By Samuel Eliot Morison
IN the early part of the seventeenth century, a young gentleman from Quarrendon, Bucks, named Nicholas Morton, entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge.2 There he obtained a scholarship, took his B.A. in 1615/16, obtained a Dixie fellowship, and commenced M.A. in 1619.3 It seems probable that he retained his fellowship and residence until November, 1621, when he became rector of St. Ives in the Deanery of East Cornwall.4 After living there some years he married, at Egloshayle, Frances, only daughter of Thomas Kestell of Pendavy, a Cornish squire.5 Their first child, Charles Morton, was. born at Pendavy, at the house of his maternal grandparents, and baptized at Egloshayle on February 15, 1626/27.6
A few months before this event Nicholas Morton had been promoted to the rectory of a large London parish: St. Saviour’s, in Southwark (now Southwark Cathedral), very near the Surrey end of London Bridge. There, doubtless, the mother came to join her husband as soon as baby Charles was able to travel.
Among the few respectable families in the rather disreputable parish of St. Saviour’s were the Harvards. And they were much fewer than they had been a few years before Morton came to Southwark. The plague of 1625 took Robert Harvard, a prosperous butcher and the head of the family, three of his sons, and two of his daughters, leaving only the mother and two sons, John and Thomas. The widow Harvard had already become Mrs. Elletson at the time Morton became rector, and upon Elletson’s death after a six months’ marriage, she took for third husband Richard Yearwood, grocer, of St. Saviour’s parish.7
The new rector seems at once to have struck up a warm friendship with the surviving Harvards. Both he and his wife were named legatees in the wills of Thomas Harvard and Mrs. Yearwood; Morton was associated with John Harvard as executor of Thomas’s will.8 And as the Harvards had no previous university connections, one may assume that Morton was responsible for John’s entering Emmanuel College, and that the two kept in close touch until John sailed for New England. It is a strange coincidence that Charles Morton, whom John Harvard must have seen as a baby, eventually became pastor of the church at Charlestown in the Massachusetts Bay where John was preaching at the time of his death on September 14, 1638.
Charles’s mother died after bearing three more children: John, Nicholas, and a daughter.9 Their father married for second wife Elizabeth King of Southwark. Nicholas Morton died in 1640, still “minister of the word of God at St Saviours, Southwark,” leaving to each of his three sons “two pair of sheets” and an income of £30 a year from his estate during the widowhood of his second wife; at her death or marriage the estate was to be divided among his sons.10
Charles was now fourteen years old. It is probable that he and his younger brothers went to live with their grandfather or their uncle John Kestell at Pendavy,11 since their residence is given as Egloshayle when they entered the universities. Cornish by birth, and half Cornish in blood, Charles looked the part: he and his brothers grew into “tall black men,” typical Cornishmen.12
Apparently Charles encountered some difficulty in preparing for the university, since he was already twenty years old in 1646 when he entered Queen’s College, Cambridge, as a pensioner. Cambridge was under Puritan control throughout the Great Rebellion; and Oxford, after serving as royalist capital, surrendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax in June, 1646. Parliament left the university to itself for almost a year. Twenty-four Visitors were then appointed to take measures to bring it in tune with the new régime. All the resources of delay, obstruction, and procrastination, in which men of learning are so rich, were eventually exhausted; and in March, 1647/48, the Visitors really got down to work. The salutary reforms that they effected in the university do not concern us here; for the main thing that affected Charles Morton was a general purgation of the colleges. Several hundred royalists—scholars, fellows, lecturers, professors, and heads of houses—who refused to submit to parliamentary authority, had to depart and yield their places to men faithful, at least outwardly, to the parliamentary government.13 These “intruded” fellows, professors, and heads, as they were called, were in great part Cambridge Puritans who flocked in from the “less ancient and splendid institution” to enjoy the rich fruits of ancient foundations at Oxford. Not a few Harvard men shared in the bounty; two of the earliest being William Stoughton, the future lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts, who obtained a fellowship at New College in 1652, and Samuel Mather, chaplain of Magdalen College, whom Morton remembered thirty-five years later when writing to Samuel’s brother Increase.14
