THE SPIRIT AND POETRY OF EARLY NEW ENGLAND
by Paul Elmer More
It is, I know, the teaching of a certain school of scientific historians that the changes of civilization are produced by large impersonal laws under whose sway the will of the individual sinks into insignificance. That theory is, perhaps, not quite so common now as it was a few years ago. And surely, if any great event can be referred to the character of individual men, it was the crime of the seventeenth century in England, with its consequent train of evils. In that month of spring in the year 1603 when James Stuart was riding south to take up his crown in London, a prophetic eye might have foreseen the troubles he and his son were to cause. On the way the so-called Millenary Petition was presented to him by a band of moderate and conforming Puritans, who desired only a few unimportant changes in the service and Prayer Book; one of the first acts of James at Hampton Court was to deny the Petition and to abuse the petitioners with a threat to "harry them out of the land." After that the history of England for two generations was a series of ifs, depending on the actions of a small group of men. Thus, if Prince Henry, with his objection to a Catholic marriage, had not imprudently overheated himself on the tennis court, and so left the throne to his brother Charles; if Charles at the beginning of his reign had not been bribed to accept the Petition of Right and so to bind his hands; if Wentworth had been kept in England to raise a standing army, instead of being called back from Ireland when too late, and if Henrietta Maria by meddling with the soldiers had not brought him to the scaffold; if Charles had married a Protestant instead of a Bourbon princess; if he had chosen a wiser prelate than Laud; if he had not attempted to seize the five members of Parliament, or had planned the attempt more secretly; if the navy had not been wantonly alienated;- If, in a word, James and Charles had not been at once so obstinate and so weak, either they might have succeeded in establishing, for a time at least, a monarchy like that raised in France on the ruin of the Fronde and the Reformation, or they might have guided their people through a bloodless and healthy revolution. But for the fanaticism of the King the opposing fanaticism of Pym and Lilburne and Cromwell would never have come to the top, crashing between them the moderate men who were the real strength and, in the end, the salvation of England. And so I, for one, cannot look back upon that period without shuddering at its passion of violent extremes, and without a feeling of amazement that so much evil in the world can be traced to the temper of a few fanatics who, by the whim of Fortune, had the destiny of the English people in their hands.
Old England, though her richer and completer development was perhaps forever marred by the harsh divisions of that age, did nevertheless in a manner quickly shake herself into balance. But we must remember that the New England colonists, driven from their homes by the Laudian persecution, came almost exclusively from one of the national factions. They did not bring with them the full temper of the English people, or even that part of its character which has given us Chaucer and Shakespeare and Dryden and Swift and Johnson and Byron and Tennyson. Their poetry therefore must be criticised, not as belonging to the main current of English literature, but as a slender branch, so to speak, running to one side, and deprived of the broader nourishment of tradition. It is the prolongation of a mood that had been tortured into excess by the goading stings of Accident; nor must we forget that at home under the sway of this same mood the imagination was distrusted, the theatres were closed, the picture collections of Charles dispersed or destroyed, the churches made barren of their beauty, the courtly poets silenced or driven into obscure places - that the land was for a time, in the language of Stratford, "frequent in combustions, full of massacres and the tragical ends of princes."
It would be unjust, of course, to say that with this iconoclasm all the charm of life was banished by the Puritans. Even leaving out of account the supreme achievement of Milton, no one can go through the writings of these men without finding passages that have a grace entirely their own. One recalls, for instance, the scene in Bunyan's pilgrimage, when Christian, having twice climbed the Hill Difficulty, comes to the Palace Beautiful, and is there entertained by the maidens Piety, Prudence, and Charity. "Thus they discoursed together till late at night," the narrative proceeds, "and after they had committed themselves to their Lord for protection, they betook themselves to rest. The Pilgrim they laid in a large upper chamber, whose window opened towards the sunrising; the name of the chamber was Peace, where he slept till break of day; and then he awoke and sang." I shall not repeat the words of the Pilgrim's song, for Bunyan, with all his genius, endured the confinement of Bedford Gaol better than the shackles of rhyme; but no candid reader will fail to respond to the peculiar beauty of that chamber of peace. In this chastened loveliness, won by the exclusion of a whole half of life, the Puritan literature is not wanting. One foresees in it much that long afterwards will charm the ear in the poems of Longfellow and Whittier.
