Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

He

exbausting heat of summer, and were often brought to a close at evening, not amidst the comfortable homes and cheerful hospitality of a civilized community, but amidst the squalid poverty and wretched bovels of the Indians, where be rarely found even “ food and drink of which he could partake.” was sometimes invited to visit the sachems of remote districts, and rarely declined the invitation, when any good seemed likely to be accomplished by the visit, however perilous and wearisome might be the journey it required.

Hitherto, the apostle to the Indians had persevered in his pious enterprise almost unaided and alone. The approbation and sympathy of the philanthropic men of the colony, both of the clergy and the people, had indeed been often expressed, but the burden of the enterprise, both of its cares and its toils, had rested almost entirely upon his shoulders. The time, however, had now come, when other laborers, and means greater than he could command, were needed for its prosecution. Indeed, such was the poverty of New-England at that period of her history, that probably all the settlements within her borders were scarcely able to furnish the comparatively slender contributions requisite for the consummation of Eliot's plans. The trifling appropriation of ten pounds by the General Court of Massachusetts, is the only aid from the colonial government of which his biographers make mention. It was to the mother-land, that the good man turned for the aid he needed. Tracts of various kinds, containing accounts of the progress of the gospel among the Indians, had been sent to England, and had excited no little attention. Some of these papers were at length published in London, prefaced by some of the eminent clergymen of the metropolis, with two epistles, one addressed to Parliament, and the other, to “the godly and well-affected” of the realm, and inviting the patronage of both government and people to the work of converting the aborigines of New-England.

The appeal to Parliament was not without effect. In conformity with an ordinance, passed July 27th, 1649, a corporate body was created, bearing the title of “ The President and Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New-England.” It was also enacted, that contributions should be taken in the churches throughout England and Wales, that the clergy should read the act from their pulpits, and rouse the attention of their people to the cause. This measure of the Parliament met with much opposition, and the contributions went on but slowly; still a very considerable sum was collected and invested as a permanent fund for the Society. Its charter was renewed at the Restoration, in 1660, by Charles II., though not without strong opposition; and, amidst the troubles of that disastrous period, was defended by the Hon. Robert Boyle, who was the first president of the Society under its new charter, and for many years, its firm friend and munificent benefactor.

Upon this association, Mr. Eliot now leaned for support. By the moneys it furnished, he was enabled to procure instructers, and

carry

forward all the labors of the mission upon more liberal principles and with more beneficial results. He had long wished to see all bis Indian converts withdrawn from the corrupting customs of savage life, and gathered into a town by themselves, where, without molestation, they might learn the arts of civilization, and more perfecily practise the virtues of their new religion.

“I find it absolutely necessary,” says he, “to carry on civility with religion.” This plan of founding an Indian town, with which he had delighted his own mind, he had often pictured forth to the natives themselves, until it becaine with them an object of ardent longing and enthusiastic hope. Accordingly, in 1651, at the solicitation of the good apostle, the inbabitants of Dedham made a grant to the Indians, of a tract of land lying on Charles river, about eighteen miles south-west from Boston. This tract became the site of their town, and received from then the name of Natick, a place of hills. It was here, that he planted bis fondest hopes of good to the natives. He thought here to build a town, which should long be a thriving and happy home for his converted red men ; where, amidst the comforts and amenities of social life, they might worship the God whose laws he had taught them, and frorn generation to generation, show forth to the world the power of piety in subduing the passions and raising the character even of the rudest and most savage of men.

It was a favorite maxim with Eliot, that every true form of civil polity must be derived from the word of God alone. This idea was congenial with the religious views of the Puritans, and in the mind of the apostle to the Indians, seems to have been “the aspiration of piety, rather than the result of political philosophy, but still contains the germ of a principle as sound as it is noble.”

“They shall be governed,” he says of the inhabitants of his new town, “wholly by the Scriptures in all things, both in church and state; the Lord shall be their lawgiver,—the Lord shall be their judge,—the Lord shall be their king." In accordance with this principle, he framed a constitution for the dwellers at Natick, which was adopted amidst the solemn services and holy sanctions of religion, and is mentioned in history, as the first formal and public act of civil polity among the Indians of North America."

His first intention was to gather all the “praying Indians” into this new settlement; but from some difference of opinion about its location, and the difficulty of providing space ample enough for them all, the plan was changed, and they were afterwards settled in a number of different communities. Around Natick, however, his warmest affections seem to have lingered; for it always received the greatest share of his attention, and fills by far the largest space in bis bistory.