Among the “rude and pragmatical persons” (as Anthony Wood called them)15 who swarmed into Oxford from Cambridge, was our Charles Morton. For why should he stay at Cambridge to take his degree when scholarships and fellowships at Oxford were going a-begging? We first find Morton in Oxford at New Inn Hall in 1648, when he made his formal submission to the Visitors.16 On September 7, 1649, he was admitted a scholar at Wadham College, of which John Wilkins was the “intruded” warden.17 He was allowed to count the terms he had kept at Cambridge toward the Bachelor of Arts degree, to which he was admitted on November 6, 1649. In 1652 he took his M.A. in course, and the next year was incorporated ad eundem in his original alma mater.18
As scholar of Wadham, Charles Morton’s lot had fallen in pleasant places. Wadham College, built in 1610–1613, was one of the most modern and luxurious collegiate foundations in England; and it has remained almost unchanged in appearance to this day, save for the mark of age on the soft Headington stone of which it is built. Chambers and studies were more commodious than in the older colleges; the Hall was the second largest in Oxford; the chapel had the spaciousness of the great Somersetshire churches; kitchen and offices were ample. A formal garden, with walks radiating from a mound surmounted by a figure of Atlas holding a globe, separated the quadrangle from open country where the tiny Cherwell flowed between green fields to join the Isis. Indeed, so pleasant did Charles find Wadham that his younger brother Nicholas came there too, in 1650, and remained until 1656, until he had taken both degrees.
If Morton’s tastes were not scientific before he came to Oxford, he had come into the very milieu to turn them in that direction. For Oxford in the middle of the seventeenth century was much more friendly to experimental science—the “New Philosophy”—than Cambridge; and Wadham College was the scientific center of Oxford. Around 1645 the group of virtuosi known as the “Invisible College,” which is generally regarded as the nucleus of the Royal Society, began holding meetings in London, one of their rules being that all subjects could be discussed but politics and religion. That was a difficult rule to maintain in the turbulent metropolis; and in 1648–1649, when new opportunities for income and leisure opened up at Oxford, most of the members shifted their residence to that university, and formed an “Oxford Philosophical Society.”19
A mere list, as given here, of the prominent or promising scientists at Oxford in Morton’s day, the “Oxonian Sparkles” who met either at Petty’s lodgings or at the warden’s lodgings at Wadham, will show the scientific influences to which Morton was exposed. Those with an asterisk prefixed were of the twelve who met at Gresham College on November 28, 1660, and formed the organization that obtained a charter in 1662 as the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. Most of the others were elected fellows of the Royal Society at an early date.
*John Wilkins (1614–1672), author of A Discourse tending to prove that tis probable our Earth is one of the Planets (1640), and of Mathematical Magick (1648), was appointed warden of Wadham College by the parliamentary Visitors in 1648. He married a sister of Oliver Cromwell in 1651. Later he became Bishop of Chester.
Seth Ward (1617–1689), mathematical astronomer, followed Wilkins from London to Oxford and entered Wadham as a fellow-commoner. He lived in the chamber over the gateway at Wadham afterwards occupied by Christopher Wren.20 In 1649, the same year that Ward took his M.A., he was appointed Savilian Professor of Astronomy.
John Wallis (1616–1703), mathematician, came to Oxford at the same time as Wilkins and in 1649 was appointed Savilian Professor of Geometry.
Thomas Willis (1621–1675), anatomist and physician, took his first medical degree at Oxford in 1646 and resided there through the Interregnum, constantly experimenting.
*Lawrence Rooke (1622–1662), astronomer, took his M.A. at Cambridge in 1647 and entered Wadham as a fellow-commoner in 1650. He left in 1652 to become professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London.
*Robert Boyle (1627–1691), the great chemist and philanthropist, settled at Oxford in 1654 and took charge of the Philosophical Society in 1659, when Wilkins left to be master of Trinity College, Cambridge.
*Sir William Petty (1623–1687), anatomist and economist, came to Oxford in 1648, took his M.D. the next year, and became fellow of Brasenose, deputy professor of anatomy, and, in 1651, professor of anatomy. He went to Ireland in 1652.
*Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723), scientist and architect, entered Wadham College in 1649, the same year with Morton, and became fellow of All Souls on taking his M.A. in 1653.
* Jonathan Goddard (1617–1675), physician and maker of telescopes, was warden of Merton College, 1651–1660.