And in one respect the Puritans brought no diminution to the field of art and literature, but effected rather a return to the main line of tradition from which England for a while had been partially diverted by the seductions of the Renaissance. I mean that sense of something central and formative in man, of character as distinguished from the mere portrayal of unrelated passions, which was so lamentably lacking in most of the dramatists, and which since the advent of Puritanism has been the chief honour of British letters.... it is highly important to remember this positive side of Puritanism when reckoning up the devastating effects of its rigid and combative morality on the imagination.
Now the very conditions of existence in New England exaggerated the seclusions of the half-civilization which the people brought over with them in their exile. Not only were the colonists withdrawn from contact with the secular tradition which makes itself so deeply felt in the art of a Milton, but the inevitable hardships of their state intensified their belief that life is a perpetual battle with the powers of evil, to whom no concession must be granted. In the dark unredeemed forests that surrounded them there lurked tribes of savage people whose appearance and habits were such as to warrant the notion that here indeed Satan was unchained and held undisputed sway. One of the first voyagers to the new continent, William Strachey, carried back this report of devil worship to credulous ears. "There is yet in Virginia," he wrote in 1618, "no place discovered so savadge and simple, in which the inhabitants have not a religion and the use of bow and arrows. All things they conceive able to do them hurt beyond their prevention, they adore with their kind of divine worship, as the fire, water, lightning, thunder, our ordinaunce pieces, horses, etc.; but their chief god they worship is no other, indeed, than the devill, whom they make presentments of, and shadow under the form of an idol, which they entitle Okeus." Naturally the settlers, looking out into the infinite wilderness, saw visions of dread and heard sounds of preternatural portent. Even the redoubtable Captain John Smith was sufficiently troubled to express his apprehensions in doggerel rhyme:
But his waking mind in hideous dreams did oft see wondrous shapesThis may have been a passing sentiment in Virginia, but in Massachusetts it became a rooted conviction. It is the excuse, if any excuse be possible, for the wild delusion of witchcraft that for a time drove the leaders of Boston and Salem into a mania of fear and persecution. "The New Englanders," wrote Cotton Mather, "are a people of God settled in those which were once the devil's territories.... An army of devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the centre and, after a sort, the first-born of our English settlements; and the houses of the good people there are fill'd with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants, tormented by invisible hands, with tortures altogether preternatural." If we were discussing the prose of America as well as the poetry,, we should find in the after-effects of this superstition, this deisidaimonia in the true sense of the word, turned now from a religious conviction into a kind of haunting mood of the imagination, the sources of Hawthorne's dark psychology and no small part of that awe which Thoreau felt in the presence of the mountains and lonely forests.
Meanwhile we can see something of its influence in contracting the poetry of the colonists within still narrower bounds of religions sentiment. The first volume printed in this country, was the Bay Psalm Book, translated from the Hebrew by Richard Mather, Thomas Welde, and John Eliot in 1640. In the preface Mather made this candid statement: "If therefore the verses are not alwayes so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect, let them consider that God's altar needs not pollishings." And indeed the polishings are conspicuous by their absence, as any specimen of this notable book will show. For instance, the great nineteenth Psalm is thus rendered for the satisfaction of the faithful:
The heavens doe declareIt would not be easy outside of Puritanism to find a great religion divesting itself so heroically not only of the smoothness and elegance but of the manifold traditions of life. But if the oracles of God were thus delivered through the nose, they could convey the menace of wrath as well as the upliftings of holiness. Perhaps the best known of the early New England poets is that Michael Wigglesworth who, for one fearless theological line, has obtained a kind of immortality in obloquy. Possibly a few of my readers will be unacquainted with Master Wigglesworth's picture of the terrors of the damned, when God at the Day of Doom has pronounced judgment upon them, and a merciful Christ has begun to consume the universe in fire:
Then might you hear them rend and tearSay what one will, there is a grim sincerity in these lines which lifts them out of the commonplace and gives them something of the ring of poetry; and after all, if you are going to depict an eternal hell, there's no use in being finicky about the benevolence of your deity. It is only when our prophet of the New World vouchsafes to make concessions to human sympathy that he becomes odious. You know the words with which the Almighty Judge is supposed to condemn the little pleading souls of unbaptized infants:
You sinners are, and such a shareWe shudder at that concession, "the easiest room in hell"; it really is odious. And yet, again, if we are to permit logic to deal with these matters, what possible difference does it make whether those chosen by God of His own free will for eternal damnation pass into this state after a few days of life or after many years? In either case their evil fate was imposed upon them at their birth. The only condemnation we can pronounce upon Wigglesworth is that, having allowed his natural human emotions to enter into the question at all, he stopped short halfway and did not revolt from the whole logical scheme of Calvinistic theology. I am disposed to feel a certain respect for this doggerel Dante of the New England meetinghouse; though his power of expression was crude, there is in him, as in Jonathan Edwards and others of the line, an appalling energy and straightforwardness of the imagination. And if a late New Englander, Oliver Wendell Holmes, thought no decent man could really hold the doctrine of free grace and election without going mad, we must remember that Wigglesworth spoke the honest and deep-rooted conviction of his contemporaries - and they were not mad. And there is this, too, to be said for his unflinching sense of the awful consequences of sin, that it bears on the actual problems of life. One recalls that story of a farmer of the present day who was asked by a troubled clergyman why the village churches were left empty, and who replied with Yankee candour and shrewdness: "Wall, sir, I callate it is about like this: since you preachers have stopped preaching hell fire, we country folk have made up our minds that we might as well take our chances on t'other world."