Rarely, in the history of human affairs, has it been permitted to a noble and self-sacrificing spirit long to pursue its holy work, unassailed by the shafts of envy or malice, or to leave behind a fame untraduced by the poisoned breath of slander. The life of Eliot furnishes no exception to this remark. Though in his personal character one of the meekest and gentlest of men, yet he could not stride so far before his contemporaries in the labors of charity, without having many an arrow sent after him in his course. There were not wanting, on either side of the Atlantic, those who questioned the purity of his motives and denied the truth of his statements,—who declared that his appeals to the benevolent were designs for getting money, and that the report of the conversion of the Indians was a fable. These reproaches were indignantly denied by the Society in England, while Eliot seems to have taken little notice of them. That he did not feel them, cau bardly be supposed, for he has left on record an expression of the strong support he derived from faith in God, amidst the unkindness and hard speeches of his calumniators.

We come now to the last of the missionary labors connected with the life of the apostle to the Indians, which our limits permit us to notice. We refer to his translation of the Scriptures, a work which, at all times and in all circumstances, is deemed most worthy and venerable, but which, in the circumstances of Eliot, stands forth as a rare achievement of persevering and pains-taking benevolence. To send the Bible into the deep fastnesses of the forest, and leave it there to tame, to instruct and to bless the untutored wild men, long after bis voice should be hushed in death, was the hope that had cheered bim in every toil and supported him amidst the poverty, and neglect, and slander, that had often gathered in dark and lowering clouds around bis pathway.

“From the commencement of his Indian labors, Eliot had evidently kept this great object in view. He had been jotent upon obtaining the best assistance he could command, in acquiring an accurate knowledge of the language; and his perseverance, under every discouragement, in a pursuit so unattractive, is truly wonderful. In a letter to Winslow, dated the 8th of July, 1649, he expressed his intense desire to translate some parts of the Scriptures' for the Indians. He considered it as an undertaking demanding the most scrupulous and conscientious care. I look at it,' he said, as a sacred and holy work, to be regarded with much fear, care and reverence.' His duties in the ministry among his own flock, bad prevented his bestowing on the language all the thorough and constant attention he could have wished. It would be necessary, therefore, he thought, to have assistants,- Indians and others,—continually at hand, to examine and put to the test bis translations. These must be paid. Other expenses also must be incurred. He could not undertake the work with his own means, which were slender. He had a numerous family to be educated; and his labors among the natives at that time were gratuitous. His only regular source of maintenance was his salary at Roxbury; and he could not give up his ministry there, to devote himself exclusively to the business of translating and preaching for the Indians."-p. 218.

Under circumstances thus unpropitious, he for many years dared to cherish only a faint and uncertain hope of seeing the translation of the Bible completed and printed during his lise. But when at length the corporation in England began to furnish its regular supplies, this object was deemed sufficiently important to be immediately undertaken, under the patronage of the Society. The only bindrance was now removed, and the translation of the New Testament was published at Cambridge, in September, 1661, fifteen years after the first visit of Eliot to the Indians at Nonantum. The commissioners, thinking it a favorable opportunity to conciliate the favor of Charles II., who then had just ascended the throne of England, pre fixed to the Testament a dedication to his majesty. In this dedication, they say to the king, that “The Old Testament is now under the press, waiting and craving your royal favor and assistance for the perfecting thereof." The Old Testament was not published till 1663. Copies were then bound with the New; and the entire Bible was thus presented in the language of the Indians.

The great work of the good evangelist was now accomplished. It had been the object of many a pious aspiration, and the burden of many a fervent prayer. His letters, especially bis correspondence with the Hon. Mr. Boyle, contain many affecting expressions of his interest in this work. “My age,' says he, in one of these letters, “makes me importunate. I shall depart joyfully, may I but leave the Bible among them; for it is tbe word of life.” And in another, “I desire to see it done before I die; and I am so deep in years, that I cannot expect to live long; and sundry say, if I do not procure it printed while I live, it is not within the prospect of human reason, whether ever, or when, or how, it may be accomplished.” This version of the Scriptures was the first Bible ever printed in America. It was issued from the press of Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, of whom the former bad for several years superintended a press at Cambridge, and the latter was sent over by the Society, for the express purpose

of assisting in the printing of this translation of the Bible. The New Testament passed to a second edition in 1680, and the Old, in 1685, both of which were printed at Cambridge. Of the character of this translation, it is now impossible to form any accurate judgment, for not one now among the living can speak or read the language in which it was made. Mr. Francis gives it as his opinion, that, on the whole, it was such as to give the Indians about as correct and competent a knowledge of the Scriptures as translations are generally found to give.

When the printing of his Bible was completed, Mr. Eliot was in the sixtieth year of his age. Though he had now reached that period, at which most men close the active labors of life, and seek to forget its bustle and cares ainidst the still air of domestic retirement, yet he still continued to devote himself to the enterprise, to which he had consecrated the strength and zeal of his earlier days. He translated many other books for the Indians, and prepared a grammar of their language. He still watched over their interests, preached to them at stated periods, instructed them in many common matters, in which their inexperience needed bis counsel, and was regarded by them as their guide, and friend, and father. The mission had reached its most flourishing condition, at the period

« PoprzedniaDalej »