It is impossible to overestimate the excitement, the animosity, and the contention which arose in the New England colonies from these discussions over "singing by rule" or "singing by rote." Many prominent clergymen wrote essays and tracts upon the subject; of these essays "The Reasonableness of Regular Singing," also a "Joco-serious Dialogue on Singing," by Reverend Mr. Symmes; "Cases of Conscience," compiled by several ministers; "The Accomplished Singer," by Cotton Mather, were the most important. "Singing Lectures" also were given in many parts of New England by various prominent ministers. So high was party feud that a "Pacificatory Letter" was necessary, which was probably written by Cotton Mather, and which soothed the troubled waters. The people who thought the "old way was the best" were entirely satisfied when they were convinced that the oldest way of all was, of course, by note and not by rote.
This naive extract from the records of the First Church of Windsor, Connecticut, will show the way in which the question of "singing by rule" was often settled in the churches, and it also gives a very amusing glimpse of the colonial manner of conducting a meeting:—
"July 2. 1736. At a Society meeting at which Capt. Pelatiah Allyn Moderator. The business of the meeting proceeded in the following manner Viz. the Moderator proposed as to the consideration of the meeting in the 1st Place what should be done respecting that part of publick Woiship called Singing viz. whether in their Publick meetings as on Sabbath day, Lectures &c they would sing the way that Deacon Marshall usually sung in his lifetime commonly called the 'Old Way' or whether they would sing the way taught by Mr. Beal commonly called 'Singing by Rule,' and when the Society had discoursed the matter the Moderator pioposed to vote for said two ways as followeth viz. that those that were for singing in publick in the way practiced by Deacon Marshall should hold up their hands and be counted, and then that those that were desirous to sing in Mr. Beals way called 'by Rule' would after show their minds by the same sign which method was proceeded upon accordingly. But when the vote was passed there being many voters it was difficult to take the exact number of votes in order to determine on which side the major vote was; whereupon the Moderator ordered all the voters to go out of the seats and stand in the alleys and then those that were for Deacon Marshalls way should go into the mens seats and those that were for Mr. Beals way should go into the womens seat and after much objections made against that way, which prevailed not with the Moderator, it was complied with, and then the Moderator desired that those that were of the mind that the way to be practiced for singing for the future on the Sabbath &c should be the way sung by Deacon Marshall as aforesaid would signify the same by holding up their hands and be counted, and then the Moderator and myself went and counted the voters and the Moderator asked me how many there was. I answered 42 and he said there was 63 or 64 and then we both counted again and agreed the number being 43. Then the Moderator was about to count the number of votes for Mr. Beals way of Singing called 'by Rule' but it was offered whether it would not be better to order the voters to pass out of the Meeting House door and there be counted who did accordingly and their number was 44 or 45. Then the Moderator proceeded and desired that those who were for singing in Public the way that Mr. Beal taught would draw out of their seats and pass out of the door and be counted. They replied they were ready to show their minds in any proper way where they were if they might be directed thereto but would not go out of the door to do the same and desired that they might be led to a vote where they were and they were ready to show their minds which the Moderator refused to do and thereupon declared that it was voted that Deacon Marshalls way of singing called the 'Old Way' should be sung in Publick for the future and ordered me to record the same as the vote of the Said Society which I refused to do under the circumstances thereof and have recorded the facts and proceedings."
Good old lining, droning Deacon Marshall! though you were dead and gone, you and your years of psalm-singings were not forgotten. You lived, an idealized memory of pure and pious harmony, in the hearts of your old church friends. Warmly did they fight for your "way of singing;" with most undeniable and open partiality, with most dubious ingenuousness and rectitude, did your old neighbor, Captain Pelatiah Allyn, conduct that hot July music-meeting, counting up boldly sixty-three votes in favor of your way, when there were only forty-three voters on your side of the alley, and crowding a final decision in your favor. It is sad to read that when icy winter chilled the blood, warm partisanship of old friends also cooled, and innovative Windsor youth carried the day and the music vote, and your good old way was abandoned for half the Sunday services, to allow the upstart new fashion to take control.
One happy result arose throughout New England from the victory of the ardent advocates of the "singing by rule,"—the establishment of the New England "singing-school,"—that outlet for the pent-up, amusement-lacking lives of young people in colonial times. What that innocent and happy gathering was in the monotonous existence of our ancestors and ancestresses, we of the present pleasure-filled days can hardly comprehend.
Extracts from the records of various colonial churches will show how soon the respective communities yielded to the march of improvement and "seated the taught singers" together, thus forming choirs. In 1762 the church at Rowley, Massachusetts, voted "that those who have learned the art of Singing may have liberty to sit in the front gallery." In 1780 the same parish "requested Jonathan Chaplin and Lieutenant Spefford to assist the deacons in Raising the tune in the meeting house." In Sutton, in 1791, the Company of Singers were allowed to sit together, and $13 was voted to pay for "larning to sing by Rule." The Roxbury "First Church" voted in 1770 "three seats in the back gallery for those inclined to sit together for the purpose of singing" The church in Hanover, in 1742, took a vote to see whether the "church will sing in the new way" and appoint a tuner. In Woodbury, Connecticut, in 1750 the singers "may sitt up Galery all day if they please but to keep to there own seat & not to Infringe on the Women Pues." In 1763, in the Ipswich First Parish, the singers were allowed to sit "two back on each side of the front alley." Similar entries may be found in nearly every record of New England churches in the middle or latter part of that century.
The musical battle was not finished, however, when the singing was at last taught by rule, and the singers were allowed to sit together and form a choir. There still existed the odious custom of "lining" or "deaconing" the psalm. To this fashion may be attributed the depraved condition of church-singing of which Walters so forcibly wrote, and while it continued the case seemed hopeless, in spite of singing-schools and singing-teachers. It would be trying to the continued uniformity of pitch of an ordinary church choir, even now-a-days, to have to stop for several seconds between each line to listen to a reading and sometimes to an explanation of the following line.
The Westminster Assembly had suggested in 1664 the alternate reading and singing of each line of the psalm to those churches that were not well supplied with psalm-books. The suggestion had not been adopted without discussion, It was in 1680 much talked over in the church in Plymouth, and was adopted only after getting the opinion of each male church member. When once taken into general use the custom continued everywhere, through carelessness and obstinacy, long after the churches possessed plenty of psalm-books. An early complaint against it was made by Dr. Watts in the preface of his hymns, which were published by Benjamin Franklin in 1741. As Watts' Psalms and Hymns were not, however, in general use in New England until after the Revolution, this preface with its complaint was for a long time little seen and little heeded.
It is said that the abolition came gradually; that the impetuous and well-trained singers at first cut off the last word only of the deacon's "lining;" they then encroached a word or two further, and finally sung boldly on without stopping at all to be "deaconed." This brought down a tempest of indignation from the older church-members, who protested, however, in vain. A vote in the church usually found the singers victorious, and whether the church voted for or against the "lining," the choir would always by stratagem vanquish the deacon. One old soldier took his revenge, however. Being sung down by the rampant choir, he still showed battle, and rose at the conclusion of the psalm and opened his psalm-book, saying calmly, "Now let the people of the Lord sing."
The Rowley church tried diplomacy in their struggle against "deaconing," by instituting a gradual abolishing of the custom. In 1785 the choir was allowed "to sing once on the Lord's Day without reading by the Deacon." In five years the Rowley singers were wholly victorious, and "lining out" the psalm was entirely discontinued.
In 1770, dissatisfaction at the singing in the church was rife in Wilbraham, and a vote was taken to see whether the town would be willing to have singing four times at each service; and it was voted to "take into consideration the Broken State of this Town with regard to singing on the Sabbath Day." Special and bitter objection was made against the leader beating time so ostentatiously. A list of singers was made and a singing-master appointed. The deacon was allowed to lead and line and beat time in the forenoon, while the new school was to have control in the afternoon; and "whoever leads the singing shall be at liberty to use the motion of his hand while singing for the space of three months only." It is needless to state who came off victorious in the end. The deacon left as a parting shot a request to "make Inquiry into the conduct of those who call themselves the Singers in this town."
In Worcester, in 1779, a resolution adopted at the town meeting was "that the mode of singing in the congregation here be without reading the psalms line by line." "The Sabbath succeeding the adoption of this resolution, after the hymn had been read by the minister, the aged and venerable Deacon Chamberlain, unwilling to abandon the custom of his fathers and his own honorable prerogative, rose and read the first line according to his usual practice. The singers, previously prepared to carry the desired alteration into effect, proceeded in their singing without pausing at the conclusion of the line. The white-haired officer of the church with the full power of his voice read on through the second line, until the loud notes of the collected body of singers overpowered his attempt to resist the progress of improvement. The deacon, deeply mortified at the triumph of the musical reformation, then seized his hat and retired from the meeting-house in tears." His conduct was censured by the church, and he was for a time deprived of partaking in the communion, for "absenting himself from the public services of the Sabbath;" but in a few weeks the unhouselled deacon was forgiven, and never attempted to "line" again.