But if the older theological taste had about it a prevailing odour of the pit, we must not infer that life in the colonies, gray in colour though it may have been, was entirely bleak and without those chambers towards the sunrise. Much of the verse produced may have been of the kind described by Captain Edward Johnson:
From silent night true Register of moans,Much of the verse produced was of this nasal quality; but not all. Cotton Mather, he of the witchcraft fame, tells of a certain friend whose custom it was, "when he first arose in the morning, to repair into his study: a study well perfumed with the meditations and supplications of an holy soul." Can any scholar to-day hear that sentence without a thrill of envy at the thought of the long uninterrupted hours which those old divines contrived to pass in the earnest and unrepentant searching of mighty books? Ah, that study well perfumed with the meditations and supplications of an holy soul-how many a student of our age, distracted by the multitude of conflicting intellectual interests, disturbed by doubts of the value of learning in itself, when he enters his work-room of a morning, can breathe that atmosphere of assured content, as it were the palpable memory greeting him of similar days past? And this quiet satisfaction of a life devoted to retired scholarship and public teaching found due expression in literature. Nothing is more characteristic of the prose and poetry of the day than the innumerable eulogies of good men and women, to some of which the pax theologica lends an element of passionate sincerity. One of the best known of these is Urian Oakes's Elegy on the Death of Thomas Shepard, a saintly minister of Charlestown, who died in 1677. A few of the concluding stanzas will indicate the quality of the piece:
If to have solid judgment, pregnant parts,We need not magnify the virtues of such an elegy as this, which would in fact appear poor enough if compared with Milton's superb lines on the reception of Edward King into the
... solemn troops, and sweet societies,or with Cowley's learned lament for his Cambridge companion in philosophy. Yet we shall miss the truth if we fail to discover in Oakes's less polished muse the charm of a friendship built upon a sure sympathy in the hopes of the spirit. As he himself wrote in one of the Latin verses whose elegance won the applause of his contemporaries,
Parvum parva decent, sed inest sua gratia parvis.From these by-products of the theological laboratory we may turn aside to say something of the first and most ambitious of the professional poets of the age, the stupendous Anne Bradstreet, whose volume of verse was heralded to the world with this overwhelming title-page:
The Tenth Muse lately sprung up in America; or Several Poems, compiled with great variety of wit and learning, full of delight; wherein especially is contained a complete discourse and description of the four elements, constitutions, ages of man, seasons of the years; together with an exact epitome of the four monarchies, viz., the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman; also, a dialogue between Old England and New concerning the late troubles; with divers other pleasant and serious poems. By a gentlewoman in those parts. Printed at London, for Stephen Bowtell, at the sign of the Bible, in Pope's Head Alley, 1650.Well, Mistress Anne was in sooth a memorable and characteristic figure of the New World. Though born and married in England, she migrated at the early age of eighteen to this country, and through her children became the fountain head of one of the purest streams of the so-called Brahminism. One of her descendants was Richard Henry Dana, another Oliver Wendell Holmes. John Norton of Hingham, ancestor of the present Nortons and Adamses, whose line also was to intermarry with the Eliots, gave vent to his admiration of the dead poetess in resounding couplets:
Virtue ne'er dies: time will a poet raise,I do not know that time has yet raised a poet to celebrate her works to the taste of the pastor of Hingham, but one of his descendants, the late Charles Eliot Norton, edited the poems of the matchless gentlewoman, and in his introduction wrote of her character in his most genial vein.
