Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Cotton Mather, You Dog

‘Towards three a Clock in the Night, as it grew towards Morning of this Day, some unknown Hands, threw a fired Granado into the Chamber where my Kinsman lay . . . the Fuse was violently shaken out upon the Floor, without firing the Granado. When the Granado was taken up, there was found a Paper so tied with String about the Fuse, that it might out-Live the breaking of the Shell, which had these words in it; Cotton Mather, You Dog, Dam you: I’ll inoculate you with this, with a Pox to you.’ This is taken from the diary of the Puritan minister Cotton Mather who died 290 years ago today. He was a prolific and influential writer - his diary details exhaustive daily devotions as well as fearful instruction of his children - who was both a believer in old customs (such as witchcraft) and the application of scientific knowledge (for example, inoculation against diseases such as smallpox).

Mather was born in Boston in 1663 into a prominent family of Puritan ministers. He entered Harvard aged only 12, having sufficient knowledge already of Latin and Greek, and received his M.A.(from the hands of his father, who was president of the college) aged 18. He was formally ordained in 1685, becoming a colleague of his father at North Church, Boston. There he served as pastor in his father’s absences and after his father’s death in 1723. He was a prolific writer, and was well known for his books, such as Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) a miscellany of materials on the ecclesiastical history of New England. Mather became a highly influential religious leader, and he set Puritan standards for several generations to come. He was a friend of some of the judges charged with hearing the Salem witch trials. Moreover, he was an ambassador for the colony’s interests at the courts of James II and William III when its original charter was being renegotiated. He also had some influence in science, having conducted experiments with plant hybridisation and supported smallpox inoculation, and was elected a member of the Royal Society in London. He married thrice and fathered at least 15 children, although only two survived him. He died on 13 February 1728. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Mather Project or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Mather kept a diary all his adult life, but only parts of it survived through to the 20th century when it was published, for the first time, by the Massachusetts Historical Society (in two volumes) with a preface by Worthington Chauncey Ford. Both volumes are freely available at Internet Archive: one (1681-1708) and two (1709 - 1724). According to Ford, Mather’s diary is of value as ‘the record of a man of peculiar attainments, as a bibliography of a very prolific compiler and publisher, and, most of all as an important contribution to the history of the Congregational Church in Massachusetts.’ In his preface, Ford provides some details on the diary itself.

‘So far as it has been preserved, this Diary is now printed for the first time. It is far from complete, and the record for some of the most important years of the diarist’s life has been lost or destroyed. It is an account edited by himself, and comprises therefore only what he wished to have preserved for the benefit of his children. Such care also precludes the idea that Mather was not preparing a calendar of events and a record of feelings for posterity, and therefore for publication. Enough of the Diary, perhaps more than enough, remains to develop and illustrate his career, and to enable the reader to measure the man in his intentions and in his actions. While describing these he has prepared, not consciously, the material for a better comprehension of the position of church affairs in Massachusetts during his ministrations.’

The bulk of the diary is taken up by a record of the writer’s devotions and religious affairs, but in between these it does also contain many personal and social details as well. Here are several extracts, mostly from the first volume, but with the last two taken from the second volume.

11 October 1696
‘A Great Storm seem’d breeding in the Weather; but being in Distress about my Journey, I wholly left it with my Lord Jesus Christ. So I undertook my Journey to Salem, and the storm strangely held off, till my Return, which was above a week after.’

12 February 1697
‘Friday. Being this Day thirty four Years old, I sett apart this Day, for a Thanksgiving, to bee offered unto God, in my Retirements; from a sense of the great Obligations unto Thankfulness which my Life, hath now, for thirty four Years together, been filled withal.

In the former Part of the Day, tho’ I mett with much Interruption, by Company that visited mee, I did several Things, to express my Praises unto God in my Lord Jesus Christ.

I paraphrased, improved and applied, the whole Hundred and Third Psalms, on my Knees before the Lord.

I deliberately read over a Catalogue of the Divine Dispensations towards mee from the Beginning; particularly Blessing of God, on each Article.

I distinctly perused, what I have recorded, in the Year past; with grateful Reflections on each Paragraph.

And I sang such Things as were suitable.’

7 November 1697
‘Lords-Day. I took my little Daughter, Katy, into my Study; and there I told my Child, that I am to dy shortly, and shee must, when I am Dead, Remember every Thing, that I said unto her.

I sett before her, the sinful and woful Condition of her Nature, and I charg’d her, to pray in secret Places, every Day, without ceasing, that God for the Sake of Jesus Christ would give her a New Heart, and pardon Her Sins, and make her a Servant of His.

I gave her to understand, that when I am taken from her, shee must look to meet with more humbling Afflictions than shee does, now shee has a careful and a tender Father to provide for her; but, if shee would pray constantly, God in the Lord Jesus Christ, would bee a Father to her, and make all Afflictions work together for her Good.

I signified unto her, That the People of God, would much observe how shee carried herself, and that I had written a Book, about, Ungodly Children, in the Conclusion whereof I say, that this Book will bee a terrible Witness against my own Children, if any of them should not bee Godly.

At length, with many Tears, both on my Part, and hers, I told my Child, that God had from Heaven assured mee, and the good Angels of God had satisfied mee, that shee shall bee brought Home unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and bee one of His forever. I bid her use this, as an Encouragement unto her Supplications unto the Lord, for His Grace. But I therewithal told her, that if shee did not now, in her Childhood seek the Lord, and give herself up unto Him, some dreadful Afflictions must befal her, that so her Father’s Faith, may come at its Accomplishments.

I thereupon made the Child kneel down by mee; and I poured out my Cries unto the Lord, that Hee would lay His Hands upon her, and bless her and save her, and make her a Temple of His Glory. It will bee so; It will be so!

