William Livingston Essay

This essay has a total of 1424 words and 6 pages.

William Livingston




"The Puritans." 1

We would speak first of the Puritans, the most remarkable body of men, perhaps, which the
world has ever produced. The odious and ridiculous parts of their character lie on the
surface. He that runs may read them; nor have there been wanting attentive and malicious
observers to point them out. For many years after the Restoration, they were the theme of
unmeasured invective and derision. They were exposed to the utmost licentiousness of the
press and of the stage, at the time when the press and the stage were most licentious.
They were not men of letters; they were, as a body, unpopular; they could not defend
themselves; and the public would not take them under its protection. They were therefore
abandoned, without reserve, to the tender mercies of the satirists and dramatists. The
ostentatious simplicity of their dress, their sour aspect, their nasal twang, their stiff
posture, their long graces, their Hebrew nanes, the Scriptural phrases which they
introduced on every occasion, their contempt of human learning, their detestation of
polite amusements, were indeed fair game for the laughers. But it is not from the laughers
alone that the philosophy of history is to be learnt. And he who approaches this subject
should carefully guard against the influence of that potent ridicule, which has already
misled so many excellent writers.

"Ecco il fonte del riso, ed ecco il rio
Che mortali perigli in se contiene:
Hor qui tener a fren nostro a desio,
Ed esser cauti molto a noi conviene."
Those who roused the people to resistance - who directed their measures through a long
series of eventful years - who formed, out of the most unpromising materials, the finest
army that Europe had ever seen - who trampled down king, church, and aristocracy - who, in
the short intervals of domestic sedition and rebellion, made the name of England terrible
to every nation on the face of the earth, were no vulgar fanatics. Most of their
absurdities were mere external badges, like the signs of freemasonry or the dresses of
friars. We regret that these badges were not more attractive. We regret that a body, to
whose courage and talents mankind has owed inestimable obligations, had not the lofty
elegance which distinguished some of the adherents of Charles I., or the easy good
breeding for which the court of Charles II. was celebrated. But, if we must make our
choice, we shall, like Bassanio in the play, turn from the specious caskets, which contain
only the death's head and the fool's head, and fix our choice on the plain leaden chest
which conceals the treasure.2

The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from the daily
contemplation of superior beings and external interests. Not content with acknowledging,
in general terms, an overruling Providence, they habitually ascribed every event to the
will of the Great Being, for whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection
nothing was too minute. To know him, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with them the great
end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which other sects
substituted for the pure worship of the soul. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of
the Deity through an obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on the intolerable
brightness, and to commune with him face to face. Hence originated their contempt for
terrestrial distinctions. The difference between the greatest and meanest of mankind
seemed to vanish, when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race
from him on whom their own eyes were constantly fixed. They recognized no title to
superiority but his favor; and, confident of that favor, they despised all the
accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were unacquainted with the
works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God. If their
names were not found in the registers of heralds, they felt assured that they were
recorded in the Book of Life. If their steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of
menials, legions of ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not
made with hands: their diadems, crowns of glory which should never fade away! On the rich
and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked down with contempt: for they esteemed
themselves rich in a more previous treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language -
nobles by the right of an earlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier
hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious and terrible
importance belonged - on whose slightest actions the spirits of light and darkness looked
with anxious interest - who had been destined, before heaven and earth were created, to
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