Thomas Sprat (1635–1713), historian of the Royal Society, entered Wadham in 1651, and took his M.A. in 1657.
Gilbert Ironside (1632–1701), second of the name to become Bishop of Bristol, entered as scholar of Wadham in 1650, and took his M.A. in 1653.
Walter Pope (d 1714), astronomer, was made a scholar of Wadham by the Visitors in 1648. He took his M.A. in 1652 and was a fellow of Wadham, 1651–1652. He was a half-brother of Warden Wilkins, and succeeded Rooke as professor of astronomy at Gresham College, being the third Wadham man in succession to hold the post.
Samuel Lee (1625–1691), a learned divine, “well acquainted with chemistry and physics,” was fellow of Wadham, 1649–1657, and as bursar and sub-warden of the college brought its accounts into good shape. Cromwell made him minister of St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate. Lee and Morton were friends at Wadham—Wood mentions their sharing “an urne of coines” found in a wood near Stanton St. John21—and from 1678 Lee was minister of a Congregational church at Newington Green, and so neighbor of Morton. He sailed for New England in the same summer as Morton, though in a different ship, and became minister of Bristol, Rhode Island. Morton visited him there, but declined his invitation to preach to the “spiritual beares in Rhode Island”—the Baptists.22 Lee made sage observations of political and natural phenomena in New England, which he communicated to his friend Dr. Nathaniel Grew.23
Charles Morton’s name is not found in the writings of the Wadham scientists, so far as I can discover; and he was not a member of their Oxford Philosophical Society or later a fellow of the Royal Society, although he contributed to their Philosophical Transactions24 a short paper on “The Improvement of Cornwall by Sea-Sand.” Edmund Calamy, the non-conformists’ biographer, states that Morton was “extremely valued by Dr. Wilkins for his mathematical genius”;25 but as Calamy also makes Morton a fellow of Wadham, which the records show to be incorrect, we need not take this statement too seriously.26 Still, in view of the close relationship that then existed between all members of a college, it seems hardly possible that a student in a small academic community of fifty or sixty members, where scientific tastes were encouraged by the authorities, can have failed to receive guidance and inspiration. Scientific enthusiasm ran so high at Wadham that it spread even to the servants. Christopher Brooke the manciple, whose ingenuity was encouraged by Warden Wilkins, invented a new quadrant!27
How long Charles Morton remained in residence at Wadham is not known. Possibly he was still there in July, 1654, when John Evelyn visited Oxford; “supped at a magnificent entertainment in Wadham Hall, invited by my dear and excellent friend Dr. Wilkins”; met “that miracle of a youth Mr. Christopher Wren”; and, later, “dined with that most obliging and universally-curious Dr. Wilkins at Wadham College,” by whom he was shown a variety of “dials, perspectives, and many other artificial, mathematical, and magical curiosities, a way-wiser, a thermometer, a monstrous magnet, conic and other sections, a balance on a demi-circle; most of them his own….”28
But Morton was probably absent on that interesting occasion; for his latest biographer believes that he is identical with the Charles Morton who was vicar of Takeley, Essex, in February, 1652/53.29 The Church of England at this time was Presbyterian, and Morton, as a recent Oxford M.A. and a Puritan, was a likely candidate for an ecclesiastical living.
If our Morton was identical with the Charles Morton who was vicar of Takeley, he did not remain there long; for in 1655 the Presbyterian party in the parish of Blisland, Cornwall, ejected the then incumbent, and installed Charles Morton. Blisland was only six or seven miles from Pendavy, the seat of the Kestells, where Morton had spent part of his childhood. At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, these Blisland proceedings were naturally declared void, and a new rector was installed.30
For a time Morton lived at St. Ives, where his father had been rector, in a small tenement of his own, and preached privately to a few people from a neighboring village until 1666. Losses from the Great Fire of London then made it expedient that he move thither in order to take care of his property.31
During the next nine years there is but one trace of Morton’s movements. On April 12, 1672, he was licensed to preach at his home in Kennington, a suburb of London.32 This meant that he was acting pastor to a small neighborhood church of dissenters, as the old Puritans and others were called who refused conformity to the restored Anglican Church.
At this period the dissenters were setting up academies of higher learning where their sons, excluded from the universities by the Test Acts, could have an education of university grade. “About 1675”33 Morton opened an academy in a well-appointed house at Newington Green, in Stoke Newington, a suburb of London.
