-third rather than his forty-second year. The writer evidently liked his birthday discourse, with its text from Isaiah 32: 17, “And the work of rightousness shall be peace, and the effect of rightousness quietness and assurance forever,” for he preached it several times. The notes continue.
- Marblehead. June 24, 1753. N S. A and P M.
- Mhead July 8, N S. 1759. The week before was Birthday wn I enterd my 50th year.
- Sept. 13th 1767 A.M. [to the 19th page].
- Sept. 20, 1767, A.M. [presumably the remainder of the discourse].
But this “birthday sermon” had yet other evidence to give. Across the upper corner of the first page, in another and more elegant hand appear the words,
while across the corresponding corner of page 8 the same hand continues
trate and Wife.
The frugal preacher had cut up for sermon paper the unused half of some invitation which had been addressed “To the Reverend Mr. Broadstrate and Wife.” Investigation disclosed the name of “Mr Broadstrate” written across a page in another discourse. The identification was complete, for of course “Broadstrate” was but the common pronunciation of Bradstreet.
The memoranda on the other sermons are as follows:
No. 1. Coloss. 4:2 Continue in prayer. (16 pp.) “Mhead. March 4, 1743/4 P.M.”
No. 2. Heb. 11; 6 But without faith it is impossible to please God. (16 pp.) “Mhd. May 5, 1745. A and P M Fair.”
No. 3. The “birthday sermon” described above.
No. 4. Psm. 37; 23–24. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; & he delighteth in his way. Tho he fall he shall not utterly be cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. (38 pp.)
“Marblehead, June 12, 1757, A and PM Fair, hot, pleast. L.D.O.M.”36
“8br 9, 1768. A and P M Overcast like rain. N.B. Ye Doctrine to be considd in another Sermon.”
In the margin of p. 4 is written “[Mr. Henry],” presumably a reference to the works of Matthew Henry.
No. 5. A fragment, only the last four pages.
“Pcd Marblehead 9r 23, 1755 A and P M. Being ye Sabbath after a gt Earthquake, wc happend on Tuesday morn, abt 4 of Clock; & was followed with several smaller Shocks yt morning & week, & one more considble on Saturday night abt 9 of ye Clock. It rained & blowed very hard ys Sabbath morning, but was a clearing up Day interspersed. N.B. Was a very serious, affected & Attentive Audience and very full. Ye Lord bless his Word & Providence to lead ys people & ye whole Land to Repentance.”
The Lisbon earthquake occurred on Nov. 1, 1755, seventeen days before the first shock noted above.
No. 6. Heb. 7:25. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the utermost, yt come unto GOD by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us. (32 pp.)
“Mhead Feb. 11, 1759 AM pleast. A full house.”
“Mhead. Jan. 10, 1762. A & P M Snowy, stormy, and full House.”
“Jan. 29, 1769 P M Fair, very cold & very windy.”
No. 7. 1 Pet. 5; 8, 9. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary ye Devil as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith. (40 pp.)
“Mhead Feb. 17, 1760 A & P M. Cloudy, modert some snow, full House.”
No. 8. Jno. 16; 28. I came forth from ye Father & am come into ye [world], agn I leave ye [world] to go unto the Father. (39 pp.)
“Mhead Sepr 14, 1760 A M. Raining, dark uncomfortable Wr and very thin House.”
“Sepr 21 1760 P M. Stormy Day & few at meeting.”
“These Sermons were occasiond by ye Death of ye Honble Judge Stephen Sewal, who departed ys Life Sepr 11, and was Interrd Sepr 13,1760. He was a Gentleman greatly beloved & respected, & greatly lamented. And he deserved it. For he has left few or none behind him equal to him upon all accounts; being eminent both in Gifts & Graces; above others, & yet remarkable for his Modesty & Goodnature to all.”
No. 9. 1 Cor. 11; 26, For as often as ye eat ys bread and drink ys cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. (32 pp.)
At page 16 this note is entered: “Aug. 1, 1762. A M. Sacrament Day, Fair and pleast. There was chh. Mr. Bass preached. The rest for ye next Sacrament if God permit.”
And at the end is this note: “Mhead Sepr 5, 1762. A M. Sacrmt. no Chh.” Some illegible Greek follows.
These memoranda indicate that it was the custom to observe the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month. “Chh.” refers to service in St. Michael’s Church, Marblehead, which was at that time without a rector. “Mr. Bass” must be the Rev. Edward Bass, the rector of the Episcopal Church at Newburyport, later Bishop of Massachusetts, who evidently came to Marblehead at least once to administer the sacraments for the congregation of St. Michael’s while they were without a clergyman. Simon Bradstreet took note of the doings at St. Michael’s. In this connection it is interesting to refer to a passage in the autobiography of John Barnard, referring to Bradstreet and to an earlier rector37 of St. Michael’s: “I and Mr. Bradstreet, of the other church in the town, maintained the strictest brotherly love and friendship with him.”38
No. 10.1 Cor. 11: 26, For as oft as ye eat ys bread and drink ys cup, ye do shew ye Lord’s Death till he come.