Though the opponents of "lining" were victorious in the larger villages and towns, in smaller parishes, where there were few hymn-books, the lining of the psalms continued for many years. Mr. Hood wrote, in 1846, the astonishing statement that "the habit of lining prevails to this day over three-fourths of the United States." This I can hardly believe, though I know that at present the practice obtains in out of the way towns with poor and ignorant congregations. The separation of the lines often gives a very strange meaning to the words of a psalm; and one wonders what the Puritan children thought when they heard this lino of contradictions that Hood points out:—
"The Lord will come and He will not,"
and after singing that line through heard the second line,—
"Keep silence, but speak out."
Many new psalm-books appeared about the time of the Revolutionary War, and many church petitions have been preserved asking permission to use the new and more melodious psalm and hymn books. Books of instruction also abounded,—books in which the notes were not printed on the staff, and books in which there were staffs but no notes, only letters or other characters (these were called "dunce notes"); books, too, in which the notes were printed so thickly that they could scarcely be distinguished one from the other.
"A dotted tribe with ebon heads That climb the slender fence along, As black as ink, as thick as weeds, Ye little Africans of song."
One book—perhaps the worst, since it was the most pretentious—was "The Compleat Melody or Harmony of Sion," by William Tansur,—"Ingenious Tans'ur Skilled in Musicks Art." It was a most superficial, pedantic, and bewildering composition. The musical instruction was given in the form of a series of ill-spelled dialogues between a teacher and pupil, interspersed with occasional miserable rhymes. It was ill-expressed at best, and such musical terms as "Rations of Concords," "Trilloes," "Trifdiapasons," "Leaps," "Binding cadences," "Disallowances," "Canons," "Prime Flower of Florid," "Consecutions of Perfects," and "Figurates," make the book exceedingly difficult of comprehension to the average reader, though possibly not to a student of obsolete musical phraseology.
A side skirmish on the music field was at this time fought between the treble and the tenor parts. Ravenscroft's Psalms and Walter's book had given the melody, or plain-song, to the tenor. This had, of course, thrown additional difficulties in the way of good singing; but when once the trebles obtained the leading part, after the customary bitter opposition, the improved singing approved the victory.
Many objections, too, were made to the introduction of "triple-time" tunes. It gave great offence to the older Puritans, who wished to drawl out all the notes of uniform length; and some persons thought that marking and accenting the measure was a step toward the "Scarlet Woman." The time was called derisively, "a long leg and a short one."
These old bigots must have been paralyzed at the new style of psalm-singing which was invented and introduced by a Massachusetts tanner and singing-master named Billings, and which was suggested, doubtless, by the English anthems. It spread through the choirs of colonial villages and towns like wild-fire, and was called "fuguing." Mr. Billings' "Fuguing Psalm Singer" was published in 1770. It is a dingy, ill-printed book with a comically illustrated frontispiece, long pages of instruction, and this motto:—
"O, praise the Lord with one consent And in this grand design Let Britain and the Colonies Unanimously join."
The succeeding hymn-books, and the patriotic hymns of Billings in post-Revolutionary years have no hint of "Britain" in them. The names "Federal Harmony," "Columbian Harmony," "Continental Harmony," "Columbian Repository," and "United States Sacred Harmony" show the new nation. Billings also published the "Psalm Singer's Amusement," and other singing-books. The shades of Cotton, of Sewall, of Mather must have groaned aloud at the suggestions, instructions, and actions of this unregenerate, daring, and "amusing" leader of church-singing.
It seems astonishing that New England communities in those times of anxious and depressing warfare should have so delightedly seized and adopted this unusual and comparatively joyous style of singing, but perhaps the new spirit of liberty demanded more animated and spirited expression; and Billings' psalm-tunes were played with drum and fife on the battlefield to inspire the American soldiers. Billings wrote of his fuguing invention, "It has more than twenty times the power of the old slow tunes. Now the solemn bass demands their attention, next the manly tenor, now the lofty counter, now the volatile treble. Now here! Now there! Now here again! Oh ecstatic, push on, ye sons of harmony!" Dr. Mather Byles wrote thus of fuguing:—
"Down starts the Bass with Grave Majestic Air, And up the Treble mounts with shrill Career, With softer Sounds in mild melodious Maze Warbling between, the Tenor gently plays And, if th' inspiring Altos joins the Force See! like the Lark it Wings its towering Course Thro' Harmony's sublimest Sphere it flies And to Angelic Accents seems to rise."
A more modern poet in affectionate remembrance thus sings the fugue:—
"A fugue let loose cheers up the place, With bass and tenor, alto, air, The parts strike in with measured grace, And something sweet is everywhere.
"As if some warbling brood should build Of bits of tunes a singing nest; Each bringing that with which it thrilled And weaving it with all the rest."
All public worshippers in the meetings one hundred years ago did not, however, regard fuguing as "something sweet everywhere," nor did they agree with Billings and Byles as to its angelic and ecstatic properties. Some thought it "heartless, tasteless, trivial, and irreverent jargon." Others thought the tunes were written more for the absurd inflation of the singers than for the glory of God; and many fully sympathized with the man who hung two cats over Billings's door to indicate his opinion of Billings's caterwauling. An old inhabitant of Roxbury remembered that when fuguing tunes were introduced into his church "they produced a literally fuguing effect on the older people, who went out of the church as soon as the first verse was sung." One scandalized and belligerent old clergyman, upon the Sabbath following the introduction of fuguing into his church, preached upon the prophecy of Amos, "The songs of the temple shall be turned into howling," while another took for his text the sixth verse of the seventeenth chapter of Acts, "Those that have turned the world upside down, are come hither also." One indignant and disgusted church attendant thus profanely recorded in church his views:—
"Written out of temper on a Pannel in one of the Pues in Salem Church:—
"Could poor King David but for once To Salem Church repair; And hear his Psalms thus warbled out, Good Lord, how he would swear
"But could St Paul but just pop in, From higher scenes abstracted, And hear his Gospel now explained, By Heavens, he'd run distracted."
These lines were reprinted in the "American Apollo" in 1792.
The repetition of a word or syllable in fuguing often lead to some ridiculous variations in the meanings of the lines. Thus the words—
"With reverence let the saints appear And bow before the Lord,"
were forced to be sung, "And bow-wow-wow, And bow-ow-ow," and so on until bass, treble, alto, counter, and tenor had bow-wowed for about twenty seconds; yet I doubt if the simple hearts that sung ever saw the absurdity.
It is impossible while speaking of fuguing to pass over an extraordinary element of the choir called "singing counter." The counter-tenor parts in European church-music were originally written for boys' voices. From thence followed the falsetto singing of the part by men; such was also the "counter" of New England. It was my fortune to hear once in a country church an aged deacon "sing counter". Reverence for the place and song, and respect for the singer alike failed to control the irrepressible start of amazement and smile of amusement with which we greeted the weird and apparently demented shriek which rose high over the voices of the choir, but which did not at all disconcert their accustomed ears. Words, however chosen, would fail in attempting to describe the grotesque and uncanny sound.
It is very evident, when once choirs of singers were established and attempts made for congregations to sing the same tune, and to keep together, and upon the same key, that in some way a decided pitch must be given to them to start upon. To this end pitch-pipes were brought into the singers' gallery, and the pitch was given sneakingly and shamefacedly to the singers. From these pitch-pipes the steps were gradual, but they led, as the Puritan divines foresaw, to the general introduction of musical instruments into the meetings.
This seemed to be attacking the very foundations of their church; for the Puritans in England had, in 1557, expressly declared "concerning singing of psalms we allow of the people joining with one voice in a plain tune, but not in tossing the psalms from one side to the other with mingling of organs." The Round-heads had, in 1664, gone through England destroying the noble organs in the churches and cathedrals. They tore the pipes from the organ in Westminster Abbey, shouting, "Hark! how the organs go!" and, "Mark what musick that is, that is lawful for a Puritan to dance," and they sold the metal for pots of ale. Only four or five organs were left uninjured in all England. 'Twas not likely, then, that New England Puritans would take kindly to any musical instruments. Cotton Mather declared that there was not a word in the New Testament that authorized the use of such aids to devotion. The ministers preached often and long on the text from the prophecy of Amos, "I will not hear the melody of thy viols;" while, Puritan-fashion, they ignored the other half of the verse, "Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs." Disparaging comparisons were made with Nebuchadnezzar's idolatrous concert of cornet, flute, dulcimer, sackbut, and psaltery; and the ministers, from their overwhelming store of Biblical knowledge, hurled text after text at the "fiddle-players."