These dissenting academies, starting free from the trammels of obsolete statutes and ancient usage, were the most advanced schools of higher learning in England. They introduced the study of modern languages and gave more attention to natural science than did the universities.
Morton’s Newington Green academy was reckoned one of the best, if not the best, in England; and something more is known about it because two of Morton’s pupils, Samuel Wesley and Daniel Defoe, became famous. Both men in their writings praised Morton and the academy. Other pupils of Morton whose names are to be found in the Dictionary of National Biography are Timothy Cruso, the “golden preacher of Crutched Friars,” and John Shower, pastor at Old Jewry.34
Newington Green was the central square of an ancient village called Stoke Newington, between Highbury and Hackney. London has long since spread out and engulfed the region; but in Morton’s time it was a rural neighborhood, with many gentlemen’s country estates nearby. Wesley says that the Newington Green academy had “a fine Garden, Bowling Green, Fish-pond, and within a Laboratory, and some not inconsiderable Rarities with Air Pumps, thermometers, and all sorts of Mathematical Instruments.”35 There were about fifty students in the academy in his day, including even a few of the nobility, but on the whole, according to Wesley, rather a “republican” lot. The future rector of Epworth was shocked when a gang of his schoolmates tried out one of Master Morton’s pieces of apparatus, a speaking trumpet, bellowing forth insults to the local Anglican clergyman from a neighboring hill.
Wesley has recorded part of a doggerel rhyme that he made up of the names of some of the books that he had to study, most of which were read by Harvard students at the same period:
Et Keckermannus, tuque Hereborde Pater!
Hisce Opus immortale tuum, Venerande Cracanthorp!
Scheiblerique ingens, Smiglecijque Labor.
Carolus et Morton; Mortonius inclytus, et Tu,
Daniel Defoe complained that he missed at Newington Green the witty conversation of the universities, but he praised Morton for conducting scholastic exercises in English, and training the students in the use of their mother tongue. Another method of which Morton made great use was compiling “systems” of various arts and sciences, which his pupils copied for their own use as text-books. These, says Calamy, were “always brief and compendious,” Morton “being a declar’d Enemy to large Volumes; as he signified by that Saying which was often in his Mouth, Μεγὰ βιβλίον μεγὰ κακὸν—A great Book is a great Evil.”37 Defoe as late as 1704 preserved Morton’s system of “Politicks” and a “Manuscript of Science” which can have been none other than our Compendium Physicae.38
As an instance of Morton’s liberalism, it may be noted that he had his ministerial pupils read some of the works of John Biddle, the first English Unitarian, who was regarded as a sort of antichrist by Anglicans and dissenters alike. Young Samuel Wesley was set to translate some of Biddle’s Latin works. His pious nineteenth-century biographer thought it very fortunate that Wesley was not ruined by these “pernicious writings,” and became the founder of Methodism instead of a “cold-hearted sceptic.”39
By one of the dissenters’ historians Morton is described as a natural teacher, “a pious, learned and ingenious man, of a sweet natural temper and a generous public spirit, beloved and valued by all that knew him,”40 caring nothing for fame or money, only wishing to be allowed to teach quietly. This he was not long permitted to do. The dissenting academies were soon to suffer persecution from the authorities, egged on by the jealous universities. Masters and tutors like Morton who were graduates of Oxford and Cambridge were held by churchmen to have violated the so-called “Stamford Oath,” which they took on commencing M.A., never to teach in any university except Oxford or Cambridge;41 and efforts were made to inflict the pains and penalties of perjury on them for a technical violation of an academic oath which had been regarded as a joke for three centuries. Local magistrates, eager to curry favor with the government, harassed the dissenting academies for petty violations of the law; spite suits and all the means of persecution that a dominant group has at its disposal to molest an unpopular minority were used to discourage these excellent institutions of learning. Edward Veel, sometime student of Christ Church and fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, was so harassed by the authorities that he gave up his academy at Stepney in 1680; Morton held out five years longer. He was excommunicated, apprehended on a capias, and placed in custody, from which he escaped through the death of the officer in charge of him.42 He made an excellent defense against violating the oath, pointing out that the Church had never objected to Oxford graduates lecturing in houses of the nobility, or publicly at Gresham College; and that the dissenting academies pretended to none of the privileges of universities, such as conferring degrees.43 The protection of powerful friends obtained him a certain respite; but at length he became “so infested with Processes from the Bishops Court” that when a new opportunity arose for usefulness overseas, he embraced it eagerly and sailed for New England. Had he held out two years more, the Declaration of Indulgence of James II (1687) would have protected him and given the Newington Green academy a new lease of life.44