All, indeed, that we know of Anne Bradstreet from contemporary sources and from her own autobiographical sketch justifies us in revering her as one of those large-minded women of the seventeenth century who managed somehow, in ways that seem inexplicable to their daughters, to combine the manifold cares of a household with indefatigable study and sober unhurried reflection. But the outpourings of her muse, it must be acknowledged, remind us too forcibly of one of her own aphorisms: "A ship that bears much sail, and little or no ballast, is easily overset." She is seen perhaps at her best in such stanzas as these:
I heard the merry grasshopper then sing,Professor Barrett Wendell, who quotes these stanzas, remarks aptly that in seventeenth-century New England the author "stands alone, without forerunners or followers; and if you compare her poetry with that of the old country, you will find it very much like such then antiquated work as the Nosce Teipsum of Sir John Davies, published in 1599, the year which gave us the final version of Romeo and Juliet." The female prodigy of New England, in fact, belongs to that strain of literary Puritanism which is more distinctly British than American, and which was already becoming outworn in the old home.
The names of Mrs. Bradstreet's more poetical descendants serve to remind us how intimately all this New England society was knit together, and how its spirit was handed down from generation to generation as a kind of family possession. Her own contemporary fame may call our attention to the fact that women played no inconsiderable part in creating the peculiar tone of the New World literature. And their influence was felt in two ways. In the first place that sturdiness and uprightness of character, which was one of the great, the very great, compensations of Puritanism, not only made itself heard in the eulogies pronounced over those who died in the harness of virtue, but was active in the family relations of the living. Saintliness, I know, does not invariably make for comfort. Sometimes the Puritan hardness of character dominated too tyranically the softer traits of affection and compliance, bringing what might be called a desolation of sanctity into the home. But there were other households - and these I believe the majority - in which the tenderness to every duty, the sense of due subordination, the competence of training, the repose of a clear conscience, must have evoked an atmosphere of serene and equitable joy. The very discipline of the passions, the renunciation of the wider sweep of human experience, would put a stamp of sacredness on those chaster pleasures which knit a family together in contented unison. In a way all of New England may be said to have been snow-bound, in creed as well as in climate, but in the shelter of the hearth there was warmth for the body and there was comfort for the soul. Whittier was recalling a the incident of his childhood, and was writing also an allegory of New England's inner life, when he described that night of storm and snow:
Shut in from all the world without,One can find in the older literature abundant evidence of these protected comforts of the home. Take for instance Cotton Mather's life of John Eliot. There, if anywhere, you have one of the stalwarts. So diligent was Eliot in study that he took to sleeping in his library, in order that he might get to his beloved books at some unearthly hour in the morning without disturbing the household. So fervid was he in piety that he is described as "perpetually 'jogging the wheel of prayer.'" Now the habit of perpetually jogging the wheel of prayer does not, I admit, sound alluring to our modern unsanctified ears; the appearance of a reverend jogger in our parlour would probably cause a little constraint, but then - other times other manners. And of Eliot we are assured by his biographer that "he was indeed sufficiently pleasant and witty in company, and he was affable and facetious in conversation." His affability, I doubt not, was only a part of the large charity of his nature. When an old man he said to one who questioned him about his state: "Alas, I have lost everything; my understanding leaves me, my memory fails me, my utterance fails me; but, I thank God, my charity holds out still; I find that rather grows than fails!" And his charity and affability, as well as his prayerfulness, were exercised at home, as sometimes in this strange world they are not. Of his relations with his wife it is said: "His whole conversation with her had that sweetness, and that gravity and modesty beautifying it, that every one called them Zachary and Elizabeth." The biographer continues: "God made her a rich blessing, not only to her family, but also to her neighborhood; and when she died, I heard and saw her aged husband, who else very rarely wept, yet now with tears over the coffin, before the good people, a vast confluence of which were come to her funeral, say, 'Here lies my dear, faithful, pious, prudent, prayerful wife; I shall go to her, and she not return to me.'" These are the commonplaces of life, you may think, and perhaps they are, although I am not sure that peace and self-control are ever quite commonplace; but it is just these softer aspects of the old New England that we are likely to forget.
