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LIFE OF JOHN ELIOT.
Sparks American Biography, Vol. V. Life of John Eliot, the Apostle to the Indians. By Convers FRANCIS. Boston. 12.no. pp. 357. 1836.
Among the numerous Libraries, which embody so much of the literature of the age, we have met with none calculated to be more widely useful, than the series of American Biography. The manner in which its successive numbers have been received, furnishes abundant proof, that the public are aware how much they owe to its learned and accomplished editor. The plan is one which, if carried fully into execution, will do far more than any bitherto devised, towards teaching the American people the great lessons of their bistory, and keeping alive in memory the venerable names of the founders of this republic. It seems to us a work of high national importance. Our annals are brief, and the monuments that remind us of the past are few. There is little among us, to carry the imagination of the people back to a far off age, or to keep alive in the general mind those feelings of reverence, which, if properly directed, may do so much to refine and adorn individual and national character. Our fathers are no longer around us. The events of the past, with all their mighty perils and stirring interests, are gone, and amidst the stern responsibilities and pressing pursuits of the present, they are well nigh forgotten. As a people, we are in danger of neglecting, not to eulogize and extol,- for of these we do enough and more than enough, -but to meditate and understand the character and the principles of the worthies of our early history. The series before us is admirably adapted to diminish this danger, and to mingle with the all-absorbing duties of the present, the softening and ennobling recollections of the past. It embodies, in the forms of elegant literature, the characters of a former age. It opens a picture-gallery, accessible alike to young and old, to ignorant and learned, where they may gaze upon the men of the olden time, and study their characters in the elegant portraits of the skilful and discriminating biographer, and, at the same time, VOL. II.-NO, V.
learn something of the form and pressure of the successive periods in which they lived.
The volume, the title of which we have placed at the head of this article, is from the pen of the Rev. Convers Francis, and contains a well written account of the life and labors of John Eliot,-a name which has come down to us from the first age of New England history, hallowed by all the pure associations that are ever connected with the fame of the noblehearted philanthropist and the devoted and self-denying Christian. We welcome the volume to the list of popular books, as one that holds up to our veneration a character we are never wearied of contemplating, which traces the course of a life guided by the loftiest aims, and consecrated to the noblest achievements. The author aimed at only a "personal narrative," and has accomplished his purpose, in a style marked by modesty and chaste simplicity; very properly omitting the discussion of the various collateral topics, that could not but be suggested by the name and life of the apostle to the Indians. Had he been somewhat more dramatic and picturesque in his sketches, he would, in our judginent, have been more interesting to the general reader, and especially to the young. But we refrain from the criticism of a work, in which there is so little to censure, and shall aim to present to our readers an account of the principal events in the life of the venerable man, whose character it portrays.
John Eliot was born at Nasing, Essex, England, A. D. 1604. He was trained to babits of regular industry and of religious reverence by pious and conscientious parents, who, as he himself has recorded, “ seasoned his early times with the fear of God, the word, and with prayer.” He was educated, as is supposed, at the University of Cambridge, where he gained an honorable distinction as a scholar. He is said to have discovered, while at the university, an unusual talent for philological inquiries, and by the studies be there pursued and the exercises he practised, he doubtless acquired much of that uncommon facility, which, many years afterwards, on a far distant shore, enabled him to reduce to order the chaos of a barbarous dialect, and render into their own tongue the word of eternal life for the rude sons of the American forest. On leaviny Cambridge, he became associated, as usher, with Mr. Thomas Hooker, at that time master of a school at Little Baddow, near Chelmsford, in Essex, and afterwards an eminent divine in New-England. It was amidst the delightful quiet of this good man's family, that Eliot began to give attention to bis own spiritual interests, and to acknowledge the claims that religion urged upon bis affections and his life. “When I came to this blessed family,” says he, “I then saw, and never before, the power of godliness, in its lively vigor and efficacy.” And it is doubtless to be ascribed, in some degree, at least, to the pious counsels and judicious influence of Hooker, that he, at this period of his life, resolved to devote himself to the Christian ministry.
Eliot had arrived at manhood and begun to form his plans of life, at that dark period of England's history, when the voice of the non-conforming clergy was hushed by the frown of the king, and liberty of religious opinion was trampled under foot by a haughty and tyrannical priesthood. Both he and his venerated friend were soon obliged to flee before that storm of persecution, which descended with such fury upon the devoted heads of the Puritans, and drove from the shores of England some of the master spirits of her people. He and many others of the victims of ecclesiastical tyranny in that age felt, that they had lost the home of their fathers and of their best affections, and that now, over the wide world, they had to choose a new spot whereon to plant their hopes and build their fortunes. In circumstances like these, he directed his attention to the infant settlements of New England.