The First Church in Charlestown, one of the oldest churches in the Bay Colony, was without a pastor in 1685 because of the death of Thomas Shepard, third of that name. The church decided to give Charles Morton a tentative call; and on August 4 Increase Mather, on the strength of having met Morton on a journey from the West Country to London many years before, wrote him in England, enclosing an invitation from Samuel Nowell of Charlestown. From the tenor of Morton’s reply, it seems that Mather also intimated that the Harvard presidency was vacant. That important office had been going begging ever since President Hoar had been driven out of it by a tutor-and-student strike in 1675. Urian Oakes had been prevailed upon to take it after long holding back; but he died in 1681. John Rogers took it the next year, and died in 1684. After a year’s vacancy and several offers and refusals, Increase Mather consented to act as president pro tempore in June, 1685, but continued to reside in Boston and minister to his church there. The college was in a “low and languishing state” with a mere handful of students, and much wanted the invigoration of a good scholar and administrator who would give his undivided attention to the job.
Morton replied to Mather on October 10, 1685, that he was ready to serve God in New England in any capacity he might; and that as a pledge of good will he was sending out as bearer of the letter his nephew Nicholas Morton to finish his education at Harvard College.45 It was some months before Charles Morton (now turned sixty) could put his affairs in order, wind up the Newington Green academy, and leave for New England; but he was ready to sail in April, 1686, and arrived at Boston about the first day of June.46 With him were his wife, his daughter Mary, his nephew Charles (a physician), and a young disciple, Samuel Penhallow, who had an appointment from the New England Company to do missionary work among the Indians. John Dunton, the Boston bookseller, writes that “the News of his Arrival was received here with Extraordinary Joy by the People in general.”47
Henry Horsey of Newington Green (from whose letter we glean these facts), and Penhallow in his autobiography48 agree that Morton came over with the Harvard presidency “in prospect”; and so Edward Randolph wrote home from Boston.49 Horsey added that William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley knew Morton well. The first, as has been seen, may have been an Oxford friend; and both had probably seen much of him on their missions to England, for Massachusetts delegates were always well received and entertained by their dissenting brethren in the Old Country.
During the twelve months that elapsed between Mather’s invitation and Morton’s arrival, the posture of affairs in New England had changed. The Massachusetts Bay charter had been vacated, and it was assumed that the college charter went with it: “the calf died in the cow’s belly,” as it was bluntly said. Massachusetts Bay was combined with other colonies as the Dominion of New England, and ruled over by a royal governor and council. Joseph Dudley took office at Boston on May 25, 1686, as president of the Council for New England. In that juncture it would have been unwise for the Harvard Corporation to attempt the choice of a president, and presumptuous folly to elect a person so decidedly non grata to the king. President Dudley and his council dealt with the situation themselves by ordering (July 23, 1686) Increase Mather to continue as head of the college with the title of rector. So Morton accepted the call to the church of Charlestown, and was installed as pastor on November 5, 1686. Increase Mather and Joshua Moody, who officiated on that occasion, and Judge Sewall, who was present—as on all such occasions—took it ill that Morton refused to let the attendant clerics “lay hands” on him after the New England fashion; and said so bluntly.50 But Morton conformed in all essentials to the New England way, and had a most successful ministry of twelve years, in which there were 623 baptisms and 59 admissions to full communion.51
Thus, after almost fifty years, the old neighborhood association of the Harvards and the Mortons was renewed. Charles Morton, son of John Harvard’s patron and rector, was now pastor of John Harvard’s church. He did not, however, live in John Harvard’s old house, which was occupied by the widow of the previous pastor, Thomas Shepard.52 Morton, who seems to have been comfortably well off at all periods of his life, built himself a new parsonage. In October, 1691, Judge Sewall dined there with Mr. and Mrs. Morton shortly after they had moved in. At the table were the Reverend and Mrs. Joshua Moody, the Reverend James Allen (a contemporary of Morton at Oxford), the Reverend John Bailey and his son, and Lady Phips.53
Morton seemed to fit himself in snugly with his New England neighbors. Edward Randolph considered him one of the “faction” or gang who refused complete submission to the new royal government of Andros. In a memorable sermon preached in September, 1687, Morton assured the people of Charlestown that “the rulers of Jerusalem were unjustly set aside,” the old colony charter was still valid, and “it would not be long before God restored their ancient Magistrates.”54 In consequence he was ordered by the council to attend and answer for “seditious expressions and a seditious sermon,” and bound over in £500 to take his trial at the next Superior Court.55 The trial was held in Boston because the authorities believed that, as they expressed it, “there were not honest men enough in Middlesex” to put Mr. Morton away. Nevertheless, the Boston jury acquitted him of sedition, to the great delight of those whom Randolph called the “factious rabble.”56 On Morton the effect was to enhance his popularity, and to identify him completely with this transatlantic community that he had joined so late in life.