Now in the making of this home spirit the women naturally played an important role. Thomas Shepard, for example, he whose own elegy was sung so enthusiastically by Urian Oakes, had written a Character of Mistress Joanna Shepard, his wife, wherein he had portrayed her as "a woman of incomparable meekness of spirit, toward myself especially, and very loving; of great prudence to take care for and order my family affairs, being neither too lavish nor sordid in anything, so that I knew not what was under her hands. She had an excellency to reprove sin, and discern the evils of men." Incomparable meekness of spirit may not be precisely the sort of eulogy a modern wife would desire in her epitaph, however some husbands might desire it in her life - but, again, other times other manners. And if one is inclined to shudder a little at the thought of her excellency to reprove sin and discover the evils of men, one may suspect that this sharp-edged knowledge was useful in protecting her bookish and busy husband from the inroads of fraudulent beggars and evil mischief-makers. At any rate one may be certain that the house of Mistress Joanna Shepard much resembled the Palace Beautiful of Bunyan, where the maidens Piety, Prudence, and Charity kept watch and ward, and where there was a large upper chamber of peace whose window opened towards the sunrising. Certainly also the peaceful affections of home, the cool and quiet places of rest out of the turmoil of the world's contentions, came to be a marked trait of New England literature. There are traces of it in the early poets; in the works of Whittier and Longfellow it was to blossom into something exceedingly precious, however it may lack the more dazzling qualities of the imagination. The other side of this truth is that you will find no love poetry, as the word is commonly understood, in those primitive days - at least I know of none - and there is a minimum of it in the later age. That is an extraordinary fact, when you stop to think of it, and to some may seem a sad lack. Let such critics turn elsewhere; heaven knows the erotic Muse has been vocal enough in other sections of the world. For my part I still prefer James Russell Lowell's Under the Willows to the self-advertised passion of a certain living poetess who bears his family name.
That was one way in which the influence of women was felt. In another way they brought not peace but conflict into colonial life. The orthodoxy of the New England church was of a hard Calvinistic hue; it was eminently logical and intellectual, the creation and delight of strong men who, however they may have been possessed by a "boiling zeal" for saving souls, yet, like John Cotton, thought twelve hours of continuous study a "scholar's day" and true service to God. Against the virility, and one must add rigidity, of this religious dominion there were inevitably, almost from the beginning, movements of revolt. And it was natural that the good women of the colony should be conspicuous in rebellion as well as in meekness. Not all the great men of the land were as fortunate in their helpmates as were Thomas Shepard and John Eliot. In Winthrop's History of New England from 1630 to 1649 there is an amusing story of one woman to whom much, and not a little, learning was a dangerous thing. "Mr. Hopkins, the governor of Hartford upon Connecticutt," we there read, "came to Boston, and brought his wife with him (a godly woman, and of special parts), who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason, which had been growing upon her divers years, by reason of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband, being very loving and tender of her, was loath to grieve her; but he saw his error, when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper to men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits." I do not know by what stages this learned lady fell into her sad infirmity, but I suspect she betook herself to her books as a refuge from her spouse, the worthy governor, of whom it is related "that he frequently fell a bleeding at the nose, through the agony of spirit with which he laboured in them [his prayers]." Neither do I know what was in her many books - even the all-embracing Tyler does not mention them - but my guess is that she wrote verse and tampered with the man-made mysteries of religion.
At least this second form of audacity was what brought trouble between another "godly woman" and the rulers of the State. The story of the conflict may be read in Thomas Welde's Heresies of Anne Hutchinson, from which it would appear that this strong-minded female had the pious, and in those days obligatory, habit of going regularly to meeting, but added the very bad habit of collecting a company of critical folk after service and of expounding to them the sermon in a spirit of contumely and contradiction. Now the colonists had a high sense of the value of liberty, as was natural in men who had suffered so much in its cause - so high a sense that, in the words of Governor Winthrop, they would have it only "maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority." But this was not the view of Anne Hutchinson and her coterie. Liberty to them meant the freedom of the individual, not to follow the truth, but to choose the truth; it was the kind described by Winthrop as making "men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores," and as "that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it."