I write this, the more particularly, that the Child may hereafter have the Benefit of reading it.’

3 May 1698
This Day, my little Daughter Hannah, was taken very dangerously sick of a Feavour, with Convulsions, to such a Degree, that there was little Hope of her Life. My Lecture, with other Fatigues, coming this Week upon mee, I could not Fast and Pray y as I would have done. Yett I pray’d, and cry’d unto Heaven, for the Child, and openly and publickly, as well as privately, made this an Opportunity, to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, by the cheerful Resignation thereof unto Him. Now, behold, the Event! Resigned Enjoyments, will bee still enjoy’d. While I was Joyfully, and yett mournfully giving up the Infant unto the Lord, the Lord raised my Heart at last, unto something of a particular Faith, for its being restored unto mee. And, unto my Amazement, it came to pass accordingly.

Moreover, having written, with exceeding Pains, an Idea and History, of the Reformation, especially in the English Nation, and of the Obstructions which it has mett withal, all still asserted with Passages quoted from the Writings of conformable Divines in the Church of England; whereto, I have added, some Conjectures, of a Reformation and Revolution at hand, exceeding that in the former Century: I now sent the Manuscript, (Anonymous) by the Hand of my Brother-in-Law, to a Bookseller in London; and, if it bee published, I have a secret Hope, that it will much affect the Affayrs of the Church, in the Changes that are approaching. In this Treatise, because I distinguish the Friends of the Reformation, by the Name of Eleutherians, (while I call its Foes, Idumaeans,) for the Causes there assigned, I therefore entitled the Book, Eleutheria. Lord! Accept and prosper this my poor Endeavour to serve Thee!’

30 October 1702
‘Yesterday, I first saw my Church-History, since the Publication of it. A Gentleman arrived here, from New Castle in England, that had bought it there. Wherefore, I sett apart this Day, for solemn THANKSGIVING unto God, for His watchful and gracious Providence over that Work, and for the Harvest of so many Prayers, and Cares, and Tears, and Resignations, as I had employ’d upon it.

My religious Friend, Mr. Bromfield, who had been singularly helpful to the Publication of that great Book, (of twenty shillings price, at London,) came to me at the Close of the Day, to join with me, in some of my Praises to God.

On this Day, my little Daughter Nibby, began to fall sick of the Small-pox. The dreadful Disease, which is raging in the Neighbourhood, is now gott into my poor Family. God prepare me, God prepare me, for what is coming upon me!

The Child, was favourably visited, in comparison of what many are.

It becomes impossible for me to record much in these Memorials; the vast Numbers of the Sick among my Neighbours and the Duties which I owe to the sick in my own Family, engrossing my Time exceedingly.

It being impossible for me, to visit the many Scores of sick Families in my Neighbourhood, and yett it being my desire to visit them as far as tis possible, I composed a Sheet which I entituled, Wholesome Words, or, A Visit of Advice to Families visited with Sickness. I putt myself to the small Expence of printing it; and then dividing my Flock into three Parts, I singled out three honest Men, unto whom I committed the care of lodging a Sheet in every Family, as fast as they should hear of any falling sick in it. The Lord makes this my poor Essay, exceeding acceptable and serviceable.

The Month of November coming on, I had on my Mind, a strong Impression, to look out some agreeable Paragraph of Scripture, to be handled in my public Ministry, while the two dreadful and mortal Sicknesses, of the Small Pox, and the Scarlet Feavour, should be raging among us. After earnest Supplications to the Lord, for His Direction, I used an Action, which I would not encourage, ever to be used in any divinatory Way. I thought, I would observe, whether the first Place that occurr’d at my opening of my Bible, would prove suitable or no; or such as might carry any Intimation of angelical Direction in it. Unto my Amazement, it proved, the History of our Lords curing the sick Son of the Nobleman, in the fourth Chapter of John. I saw, that the whole Bible afforded not a more agreeable or profitable Paragraph. So, I began a course of Sermons upon it.’

14 November 1721
‘What an Occasion, what an Incentive, to have PIETY, more than ever quicken’d and shining in my Family, have I this morning been entertained withal!

My Kinsman, the Minister of Roxbury, being Entertained at my House, that he might there undergo the Small-Pox Inoculated, and so Return to the Service of his Flock, which have the Contagion begun among them;

Towards three a Clock in the Night, as it grew towards Morning of this Day, some unknown Hands, threw a fired Granado into the Chamber where my Kinsman lay, and which uses to be my Lodging-Room. The Weight of the Iron Ball alone, had it fallen upon his Head, would have been enough to have done Part of the Business designed. But the Granado was charged, the upper part with dried Powder, the lower Part with a Mixture of Oil of Turpentine and Powder and what else I know not, in such a Manner, that upon its going off, it must have splitt, and have probably killed the Persons in the Room, and certainly fired the Chamber, and speedily laid the House in Ashes. But, this Night there stood by me the Angel of the GOD, whose I am and whom I serve; and the merciful Providence of GOD my SAVIOUR, so ordered it, that the Granado passing thro’ the Window, had by the Iron in the Middle of the Casement, such a Turn given to it, that in falling on the Floor, the fired Wild-fire in the Fuse was violently shaken out upon the Floor, without firing the Granado. When the Granado was taken up, there was found a Paper so tied with String about the Fuse, that it might out-Live the breaking of the Shell, which had these words in it; Cotton Mather, You Dog, Dam you: I’ll inoculate you with this, with a Pox to you.’

12 December 1721
‘My Son Increase, by a violent and passionate Resentment of an Indignity, which a wicked Fellow offered unto me, has exposed himself to much Danger, and me also to no little Trouble. I must employ this Occasion as much to his Advantage, especially in regard of Piety, as I can.

God graciously gives a good Issue to it.’

The Diary Junction

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