Some of the first pitch-pipes were comical little apple-wood instruments that looked like mouse-traps, and great pains was taken to conceal them as they were passed surreptitiously from hand to hand in the choir. I have seen one which was carefully concealed in a box that had a leather binding like a book, and which was ostentatiously labelled in large gilt letters "Holy Bible;" a piece of barefaced and unnecessary deception on the part of some pious New England deacon or chorister.
Little wooden fifes were also used, and then metal tuning-forks. A canny Scotchman, who abhorred the thought of all musical instruments anywhere, managed to have one fling at the pitch-pipe. The pitch had been given but was much too high, and before the first verse was ended the choir had to cease singing. The Scotchman stood up and pointed his long finger to the leader, saying in broad accents of scorn, "Ah, Johnny Smuth, now ye can have a chance to blaw yer braw whustle agaen." At a similar catastrophe owing to the mistake of the leader in Medford, old General Brooks rose in his pew and roared in an irritated voice of command, "Halt! Take another pitch, Bailey, take another pitch."
In 1713 there was sent to America an English organ, "a pair of organs" it was called, which had chanced, by being at the manufacturers instead of in a church, to have escaped the general destruction by the Round-heads. It was given by Thomas Brattle to the Brattle Street Church in Boston. The congregation voted to refuse the gift, and it was then sent to King's Chapel, where it remained unpacked for several months for fear of hostile demonstrations, but was finally set up and used. In 1740 a Bostonian named Bromfield made an organ, and it was placed in a meeting-house and used weekly. In 1794 the church in Newbury obtained an organ, and many unpleasant and disparaging references were made by clergymen of other parishes to "our neighbor's box of whistles," "the tooting tub."
Violoncellos, or bass-viols, as they were universally called, were almost the first musical instruments that were allowed in the New England churches. They were called, without intentional irreverence, "Lord's fiddles." Violins were widely opposed, they savored too much of low, tavern dance-music. After much consultation a satisfactory compromise was agreed upon by which violins were allowed in many meetings, if the performers "would play the fiddle wrong end up." Thus did our sanctimonious grandfathers cajole and persuade themselves that an inverted fiddle was not a fiddle at all, but a small bass-viol. An old lady, eighty years old, wrote thus in the middle of this century, of the church of her youth: "After awhile there was a bass-viol Introduced and brought into meeting and did not suit the Old people; one Old Gentleman got up, took his hat off the peg and marched off. Said they had begun fiddling and there would be dancing soon." Another church-member, in derisive opposition to a clarinet which had been "voted into the choir," brought into meeting a fish-horn, which he blew loud and long to the complete rout of the clarinet-player and the singers. When reproved for this astounding behavior he answered stoutly that "if one man could blow a horn in the Lord's House on the Sabbath day he guessed he could too," and he had to be bound over to keep the peace before the following Sunday. A venerable and hitherto decorous old deacon of Roxbury not only left the church when the hated bass-viol began its accompanying notes, but he stood for a long time outside the church door stridently "caterwauling" at the top of his lungs. When expostulated with for this unseemly and unchristianlike annoyance he explained that he was "only mocking the banjo." To such depths of rebellion were stirred the Puritan instincts of these religious souls.
Many a minister said openly that he would like to walk out of his pulpit when the obnoxious and hated flutes, violins, bass-viols, and bassoons were played upon in the singing gallery. One clergyman contemptuously announced "We will now sing and fiddle the forty-fifth Psalm." Another complained of the indecorous dress of the fiddle-player. This had reference to the almost universal custom, in country churches in the summer time, of the bass-viol player removing his coat and playing "in his shirt sleeves." Others hated the noisy tuning of the bass-viol while the psalm was being read. Mr. Brown, of Westerly, sadly deplored that "now we have only catgut and resin religion."
In 1804 the church in Quincy, being "advanced," granted the singers the sum of twenty-five dollars to buy a bass-viol to use in meeting, and a few other churches followed their lead. From the year 1794 till 1829 the church in Wareham, Massachusetts, was deeply agitated over the question of "Bass-Viol, or No Bass-Viol." They voted that a bass-viol was "expedient," then they voted to expel the hated abomination; then was obtained "Leave for the Bass Viol to be brought into ye meeting house to be Played On every other Sabbath & to Play if chosen every Sabbath in the Intermission between meetings & not to Pitch the Tunes on the Sabbaths that it don't Play" Then, they tried to bribe the choir for fifty dollars not to use the "bars-vile," but being unsuccessful, many members in open rebellion stayed away from church and were disciplined therefor. Then they voted that the bass-viol could not be used unless Capt. Gibbs were previously notified (so he and his family need not come to hear the hated sounds); but at last, after thirty years, the choir and the "fiddle-player" were triumphant in Wareham as they were in other towns.
We were well into the present century before any cheerful and also simple music was heard in our churches; fuguing was more varied and surprising than cheerful. Of course, it was difficult as well as inappropriate to suggest pleasing tunes for such words as these:—
"Far in the deep where darkness dwells, The land of horror and despair, Justice hath built a dismal hell, And laid her stores of vengeance there:
"Eternal plagues and heavy chains, Tormenting racks and fiery coals, And darts to inflict immortal pains, Dyed in the blood of damned souls."
But many of the words of the old hymns were smooth, lively, and encouraging; and the young singers and perhaps the singing-masters craved new and less sober tunes. Old dance tunes were at first adapted; "Sweet Anne Page," "Babbling Echo," "Little Pickle" were set to sacred words. The music of "Few Happy Matches" was sung to the hymn "Lo, on a narrow neck of land;" and that of "When I was brisk and young" was disguised with the sacred words of "Let sinners take their course." The jolly old tune, "Begone dull care," which began,—
"My wife shall dance, and I will sing, And merrily pass the day."
was strangely appropriated to the solemn words,—
"If this be death, I soon shall be From every pain and sorrow free,"
and did not seem ill-fitted either.
"Sacred arrangements," "spiritual songs," "sacred airs," soon followed, and of course demanded singers of capacity and education to sing them. From this was but a step to a paid quartette, and the struggle over this last means of improvement and pleasure in church music is of too recent a date to be more than referred to.
I attended a church service not many years ago in Worcester, where an old clergyman, the venerable "Father" Allen, of Shrewsbury, then too aged and feeble to preach, was seated in the front pew of the church. When a quartette of singers began to render a rather operatic arrangement of a sacred song he rose, erect and stately, to his full gaunt height, turned slowly around and glanced reproachfully over the frivolous, backsliding congregation, wrapped around his spare, lean figure his full cloak of quilted black silk, took his shovel hat and his cane, and stalked indignantly and sadly the whole length of the broad central aisle, out of the church, thus making a last but futile protest against modern innovations in church music. Many, in whom the Puritan instincts and blood are still strong, sympathize internally with him in this feeling; and all novelty-lovers must acknowledge that the sublime simplicity and deep piety in which the old Puritan psalm-tunes abound, has seldom been attained in the modern church-songs. Even persons of neither musical knowledge, taste, nor love, feel the power of such a tune as Old Hundred; and more modern and more difficult melodies, though they charm with their harmony and novelty, can never equal it in impressiveness nor in true religious influence.
The Interruptions of the Services.
Though the Puritans were such a decorous, orderly people, their religious meetings were not always quiet and uninterrupted. We know the torment they endured from the "wretched boys," and they were harassed by other annoying interruptions. For the preservation of peace and order they made characteristic laws, with characteristic punishments. "If any interrupt or oppose a preacher in season of worship, they shall be reproved by the Magistrate, and on repetition, shall pay L5, or stand two hours on a block four feet high, with this inscription in Capitalls, 'A WANTON GOSPELLER.'" As with other of their severe laws the rigid punishment provoked the crime, for Wanton Gospellers abounded. The Baptists did not hesitate to state their characteristic belief in the Puritan meetings, and the Quakers or "Foxians," as they were often called, interrupted and plagued them sorely. Judge Sewall wrote, in 1677, "A female quaker, Margaret Brewster, in sermon-time came in, in a canvass frock, her hair dishevelled loose like a Periwig, her face as black as ink, led by two other quakers, and two other quakers followed. It occasioned the greatest and most amazing uproar that I ever saw." More grievous irruptions still of scantily clad and even naked Quaker women were made into other Puritan meetings; and Quaker men shouted gloomily in through the church windows, "Woe! Woe! Woe to the people!" and, "The Lord will destroy thee!" and they broke glass bottles before the minister's very face, crying out, "Thus the Lord will break thee in pieces!" and they came into the meeting-house, in spite of the fierce tithingman, and sat down in other people's seats with their hats on their heads, in ash-covered coats, rocking to and fro and groaning dismally, as if in a mournful obsession. Quaker women managed to obtain admission to the churches, and they jumped up in the quiet Puritan assemblies screaming out, "Parson! thou art an old fool," and, "Parson! thy sermon is too long," and, "Parson! sit down! thee has already said more than thee knows how to say well," and other unpleasant, though perhaps truthful personalities. It is hard to believe that the poor, excited, screaming visionaries of those early days belonged to the same religious sect as do the serene, low-voiced, sweet-faced, and retiring Quakeresses of to-day. And there is no doubt that the astounding and meaningless freaks of these half-crazed fanatics were provoked by the cruel persecutions which they endured from our much loved and revered, but alas, intolerant and far from perfect Puritan Fathers. These poor Quakers were arrested, fined, robbed, stripped naked, imprisoned, laid neck and heels, chained to logs of wood, branded, maimed, whipped, pilloried, caged, set in the stocks, exiled, sold into slavery and hanged by our stern and cruel ancestors. Perhaps some gentle-hearted but timid Puritan souls may have inwardly felt that the Indian wars, and the destructive fires, and the earthquakes, and the dead cattle, blasted wheat, and wormy peas, were not judgments of God for small ministerial pay and periwig-wearing, but punishments for the heartrending woes of the persecuted Quakers.