It was on the 3d of November, 1631, that he arrived at Boston, in a company of about sixty persons, among whom, says his biographer, were the wife and children of Governor Winthrop. Mr. Wilson, at that time minister of the First Church in Boston, was then absent, and Eliot, immediately on his arrival, was engaged to officiate in his vacant pulpit, and become, for the time, pastor of his shepherdless flock; a station which he continued to occupy until his removal to Roxbury.
Before Eliot sailed from England, he had made an engagement with a number of his friends, who thought of soon following him to America, that if they arrived before he had formed a pastoral connexion with any church, he would become their minister. They came to Boston the following year, and settled at Roxbury. He therefore felt himself obliged to decline the invitation of the Boston church to become their assistant pastor, and fulfil his engagement with his friends. Accordingly, on the 5th of November, 1632, he was ordained as the minister at Roxbury, and continued to perform the duties of that office through the whole of his long and laborious life. “Even at that time," says Mr. Francis, “when ecclesiastical labors were the first and the highest in the infant colony, and when the clergy, by their office, were leading men in the community, scarcely a name can be mentioned, wbicb stood before that of Mr. Eliot. Of bis ministry in Roxbury, there is not much to be told, that can be presented in a historical form ; for the life of a clergyman, as such, though full of toil, is not full of events. We know, that from first to last, he was a hard student and a hard worker; breaking the bread of life with affectionate 6delity, and administering divine truth with uncompromising sincerity; fearless in rebuke and kind in counsel; meeting every claiin of duty with unwearied patience, and bringing bis wisdom to bear on the most common things; proverbially charitable and ready to be spent in every good work. The abilities and graces manifested in his professional duties naturally remind us of those delineations of clerical excellence, in wbich simplicity of heart, sanctified learning and watchful fidelity are beautifully blended :
"Such priest as Chaucer sang in fervent lays,
Such as the heaven-taught skill of Herbert drew."" Established thus at a post in every way suited to bis talents and education, and among the friends of his early days, we find him exerting an important influence upon the affairs of the church and the state, in that eventful period of the colony. Through the discussions growing out of the Pequot treaty, and the protracted and almost furious strifes occasioned by Mrs. Hutchinson and her doctrines, the voice of Eliot was often raised, -modestly, yet firmly,—to vindicate the principles he cherished. He was also one of the three, who, in consideration of their Hebrew scholarsbip, were appointed to improve the psalmody of the churches, and who edited the version long known as "The Bay Psalm Book," and now most commonly designated as “ The New-England Version of the Psalms."
But we hasten over the intermediate passages of his life, and come to the period of bis missionary labors, for it was as apostle to the Indians, that he was most distinguished in his own times, and it is in this character, that the name of Jobn Eliot has become immortal. He was the first, or at least one of the first, who devised and carried into execution, any plan for instructing the aborigines of the soil in the principles of civilization and religion. And the wisdom with which he planned, and the zeal with which he labored, for the improvement of this wild race, have embalmed his memory and almost canonized his name.
The fate of the American Indians is often pointed at as a stain upon our national escutcheon, which now can never be wiped away. It is also said, not unfrequently by way of disparagement of the ancient purity of New-England virtue, that the measures by which this fate has been consummated, are but the carrying out of the policy begun by the earliest settlers upon their shores. The guilt connected with these transactions, we have no disposition to palliate ; but are there not circumstances in the history of the Puritans, which go very far toward rendering them guiltless of the blood of this ill-fated people? It is indeed melancholy, that a civilized people should bave exterminated a savage race ;—that a band of holy pilgrims, exiling themselves in God's name, for the sake of right and truth, should have seized the domain of these wild wanderers, and allowed them, one after another, to go down to a heathen’s grave, with so little effort to instruct and guide them to heaven. Looking back, from the high moral eminences of our own age, upon the enterprise of the Pilgrims, we perhaps should pronounce, that if successful, they would confer incalculable blessings upon the Indian tribes, and in the lapse of time, not only change the desert of America into a fruitful field, but transform its rude inhabitants into civilized and Christian men, guided by the precepts of truth, and Glled with the hopes of immortal life. "But a recollection of the weakness and imperfection of human virtue, and more than all, an enlightened survey of the condition of the country, and the difficulties and perils that must have attended every step of the settlers, are sufficient to withdraw us from such an anticipation.
The Pilgrims found themselves in the heart of a wilderness, amidst a race whose character was wholly unlike all that they had seen or known of men. The unreasoning and untameable beasts were scarcely wilder in their habits or fiercer in their spirit, than seemed the Indians of New-England to our early fathers. If we remember, too, that for many years, the cares and dangers of the infant settlement must have been all-engrossing, we shall cease to wonder, that so little was attempted for the civilization of the Indians and their conversion to Christianity. Much interest, however, had, from the beginning,