“Octr 3, 1762, AM.”
This seems to be the second part of another discourse following No. 9, for it begins “I have spoken of the first and proceed to the second.”
No. 11. Psm. 119: 9 Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed yrto according to thy word. (24 pp.)
“Mhd. Decr 30, 1764, PM. Very Cold and very slippery. Full House. L. D. O. M.”
Although not so noted this apparently was originally a sermon of twenty pages addressed to young men about to start on a fishing voyage, but it has an appendix of four pages, indicating that it was again preached to them on their return: “God has now blessed you with a safe and prosperous return.”
No. 12. Psm. 119; 126. It is time for thee, Lord, to work; for yy have made void thy Law. (35 pp.)
“Mhead. Decr 21, 1766, A. M. Dies Serena et plena.” (first half.)
“Jan 4, 1767, P M. snowy, Modte pleast.” (Second half.)
In addition to the information conveyed by these notes there are some further inferences which may be drawn from the sermons. They can hardly have been read in the pulpit. The writing is too small and difficult and full of abbreviations to have been read easily. The sermons will not lie open but would have had to be held in the hand. The discourses are not really long enough to have occupied the full sermon time; most of them would not require more than twelve to fifteen minutes to read. Finally, many of the headings are not developed, though some parts are written in full. In a word, what we have are outlines rather than finished discourses, so that it is probable that Bradstreet preached without manuscript, or read in part and extemporized the rest. The ground plans of the sermons are fairly well worked out in a series of headings, leading up in each case to the “Improvement,” or application of the theme to his hearers. I have noted references to Law, to Henry, to Fenton (twice), to Baxter, to Cicero, and to “Mr. Emlyn’s Fun. Sermon on his wife.”39
It must be admitted that for the most part the sermons are dry, hard reading, being theological discourses with scanty illustrations, even from the Bible, and with very few allusions to the daily life of the people before them. In the spoken discourses, however, these dry bones may have been clothed with life. The “earthquake” sermon shows the preacher taking advantage of the situation to preach the terror of hell upon his hearers:
What we have heard shows us how happy those pious and godly ones are who are departed this life, and so are got free from all the troubles and desolation of this world, and are safely housed in the blessed holy kingdom of their God. They are now where no danger can come to disturb and affright them. They are entered into rest and peace, their bodies sleep quietly in the dust; and their souls are joyful in heaven, praising God among the happy and righteous above. Let that comfort those that mourn for their departed friends and dear children. They are free from all fear and troubles forever. Let this also excite us to secure an interest in God, and then we may expect and wait for death as the end of all our miseries and as the beginning of our eternal joy and felicity. Earthquakes cannot affright the dead, nor disturb the peace and tranquillity of the righteous in heaven. Hell only is the place when earthquakes lose all their terror by being overmatched with infinitely greater terrors, compared to which the greatest earthquakes are nothing. How dreadful then must the case of those impenitent sinners be, who, by their wicked lives are preparing and ripening their miserable souls for such dismal torments as will make earthquakes desirable rather than dreadful. For the scripture tells us that the wicked will call to the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from the face of Christ when he comes to judgment!
No. 11 contains a passage illustrating the educational conditions of the time:
Instead of idling away your time because you know not how to spend it, give your attention to reading, and learn all such good things as may accomplish you and fit you for use and service as you grow up. Learning will be of good use to you, especially learning in religion and God’s Word. How profitably might you spend the winter season if you had learning? And how easily and speedily might you acquire good learning if you would but give your minds to it? It is a grief to me to see so many persons who are of a good natural genius and capacity, so ignorant in the scriptures and so little acquainted with God’s Word, when by a little pains and care they might learn to read or to understand it to great advantage. O be prevailed upon to get all necessary learning, and try to get a love for the Word of God, and if you can’t read it get others to read it to you. And mind the reading of it in this house on the Lord’s Day. And let those that can read bring a Bible to follow the minister in his reading, which is the general practice in all the considerable places in the lands where the Word of God is read in the public assembly, as I have been informed.
And, finally, his preaching cannot have been altogether without savor who could pen these felicitous words in his sermon after Judge Sewall’s death:
Some not unfitly compare the saints of all ages to a fleet of mariners all bound for the same Ports, tho some arrive sooner and some later, and they who have been first there welcome those that come afterward with joy and great affection. And what tho our friends have outsailed us? ’T is likely we may come in with the next good wind and meet each other in the celestial Habitations, and then our love will be satisfied again.40
Mr. Henry H. Edes spoke of the third Simon Bradstreet, the father of the Marblehead clergyman. He succeeded the Rev. Charles Morton as the minister of Charlestown; was “a man of great learning, strong mind and lively imagination;” and when presented to Governor Burnet by Lieutenant-Governor Dummer, was introduced as “a man who could whistle Greek.”