Others than the poor Quakers spoke out in colonial meetings. In Salem village and in other witch-hunting towns the crafty "victims" of the witches were frequently visited with their mock pains and sham fits in the meeting-houses, and they called out and interrupted the ministers most vexingly. Ann Putnam, the best and boldest actress among those cunning young Puritan witch-accusers, the protagonist of that New England tragedy known as the Salem Witchcraft, shouted out most embarrassingly, "There is a yellow-bird sitting on the minister's hat, as it hangs on the pin in the pulpit." Mr. Lawson, the minister, wrote with much simplicity that "these things occurring in the time of public worship did something interrupt me in my first prayer, being so unusual." But he braced himself up in spite of Ann and the demoniacal yellow-bird, and finished the service. These disorderly interruptions occurred on every Lord's Day, growing weekly more constant and more universal, and must have been unbearable. Some few disgusted members withdrew from the church, giving as reason that "the distracting and disturbing tumults and noises made by persons under diabolical power and delusions, preventing sometimes our hearing and understanding and profiting of the word preached; we having after many trials and experiences found no redress in this case, accounted ourselves under a necessity to go where we might hear the word in quiet." These withdrawing church-members were all of families that contained at least one person that had been accused of practising witchcraft. They were thus severely intolerant of the sacrilegious and lawless interruptions of the shy young "victims," who received in general only sympathy, pity, and even stimulating encouragement from their deluded and excited neighbors.
One very pleasing interruption,—no, I cannot call it by so severe a name,—one very pleasing diversion of the attention of the congregation from the parson was caused by an innocent custom that prevailed in many a country community. Just fancy the flurry on a June Sabbath in Killingly, in 1785, when Joseph Gay, clad in velvet coat, lace-frilled shirt, and white broadcloth knee-breeches, with his fair bride of a few days, gorgeous in a peach-colored silk gown and a bonnet trimmed "with sixteen yards of white ribbon," rose, in the middle of the sermon, from their front seat in the gallery and stood for several minutes, slowly turning around in order to show from every point of view their bridal finery to the eagerly gazing congregation of friends and neighbors. Such was the really delightful and thoughtful custom, in those fashion-plateless days, among persons of wealth in that and other churches; it was, in fact, part of the wedding celebration. Even in midwinter, in the icy church, the blushing bride would throw aside her broadcloth cape or camblet roquelo and stand up clad in a sprigged India muslin gown with only a thin lace tucker over her neck, warm with pride in her pretty gown, her white bonnet with ostrich feathers and embroidered veil, and in her new husband.
The services in the meeting-house on the Sabbath and on Lecture days were sometimes painfully varied, though scarcely interrupted, by a very distressing and harrowing custom of public abasement and self-abnegation, which prevailed for many years in the nervously religious colonies. It was not an enforced punishment, but a voluntary one. Men and women who had committed crimes or misdemeanors, and who had sincerely repented of their sins, or who were filled with remorse for some violation of conscience, or even with regret for some neglect of religious ethics, rose in the Sabbath meeting before the assembled congregation and confessed their sins, and humbly asked forgiveness of God, and charity from their fellows. At other times they stood with downcast heads while the minister read their confession of guilt and plea for forgiveness. A most graphic account of one of those painful scenes is thus given by Governor Winthrop in his "History of New England:"—
"Captain Underhill being brought by the blessing of God in this church's censure of excommunication, to remorse for his foul sins, obtained, by means of the elders, and others of the church of Boston, a safe conduct under the hand of the governor and one of the council to repair to the church. He came at the time of the court of assistants, and upon the lecture day, after sermon, the pastor called him forth and declared the occasion, and then gave him leave to speak: and in it was a spectacle winch caused many weeping eyes, though it afforded matter of much rejoicing to behold the power of the Lord Jesus in his ordinances, when they are dispensed in his own way, holding forth the authority of his regal sceptre in the simplicity of the gospel came in his worst clothes (being accustomed to take great pride in his bravery and neatness) without a band, in a foul linen cap pulled close to his eyes; and standing upon a form, he did, with many deep sighs and abundance of tears, lay open his wicked course, his adultery, his hypocrisy, his persecution of God's people here, and especially his pride (as the root of all which caused God to give him over to his other sinful courses) and contempt of the magistrates.... He spake well save that his blubbering &c interrupted him, and all along he discovered a broken and melting heart and gave good exhortations to take heed of such vanities and beginnings of evil as had occasioned his fall; and in the end he earnestly and humbly besought the church to have compassion of him and to deliver him out of the hands of Satan."
What a picture! what a story! "Of all tales 'tis the saddest—and more sad because it makes us smile."
Captain John Underhill was a brave though somewhat bumptious soldier, who had fought under the Prince of Orange in the War of the Netherlands, and had been employed as temporal drill-master in the church-militant in New England. He did good service for the colonists in the war with the Pequot Indians, and indeed wherever there was any fighting to be done. "He thrust about and justled into fame" He also managed to have apparently a very good time in the new land, both in sinning and repenting. When he stood up on the church-seat before the horrified, yet wide-open eyes of pious Boston folk, in his studiously and theatrically disarranged garments, and blubbered out his whining yet vain-glorious repentance, he doubtless acted his part well, for he had twice before been through the same performance, supplementing his second rehearsal by kneeling down before an injured husband in the congregation, and asking earthly forgiveness. I wish I could believe that this final repentance of the resilient captain were sincere—but I cannot. Nor did Boston people believe it either, though that noble and generous-minded man, Winthrop, thought he saw at the time of confession evidences of a truly contrite heart. The Puritans sternly and eagerly cast out the gay captain to the Dutch when he became an Antinomian, and he came to live and fight and gallant in a town on the western end of Long Island, where he perhaps found a church-home with members less severe and less sharp-eyed than those of his Boston place of martyrdom, and a people less inclined to resent and punish his frailties and his ways of amusing himself.
In justice to Underhill (or perhaps to show his double-dealing) I will say that he left behind him a letter to Hanserd Knollys, complaining of the ill-treatment he had received; and in it he gives a very different account of this little affair with the Boston Church from that given us by Governor Winthrop. The offender says nothing about his hypocrisy, his public and self-abasing confession, nor of his sanctimonious blubbering and wishes for death. He explains that his offence was mild and purely mental, that in an infaust moment he glanced (doubtless stared soldier-fashion) at "Mistris Miriam Wildbore" as she sat in her "pue" at meeting. The elders, noting his admiring and amorous glances, thereupon accused him of sin in his heart, and severely asked him why he did not look instead at Mistress Newell or Mistress Upham. He replied very spiritedly and pertinently that these dames were "not desiryable women as to temporal graces," which was certainly sufficient and proper reason for any man to give, were he Puritan or Cavalier. Then acerb old John Cotton and some other Boston ascetics (perhaps Goodman Newell and Goodman Upham, resenting for their wives the spretae injuria formae) at once hunted up some plainly applicable verses from the Bible that clearly proved him guilty of the alleged sin—and summarily excommunicated him. He also wrote that the pious church complained that the attractive, the temporally graced Mistress Wildbore came vainly and over-bravely clad to meeting, with "wanton open-worked gloves slitt at the thumbs and fingers for the purpose of taking snuff," and he resented this complaint against the fair one, saying no harm could surely come from indulging in the "good creature called tobacco." He would naturally feel that snuff-taking was a proper and suitable church-custom, since his own conversion,—dubious though it was,—his religious belief had come to him, "the spirit fell home upon his heart" while he was indulging in a quiet smoke.
The story of his offences as told b his contemporaries does not assign to him so innocuous a diversion as staring across the meeting-house, but the account is quite as amusing as his own plaintive and deeply injured version of his arraignment.