It was perhaps fortunate that Morton did not obtain the college presidency. Eminently qualified as he was, in learning, by experience, and by reason of his “excellent sweet natural temper” and “loving and generous spirit,”57 he might have found the college a cross, not a crown to his career. The last imported president, Leonard Hoar, who dreamed of making Harvard the New-World home of experimental science, found the Harvard students impossible to manage. Harvard was in good hands under two able young tutors, John Leverett and William Brattle (Mather being largely a figurehead and long absent in England). Through his Compendium Physicae and his residence at Charlestown, where he could always be consulted on scientific and theological topics, Morton became a great and salutary influence on the college without having the burden and vexation of the presidency.
Morton had brought over a set of his manuscript outlines with him,58 and the Compendium Physicae seems to have been adopted at Harvard shortly after his arrival. The title page of one of the earliest copies contains the date 1687, and the theses physicae on the Harvard Commencement broadside that year prove that the Compendium had already affected the scientific outlook at Harvard for the better. Of the thirty-seven theses physicae in 1687—eight of them marked for debate—several can be traced directly to Morton’s Compendium:
Gravitas est vix attractrix terrae.
Radii luminosi sunt corporei.
From the same source are several of the others:
Corpora densa lucem reddunt, minus densa imbibunt.
Generatio est principium Corruptionis.
Pisces respirant per attractionem & remissionem aeris.
Sonus nihil aliud est, nisi motus corporis realis.
From this time on, the modern note prevails in Harvard Commencement theses physicae; they deal with heat, light, motion, gravity, magnetism, the conservation of matter, mechanics, and other topics of experimental science. Morton’s Compendium was copied and recopied by students; it is found in the programme of studies in 1723; and several copies are found with marks of Harvard and Yale ownership at an even later date. With Morton’s help, Harvard College pulled out of the bog of medieval science, and set her face toward experimental philosophy and the “century of enlightenment.”
Morton had too much of the teacher’s instinct to confine himself to the pastoral office. Penhallow and Morton’s nephew Charles, instead of enrolling at Harvard, continued under Morton’s tutelage; and these private “philosophical lectures” in the Charlestown parsonage almost led to the establishment of another private academy. “Several from the College” came to hear his lectures. But Morton soon discovered that Harvard was quite as jealous of his competition as Oxford had been. In December, 1686, after John Emerson of the sophomore class had been punished for negligence in studies, his father removed him to Mr. Morton’s. Rector Mather and the Harvard tutors then addressed a sharp letter to Morton, declaring that it would be “very offensive” to them, and “no small reflection” on him if he should “enterteyn” such students. Morton, in his kindly way, took the hint, and received no more Harvard students.59
In the successive imperfect charters under which Harvard College was governed from 1692 to 1700, Morton was either a fellow or vice-president. As fellow of the Corporation under the charter of 1692, he attended every meeting but three. He was named vice-president in the charter of 1696, which the Corporation rejected; and he was named vice-president in the charter of 1697, but, doubtless from declining health, attended but one meeting.60 The only action associated with his name in the college records was the introduction at the Corporation meeting of October 2, 1693, of a discussion on the question, “How may the Colledge be made greater and better?” After his proposals had been read and considered, Morton, Leverett, and Brattle were appointed a committee “to make A Model, and to draw up Som proposalls for the Enlargment of the Colledge by new buildings.”61 Their report has not been found; not improbably it started the movement which resulted in the building of Stoughton College in 1699 as a gift of Morton’s old friend, William Stoughton.