We will not now enter into the question of truth as it lay between the preachers of the Commonwealth and Mistress Hutchinson, but there is no doubt of the fact that her manner of prophesying did not bring peace. The result of her lectures among the women is thus denounced by Thomas Welde:
Now, oh their boldness, pride, insolency, alienations from their old and dearest friends, the disturbances, divisions, contentions they raised amongst us, both in church and State, and in families, setting division between husband and wife! . . .And it was not only against the persons of the clergy that Anne Hutchinson lifted her terrible prophetic voice; she struck at the very dogmatic centre of their authority. She lays a profane hand on the intellectual and traditional basis of theology;- as the horrified author of the Wonder-Working Providence exclaimed: she is a "woman that preaches better than any of your black-coats that have been at the Ninneversity." Her heresy is analysed at length by Thomas Welde, but it is really summed up in the single charge: "This witness of the Spirit is merely immediate, without any respect to the word, or any concurrence with it." That is to say, she was sent into exile for teaching exactly what two centuries after-wards was to be the doctrine of Emerson's essays and Whittier's most exquisite work. Her proclamation of the witness speaking in the breast of each man, and requiring no confirmation from revealed book or ordained interpreter, was a signal of the course to be pursued by her people, starting with rebellion against institutions and rites and ending in rejection of all authority and tradition and the very principle of organization. She was the first, and remains the typical, "come-outer."
Lowell remembered these passages at arms when, in his Biglow Papers, he described the troubles caused by the townswomen of the good pastor of Jaalam:
The painful divisions in the First Parish, A.D. 1844, occasioned by the wild notions of (what Mr. Wilbur, so far as concerned the reasoning faculty, always called) the unfairer part of creation, put forth by Miss Parthenia Almira Fitz, are too well known to need more than a passing allusion. It was during these heats, long since happily allayed, that Mr. Wilbur remarked that "the Church had more trouble in dealing with one sheresiarch than with twenty heresiarchs," and that the men's conscia recti, or certainty of being right, was nothing to the women's.It is a pity, I often think, that Lowell, who could have translated Cotton Mather into puns without depriving him of his Puritan savour, lived too early to try a fling at New England's latest sheresiarch - the feminine counterpart of Emerson's refusal to face the reality of evil in the world. It remained for Whittier, who as a Quaker found it easier to give free expression to the inner voice which had supplanted the religion of reason, to do justice, or more than justice, to those feminine flails of the man-made church. Often in his ballads Whittier makes use of the heresies that filled the early divines with terror, as if in prospect of the coming dissolution of their iron-bound creeds. And it is the women of Boston who are chiefly remembered by him for introducing the leaven of rebellion. Cassandra Southwick, who was threatened with exile and slavery for entertaining Quakers and neglecting divine service, is one of his heroines. Another is Margaret Brewster, who suffered worse than threatenings for coming into the South Church barefoot and in sackcloth, and crying out against the rulers and magistrates of the town.
She shook the dust from her naked feet,So did the spirit and poetry of early New England become an inheritance; out of the strong was to come sweetness, out of the uncouth grace. It will be objected, I fear, that in my treatment of the subject I have said much of the spirit and little of the poetry of the age; but in truth poets in those days were something like the historian's snakes in Ireland: there weren't any. As the first satirist, and not the worst, of the colony, Nathaniel Ward, the Simple Cobbler of Agawam, declared:
Poetry's a gift wherein but few excel,It is rather the fashion, I am aware, among a certain coterie of enlightened critics to condemn the later poetry of New England as almost equally negligible with that of the men and women we have been considering. And indeed no rightly informed person will rank the outpourings of Concord and Cambridge with the supreme creations of the older centres of civilization. We are not likely to fall into that error of over-praise; but we may be tempted by the clamour of our emancipated youth, hailing largely from strange lands in the dark map of Europe, to miss the more fragile beauty of what after all is the fairest thing this country has produced. At its best the poetry of New England is one of the very desirable possessions of the world, and not to appreciate it is to prove one's self dulled and vulgarized by the strident conceit of modernity. It is limited no doubt, and for reasons which I have tried to set forth. But limitation is not always and altogether a vice. At least out of the limitations fixed by the origin of New England grew the peculiar attitude of the later writers towards nature, the charm of their portrayal of the less passionate affections of the home and the family, the absence of erotic appeal, the depth and sincerity, but the perilous independence also, of their religious intuition, the invincible rightness of their character. We may laugh as we will at old Wigglesworth and at the asthmatic Muse of the other Puritan divines; they have been justified of their children.
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