Other letters of his have been preserved to us,—letters blustering as was Ancient Pistol, and equally sanctimonious, letters fearfully and phonetically spelt. Here is the opening of a letter written while he was under sentence of excommunication from the Boston Church, and of banishment. It is to Governor Winthrop, his friend and fellow-emigrant:—
"Honnored in the Lord,—
"Your silenc one more admirse me. I Youse chrischan playnnes. I know you love it.... Silene can not reduce the hart of youer lovd brother: I would the rightchous would smite me espechah youerslfe & the honnered Depoti to whom I also dereckt this letter.... I would to God you would tender me soule so as to youse playnnes with me. I wrot to you both but now answer: & here I am dayli abused by malishous tongue. John Baker I here hath wrot to the honnored depoti how as I was drouck & like to be cild & both falc, upon okachon I delt with Wannerton for intrushon & finddmg them resolutli bent to rout all gud a mong us & advanc there superstischous ways & by boystrous words indeferd to fritten men to accomplish his end. & he abusing me to my face, dru upon him with intent to corb his insolent & dastardli sperrite.... Ister daye on Pickeren their Chorch Warden caim up to us with intent to make some of ourse drone as is sospeckted but the Lord sofered him so to misdemen himslfe as he is likli to li by the hielse this too month.... My homble request is that you will be charitable of me.... Let justies and merci be goyned.... You may plese to soggest youer will to this barrer you will find him tracktabel."
My sense of drollery is always most keenly tickled when I read Underhill's epistles, with their amazing and highly-varied letter concoctions, and remember that he also—wrote a book. What that seventeenth-century printer and proof-reader endured ere they presented his "edited" volume to the public must have been beyond expression by words. It was a pretty good book though, and in it, like many another man of his ilk, he tendered to his much-injured wife loud and diffuse praise, ending with these sententious words, "Let no man despise advice and counsel of his wife—though she be a woman."
And yet, upon careful examination we find a method, a system, in Underhill's orthography, or rather in his cacography. He thinks a final tion should be spelt chon—and why not? "proposichon," "satisfackchon," "oblegachon," "persekuchon," "dereckchon," "himelyachon"—thus he spells such words. And his plurals are plain when once you grasp his laws: "poseschouse" and "considderachonse," "facktse," and "respecktse." And his ly is alwajs li, "exacktli," "thorroli," "fidelliti," "charriti," "falsciti." And why is not "indiered," as good as 'endeared,' "pregedic," as 'prejudice,' "obstrucktter" as 'obstructer,' "pascheges," and "prouydentt," and "antyentt," just as clear as our own way of spelling these words? A "painful" speller you surely were, my gay Don Juan Underbill, as your pedantic "writtingse" all show, and the most dramatic and comic figure among all the early Puritans as well, though you scarcely deserve to be called a Puritan; we might rather say of you, as of Malvolio, "The devil a Puritan that he was, or anything constantly but a time-pleaser ... his ground of faith that all who looked on him loved him."
In keen contrast to this sentimental excitement is the presence of noble Judge Sewall, white-haired and benignant, standing up calmly in Boston meeting, with dignified face and demeanor, but an aching and contrite heart, to ask through the voice of his minister humble forgiveness of God and man for his sad share as a judge in the unjust and awful condemnation and cruel sentencing to death of the poor murdered victims of that terrible delusion the Salem Witchcraft. Years of calm and unshrinking reflection, of pleading and constant communion with God had brought to him an overwhelming sense of his mistaken and over-influenced judgment, and a horror and remorse for the fatal results of his error. Then, like the steadfast and upright old Puritan that he was, he publicly acknowledged his terrible mistake. It is one of the finest instances of true nobility of soul and of absolute self-renunciation that the world affords. And the deep strain, the sharp wrench of the step is made more apparent still by the fact of the disapproval of his fellow-judges of his public confession and recantation. The yearly entries in his diary, simply expressed yet deeply speaking, entries of the prayerful fasts which he spent alone in his chamber when the anniversary of the fatal judgment-day returned, show that no half-vain bigotry, no emotional excitement filled and moved him to the open words of remorse. The lesson of his repentance is farther reaching than he dreamed, when the story of his confession can so move and affect this nineteenth-century generation, and fill more than one soul with a nobler idea of the Puritan nature, and with a higher and fuller conception of the absolute truth of the Puritan Christianity.
Some very prosaic and earthly interruptions to the church services are recorded as being made, and possibly by the church-members themselves. In one church, in 1661, a fine of five shillings was imposed on any one "who shot off a gun or led a horse into the meeting-house." These seem to me quite as unseemly, irreverent, and disagreeable disturbances as shouting out, Quaker-fashion, "Parson, your sermon is too long;" but possibly the house of God was turned into a stable on week-days, not on the Sabbath.
In many parishes church-attendants were fined who brought their "doggs" into the meeting-house. Dogs swarmed in the colony, for they had been imported from England, "sufficient mastive dogs, hounds and beagles," and also Irish wolf-hounds; and they caused an interruption in one afternoon service by chasing into the meeting-house one of those pungently offensive, though harmless, animals that abounded even in the earliest colonial days, and whose mephitic odor, in this case, had power to scatter the congregation as effectively as would have a score of armed Indian braves. Officially appointed "Dogg-whippers" and the never idle tithingman expelled the intruding and unwelcome canine attendants from the meeting-house with fierce blows and fiercer yelps. The swarming dogs, though they were trained to hunt the Indians and wolves and tear them in pieces, were much fonder of hunting and tearing the peaceful sheep, and thus became such unmitigated nuisances, out of meeting as well as in, that they had to be muzzled and hobbled, and killed, and land was granted (as in Newbury in 1703) on condition that no dog was ever kept thereon. As late as the year 1820, it was ordered in the town of Brewster that any dog that came into meeting should be killed unless the owner promised to thenceforth keep the intruder out.
Alarms of fire in the neighborhood frequently disturbed the quiet of the early colonial services; for the combustible catted chimneys were a constant source of conflagration, especially on Sundays, when the fireplaces with their roaring fires were left unwatched; and all the men rushed out of the meeting at sound of the alarm to aid in quenching the flames, which could however be ill-fought with the scanty supply of water that could be brought in a few leathern fire-buckets and milk-pails,—though at a very early date as an aid in extinguishing fires each New England family was ordered by law to own a fire-ladder. Occasionally the town's ladder and poles and hooks and cedar-buckets were kept in the meeting-house, and thus were handy for Sunday fires.
Sometimes armed men, bearing rumors of wars and of hostile attacks, rode clattering up to the church-door, and strode with jingling spurs and rattling swords into the excited assembly with appeal for more soldiers to bear arms, or for more help for those already in the army, and the whole congregation felt it no interruption but a high religious privilege and duty, to which they responded in word and deed. On some happy Sabbaths the armed riders bore good news of great victories, and great was the rejoicing thereat in prayer and praise in the old meeting-house.
But usually through the Sabbath services, though the quiet was not that of our modern carpeted, cushioned, orderly churches, but few interrupting sounds were heard. The cry of a waking infant, the scraping of restless feet on the sanded floor, the lumbering noise of the motions of a cramped farmer as he stood up to lean over the pew-door or gallery-rail, the clatter of an overturned cricket, the twittering of swallows in the rafters, and in the summer-time the bumping and buzzing of an invading bumble-bee as he soared through the air and against the walls, were the only sounds within the meeting-house that broke the monotonous "thirteenthly" and "fourteenthly" of the minister's sermon.
The Observances of the Day.
The so-called "False Blue Laws" of Connecticut, which were foisted upon the public by the Reverend Samuel Peter, have caused much indignation among all thoughtful descendants and all lovers of New England Puritans. Three of his most bitterly resented false laws which refer to the observance of the Sabbath read thus:—
"No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath Day.
"No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day.
"No one shall ride on the Sabbath Day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere except reverently to and from meeting."
Though these laws were worded by Dr. Peters, and though we are disgusted to hear them so often quoted as historical facts, still we must acknowledge that though in detail not correct, they are in spirit true records of the old Puritan laws which were enacted to enforce the strict and decorous observance of the Sabbath, and which were valid not only in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but in other New England States. Even a careless glance at the historical record of any old town or church will give plenty of details to prove this.
Thus in New London we find in the latter part of the seventeenth century a wicked fisherman presented before the Court and fined for catching eels on Sunday; another "fined twenty shillings for sailing a boat on the Lord's Day;" while in 1670 two lovers, John Lewis and Sarah Chapman, were accused of and tried for "sitting together on the Lord's Day under an apple tree in Goodman Chapman's Orchard,"—so harmless and so natural an act. In Plymouth a man was "sharply whipped" for shooting fowl on Sunday; another was fined for carrying a grist of corn home on the Lord's Day, and the miller who allowed him to take it was also fined. Elizabeth Eddy of the same town was fined, in 1652, "ten shillings for wringing and hanging out clothes." A Plymouth man, for attending to his tar-pits on the Sabbath, was set in the stocks. James Watt, in 1658, was publicly reproved "for writing a note about common business on the Lord's Day, at least in the evening somewhat too soon." A Plymouth man who drove a yoke of oxen was "presented" before the Court, as was also another offender, who drove some cows a short distance "without need" on the Sabbath.