This movement for a bigger and better Harvard had already been debated at the Cambridge Ministerial Association which Morton had founded, and of which he was one of the leading spirits. Over thirty years before, as vicar of Blisland in Cornwall, he had been secretary of an association of Cornish ministers. The book of records, ending in 1659, Morton brought over with him to Charlestown, and as the greater part of the pages were still blank, he used them for the records of the Cambridge Ministerial Association, which he organized at Charlestown on October 13, 1690. It included all the ministers of Boston and the neighboring towns. They met at the college about every six weeks and discussed matters of ecclesiastical and general public interest.62
Morton appears to have seen eye-to-eye with his New England colleagues on all questions, including the momentous one of witchcraft that flared up in 1692. His ideas on witchcraft did not differ from those of other educated men in England of his day and generation; he doubted not its existence; he believed that people could confederate with the Devil, and in so doing justly incurred the penalty of death; but he thought that judicial processes for the detecting of witchcraft should be conducted with great care. Since the appearance of Professor Kittredge’s book, it is no longer necessary to argue that a man of learning, cognizant of the new experimental philosophy, could take this attitude honestly and (so far as he himself could judge) consistently. Witchcraft was a phenomenon, like the phenomena of motion, heat, and light, which should not be ignored, but must be faced and investigated. The evidence of its existence was quite as strong (so far as men of that time could judge) as that for planetary motion or the molecular structure of matter. It is difficult, with our modern prepossessions, to avoid the feeling that Morton, as an English schoolmaster in touch with the latest scientific developments, should have quenched the superstitious zeal of his “bigoted” New England brethren with the cold water of scientific scepticism. Actually, the converse is true. Robert Boyle, and doubtless most of the old scientific group at Wadham College, believed in witchcraft;63 and the man responsible for the revival in witchcraft literature near the end of the century was a fellow of the Royal Society, Joseph Glanvil. His Sadducismus Triumphatus (1681) “was thought to have put the belief in apparitions and witchcraft on an unshakable basis of science and philosophy.”64 Indeed it was the people who composed what one might call the Cambridge Scientific Club of that day—Morton, Willard, Stoughton, and the Mathers—who took the keenest interest in witchcraft. If the Boston and Salem clergy had been more old-fashioned and less curious respecting phenomena, we might never have had the hangings of 1692. The fatal expansion of a neighborhood quarrel into a popular panic occurred when the “afflicted” girls of Salem Village discovered that their antics obtained attention and publicity for themselves from the leading intellectuals of the province.65
The prelude to the Salem frenzy was the Goodwin witchcraft case in Boston in 1688. Morton was one of the five or six ministers who concerned themselves with curing the afflicted children by fasting and prayer;66 and he was one of the four who signed the preface to Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft (Boston, 1689), which described the Goodwin case and others.67 Although no causal connection between this tract and the Salem Village outbreak of 1692 can be proved, there is some reason to suspect that Ann Putnam and the other young exhibitionists who started the trouble in Essex County had heard the Goodwin case talked about, and that the Reverend Samuel Parris, whose bungling handling of the case contributed greatly to its spread, supposed that he was playing the rôle of exorcist that had been successfully assumed in Boston by Cotton Mather, Willard, Moody, and Morton. In the Salem frenzy, Morton seems to have played a quiescent or discreet part. If he attempted to restrain the intemperate zeal of his old friend Stoughton, the presiding justice, it is not on record; but he did share in Increase Mather’s successful, if somewhat belated, effort to apply the brakes. On August 1, 1692, after six women had been hanged as witches, the Cambridge Ministerial Association debated the question of “spectral evidence,” largely upon which the unfortunate women were condemned; and voted against its use except as corroborative evidence. In their belief the Devil could so possess one of his victims as to accuse a totally innocent person of tormenting the victim.68 A little quick action to impress that doctrine on the Salem court would have saved much innocent blood; but the pack was now howling after victims, and even ministers had to watch their steps very carefully in order not to find themselves on the path that led up Gallows Hill.