In Newbury, in 1646, Aquila Chase and his wife were presented and fined for gathering peas from their garden on the Sabbath, but upon investigation the fines were remitted, and the offenders were only admonished. In Wareham, in 1772, William Estes acknowledged himself "Gilty of Racking Hay on the Lord's Day" and was fined ten shillings; and in 1774 another Wareham citizen, "for a breach of the Sabbath in puling apples," was fined five shillings. A Dunstable soldier, for "wetting a piece of an old hat to put in his shoe" to protect his foot—for doing this piece of heavy work on the Lord's Day, was fined, and paid forty shillings.
Captain Kemble of Boston was in 1656 set for two hours in the public stocks for his "lewd and unseemly behavior," which, consisted in his kissing his wife "publicquely" on the Sabbath Day, upon the doorstep of his house, when he had just returned from a voyage and absence of three years. The lewd offender was a man of wealth and influence, the father of Madam Sarah Knights, the "fearfull female travailler" whose diary of a journey from Boston to New York and return, written in 1704, rivals in quality if not in quantity Judge Sewall's much-quoted diary. A traveller named Burnaby tells of a similar offence of an English sea-captain who was soundly whipped for kissing his wife on the street of a New England town on Sunday, and of his retaliation in kind, by a clever trick upon his chastisers; but Burnaby's narrative always seemed to me of dubious credibility.
Abundant proof can be given that the act of the legislature in 1649 was not a dead letter which ordered that "whosoever shall prophane the Lords daye by doeing any seruill worke or such like abusses shall forfeite for euery such default ten shillings or be whipt."
The Vermont "Blue Book" contained equally sharp "Sunday laws." Whoever was guilty of any rude, profane, or unlawful conduct on the Lord's Day, in words or action, by clamorous discourses, shouting, hallooing, screaming, running, riding, dancing, jumping, was to be fined forty shillings and whipped upon the naked back not to exceed ten stripes. The New Haven code of laws, more severe still, ordered that "Profanation of the Lord's Day shall be punished by fine, imprisonment, or corporeal punishment; and if proudly, and with a high hand against the authority of God—with death."
Lists of arrests and fines for walking and travelling unnecessarily on the Sabbath might be given in great numbers, and it was specially ordered that none should "ride violently to and from meeting." Many a pious New Englander, in olden days, was fined for his ungodly pride, and his desire to "show off" his "new colt" as he "rode violently" up to the meeting-house green on Sabbath morn. One offender explained in excuse of his unnecessary driving on the Sabbath that he had been to visit a sick relative, but his excuse was not accepted. A Maine man who was rebuked and fined for "unseemly walking" on the Lord's Day protested that he ran to save a man from drowning. The Court made him pay his fine, but ordered that the money should be returned to him when he could prove by witnesses that he had been on that errand of mercy and duty. As late as the year 1831, in Lebanon, Connecticut, a lady journeying to her father's home was arrested within sight of her father's house for unnecessary travelling on the Sabbath; and a long and fiercely contested lawsuit was the result, and damages were finally given for false imprisonment. In 1720 Samuel Sabin complained of himself before a justice in Norwich that he visited on Sabbath night some relatives at a neighbor's house. His morbidly tender conscience smote him and made him "fear he had transgressed the law," though he felt sure no harm had been done thereby. In 1659 Sam Clarke, for "Hankering about on men's gates on Sabbath evening to draw company out to him," was reproved and warned not to "harden his neck" and be "wholly destrojed." Poor stiff-necked, lonely, "hankering" Sam! to be so harshly reproved for his harmlessly sociable intents. Perhaps he "hankered" after the Puritan maids, and if so, deserved his reproof and the threat of annihilation.
Sabbath-breaking by visiting abounded in staid Worcester town to a most base extent, but was severely punished, as local records show. In Belfast, Maine, in 1776, a meeting was held to get the "Towns Mind" with regard to a plan to restrain visiting on the Sabbath. The time had passed when such offences could be punished either by fine or imprisonment, so it was voted "that if any person makes unnecessary Vizits on the Sabeth, They shall be Look't on with Contempt." This was the universal expression throughout the Puritan colonies; and looked on with contempt are Sabbath-breakers and Sabbath-slighters in New England to the present day. Even if they committed no active offence, the colonists could not passively neglect the Church and its duties. As late as 1774 the First Church of Roxbury fined non-attendance at public worship. In 1651 Thomas Scott "was fyned ten shillings unless he have learned Mr. Norton's 'Chatacise' by the next court" In 1760 the legislature of Massachusetts passed the law that "any person able of Body who shall absent themselves from publick worship of God on the Lord's Day shall pay ten shillings fine." By the Connecticut code ten shillings was the fine, and the law was not suspended until the year 1770. By the New Haven code five shillings was the fine for non-attendance at church, and the offender was often punished as well. Captain Dennison, one of New Haven's most popular and respected citizens, was fined fifteen shillings for absence from church. William Blagden, who lived in New Haven in 1647, was "brought up" for absence from meeting. He pleaded that he had fallen into the water late on Saturday, could light no fire on Sunday to dry his clothes, and so had lain in bed to keep warm while his only suit of garments was drying. In spite of this seemingly fair excuse, Blagden was found guilty of "sloathefuluess" and sentenced to be "publiquely whipped." Of course the Quakers contributed liberally to the support of the Court, and were fined in great numbers for refusing to attend the church which they hated, and which also warmly abhorred them; and they were zealously set in the stocks, and whipped and caged and pilloried as well,—whipped if they came and expressed any dissatisfaction, and whipped if they stayed away.
Severe and explicit were the orders with regard to the use of the "Creature called Tobacko" on the Sabbath. In the very earliest days of the colony means had been taken to present the planting of the pernicious weed except in very small quantities "for meere necessitie, for phisick, for preseruaceon of health, and that the same be taken privatly by auncient men." In Connecticut a man could by permission of the law smoke once if he went on a journey of ten miles (as some slight solace for the arduous trip), but never more than once a day, and never in another man's house. Let us hope that on their lonely journeys they conscientiously obeyed the law, though we can but suspect that the one unsocial smoke may have been a long one. In some communities the colonists could not plant tobacco, nor buy it, nor sell it, but since they loved the fascinating weed then as men love it now, they somehow invoked or spirited it into their pipes, though they never could smoke it in public unfined and unpunished. The shrewd and thrifty New Haven people permitted the raising of it for purposes of trade, though not for use, thus supplying the "devil's weed" to others, chiefly the godless Dutch, but piously spurning it themselves—in public. Its use was absolutely forbidden under any circumstances on the Sabbath within two miles of the meeting-house, which (since at that date all the homes were clustered around the church-green) was equivalent to not smoking it at all on the Lord's Day, if the lav were obeyed. But wicked backsliders existed, poor slaves of habit, who were in Duxbury fined ten shillings for each offence, and in Portsmouth, not only were fined, but to their shame be it told, set as jail-birds in the Portsmouth cage. In Sandwich and in Boston the fine for "drinking tobacco in the meeting-house" was five shillings for each drink, which I take to mean chewing tobacco rather than smoking it; many men were fined for thus drinking, and solacing the weary hours, though doubtless they were as sly and kept themselves as unobserved as possible. Four Yarmouth men—old sea-dogs, perhaps, who loved their pipe—were, in 1687, fined four shillings each for smoking tobacco around the end of the meeting-house. Silly, ostrich-brained Yarmouth men! to fancy to escape detection by hiding around the corner of the church; and to think that the tithingman had no nose when he was so Argus-eyed. Some few of the ministers used the "tobacco weed." Mr. Baily wrote with distress of mind and abasement of soul in his diary of his "exceeding in tobacco." The hatred of the public use of tobacco lingered long in New England, even in large towns such as Providence, though chiefly on account of universal dread lest sparks from the burning weed should start conflagrations in the towns. Until within a few years, in small towns in western Massachusetts, Easthampton and neighboring villages, tobacco-smoking on the street was not permitted either on weekdays or Sundays.
Not content with strict observance of the Sabbathday alone, the Puritans included Saturday evening in their holy day, and in the first colonial years these instructions were given to Governor Endicott by the New England Plantation Company: "And to the end that the Sabeth may be celebrated in a religious man ner wee appoint that all may surcease their labor every Satterday throughout the yeare at three of the clock in the afternoone, and that they spend the rest of the day in chatechizing and preparacoon for the Sabeth as the ministers shall direct." Cotton Mather wrote thus of his grandfather, old John Cotton: "The Sabbath he begun the evening before, for which keeping from evening to evening he wrote arguments before his coming to New England, and I suppose 't was from his reason and practice that the Christians of New England have generally done so too." He then tells of the protracted religious services held in the Cotton household every Saturday night,—services so long that the Sabbath-day exercises must have seemed in comparison like a light interlude.
John Norton described these Cotton Sabbaths more briefly thus: "He [John Cotton] began the Sabbath at evening; therefore then performed family-duty after supper, being longer than ordinary in Exposition. After which he catechized his children and servants and then returned unto his study. The morning following, family-worship being ended, he retired into his study until the bell called him away. Upon his return from meeting he returned again into his study (the place of his labor and prayer) unto his private devotion; where, having a small repast carried him up for his dinner, he continued until the tolling of the bell. The public service being over, he withdrew for a space to his pre-mentioned oratory for his sacred addresses to God, as in the forenoon, then came down, repeated the sermon in the family, prayed, after supper sang a Psalm, and towards bedtime betaking himself again to his study he closed the day with prayer. Thus he spent the Sabbath continually." Just fancy the Cotton children and servants listening to his long afternoon sermon a second time!
All the New England clergymen were rigid in the prolonged observance of Sunday. From sunset on Saturday until Sunday night they would not shave, have rooms swept, nor beds made, have food prepared, nor cooking utensils and table-ware washed. As soon as their Sabbath began they gathered their families and servants around them, as did Cotton, and read the Bible and exhorted and prayed and recited the catechism until nine o'clock, usually by the light of one small "dip candle" only; on long winter Saturdays it must have been gloomy and tedious indeed. Small wonder that one minister wrote back to England that he found it difficult in the new colony to get a servant who "enjoyed catechizing and family duties." Many clergymen deplored sadly the custom which grew in later years of driving, and even transacting business, on Saturday night. Mr. Bushnell used to call it "stealing the time of the Sabbath," and refused to countenance it in any way.
It was very generally believed in the early days of New England that special judgments befell those who worked on the eve of the Sabbath. Winthrop gives the case of a man who, having hired help to repair a milldam, worked an hour on Saturday after sunset to finish what he had intended for the day's labor. The next day his little child, being left alone for some hours, was drowned in an uncovered well in the cellar of his house. "The father freely, in open congregation, did acknowledge it the righteous hand of God for his profaning his holy day."
Visitors and travellers from other countries were forced to obey the rigid laws with regard to Saturday-night observance. Archibald Henderson, the master of a vessel which entered the port of Boston, complained to the Council for Foreign Plantations in London that while he was in sober Boston town, being ignorant of the laws of the land, and having walked half an hour after sunset on Saturday night, as punishment for this unintentional and trivial offence, a constable entered his lodgings, seized him by the hair of his head, and dragged him to prison. Henderson claimed L800 damages for the detention of his vessel during his prosecution. I have always suspected that the gay captain may have misbehaved himself in Boston on that Saturday night in some other way than simply by walking in the streets, and that the Puritan law-enforcers took advantage of the Sabbath-day laws in order to prosecute and punish him. We know of Bradford's complaint of the times; that while sailors brought "a greate deale" of money from foreign parts to New England to spend, they also brought evil ways of spending it—"more sine I feare than money."
The Puritans found in Scripture support for this observance of Saturday night, in these words, "The evening and the morning were the first day," and they had many followers in their belief. In New England country towns to this day, descendants of the Puritans regard Saturday night, though in a modified way, as almost Sunday, and that evening is never chosen for any kind of gay gathering or visiting. As late as 1855 the shops in Hartford were never open for customers upon Saturday night.
Much satire was directed against this Saturday night observance both by English and by American authors. In the "American Museum" for February, 1787, appeared a poem entitled, "The Connecticut Sabbath." After saying at some length that God had thought one day in seven sufficient for rest, but New England Christians had improved his law by setting apart a day and a half, the poet thus runs on derisively:—
"And let it be enacted further still That all our people strict observe our will; Five days and a half shall men, and women, too, Attend their bus'ness and their mirth pursue, But after that no man without a fine Shall walk the streets or at a tavern dine. One day and half 'tis requisite to rest From toilsome labor and a tempting feast. Henceforth let none on peril of their lives Attempt a journey or embrace their wives; No barber, foreign or domestic bred, Shall e'er presume to dress a lady's head; No shop shall spare (half the preceding day) A yard of riband or an ounce of tea."
And many similar rhymes might be given.
Sunday night, being shut out of the Sabbath hours, became in the eighteenth century a time of general cheerfulness and often merry-making. This sudden transition from the religious calm and quiet of the afternoon to the noisy gayety of the evening was very trying to many of the clergymen, especially to Jonathan Edwards, who preached often and sadly against "Sabbath evening dissipations and mirth-making." In some communities singing-schools were held on Sunday nights, which afforded a comparatively decorous and orderly manner of spending the close of the day.
Sweet to the Pilgrims and to their descendants was the hush of their calm Saturday night, and their still, tranquil Sabbath,—sign and token to them, not only of the weekly rest ordained in the creation, but of the eternal rest to come. The universal quiet and peace of the community showed the primitive instinct of a pure, simple devotion, the sincere religion which knew no compromise in spiritual things, no half-way obedience to God's Word, but rested absolutely on the Lord's Day—as was commanded. No work, no play, no idle strolling was known; no sign of human life or motion was seen except the necessary care of the patient cattle and other dumb beasts, the orderly and quiet going to and from the meeting, and at the nooning, a visit to the churchyard to stand by the side of the silent dead. This absolute obedience to the letter as well as to the spirit of God's Word was one of the most typical traits of the character of the Puritans, and appeared to them to be one of the most vital points of their religion.
The Authority of the Church and the Ministers.
Severely were the early colonists punished if they ventured to criticise or disparage either the ministers or their teachings, or indeed any of the religious exercises of the church. In Sandwich a man was publicly whipped for speaking deridingly of God's words and ordinances as taught by the Sandwich minister. Mistress Oliver was forced to stand in public with a cleft stick on her tongue for "reproaching the elders." A New Haven man was severely whipped and fined for declaring that he received no profit from the minister's sermons. We also know the terrible shock given the Windham church in 1729 by the "vile and slanderous expressions" of one unregenerate Windhamite who said, "I had rather hear my dog bark than Mr. Bellamy preach." He was warned that he would be "shakenoff and givenup," and terrified at the prospect of so dire a fate he read a confession of his sorrow and repentance, and promised to "keep a guard over his tongue," and also to listen to Mr. Bellamy's preaching, which may have been a still more difficult task. Mr. Edward Tomlins, of Boston, upon retracting his opinion which he had expressed openly against the singing in the churches, was discharged without a fine. William Howes and his son were in 1744 fined fifty shillings "apeece for deriding such as sing in the congregation, tearming them fooles." The church music was as sacred to the Puritans as were the prayers, but it must have been a sore trial to many to keep still about the vile manner and method of singing. In 1631 Phillip Ratcliffe, for "speaking against the churches," had his ears cut off, was whipped and banished. We know also the consternation caused in New Haven in 1646 by Madam Brewster's saying that the custom of carrying contributions to the Deacons' table was popish—was "like going to the High Alter," and "savored of the Mass." She answered her accusers in such a bold, highhanded, and defiant manner that her heinous offence was considered worthy of trial in a higher court, whose decision is now lost.
The colonists could not let their affection and zeal for an individual minister cause them to show any disrespect or indifference to the Puritan Church in general. When the question of the settlement of the Reverend Mr. Lenthal in the church of Weymouth, Massachusetts, was under discussion, the tyranny of the Puritan Church over any who dared oppose or question it was shown in a marked manner, and may be cited as a typical case. Mr. Lenthal was suspected of being poisoned with the Anne Hutchinson heresies, and he also "opposed the way of gathering churches." Hence his ordination over the church in the new settlement was bitterly opposed by the Boston divines, though apparently desired by the Weymouth congregation. One Britton, who was friendly towards Lenthal and who spoke "reproachfully" and slurringly of a book which defended the course of the Boston churches, was whipped with eleven stripes, as he had no money to pay the imposed fine. John Smythe, who "got hands to a blank" (which was either canvassing for signatures to a proxy vote in favor of Lenthal or obtaining signatures to an instrument declaring against the design of the churches), for thus "combining to hinder the orderly gathering" of the Weymouth church at this time, was fined L2. Edward Sylvester for the same offence was fined and disfranchised. Ambrose Martin, another friend of Lenthal's, for calling the church covenant of the Boston divines "a stinking carrion and a human invention," was fined L10, while Thomas Makepeace, another Weymouth malcontent, was informed by those in power that "they were weary of him," or, in modern slang, that "he made them tired." Parson Lenthal himself, being sent for by the convention, weakened at once in a way his church followers must have bitterly despised; he was "quickly convinced of his error and evil." His conviction was followed with his confession, and in open court he gave under his hand a laudable retraction, which retraction he was ordered also to "utter in the assembly at Weymouth, and so no further censure was passed on him." Thus the chief offender got the lightest punishment, and thus did the omnipotent Church rule the whole community.