As a result of the ministerial meeting of August 1, Increase Mather wrote Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits, which was read and endorsed by the Ministerial Association on October 3,69 promptly laid before Governor Phips, and printed before the end of the year. This tract had a strong, if not a decisive, influence in inducing Governor Phips to put a stop to the proceedings. The special court met again in January, 1693, but without the use of spectral evidence all the prosecutions failed, and the frenzy subsided.70
One would suppose that after the witchcraft fever had run its course, the more enlightened men in the community would have let the supernatural alone, at least for a time. On the contrary, the Cambridge Ministers’ Association, in the winter of 1693–1694, issued a new set of “Proposals for the Recording of Illustrious Providences.”71 Although this seems to have been a particular pet of the Mathers, Morton, Leverett, and Brattle signed it, and the “Proposals” went out to the ministers of New England as from the Harvard Corporation.
Ten years before, Increase Mather had expressed the hope that a natural history of New England might be written “according to the rules and method” described by Robert Boyle.72 The Royal Society was keen to get weather reports, bills of mortality, and data on fauna and flora from New England. Yet these “Proposals” of 1694 are little more than an invitation to gather ghost stories and accounts of violent intervention of Divine Providence in the universe. It is to the credit of the ministers of New England that very few paid any attention to this ancestor of the questionnaires that clog our mail nowadays.
Charles Morton was named vice-president of Harvard College in the draft charter passed by the General Court on June 4, 1697.73 He was present at the first meeting of the new Harvard Corporation on July 13; but was unable to attend again. Judge Sewall had already noted Morton’s shortness of breath at the funeral of Thomas Graves, on June 1—he sat, panting, on a tomb in the old Charlestown burying place, and “said, for ought he knew, he should be next.”74 The following January he took to his bed and never left it alive. The mildly macabre details of his death on April 11, 1698, are recorded by Sewall in his diary, where they may be read by the curious.75 The funeral on April 14 was attended by Lieutenant-Governor Stoughton and about twelve councillors; scholars of Harvard College preceded the hearse to the burying-ground, and the pall-bearers were President Mather and five other ministers.
Simon Bradstreet, Morton’s successor in the Charlestown pulpit, composed a Latin inscription and epitaph76 for him, which was preserved in writing as a good specimen of New England Latin epigraphy long after the tombstone had disappeared. His will left £50 to Harvard College and the rest of his estate in Charlestown and in Cornwall to his nephews Charles and John and his niece Mary Morton.77
SACRÆ & SEMPITERNÆ MEMORIÆ
REVERENDI PLURIMÙM ET CLARISSIMI VIRI
Dom. CAROLI MORTONI,
ECCLESIÆ CHARLESTONIENSIS PASTORIS INSTRUCTISSIMI:
NEC NON COLLEGII HARVARDINI VICE PRÆSID. PRIMI ÆQUE AC
INSIGNITER IN OMNI
LITERARUM GENERE VERSATIL,
VIRI DENIQUE; TUM IN ANGLIA, (UBI NATUS FUIT ET MAXIMÈ
FLORUIT) TUM IN NOV-ANGLIA
(UBI SENILIS OBIIT) PERMULTIS NOMINIBUS CELEBRANDI.
QUI VITA HAC ÆRUMNOSÂ PROBÈ DEFUNCTUS, APRIL DIE XI.
ANNO D. MDCXCVIII
ÆTATIS SUÆ LXXII
EX PARTE SUI IMMORTALI AC NOBILISSIMÂ IN CÆLIS TRIUMPHAT: EX ALTERA VERÒ, CORRUPTIBILI SCILICET, IN HOC MONUMENTO PAULISPER QUIESCIT; EXPECTANS DUM VOCEM AUDIERIT FILII DEI, QUA REVOCATUS A MORTE IN VITAM VERÈ VITALEM QUAM GLORIOSUS IN ETERNUM REGNABIT.
INCLYTA MORTONUS MUSARUM GLORIA QUONDAM
ET SACER ETERNI REGIS LEGATUS JESU
POST VARIOS CASUS, POST FUNERA MULTA SUORUM
SIC CADIT IN CINERES RESOLUTUS AB HOSTE SUPREMO,
UT DOMINI VIRTUTE SUI VICTRICE RESURGENS
GAUDEAT ÆTERNIS, ABSORPTA MORTE, TRIUMPHIS.