The names of loquacious, babbling Quakers and Baptists who spoke disrespectfully of some or all of the ordinances of the Puritan church might be given, and would swell the list indefinitely; they were fined and punished without mercy or even toleration.
All profanity or blaspheming against God was severely punished. One very wicked man in Hartford for his "fillthy and prophane expressions," namely, that "hee hoped to meet some of the members of the Church in Hell before long, and he did not question but hee should," was "committed to prison, there to be kept in safe custody till the sermon, and then to stand the time thereof in the pillory, and after sermon to be severely whipped." What a severe punishment for so purely verbal an offence! New England ideas of profanity were very rigid, and New England men had reason to guard well their temper and tongue, else that latter member might be bored with a hot iron; for such was the penalty for profanity. We know what horror Mr. Tomlins's wicked profanity, "Curse ye woodchuck!" caused in Lynn meeting, and Mr. Dexter was "putt in ye billboes ffor prophane saying dam ye cowe." The Newbury doctor was sharply fined also for wickedly cursing. When drinking at the tavern he raised his glass and said,—
"I'll pledge my friends, and for my foes A plague for their heels, and a poxe for their toes."
He acknowledged his wickedness and foolishness in using the "olde proverb," and penitently promised to curse no more.
Sad to tell, Puritan women sometimes lost their temper and their good-breeding and their godliness. Two wicked Wells women were punished in 1669 "for using profane speeches in their common talk; as in making answer to several questions their answer is, The Devil a bit." In 1640, in Springfield, Goody Gregory, being grievously angered, profanely abused an annoying neighbor, saying, "Before God I coulde breake thy heade!" But she acknowledged her "great sine and faulte" like a woman, and paid her fine and sat in the stocks like a man, since she swore like the members of that profane sex.
Sometimes the sins of the fathers were visited on the children in a most extraordinary manner. One man, "for abusing N. Parker at the tavern," was deprived of the privilege of bringing his children to be baptized, and was thus spiritually punished for a very worldly offence. For some offences, such as "speaking deridingly of the minister's powers," as was done in Plymouth, "casting uncharitable reflexions on the minister," as did an Andover man; and also for absenting one's self from church services; for "sloathefulness," for "walking prophanely," for spoiling hides when tanning and refusing explanation thereof; for selling short weight in grain, for being "given too much to Jearings," for "Slanndering," for being a "Makebayte," for "ronging naibors," for "being too Proude," for "suspitions of stealing pinnes," for "pnishouse Squerilouse Odyouse wordes," and for "lyeing," church-members were not only fined and punished but were deprived of partaking of the sacrament. In the matter of lying great distinction was made as to the character and effect of the offence. George Crispe's wife, who "told a lie, not a pernicious lie, but unadvisedly," was simply admonished and remonstrated with. Will Randall, who told a "plain lie," was fined ten shillings. While Ralph Smith, who "lied about seeing a whale," was fined twenty shillings and excommunicated.
In some communities, of which Lechford tells us New Haven was one, these unhouselled Puritans were allowed, if they so desired, to stand outside the meeting-house door at the time of public worship and catch what few words of the service they could. This humble waiting for crumbs of God's word was doubtless regarded as a sign of repentance for past deeds, for it was often followed by full forgiveness. As excommunicated persons were regarded with high disfavor and even abhorrence by the entire pious and godly walking community, this apparently spiritual punishment was more severe in its temporal effects than at first sight appears. From the Cambridge Platform, which was drawn up and adopted by the New England Synod in 1648, we learn that "while the offender remains excommunicated the church is to refrain from all communion with him in civil things," and the members were specially "to forbear to eat and drink with him;" so his daily and even his family life was made wretched. And as it was not necessary to wait for the action of the church to pronounce excommunication, but the "pastor of a church might by himself and authoritatively suspend from the Lord's table a brother suspected of scandal" until there was time for full examination, we can see what an absolute power the church and even the minister had over church-members in a New England community.
Nor could the poor excommunicate go to neighboring towns and settlements to start afresh. No one wished him or would tolerate him. Lancaster, in 1653, voted not to receive into its plantation "any excommunicat or notoriously erring agt the Docktrin & Discipline of churches of this Commonwealth." Other towns passed similar votes. Fortunately, Rhode Island—the island of "Aquidnay" and the Providence Plantations—opened wide its arms as a place of refuge for outcast Puritans. Universal freedom and religious toleration were in Rhode Island the foundations of the State. Josiah Quincy said that liberty of conscience would have produced anarchy if it had been permitted in the New England Puritan settlements in the seventeenth century, but the flourishing Narragansett, Providence, and Newport plantations seem to prove the absurdity of that statement. Liberty of conscience was there allowed, as Dr. MacSparran, the first clergyman of the Narragansett Church, complained in his "America Dissected," "to the extent of no religion at all." The Gortonians, the Foxians, and Hutchinsonians, the Anabaptists, the Six Principle Baptists, the Church of England, apparently all the followers of the eighty-two "pestilent heresies" so sadly enumerated and so bitterly hated and "cast out to Satan" by the Massachusetts Puritan divines,—all the excommunicants and exiles found in Rhode Island a home and friends—other friends than the Devil to whom they had been consigned.
Though the early Puritan ministers had such powerful influence in every other respect, they were not permitted to perform the marriage-service nor to raise their voices in prayer or exhortation at a funeral. Sewall jealously notes when the English burial-service began to be read at burials, saying, "the office for Burial is a Lying very bad office makes no difference between the precious and the vile." The office of marriage was denied the parson, and was generally relegated to the magistrate. In this, Governor Bradford states, they followed "ye laudable custome of ye Low Countries." Not rulers and magistrates only were empowered to perform the marriage ceremony; squires, tavern-keepers, captains, various authorized persons might wed Puritan lovers; any man of dignity or prominence in the community could apparently receive authority to perform that office except the otherwise all-powerful parson.
As years rolled on, though the New Englanders still felt great reverence and pride for their church and its ordinances, the minister was no longer the just man made perfect, the oracle of divine will. The church-members escaped somewhat from ecclesiastical power, and some of them found fault with and openly disparaged their ministers in a way that would in early days have caused them to be pilloried, whipped, caged, or fined; and often the derogatory comments were elicited by the most trivial offences. One parson was bitterly condemned because he managed to amass eight hundred dollars by selling the produce of his farm. Another shocking and severely criticised offence was a game of bowls which one minister played and enjoyed. Still another minister, in Hanover, Massachusetts, was reproved for his lack of dignity, which was shown in his wearing stockings "footed up with another color;" that is, knit stockings in which the feet were colored differently from the legs. He also was found guilty of having jumped over the fence instead of decorously and clerically walking through the gate when going to call on one of his parishioners. Rev. Joseph Metcalf of the Old Colony was complained of in 1720 for wearing too worldly a wig. He mildly reproved and shamed the meddlesome women of his church by asking them to come to him and each cut off a lock of hair from the obnoxious wig until all the complainers were satisfied that it had been rendered sufficiently unworldly. Some Newbury church-members, in 1742, asserted that their minister unclerically wore a colored kerchief instead of a band. This he indignantly denied, saying that he "had never buried a babe even in most tempestuous weather," when he rode several miles, but he always wore a band, and he complained in turn that members of his congregation turned away from him on the street, and "glowered" at him and "sneered at him." Still more unseemly demonstrations of dislike were sometimes shown, as in South Hadley, in 1741, when a committee of disaffected parishioners pulled the Rev. Mr Rawsom out of the pulpit and marched him out of the meeting-house because they did not fancy his preaching. But all such actions were as offensive to the general community then as open expressions of dissatisfaction and contempt are now.
The Ordination of the Minister.
The minister's ordination was, of course, an important social as well as spiritual event in such a religious community as was a New England colonial town. It was always celebrated by a great gathering of people from far and near, including all the ministers from every town for many miles around; and though a deeply serious service, was also an excuse for much merriment. In Connecticut, and by tradition also in Massachusetts, an "ordination-ball" was frequently given. It is popularly supposed that at this ball the ministers did not dance, nor even appear, nor to it in any way give their countenance; that it was only a ball given at the time of the ordination because so many people would then be in the town to take part in the festivity. That this was not always the case is proved by a letter of invitation still in existence written by Reverend Timothy Edwards, who was ordained in Windsor in 1694; it was written to Mr. and Mrs. Stoughton, asking them to attend the ordination-ball which was to be given in his, the minister's house. But whether the parsons approved and attended, or whether they strongly discountenanced it, the ordination-ball was always a great success. It is recorded that at one in Danvers a young man danced so vigorously and long on the sanded floor that he entirely wore out a new pair of shoes. The fashion of giving ordination-balls did not die out with colonial times. In Federal days it still continued, a specially gay ball being given in the town of Wolcott at an ordination in 1811.